Amidst the bustle of downtown Toronto, filmmaker and photographer Fantavious Fritz resides in a loft located in a heritage building. Infused with eccentric character, natural light floods the space feeding the many plants decorating the space. The city’s buzz seeps through the ample windows and mingles with the eclectic music that seems to play incessantly. An integral part of his filmmaking, the “visual music” he discusses seems to permeate the world outside of his work as well – there is something poetic about this atmosphere in which he lives.
Fantavious is an ardent artist who cultivated his passion for filmmaking at an early age. It is apparent that he possesses a deep sensitivity for the external world – collaboration and the support of other artists plays an integral role in his creative process. He shoots exclusively on celluloid film, which adds a uniquely rich sensory experience to the stories he tells. Fantavious has shown short films at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now working on his first feature-length film inspired by the perspectives of a cat in the neighborhood he grew up in. When we met with him, he revealed how his creative insights and development have been shaped by his experiences growing up in Calgary, as well as stretches living in Portland, New York, and Toronto.
How did you feel about your upbringing in Calgary?
I love Calgary. It’s next to the mountains and it’s also next to the prairies so there are a lot of different landscapes. I love hiking, camping and getting out of the city, which I miss, living in Toronto. I felt pretty lucky growing up there but I also felt that it didn’t fit with a lot of the stuff I was doing because there wasn’t always a huge film or art scene there. There’s a great art scene that’s developing now, but generally I would say that Calgary used to be a bit of a conservative place because it is an oil town. Pretty much every single kid who grew up on my block grew up to be an engineer who works in the oil industry. I was glad to leave but I still love going back and consider it a huge part of who I am.
Did the lack of an arts culture there somehow inspire you to cultivate your interests?
Totally. I’ve always felt that some of the people who I consider to be my favorite artists – like musicians or cinematographers – are from Calgary and Edmonton. When you grow up in a place like that, your example of what’s good is coming from the world stage. You’re not really looking locally for what’s great. It’s like you’re living on an island but you see the rest of the world and think, “So, that’s what it’s like out there.”.
Where did your interest in photography and film begin?
I started shooting photos before motion picture. I just started shooting friends, which became a really awesome way to practice all of the technical skills of using a camera. And then from there, gained a passion for the art form of photography. I was given a minimal darkroom kit and I didn’t have any space because I lived in my parents’ basement in high school. I would take all of the stuff and put it in the bathroom with the enlarger on the floor, the stop bath, the developing tray and the fixer in the shower and just fill the sink up with water to rinse the prints. I would print black and white photos all night long, straight through to the morning. It was very time consuming.
With motion picture, it was definitely because of skateboarding and snowboarding, that was basically all I did from the age of 12 to 20. When I was 17 I made a full-scale digital skateboarding/snowboarding video. We had a little premiere at a theatre and it was packed. At that point, I got so excited by the response that I started getting into shooting 16mm film because all the best skateboard and snowboard videos were shot on film back then. This kid that I looked up to taught me everything about it. He told me, “You gotta shoot film, it’s the best.” And pretty much ever since then I’ve only shot film.
Your films, such as Paradise Falls, are dense with sensory experiences. Can you talk about this style of storytelling?
Definitely. While I was writing Paradise Falls, the works of Ray Tintori, a director who is part of the Court 13 film collective, were a huge inspiration to me and to all of the people that I work with in Lion Attack, the film collective that I am a part of. Also, the work of Guy Maddin. They both create these really visceral, fast-moving experiences that are almost like mini feature films in that they tell this massive story in a very condensed period of time. You don’t necessarily get to know the characters like you would in a feature length film but that method of making a short film really attracted me. I thought it would be fun to try out this style of storytelling where you’re packing this huge, grandiose story, message or idea into a very small package and never really having a dull moment in the film.
What else about short filmmaking do you like?
I find that short filmmaking offers you a lot of freedom to experiment. There’s less pressure making shorts than with features so I think it lends itself to really daring types of filmmaking that are higher risk. A lot of innovation can come out of short filmmaking and it’s a great way to start. There are also a lot of challenges that come from trying to create an interesting story in a short period of screen time. It’s a creative restriction that breeds a lot of interesting ideas in how to tell a story in a condensed period of time.
What is the idea behind Fritzmagnets as alternative platform for showing your work?
I don’t really print any of my photographs and so I wanted to create a space that utilized some of the capabilities of the Internet as a gallery. You have your photos on a wall in a gallery, but people typically aren’t welcome to come up and rearrange them. What I thought was interesting behind the idea of Fritzmagnets was that they are all just their own things on a magnetic surface of some kind. The viewer is actually participating in the arrangement of the work or the way certain colors or shapes can fit a narrative. It’s a collage-like experience of viewing.
Can you explain the concept behind Alex the Cat, the first feature-film you’re working on?
