Director: James Beattie Morison

Wednesday Mar 22nd

  • 16mm
  • Calgary
  • 2012
  • 3:03

A willing and generous outline of James Morison’s personal history with the $100 Film Festival, Contingency leaves little room for obscurity. An additional shot-by-shot analysis of the film is provided on the artists website detailing every minute.

Morison efficiently describes the film as a way to “contemplate how random events can shape people’s lives.” Indeed, littered among the numerous sound bytes and background noise are excerpts from his story revealing the serendipitous events that led to the festival in 1992.

“As I walked into the room, I overheard Gord tell someone about the CSIF. A minute later, I might never have heard about it.”

“Denise invited me to a board meeting and asked me to bring my ideas. I wasn’t sure I’d go.”

“After a long discussion, Gordon asked us for our thoughts. I planned to say something supportive.”

“I wasn’t sure I’d go.”

“Steve Volunteered to do a newsletter so I thought I needed to volunteer to do something. I looked at my list, at the third one: $100 Film Festival idea.” Convinced that mere minutes or a sudden hesitation could have changed the entire history of the festival, Morison embeds any imagining of a different scenario within a dense meshwork of clips and quotes elaborating the incidental tone. Drawing from a rich library of his own films including: The Fence (1996), The Smiling Corpse, The Most Difficult Case (2014), Extra special Care (1990), Weekend in Calgary (1991), Line of Taxis (1999), Who Shot The President (2001), If I knew…(1995), and My Next Film (2001). Images are selected for their specific production context, each one conveying the overall thesis of near misses and the potential consequence. Finally, the film is sharply punctuated by a black screen that maintains almost hauntingly through to the end. Morison explains,

“If any of a dozen things had been different, the festival would not have happened, and on the night of the festival, there would only be blackness in the screen.”

This alternate reality is an almost impossible one to imagine considering the festival, that so humbly began through the culmination of fortunate events, is the longest running in Calgary’s history. Its deep integration into our city’s film art scene is illustrated by the inclusion of all of the theatres that hosted it up until 2012.

Contingency is not only the essential film for a festival retrospective, it is also a demonstrative example of the formal virtues of the medium. Morison circles continuously around the very capricious nature of celluloid film. Every shot is purposeful yet uncontrolled. The finished product has undergone the pressures of its own consequential production processes. The filmmaker makes choices accepting and rejecting images. Ultimately, every film is a sum of possible outcomes.

- Felicia Glatz