Rick Hancox speaking at the Art Gallery of Ontario

November 2, 1990 on the “Sheridan Night” opening of his retrospective


I’m a little overwhelmed by all this attention to my work. My natural Canadian instincts tell me I must be someone from elsewhere who deserves all this… but on the other hand, I’m so focused right no on getting my new  film Moose Jaw into shape, I’m not as afraid as I thought I would be, at least not for now.


Of course, the other thing that gets me off the hook tonight is that it’s not really my night-it’s my student’s night-or should I say my former students. One of the nice things about teaching-the day you really look forward to-is the day the roles are reversed. For many years now, I’ve been as influenced by the current work of some of my students as they ever were of me-they seem to have the amazing ability to continually reinvent Canadian cinema.


I think it’s probably true that something magic happened at Sheridan College during the years that tonight’s films were produced. There was a certain chemistry there that I sort of fell into, which included a lot of other people besides myself. If Media students already came to me equipped and able to do things like plant hidden microphones in a body rub parlour or handle an optical printer with the seeming ease of Pat O’Neill, it’s because someone else was teaching them.


In particular, the name of Jeff Paull comes up in this connection. He taught optical printing, among other things, and while we occasionally differed on pedagogy, we had one thing in common: our idea of “visual literacy,” as we called it then, was Paul Sharits films (or Pat O’Neill, Brakhage, Deren, Snow, Wieland and others). We delighted in taking first year students, fresh out of high school, and zapping them with films which in some cases, required epilepsy warnings; or it meant showing them what were really the beginnings of Canadian experimental documentary film practice-like the one about the guy who supposedly delivers his suicide note on camera then blows himself into the Canadian landscape with fifty pounds of TNT. The film had a great title Blow Job and more than once the Sheridan Purchasing Department refused to order it.


If I was a good teacher then it was largely by accident; I wasn’t much older than the students themselves, and knew little about teaching. But I had a lot of enthusiasm about alternate film practice that I guess spilled over. I hesitate to use the word “experimental” film practice because too often it’s interpreted only as 1960s New York underground films (what Richard Kerr used to call the ‘urban blight’ school of filmmaking) or else so much avant-garde formalism (the wallpaper school).


Tonight we’re going to see documentary and narrative films as well-because what was important for us at Sheridan was that students took chances-personal risks; that they made honest films about themselves and other things they alone knew best, no matter what genre they chose. Hence, all of tonight’s films fit into what I would like to argue for, and that is an expanded definition of experimental film-‘expanded cinema’ in the true sense, unlimited by modernist strictures.


All tonight’s films are a sampling of 16mm work by students it was my privilege to teach. In making the selection I’m sure I have overlooked many other good films, and I apologize to those students for the necessary evils of programming. The films cover the years I was at Sheridan, from 1973 right up to 1985 when I quit-partly because of a Chairman who nearly ruined the Department (he has subsequently left) but also because twelve years in one place is probably enough. I also saw a new challenge in Concordia University and the province of Quebec (and I certainly got it).


The films you are about to see are truly remarkable for student works. They’re all now in distribution as professional films, many of them have won major awards, and others are first works by people who are now highly respected independent filmmakers. Still others are by people who haven’t been heard from since; they made one amazing film and then burned out like comets in the process.