I usually pitch it with a story that occurred when I was younger with this neighborhood cat in Calgary. Nobody really knew whose cat it was but everybody knew it by “Alex the Cat.” One summer day, I was watching television and I heard this crazy screech outside and ran to the window. Alex had been hit by a car. There were a lot of people from the neighborhood that came outside and were wondering what was going on, what to do, and whose cat it was. My mom took him to the vet, but he died that night. That was probably the first time that I experienced death. It was a pretty strange experience for me and definitely an important one that I often look back on. I still think about Alex a lot and imagine the things that he would see on his trips around the neighborhood. Like, what kind of stuff he knew about the neighborhood that no one else did, and what kind of encounters did Alex have with the people? The cat was seeing so much more than me. As I grew up, things would reveal themselves about people I knew or about the neighborhood that would change my perspective on the way the world worked, I would think about Alex and how he kind of had his hand on the bigger picture. So the film that I’m working on, Alex the Cat, is about the lives of people in this neighborhood that are intertwined whether they know it or not, through the cat as this kind of unifying observer.
You belong to a film collective called Lion Attack. How important are collaborative relationships to your work?
Lion Attack is a group of filmmakers that originated in Portland. When I was living there I was introduced by my friend Austin Will to Sam Kuhn when he was shooting a film in a small airport in Washington, and Austin asked if I wanted to come out and help for the day. Sam was shooting the ending to one of his projects – a scene where these two characters steal an airplane. They flew around the Washington mountains and close to the coast and shot from plane to plane, capturing this incredible sequence. Pretty much from that point on, Sam and I have been really good friends. I was making another film called Kosmos the summer after and we needed a small rowboat, and he just brought one down from Washington for the production that someone was giving away near his parents’ house. Sam was actually working with Ray Tintori recently in San Francisco and then in New York on his feature so we all met the Court 13 people. That was one reason why I moved to New York, to hang around those guys. It’s been a really good collection of people to be in touch with, and to be around people who are inspiring as friends and as artists. But in Toronto, more specifically, I would say there’s an amazing group of people here as well. The main person I collaborate with the most is my girlfriend Daiva, who’s the most supportive person in the world and pretty much helps on all of my productions, whether it’s bouncing ideas back and forth, or helping me with characters she’s playing or that I’m writing. She’s always involved at a huge capacity.
Can you elaborate on how music plays an integral role in your work?
I find that music is one of my biggest sources of inspiration, whether it’s for a type of mood that sets a scene or for an action of a character. Sometimes when I listen to music of any kind – because I like a lot of different genres of music – it will spark imagery when I’m trying to write or when I’m coming up with projects. In a way, I am striving to create films that mirror a form of visual music – images that when positioned together in sequence evoke an emotional response like a series of musical notes played together in sequence. In one way it definitely influences my narrative work and it’s a huge part of my finished product, but it also works in another way where I’m exploring the medium of film as a more poetic and visual form of music, rather than specifically just telling a story with images.
You filmed an interesting video for the band TOPS. Do you enjoy music videos?
Music videos are something that I’ve always been interested in and wanted to explore. TOPS was nice enough to hire me to do their first music video for their single “Turn Your Love Around” off their first album. My mom works with disabled children, so throughout my childhood I was always meeting children that had severe disabilities, and it shaped the way I look at the senses and the way that I look at people in general. It occurred to me that this would be interesting to film. Due to growing up with my mom, I was aware that deaf people do listen to music. Some people who aren’t profoundly deaf can actually hear music at high volumes, but also people who are profoundly deaf experience music in different ways: through dance and through feeling the beat through the floor from vibrations. I thought it would be interesting to shoot a music video with deaf children in a dance class together, experiencing the song. We found a dance class for the deaf in Toronto. We came in and built a dance floor out of this special material that transmits vibrations and we put giant subwoofers down on the pad. We had the kids sit on it, listening to the song so they could feel it in their bodies and then with shoes off, feeling the rhythm through the floor. They also had this amazing mirror in the classroom that was like soft glass which was made of this weird film-like material. Because the music was so loud and we all had to wear ear plugs, the vibrations were so visceral that it was moving the mirror so you could actually visualize the vibrations in the song and the kids reacting to themselves. I think it turned out really well and it was a really amazing experience. I did a couple of film workshops for the class afterwards who were all totally excited about filmmaking.
Why do you favor the medium of film for your work?
I think that the medium of film, whether it’s photographic or motion picture film, is technically a superior medium to digital. I think that it is better by the standard of what image it produces and I just prefer the look of film. It’s a personal preference, it’s pretty much as simple as that. And if someone is shooting a digital film or a digital photograph I totally respect that. I think that ultimately, an idea should dictate the medium that you choose to shoot a project on. I feel that my ideas lend themselves more to using celluloid. It captures motion, I think, in a way that digital cameras can’t quite do. I think film as a medium, especially for narrative filmmaking, helps you as a director or cinematographer to restrain yourself and to think really clearly about what you’re trying to do and how you’re going to achieve that. You can still be spontaneous with film, you can capture real moments, but you really need to pay attention. I think that’s another quality that I like about shooting film.
Can you share any of your favorite spots in the city?
I really like Caffe Brasiliano. I usually go there to write because there are a lot of locals that aren’t my own age just telling each other stories, and you overhear a lot of crossfire in the conversations. They have awesome Americanos and lasagna. For food, Seven Lives for tacos and Khao San Road for Thai. I don’t really shop, but I always go to Toronto Imageworks to buy, develop, and scan film.
Thank you Fantavious for sharing your unique perspectives with us and exemplifying why the medium of film is wonderful and thriving. To find out more about Fantavious’ work, visit his website here.
Photography & Interview: Charlyn Reyes