Stéphane Calce

The marriage of pictures and sounds
Filmmaker follows his childhood passions – and finds a new one.

Stéphane Calce l Photo: Christie Vuong Stéphane Calce l Photo: Christie Vuong

A massive, industrial-blue desk dominates the small room. Its surface is a mess of shiny knobs, and a small screen rises at the back. The contraption is old-school but it's also got a sterling pedigree: it's a film editing machine from the National Film Board, circa 1965, and requires the physical manipulation of strips of film and sound.

It's perfect for a Film Production graduate student like Stéphane Calce.

"I like the physicality of the film: to touch it," says Calce. "That's the thing that thrills me. It's something that digital doesn't give you."

Calce is in his second year of an MFA in Studio Arts. He also earned his BFA at Concordia's Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, during which he received both the Alfred Pinsky Medal and the prestigious Mel Hoppenheim Award.

He's following his passions now but he almost didn't make it to cinema school. Working full-time as a waiter and bartender, for years his artistic endeavours were relegated to the weekends. "My friends and I were the Sunday artists," he says. "But then they started pressuring me to go school."

Perhaps they saw on those Sundays a person who shouldn't be letting his talents go to waste.

His first talent emerged when he became obsessed, as he puts it, with music when he was a child. His ear didn't go unnoticed at Concordia: while he was doing his BFA, he was approached to do sound design as a paying gig. Works with his sound designs have been screened throughout Europe and at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In his teens, Calce became obsessed by movies. At CEGEP he did anything that had to do with filmmaking, even directing one. He laughs now that it was "a terrible film" but that he enjoyed it thoroughly. Filmmakers whose work intrigued and influenced him include Jean-Luc Goddard, Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky.

He says it was clear they liked paintings, which fed his own interest in the medium. "Paintings say 'look at me'. You kinda have to stop and look," he says.

Playing to his strengths

Calce likes to not only stop and look at paintings, but to create them and make them stars in some his films. These are usually set to a soundtrack that marries the visual elements to the tempo of the music.

His short film Peinture Blanche, for example, explores an all-white painting that uses texture to create its geometric shapes. (It was painted especially for this film by fellow MFA student Nathaniel Hurtubise). When the music is slow the camera lens zooms in on and across the surface, speeding up to an almost dizzying frenzy as the pace quickens. "I like frame-by-frame shooting, so I can animate it. Framing is about how you can shape or re-shape things."

Stéphane Calce, Peinture Blanche, 2012. Click to enlarge. Stéphane Calce, Peinture Blanche, 2012. Click to enlarge.

He's open to re-shaping himself. For someone who took his time going back to school, teaching has become Calce's newest passion. In fact, he'd decided to stay at Concordia for an MFA when professor Richard Kerr agreed to be his mentor and teach him how to teach. Calce also recently decided to take it another step and pursue a PhD in film.

In the meantime, he's glad he stayed: "This is one of the rare cinema schools left in the world, one of the last schools of cinema to focus on cinema and its relationship to art." And that's right up his alley.

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