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Ladies Behind Lenses: Emily Kai Bock

Ladies Behind Lenses is a column that explores films directed, produced, and written by women who are kicking ass within the male-centric world of cinema.

2016 ended on a rather awful note – we lost some greats and a dangerous rhetoric of hate and bigotry consumed parts of our country, leaving some of us feeling alone and alienated. However, through pain comes growth and more than ever in this new year we need messages of hope and empathy, which makes the introduction (or re-introduction) of filmmaker Emily Kai Bock even more important in our lives right now.

Emily Kai Bock hit the ground running after her music video for Grimes’ Oblivion premiered in 2012. She had studied fine art at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University, but, after moving to Montreal, started making videos and short films for her friends who all were part of the burgeoning music scene in Montreal at the time. Since then she has made a carefully curated and gorgeous body of work – from music videos, short documentaries, to most recently a short film, which premiered at TIFF (A Funeral for Lightning). A running thread in many of her music videos is the documentary-style approach she uses and her ability to enter a person’s world or headspace, which feels refreshingly authentic. She offers windows into the psyche of complicated people and at times into the social and cultural reality of our country. Bock’s work doesn’t necessarily involve big budgets and doesn’t really rely on overarching complicated storylines; instead her films and characters dwell on beauty and vulnerability.

Since 2012, she has garnered widespread praise for her work, from film giants like Paul Thomas Anderson to young up and coming filmmakers around the world.  Most are in awe of her seemingly effortless ability to interweave rich narratives with dreamy, filmic visuals. I am certain though that she has faced many walls in the process of carrying through her distinct vision. So I, for one, am also in awe of her integrity and grit as an artist and absolute champion of her vision.

In these bleak times I have relied on looking back to her work to lift my spirit and reassure me that through art we can make sense of the world around us. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Sebastien Schuller – Nightlife from Emily Kai Bock on Vimeo.

Nightlife – Sebastien Schuller: In Nightlife, Bock offers a vital portrait of girls navigating the vibrant and simultaneously melancholy Miami nightlife. Beautifully capturing the foreboding mood of the track together with the yearning and loneliness the girls seem to perpetuate throughout the piece.

ARCADE FIRE – AFTERLIFE from Emily Kai Bock on Vimeo.

Afterlife – Arcade Fire: Bock’s most inimitable work thus far, Afterlife, follows a family in Southern California coping and handling their individual lives after the loss of a loved one. She and cinematographer, Evan Prosofsky, used a mix 35mm and 65mm film to expertly weave together dreamlike sequences of love, loss, and longing.

Spit Gold Under An Empire from Emily Kai Bock on Vimeo.

Spit Gold Under an Empire: This short documentary first premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The diary-like doc features rappers Mykki Blanco, Angel Haze and C.J. Fly who are followed around their neighborhoods in New York and share snippets from their personal experiences, culture, and stories.

Film Column by Ida Yazdi. Find her online at @idaym.

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