In the circus-like atmosphere of Kensington Market in Toronto, the camera of Anne J. Gibson is a silent witness, a potential threat, and an offer of human connection, sometimes all at once.
Written, directed and produced by Michka Saäl
Image: Sylvestre Guidi
Sound recording and design: Catherine Van Der Donckt
Editor: Michel Giroux
Original music: Bertrand Chénier
Delegated producers: Mark Foss and Michel Giroux
Produced with support from the Canada Council for the Arts and Aide au Cinéma Indépendant (Canada).
With Anne J. Gibson
“Michka Saäl has always had a soft spot for artists who defy easy classification, and New Memories is no exception. The only thing missing is her presence at the end of her own creation, which is so strong, beautiful and moving.”
“Perhaps this is what is so moving about the film: the relentless fight of a woman who seeks, effectively, to rewrite her own history by creating photographs that represent her “new memories”, a process that she consolidates with each incessant click of the shutter. A fight that obviously resonates with the personal journey of Michka Saäl. In other words, this collaboration uniting photographer and filmmaker can be seen as the healing of two wounded souls.”
“Never sensational, always attuned to significant details, Saäl delivers a film that is touching, true and eminently ‘cinematic’. No TV-style reporting here, no editing with an ax. Instead, a veritable reflection on time, allowing the protagonist to express herself in all her complexity. An authentic and generous work whose modesty and reserve are enchanting.”
“Through street photography, the Toronto visual artist Anne J. Gibson discovers a way to free herself from dependence on hard drugs. An intimate portrait of a survivor. Respectful treatment. Restrained direction. Moving testimonies.”
“Restrained direction with a good dose of touching testimonies whose words go straight to the heart.”
Signs of the Night, Bangkok
DOC-Cévennes, Lasalle, France
Cinéma Paraloeil, Rimouski, Quebec
Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma, Montreal
Cinématèque québécoise, Montreal
Montreal International Documentary Festival
I had been following the work of street photographers, and had seen many images of street people: homeless men and women, nomadic musicians, unlicensed vendors, idle young people and lost souls. Often these photos seemed voyeuristic, or the opposite — distant to the point of contempt. Not those of Anne. J. Gibson.
In our first Facebook exchange, Anne said: “You wrote that I have the right distance. That’s because I am not separate from them. I see myself reflected in everyone I photograph. For me, art makes life liveable.”
I quickly understood that one doesn’t ask direct questions, that her responses would be both simple and complex.
Michka Saäl, 2016
A life of contradiction
One of the things I look for in the films of others, and what I try to achieve in my own, is to be surprised. So that, from one scene to the next, we’re not sure what will happen. Anne was full of contradictions and paradoxes, and susceptible to unexpected reactions. I didn’t have to worry about not being surprised.
Anne doesn’t walk. She dances, jumps, kneels, lies flat on her stomach, climbs on a table, circles her subject, calls out to them, chats, and charms them with an easy, natural banter. At first, I was stunned by this remarkable transformation from a woman who was traumatized, introverted, and almost wild into a sort of playful street urchin dressed in cowboy boots and hat, witty, bold, and extroverted. As if, right before my eyes, she was changing from tragedy to comedy. But she explained:
“The camera allows me to be alone in the middle of a crowd. I stay in control and rarely spend more than five minutes with anyone. It’s a way to be intimate without risk. It’s only through photography that I can access the most vulnerable parts of myself. Photography saved my life.”
Michka Saäl, 2016