Interview with Brian Lye

by Jesse Birch

Jesse Birch = JB | Brian Lye = BL

JB: Training a Fool is Not a Joke was structurally and aesthetically based on Rodney Graham’s 1997 Vexation Island, but there were other influences as well. Can you talk about the different elements that informed the production?

BL: I had two major influences for this film that predated Vexation Island.

The first is my neighbourhood here in Kerrisdale. After living away from it for 12 years I am back living at the house where I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. I see a lot of changes in the neighbourhood, and all are related to the rise in property values. A lot of people who have lived here for a long time are taking advantage of the market and selling their homes and making quite a bit of money. The general result of this is that the old houses are all being torn down. If you walk around every day you see changes happening frequently here. It is quite crazy. This house where we shot TAFINAJ is just a block away from my parents’ home where I’m living now. With this film I wanted to be able to preserve at least one of the homes in the neighbourhood, because when things go I find it is hard to remember them without imagery. It is a house that my friends and I used to skateboard in front of every lunch hour and evening when we were in high school.

The second influence is a picture card which I bought in Uganda about five years ago. It’s a card that shows a man sitting on a tree branch with a machete. He is hacking at the branch, but unfortunately for him he is sitting on the wrong side of his cut, and when the branch breaks he tumbles down with it. The bottom of the card has TRAINING A FOOL IS NOT A JOKE written in capital letters. The crazy thing for me is that the tree in the yard in Kerrisdale and the tree in the picture are uncannily similar in appearance. I can’t say I completely understood what the goal of the card was, and I think this is why I like it so much. There is an ambiguity that is comical. I am trying to do the same with this film.

 JB: In the past you have mostly made films for theatrical release. Was the process different working with a gallery installation in mind?

BL: Technically the act of shooting it was quite similar, but the main difference came about when it was time to edit, especially because it was important that this film be able to loop—to have infinite starting points. It was also different because we were making it for this first display in Satellite Gallery’s window space, which meant it would be silent. One great thing about this was that we didn’t need to record sound while shooting (we were shooting without permission and only had four people, including myself). Not having sound in the edit meant that the storytelling relies strictly on image. One day we’ll make another edit with sound that is also not a loop, and I think it will have a very different feel.

JB: In addition to having only four people involved in the shoot, you were acting as both the director and the only main character in the film. What were your considerations behind this choice, and how did it feel to both play and direct the fool?

BL: Because this is piece is local and personal it felt appropriate to be the actor. The fact that Rodney Graham acted in his film also made the choice reassuring, given the concept of re-performance. But mainly it was just the simplest way to make the film; there really wasn’t any time to go looking for an actor (pre-production was one week), and because of the slight safety risks it was easier to just do the things myself rather than be worried about someone else doing them.

I think it is difficult to direct and act at the same time, and this would not be my first choice. What I like about it is that if you know what you want the actor to do, you can just do it. But what makes it hard is when you are unsure on an action and can’t see it from the audience’s perspective. I put a lot of faith in the crew, and you need to listen to their opinions. In many ways they shared the directing job.

 JB: What else are you working on now, and what’s next?

BL: It is funny to be asked this now, as just today we were told that the window of the installation was smashed last night, and the TV and film were stolen. So in terms of what is next, this happening has opened up new ideas and inspiration to take this film in a new direction. I’ve done some video of the broken window and am hoping to get access to the surveillance footage. I’m not exactly sure what will come of it, but for now let’s say it will be a visual documentary that covers the whole process of this piece and reflects on its fate. Perhaps the new work will be titled TRAINING A FOOL/THIEF IS NOT A JOKE.

Here is the trailer of Training a Fool is Not a Joke

Brian Lye: Producer, Director, Actor
John Woods: Cinematographer
Megan Bodaly: Editor
Jesse Birch: Curator, Camera Assistant
Russell Gordon: Production Assistant (AKA: A Man of Many Hands)

For more information on Brian Lye, please visit his website

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