5 x PHI showcases Montreal talent

We chat to local director Ryan McKenna about his experience working with Freelove Fenner for the Pop Montreal/PHI Centre collaboration 5 x PHI.

5 x phi


Last summer, from Aug. 8–29, the PHI Centre welcomed Pop Montreal as a guest curator. The Pop team paired five local bands (Solar Year, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Freelove Fenner, AroarA and Ira Lee) with five local filmmakers (We Were Monkeys, Philippe Léonard, Inflatable Deities, Ryan McKenna and Cedric Laurenty) to work towards creating musical shorts for the centre as part of the collaborative initiative 5 x PHI.

This Friday (Feb. 21), you can finally see the fruit of their labour at the PHI. The night includes a screening of the five shorts along with performances from the five bands.

Earlier this week we spoke to director Ryan McKenna about his experience working with Pop, the PHI Centre and Freelove Fenner on their film Missed Connections.

Missed Connections
Missed Connections

Kayla Marie Hillier: When were you first approached about 5 x PHI and what sold you on the idea?
Ryan McKenna: My friend Kier-La Janisse, who does the film programming for Pop, first approached me about it. She wasn’t directly involved with the project, but suggested my name to the organizers. PHI/Pop proposed a non-traditional collaboration between five bands and five filmmakers. Essentially, I wasn’t there to make a music video. And the band wasn’t there to write a film score, which sounded like a potentially fun opportunity to experiment with some local musicians.

KMH: Had you ever used the PHI Centre’s facilities before? What was it like working with them?
RM: Danny Lennon, who is the film curator at the PHI Centre, had screened my film Survival Lessons, but otherwise I hadn’t spent any time there. They run a very efficient, state of the art centre — it’s a beautiful space, and the PHI staff members were always eager to help.

Freelove Fenner
Freelove Fenner

KMH: You were paired with Freelove Fenner — were you familiar with their music prior to this project? And what was it like working with them?
RM: I didn’t know Freelove Fenner, but we had a lot of mutual friends. They were great. Peter (Woodford) has a tape studio on Bernard with a bunch of old gear from the ‘70s. He’s really interested in analogue and celluloid — anything that isn’t digital. I found it almost comical how militant he was about it. When we were having our first brainstorm sessions, I remember him boldly asserting that he didn’t like any movies post-1970 and insisted we shoot on Super 8. It was an interesting challenge for me, as I really hadn’t shot much Super 8. Most of my recent projects had been on HD, and prior to that on 16mm.

KMH: How was the whole three-week process? Stressful? Chill?
RM: It was a really fun project. I invited my girlfriend Becca Blackwood to create the visuals with me. She’s wonderfully nutty and had the idea to put a bunch of fat guys in hot air balloon outfits that she created out of papier-mâché. Between the tape audio, the celluloid and the papier-mâché, it was a real arts and crafts project.

Air balloons in Missed Connections
Air balloons in Missed Connections

KMH: Would you want to do something like this again in the future? Did the experience influence your filmmaking at all?
RM: I’m not sure if I’d do it again. I liked working out of the PHI Centre, but we basically had to come up with our concept in one day, which for me was very unsatisfying. I mean you’re put in a room with musicians you don’t really know and immediately there’s pressure to create something interesting together. I definitely wasn’t used to this way of working and I think our project would have benefited greatly from a longer prep.

KMH: What are you currently working on?
RM: I’ve just completed two short films which I will be releasing this spring. One is a found audio project about these weird characters that regularly called a right-wing radio station in Winnipeg during the 1980s. And the other is a hybrid documentary that we shot in the forests around Lachute, Quebec. The style of the latter project was inspired by historical costume dramas and Japanese ghost stories. I’m also prepping my second feature. It’s a French language project that was inspired by Malian music and cellular memory (the idea that organs carry the memories of their donors). The film is called Le Coeur de Madame Sabali, that’s best described as a screwball science fiction drama. ■

5 x PHI takes place at the PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre), Friday Feb. 21, 8 p.m., $8.25. There’s limited seating but you can also check it out live on the web.

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