Pixie Cram Q & A with
Pixie Cram

Interview by Ren Tomovcik
( Photo by Mariana Lafrance)

Ottawa independent filmmaker Pixie Cram is an endless well of creativity.  Whether she's working in live-action film or putting together an imaginative tale using stop-motion and puppets, the themes she explores never lack imagination.  Inspired by science fiction and dystopian landscapes, Pixie has created an acclaimed body of work that has featured in film festivals across Canada and around the world. 

Just this past month, her work was showcased in the Film Femini festival in Montenegro, and she was also featured in Ladyfest Ottawa's miniature filmfest, celebrating the work of eight female filmmakers.  On December 1st and 2nd, Club SAW will present the premiere of Prometheus in Five Directions,  the final installment in her "Nature and Technology" short film trilogy.  Pixie is also a co-founder of the Windows Collective, an installation-based public art project that took off in 2008. 

Pixie, short films have to compress a lot of emotion and storytelling into a relatively small span of time. What attracts you to the short film as opposed to the full-length feature, and what are the challenges that arise due to its minimal length?
I've always found it easier to keep things short and concentrated, so the short film format really suits me.  The process of writing a script for a short film feels in some ways similar to writing a poem.  I usually begin with an image and let a narrative take shape around it.

Why do you often return to more traditional film media (16mm) rather than shooting a film digitally?  Is there something about working and editing in traditional media that makes the process more enjoyable for you?
I like the look of film - the softness, the grain, the depth of the image.  Although these days I've been shooting on 16mm or super-8 and then finishing to video, the first two films I ever made were edited on a Steenbeck editing table, where I cut the 16mm work print and audio track and had it finished to film.  It's just a lot more expensive to get a print done, so I go the route of finishing to video instead.  But I still get the beautiful quality of the film image from the original format.

Pixie Cram Pixie Cram
16mm film stills from Pixie's works: Coil (2000) and Xerces Blue (2003)

Stop-motion animation seems to be enjoying a surge in popularity lately. Why does using this method make for such a visually compelling piece?   With stop-motion animation you can create an entirely imaginary world; you're not bound by any limitations of reality.  There's something very human and imperfect about this technique, too.  Stop-motion animation is done through human movement.  The animator moves the object or puppet very slightly, then photographs it, and so on.  I find it very compelling to watch the rhythms that emerge from this process.  Every animator has a rhythm - it's like dancing or making music.  

Why do you decide to use puppets rather than live actors to tell a particular story?  How does this change the audience's perception of the story that is unfolding?
There's puppet animation in both Coil and Prometheus in Five Directions.  In each case, I had a character that belonged to a fantasy world - a sci-fi creature or monster.  Puppets were the most natural way for me to bring these creatures to life.  Being three-dimensional, the puppets and actors could inhabit the same world, in the same natural landscape.

Pixie Cram
  Directing a scene from The Factory of Light.  (Photo by Petr Maur)

You're known for the dystopian themes in your work.  Do you feel that we're really heading toward a dystopian future, or are these themes firmly rooted in the realm of fiction for you?Dystopias for me are like fairy tales - they are warning stories.  They point out what consequences or dangers might exist if we continue along a certain path. I would actually like to start making utopian films and telling stories with happy endings. 

I think what we see on the screen impacts us on an emotional and psychological level, children especially. Though I value art that looks at the shadow side of human nature, I also value the art and the artists that are changing our current paradigm by creating images of pleasure, peace, and abundance.  I can't get enough of positive images, beautiful images, music and stories about generosity, courage and forgiveness.

As a songwriter, you often compose the music that accompanies your films.  Are the two creative processes closely intertwined for you?
Yes.  When I get an idea for a project it usually starts either with an image or a lyric.  But the creative process for me in either case is about letting the ideas and images flow, whether I'm strumming my guitar or sitting at the computer typing a script.

Your work recently featured in two festivals that focused specifically on female filmmakers.  Do you think your experience as a filmmaker has been influenced by your gender?  How have your experiences as a woman influenced your storytelling, songwriting and filmmaking?
The theme of birth has come up in a couple of my recent films, Prometheus being one of them.  I'm 33 now and my thoughts are turning toward having a family, and so this desire is coming through in my songwriting and shows up in the films I'm making.  I think women have different life experiences from men and therefore have different stories to tell.  They have a unique point of view when storytelling in general, whether it be in film or in music or in other mediums. 

Unfortunately, our half of the population doesn't have as strong a voice in filmmaking as it ought to, and there are still many barriers to women in the film industry.  Some say we're in a backlash phase.  One way that I've found to encourage more women to make their own films is through teaching courses for women at Ottawa's film co-op, IFCO.
Pixie Cram
(Photo: Mariana Lafrance)

Having seen your work featured at a number of international film festivals and having viewed the work of talented filmmakers from all over the world, do you think there is something unique about Canadian film?I would qualify a number of Canadian films as having a very dark sense of humour.  I think we share this attribute with the Scandinavians.  It has something to do with the long dark winters and the isolation.

Tell us a little about the Windows Collective - why did you decide to start this project, and how can people get involved?I wanted to be doing projects with other filmmakers on a community-wide level.  I love collaboration and was looking for more creative outlets. I was also wanting to create opportunities for other artists in the city.  I approached Roger Wilson with the idea to do installations in the windows of buildings that would be visible from the street and the two of us invited four other filmmakers to join us.  At the moment we're all back to our lives and individual projects after a busy summer, but I suspect we'll be collaborating again in the spring!

What other resources would you recommend to filmmakers looking to get started in Ottawa, or who might be interested in collaborating with another Ottawa filmmaker on production or creative projects?IFCO and SAW Video are both not-for-profit centres that hold workshops.  They also rent equipment at subsidized rates for artists and independent film and video makers, and they service a community of people who work on creative projects all year round. 


* Visit Pixie's Myspace Profile
* Check out her work on Artengine
* Learn more about the Windows Collective on Facebook

Pixie's films are available to buy or rent through the Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre.

Tuesday Dec. 1st & Wednesday Dec. 2nd, 2009 @ 8PM
Club SAW - 67 Nicholas Street, Ottawa
Admission:  $5 advance / $6 at the door
Tickets available at Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue

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