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Film Scratches: Canaries in the Mine – Focus (2014)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

Focus is a thoughtful, intriguing 7 minute film essay by Simon Welch. The film is a portrait of Pierre, a retired French coal miner of Polish extraction, whom Welch befriends when they discover their mutual interest in film. Unlike American coal miners, Pierre appears to be comfortably middle class, with a pool in the backyard and a large collection of birds and dogs. Nevertheless he is literally a haunted man, as he has spent many years worrying about ghosts, spells, and other supernatural dangers which he feels have always followed him around. He traces these ghosts to an incident in childhood where a sadistic older man pushed him into an open grave.

FocusSideWelch pairs Pierre’s story with shots of the closed mines where he once worked, pictures of his animals, and shots of a statue of St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners. Without making polemical connections, Welch draws parallels between Pierre’s fear of ghosts, the tangible dangers of working in the mines, the Catholic cult of saints, and the economic perils of working for an industry that is gradually going out of existence in France. The result is a brief but sharply drawn video portrait of a man coping with uncertainty. The collage of images, interviews, and observations comes together to give us a sense of Pierre and his experiences within the changing economy of France.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact david (at) lakeivan.org.

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