John Gianvito’s previous documentary Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind is an intensely quiet, Howard Zinn–inspired meditation on tombstones and massacre markers associated with the American labour movement. On its release, a number of critics assumed the director was influenced by American experimental documentarian James Benning—an error, Gianvito explained by phone. “I’d wanted to see his work. It had always intrigued me, but it just hadn’t come to Boston much. In the years since I finished that film, I’ve probably seen seven of James’s films and we’ve met each other a couple of times, and, indeed, I respond very strongly to his work, as I thought I would, but he’s not a direct influence.”
Both Benning and Gianvito have new documentaries at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. Benning’s Ruhr (which plays on Monday [October 11]) is the filmmaker’s first venture into digital video, which allows him to extend sequences beyond the limits of a can of film; the final scene, a static shot showing steam periodically bursting from an industrial tower as the sun sets, lasts one hour.
Gianvito’s Vapor Trail (Clark), a look at the humanitarian and ecological disaster left when the U.S. abandoned Clark Air Base in the Philippines, is a more conventional piece of politically engaged filmmaking. (It screens on Monday and Wednesday [October 11 and 13]). Still, its length—more than four-and-a-half hours—will intimidate less hardy cinephiles. “We’re obviously in a world where everything is constantly accelerating and the way in which people receive information is rapid-fire, and I started to feel that it’s kind of a political act to make a film with this kind of deliberateness and pacing,” Gianvito told the Straight. “It’s a bit like the slow-food movement, trying to enable people to awaken to different kinds of sensorial and intellectual experiences that can’t be instantly ingested.”