Travelling Companions


We arrive.

A hard road pocked by salt and sand traced the shoreline, brought us to this point, and ended. The snow is down. The lake is solid. We decide to walk upon it. Your bright red brittle coat crackles and creases as you try snowshoes for the first time. You fall often in the deep windswept whiteness. Your bald head covered in a toque, your antipodean cheeks flushed crimson in the Laurentian cold, and you smile into the diamond teeth of all this ice and snow. Off in the distance, sounds of skates and sticks scratching and clattering on a cleared portion of the lake. Voices. The steam of breath. Ski doo drones. The ice inhales and prepares to crack quietly beneath us. These sounds, I think to myself, must be strange to you. To me, they are the aural ghosts of childhood memory. All this remembrance of cold triumphs and humiliations at the rink, of the warm awkward comforts of going home, of the ghosts of totality before the rupture. It’s all glare and brightness here in this moment, but my mind remembers winter as deep darkness, with scars of light etched into it by light bulbs trembling suspended over our makeshift rinks. Dreams of sweet hockey futures, faraway luminous cities, other people. Lakes, rivers, frozen water: the mystery of a liquid made solid by the air itself.

You are from Australia. I have no idea what you are remembering at this moment. 

We are outside a cottage in St. Adolphe, Quebec, an hour and a half north of Montreal. It is February and you are in Canada to look at new films for the film festival you organize in a distant city that knows no snow. You ask about Canadian experimental filmmakers. Looking closely at the thin traces of ice on your gloves and glancing at the arcs of my convex reflection in your sunglasses, I think, perhaps inevitably at this moment, of Michael Snow. Knowing you as I do, however, I recommend the work of Philip Hoffman. Knowing me as you do, you say you will look at his films. Several months later, you invite Hoffman to your festival in Sydney, Australia. As it will turn out, there he will meet an American filmmaker, Wayne Salazar, with whom he will make a film almost a decade later. Poetic images of Australian landscapes will also find their way into several of Hoff- man’s films.

After a while, the sun slides down under western hills. The hockey game ends somehow, and the lake falls still. We turn and walk towards the cottage. The ice beneath this flannel of snow issues a muffled crack. Another new fissure. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there.

We leave.


We grow old. Apart. Together.

Sitting in the midst of this very Australian party in Sydney’s fashionable Rocks district of bars and restaurants, I am struck by my reflection in the moist glass of the window next to our crowded table. Outside, it is raining. The now dripping Harbour Bridge stands gray and stoic, surveying the smudge of Circular Quay and the Opera House. I can see the back of my head in certain positions, and I note that my hair is thinning. I remember time here in this foreign, oddly comforting faraway space. The temporal in my body. I observe the speed and the beauty of the younger people at this film festival party, all timeless and supple and mobile and light. I remember the ghostly images of the children in Kitchener-Berlin, all that family footage and oral history rattling under my skin from passing through/torn formations, all that troubling awareness of time and trauma that permeates Destroying Angel and What these ashes wanted.

A voice. An Australian drawl comes to me. Someone leans into view and smiles. I return the smile and we talk. I speak of Canada and she speaks of Australia, echoed soon after by her husband’s broad, smiling face as he brings me a beer. There is communion at the table. Her voice reminds me of the someone far away, someone I miss and remember, someone who is not here and here. There is a small image of you in my wallet and fine sounds deep in my brain. All the while, the whole room is getting drunker as the late afternoon passes into evening. While smiling and speaking, in my head is an incantation. Others arrive, and the party moves on.

Weeks after, remembering this remembering, I will write:


There is another woman
with your voice, 
I swear. 

How she got it, 
I’m not

All I know
is that

she speaks
she shapes
the hush of your absence.

Sydney harbour offers up whitecaps now, as the winds have picked the darkening waters up and shoved them into the air. We continue to talk and that will change us. What will happen next? What is happening now? Another glimpse of thinning hair, another drink, another shudder of memory of how far I am from home. In my mind’s crowded diary of elsewhere come images of Marian in the elegiac Destroying Angel. She stands in the kitchen where she stands no more, and all the images in the world are not enough. Thinking of the courage of these films, and a little more aware of my perch along the edges of a profound solitude, I dispatch a humble poetic epistle to Phil, who stands before the loss of his beloved Marian, and whose work illuminates the grammar of longing and the joyous pain of remembering.


In this tangle of

You are there. 

Not darkening her

Later, at another party at some Australian film agent’s condominium overlooking the Botanical Gardens, we all stand on the balcony and look at the Sydney skyline. Above the city, the small luminous traces of airplanes approaching Kingsford Smith International Airport prompts me to tell Canadian filmmaker Peter Mettler what my aviator brother once told me about time and space. At such high velocities, time is almost space itself, he told me. You must not look forward, as you are already there. You must imagine time spatially and space temporally. I remember telling him that cinema is like that, constructed and delimited with and by time and yet capable of enormous spatial expression. It can prompt profound perceptual re-calibration. I showed him RiverO Zoo, and Sweep. Does he understand? Sort of, I remember him saying.

Where is here? Where is there? When is here? When is there? When is now? Where is now? All those extraordinary Hoffman palimpsests of memory, desire, time, space, knowledge and forgetting reconcile me to my confusion.


These places. Australia. Canada. North. South. These times. Before. After. During. The work of Philip Hoffman follows you around from the inside. It reminds you to remember, reminds you that empirical observation can become, pace Grierson, a form of metaphysics, reminds you that you are all alone and not alone at all. Carrying pasts and presents along in their promiscuous temporal image flows, his films have carried me to remarkable places of interior recognition. They have also prompted conversations, even catalyzed friendships, with people from places worlds away from the brittle rich Canadian clatter of skates, sticks, and pucks on pond ice. They too have seen themselves and, of course, Canada evoked, expressed, and explored in Philip Hoffman’s generous, protean vision.

John Piekoszewski