Director: William MacGillivray
With Understanding Bliss Bill MacGillivray returns to the emotional terrain and sheer filmmaking passion of Life Classes, bringing forth a new story about the power art has to transform experience and sometimes rescue us. Elizabeth is an English professor from Toronto, a rather earnest specialist in the writings of Katherine Mansfield. She travels to St. Johns, Newfoundland, ostensibly to give a reading of Mansfield's Bliss, but mainly to see her lover, Peter, who teaches a radical course on modern modes of storytelling. Their romance had flourished at conferences in far-flung cities, but now, in the economically deprived yet culturally vigorous environment of St. Johns, things fall apart. Peter is rehearsing his class for a contemporary reworking of a traditional Mummers play, so love with a mainlander takes a back seat and Katherine Mansfield seems as relevant as bone china in a bar room.
Shot over six days on video and transferred to film, this is clearly a work of urgency for MacGillivray. He has used video not just for cost and convenience, but to change the way we see this world. The fluid long takes that result throw the film into the dichotomous realms of poetry and surveillance; the camera is relentless, its images both raw and shimmering. By rooting this romance in old conflicts between central and Atlantic Canada, high and popular art, MacGillivray has made a more powerfully human film. As Peter realizes, we are more than psychology, we are also our privilege and our poverty, our history and our amnesia. "Tell your own stories" he encourages his students. "Get to know who you are ". important words for us all.
• Festival of Festivals programme, Toronto