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Behind the Lens: The Making of the Bill Vazan Video

Imagine the opportunity to create a short film about a key figure in the visual or media arts, with the support of a local production centre – with full creative control over your work.

That was the assignment recently given to group of independent film directors. The result: Insightful, often inspiring, always creative video portraits of the 8 winners of the 2016 Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Awards. 2016 marks the fourth year of this video project – a partnership between the Canada Council and the Independent Media Arts Alliance.

Montréal director Julie Perron agreed to answer a few questions about her experience making the video #GGArts about Montreal visual artist William (Bill) Vazan.

Behind the Lens: The Making of the Bill Vazan Video
Behind the Lens: The Making of the Bill Vazan Video

What was the most challenging/interesting aspect of this project?

I was thrilled when I found out I’d been chosen to create the portrait of Bill Vazan. The opportunity to make a video portrait of such an accomplished artist was a real challenge professionally.

It was some time before Bill could be available for our first meeting, since he was in Florida at the time for the creation of one of his works. True to my usual work method, my first meeting the artist took place in his apartment, without the camera, so that I could observe him in his environment. Also, this way I could measure my ideas for the film against what he was able to give me in terms of time and personal investment.

My original idea was to film outdoors on public transit, following the lines of his artistic trajectory. The “lines” theme inspired me since this form is so prevalent in all his work (Canada Line, Worldline), including his first work, an ink drawing on watercolour that I immediately loved, called Phenocrysts)

However, it quickly became clear that Bill did not have a lot of time available for several shoots. . Also, because his work is so vast and varied (photography, land art, sculpture), I knew it would be hard to approach it exhaustively in a 3-minute video. In light of these challenges, I asked him if he could conceive of creating it outdoors, not too far from his home. The idea appealed to him immediately, and we agreed to meet the following week with my crew in Montréal’s Botanical Gardens.

What did you learn from the experience?

We were able to film him as he created 4 works of land art – Neutrino Impact, Digital Field, Neutrino and a trial for a project that could someday be created in a pool in the garden. It was moving to watch this 82-year-old artist creating under the attentive eye of our camera. His pleasure and his concentration are apparent in the film. It was gratifying to have succeeded in creating the right conditions for a moment filled with humanity in such a short period of time – arranging a encounter between an individual, his passion and the public, and immortalizing it thanks to film.

What are you working on next that has you excited?

My most recent film, Le Semeur, was given a very positive reception after its first international presentation at the 2014 Berlin Festival. It then toured to other international festivals for two years. I am now in a period of writing and development for new projects: documentaries (Une place au soleil, the portrait of a village in northern Greece) and fiction (Niki et Nadia, the eventful summer of a 9-year-old girl in Montreal during the 1976 Olympics).

Julie Perron, Filmmaker
Julie Perron


Montréal-born filmmaker Julie Perron began her career in 2000 at the National Film Board. Her first film, Mai en décembre (Godard en Abitibi), is a look back at Jean-Luc Godard’s TV experience in a television station in Abitibi in 1968. Julie has taught film at Main Film (Montréal) and New Trier College (Chicago). She has been a member of Films de l’Autre since 2001. Other works include: Lucie de tous les temps, Pierre Gauvin, un moine moderne, Le Semeur.