Riding the pink bike of Helen Hill made me blue and smiling tears. In a happy coincidence, I witnessed the beautiful contradictions that make up the spokes and sprockets of the life and films of Helen Hill. At the Pacific Cinematheque last week I had the pleasure of sitting in on what would be an intimate and inspirational evening. I almost didn't go that night because there will be a retrospective of Helen's work in September at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. But luckily, I did because what I didn't know was Helen's husband Paul Gailiunas and her son Francis now live in Vancouver and not only were they there but Helen's family was there too. All of a sudden, the small theatre shrank and the flat white screen became the background where the silhouette of Helen was captured and we were moved by stories and song. The audience became a privileged few who got to listen in on and peer through the mouseholes of their tribute to her. Paul sang songs with Helen's playful words attached, children were restless and potbellied pigs squealed as their act of remembrance captured unto itself the essence of Helen's films: spirited, cheerful and personal.
The lights went down and the flicker of memory hit the screen joyously hard.
From Vessel (1992) to Bohemian Town (2004), each film was not only a recipe for DIY film making but a genuine reflection of life and the love of it. Unfortunately, I never met Helen nor had I seen any of her films before but I felt like I knew her after seeing them. Maybe it is because the 16 mm film makes it read like an animated home movie. It is as though we are secretly getting to read her diary frame by frame. Also, there is this experimental process of discovery where the film technique itself adds an innocent quality to the stories. Her films are spills of colour, a childhood filled with scratched-in discoveries, mischievously caught under a sun filled day. Simply they are Helen the film-maker, wife, mother, sister and daughter.
(Aside) my favorite memory from that night is when the silent film Your New Pig is Down the Road was playing and you could hear Helen's family whispering up front as her nephew repeatedly said 'Daisy' aloud. It was a very moving 'soundtrack'.
Needless to say that night was beautifully sad and inspiring. Paul summed it up when he sang her words '...you ought to know what it is to wait'! As it is the simple quiet times of life that are the best and with patience the joys will come.