Five Films by Ellie Epp

We are proud to present five films by Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Ellie Epp, streaming worldwide, for free, from August 18th through September 1st.

Further information on Epp’s filmography and artistic practice can be found on her website, which includes her writing, interviews, and life-time journal project titled “work & days”, dating back to 1963. To highlight one of many extraordinary volumes in this project containing poetry and insight into her daily life, the majority of this volume takes place in the baths where she filmed trapline.

Paired with the five films is an essay on Epp’s work written by Sophia Satchell-Baeza, which can be read below.

Five Films by Ellie Epp

trapline (1976) — 18 minutes
current (1986) — 3 minutes
notes in origin (1988) — 15 minutes
bright and dark (1996) — 3 minutes
last light (2015) — 7 minutes

Total runtime: 46 minutes

All 5 films can be viewed via the playlist linked below:

All works shot on 16mm, with the exception of last light. Titles are formatted in lowercase as per Ellie Epp’s request.

Still Waters Run Deep

by Sophia Satchell-Baeza

something behind us 
participates in what is in front of us. 
bits of the image
have a flight of their own.

Ellie Epp, notes on ‘notes in origin

From the dispersive ripples on water to the surging currents of the ocean, Ellie Epp’s is a cinema of fluid forms. trapline (1975), the Canadian filmmaker’s sublime and formally rigorous debut, submerges us in the serenity of a swimming pool. Made up of twelve shots, each of them bookmarked by black leader, trapline alternates between the ambient background noise of the pool and silence, as it moves between things seen and not-seen. The film seems at first preoccupied with the watery reflections of West London’s Silchester Baths, an elegant yet dilapidated Victorian bathhouse that is gradually revealed to us across a series of discrete shots. Our sense of perspective is soon destabilized, as what we think is the surface of the pool turns out to be a reflection on the roof: ground turns into sky, and space flips upwards. Reflections too become increasingly abstract as human beings disrupt the stillness of the pool and generate the film’s movement, keying in ripples and rivulets in the water that disperse the grid-like reflected lines into undulating whorls. These aqueous abstractions, as well as evidencing the film’s human presence, suggest a transition into the watery world of the unconscious. 

trapline (1975)

Epp has compared trapline’s sound to what we hear in ‘life before birth,’ invoking sound editor Walter Murch’s concept of a womb tone, a prenatal palimpsest state he compares to being ‘pickled in a rich brine of sound that permeates and nourishes our developing consciousness.’ trapline’s soundscape is indeed amniotic: a deep, ambient echo of resonant voices, the gurgle of running taps, water splashing on tiles. The film’s final shot helps us connect the background buzz to its original wellspring, in a breath-taking tableau of expectant children leaning against the shower cubicle. Matched only by Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End (1970), the greens and blues of a bath house have rarely been captured as beautifully. 

While much of the world of the film exists outside of the frame, trapline cumulatively fleshes out the contours of the space through multiple angles as well as an aquatic soundscape. We hear the source of the water’s disruption, but we mostly cannot see it: trapline’s opening credits show children’s feet at ground level, while the closing shot of children ties the film together in a cyclical water knot. Otherwise, the film’s movement is generated from what is behind us participating in what is in front of us, to paraphrase Epp in her notes on notes in origin (1988). The artist’s subsequent move to digital, in films such as o sea and OB pier 5, 3 movements, both from 2014, extends her interest in the fluid dynamics of water, contrasting the static shots of the camera with the surging currents of nature.

current (1982)

If trapline is a film of surfaces and reflections, where the source of the sound unfolds largely outside of the frame, Epp’s follow-up current (1982), keeps the source of the light similarly occulted. A two-minute-long silent film in which abstract blue columns move in various formations, the images create an illusion of deep space while obscuring what is illuminating the central image. Innovatively created by filming vertical curtain blinds on Tungsten film stock so that daylight filming transforms the blinds into shimmering cerulean bars, current recalls the geometric abstraction of trapline’s aqueous reflections albeit in a condensed and more minimal form. 

Light, a dramatic actor in Epp’s films, is known to behave like a liquid, to fill space and ripple around objects. notes in origin and last light are landscape films that dwell on the lyrical beauty of nature as they find striking moments in the interplay of light and shadow. Filmed in Northern Alberta where the artist grew up, you can feel Epp’s personal attachment to the landscape in notes in origin, through the stunning shots of mist rolling on fields, fading sunlight darkening a purple-tinged forest, an illuminated swan, and the cool mystery of a lake. Like trapline, the film is divided into chapters, but unlike that film, the images are not tied to a single space and then refracted through multiple perspectives. notes in origin moves through different locations as it roves from exterior to interior space, transitioning from the reflection of sunlight onto the natural world (swans, trees) to its shadow refracted through the window.

notes in origin (1988)

A different kind of fluidity is called up in the three-minute short bright and dark (1996), where the grain created by fogged film swirls like closed-eye visions, akin to rubbing your eyes and letting patterns emerge from the lids. Produced for a Cineworks anthology focused on women and the senses, Epp chose the occulted sixth sense as her subject matter. Believed by some to impart information without recourse to the classic five, the sixth sense has mystical connotations, which Epp notably deflates, rooting the film instead in haptic sensation through both the voice-over and the material grain of fogged celluloid. Epp recounts how she took the 400-foot roll of film with her on a road trip to San Diego, letting it sit in the trunk of her car and bake in the oppressive heat. When the lab gave her back the print, she thought the clumps of grain resembled swirling biological projections, with one red section particularly resembling ‘intracellular fluid.’ The fluid abstraction of the textured grain is counterbalanced by the voice-over, in which the language of light and dark conjure the unseen electrical currents of desire: ‘I’m touching her with every surface I can.’ Epp’s elegant, minimal cinema invites us to caress its surfaces with our eyes, offering an experience that is profoundly refreshing, like taking a cool dip in water.

Sophia Satchell-Baeza is a writer and editor from London. A regular contributor to Sight and Sound and MUBI Notebook, she writes for a variety of publications on art and film, and holds a PhD in British psychedelic cinema.   

This program was made possible thanks to the support of Ultra Dogme’s Patreon Movie Club subscribers. Thus we would like to extend our thanks to:

健志 大瀧 / Alejandro Alvarez / Peer Bode / alex broadwell / phili c / Maximilian Le Cain / Christophe Charre / Sharon Choi / Sin Yi Choi / Alessandro Coloberti / Clara Conill / Rainey Dalven / David / James Devine / Dane Engelhart / Taryn Ely / Alex Fields / coaxial flutter / Sara Foss / Bennett Glace / Julian Gonzalez / James Hansen / Liam Kenny / Joshua Minsoo Kim / layla / Vinícius Romero Mazeti / Brian McCann / Brian McKendry / Kayla Myers / Eric Bidard de la Noë / Lara P. / Joshua Peinado / Carlas Puerto / AR / Ken R. / Becca Rieckmann / Hirofumi Sakamoto / Derrick Schultz / Jeff Sermon / the puncher guy / Ties / Kyle Vannoy / Eslpeth Vischer / Jonah Volk / Cameron Worden / li wei xuan / Dan Ziegler

Special thanks to filmmaker and curator Chris Kennedy, who acted as Project Manager for the digital restoration of notes in origin, bright and dark and current. Digital transfers were done by Frame Discreet.

trapline was separately restored in 2017 by the Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Canada on Screen celebration of the Canadian Sesquicentennial.

Ellie Epp’s films are distributed by the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.

Images and stills courtesy of Ellie Epp.

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