By Piers Handling, Director and CEO, TIFF
Noah Cowan, Artistic Director, TIFF Bell Lightbox
The Cronenberg Project reflects a singular relationship that has built TIFF, the organization behind the Toronto International Film Festival, into its current form. We have grown as an institution alongside David Cronenberg and have benefited enormously from his ongoing support—as a filmmaker who has made multiple appearances at the Festival; as the first donor of his personal effects to our Film Reference Library; as a mentor in our learning programmes; and even as a film curator in our early days. We have been inspired by his iconoclastic body of work and his rigorous approach to talking about cinema and the culture that sustains it. And we love his sense of humour.
A dozen years ago, when TIFF began conceiving the programming for its new home, TIFF Bell Lightbox, a celebration of David Cronenberg and his unique contributions to global cinema was top of mind. We wanted to find a new approach to his work and to allow for other creative forces in the world to intersect and comment on it as well. The concept that seemed most fertile involved Cronenberg’s unique approach to the idea of human evolution, as embodied in his cinema and in his interviews about it.
The body and the mind, the rational and the instinctive, have driven the course of human history. Humanity is endlessly curious, striving to perfect itself, to create the next stage of evolution. Charismatic rebels from the sterile halls of science are convinced they have the key. Experiments occur. The effects are profound, and new forms of life emerge. But the old questions of metaphysics remain: Who is my creator? Who am I? Why am I here? And the answers are still too much to bear. They trigger a psychosexual rebellion in these new life forms—ruptures between body and mind in our prurient present, often with tragic consequences.
The Cronenberg Project has as its centre David Cronenberg: Evolution, a film exhibition. Through the presentation of artifacts, props, set pieces and dynamic audiovisual elements, we parallel Cronenberg’s growth as a filmmaker with his ongoing examination and interpretation of human evolutionary possibilities, from the telepaths of Scanners to the scientist of The Fly; from the television producer of Videodrome to the twin doctors of Dead Ringers. The exhibition also explores sub-themes of sexual control, the struggle for personal identity and Cronenberg’s relationship to science and science fiction.
The exhibition is divided into three chapters, which organize Cronenberg’s career in a loosely chronological way. Part one includes Cronenberg’s early films, from Stereo to Videodrome, and emphasizes his protagonists’ searches for father figures within the worlds of science and technology. This section also emphasizes the lack of control subjects have over their own bodies and sexual impulses, and the sociopolitical impact of Cronenberg’s exploration of ideas like virology and reproductive rights. Part two investigates Cronenberg’s middle period, from Videodrome to eXistenZ, as characters seek to take control of their own lives and divided selves. In this section, subjects come to control and experiment with their own bodies. Part three concerns Cronenberg’s most recent films, from Spider to Cosmopolis, and how the filmmaker moves protagonists, now confident in their origins and personal identity, into the social world. Cronenberg questions what responsibilities we have to others and how we choose to use our bodies to reinforce or reject these connections.
In addition, we chose to create a special space in the exhibition devoted to Naked Lunch, a film that embodies much of Cronenberg’s metaphorical language and most clearly displays his intellectual continuity with important related thinkers—William S. Burroughs of course looming large among them. To end the show, we proposed a space to contemplate Cronenberg’s own evolutionary anxieties: the nightmares related to his own creativity. Here, a screening room projects Cronenberg’s chilling metacritical autobiographies, beginning with “Camera,” a TIFF commission for its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2000.
The Cronenberg Project is made possible through support from Presenting Partners, the Government of Canada and the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund.
With the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA), we have created a major visual-art exhibition, David Cronenberg: Transformation, that features six new commissions from international contemporary artists influenced by Cronenberg: Candice Breitz, Marcel Dzama, Jeremy Shaw, Jamie Shovlin, James Coupe and Laurel Woodcock. We challenged them to contemplate the scientist longing for the next stage of human evolution, and to consider how that figure might be represented. We also asked Cronenberg himself to curate a number of signature works from the National Gallery of Canada that he feels kinship towards.
Special thanks to the Government of Ontario, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Hal Jackman Foundation for their support.
Cronenberg’s vision extends into the future and occupies a contentious place in the world of science fiction. We felt an urgency to create a work to address that place and partnered with the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab, which collaborated with acclaimed creative director and experience designer Lance Weiler to make an immersive digital extension of David Cronenberg: Evolution, BODY/MIND/CHANGE. The project sits between an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) and Internet-based, moving-image and performance art. Cronenberg himself participated in its creation as an actor/subject, reacting to the installation of “POD,” a cybernetic relative of the Civic TV virus from Videodrome, in his body. BODY/MIND/CHANGE can be experienced at bodymindchange.ca.
TIFF presents Body/Mind/Change, in co-production with CFC Media Lab, a Lance Weiler Project. Presenting Partner for Body/Mind/Change is the Department of Canadian Heritage's Canada Interactive Fund. Supported by the Government of Ontario.
Film is at the core of our mandate and we took this opportunity to restore many of Cronenberg’s films, including Shivers, Rabid and Dead Ringers and to restrike many others. As film curators, we continue to assert that the most fruitful way to understand a filmmaker’s work is to see it onscreen, in a cinema.
Further to this, we wanted to create an opportunity for audiences to further interact with the films. We have planned a series of on-stage conversations and events with a number of Cronenberg’s collaborators, past and present, and scholars seriously engaged in his work.
A key initiative of TIFF is to mentor and advocate for post-secondary students, faculty, and emerging practitioners. To this end, we present Higher Learning, a free ongoing programme that provides Canadian college and university students and faculty a forum in which to examine film, television, video, new media and gaming from a wide range of cultural, social, historical, political and technological approaches and disciplines. The programme launched in September 2010 with a Master Class by Canadian legend David Cronenberg and his longtime editor, Ron Sanders, on Cronenberg's modern classic Videodrome.
The goal of Higher Learning is to provide opportunities for scholars and practitioners, from neighbouring post-secondary institutions, to interact with each other and the broader media arts communities, and, in doing so, to enhance the educational and professional opportunities available to these core groups. To accomplish this goal, we also developed the Higher Learning Digital Resource Hub, which complements our live events by providing satellite educational programming to academic communities and to the public at large, extending the Higher Learning experience beyond the walls of TIFF Bell Lightbox. When we began planning our Cronenberg Project, we saw an opportunity to build on this online hub, by creating an in depth resource for this same community; a virtual exhibition where we could showcase our collection of Cronenberg materials beyond the confines of the exhibition space, to a virtual, international audience. We were pleased to collaborate with three of our academic partners, OCAD University (OCADU), Sheridan College, and York University to create this Virtual Museum, a legacy resource that we hope will stimulate ongoing research and interest in Cronenberg’s films.