Peter Mettler

Making The Invisible Visible

Myke Dyer

The Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film is pleased to present a first this year: a retrospective of films that focus on one artist, Canadian filmmaker Peter Mettler.

Peter Mettler is known in Canada, the United States and Europe as a cinematographer and director with a broad and unique vision. As a cinematographer, Mettler has collaborated with some of Canada’s best-known filmmakers, including Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema and Bruce McDonald. As a director/filmmaker, Mettler has created seven films, including two, long experimental works and two narrative feature films.

The series will focus on the documentary/travel films that Mettler has created. These are films that bring two words to mind: transcendental and journey. The filmmaker takes us on rides that few of us can even imagine as we are carried through Europe, Northern Canada, Indonesia, India and other visually arresting locales. But Mettler’s films are much more than travelogues. Mettler uses his camera as a way of seeing the interrelations between art, nature and identity and his films help us perceive the world in a new light by making unexpected connections between diverse cultures.

Mettler’s eye is focused on the human experience and his camera becomes an extension of his consciousness, his vision. As these films unfold, we are asked to leave our own preconceptions at the door and peer inside the mind of a startling and unique visionary. The four films in this series are rich with images, reflections (of ourselves and of the filmmaker) and dense, alluring soundtracks.

Filmed in Berlin, Portugal and Switzerland, Eastern Avenue is an attempt to explore the nature of intuition. Mettler travelled through familiar and foreign landscapes, using impulsive reactions as the motivation for guiding the camera through the different environments. The result is a sensuous, lyrical trip ranging from the ruins and walls of the freak civilisation called Berlin, to the former ‘edge of the earth’ and its endless sea and beaches in Portugal.

balifilm is Mettler’s visual summation of the lush, exotic landscapes in Bali and his reaction to performers and people in an island culture having no word for artist. An original score by the Evergreen Club Gamelan Ensemble accompanies this breathtaking film.

Picture of Light documents Mettler’s journey to Canada’s arctic to film the Aurora Borealis. It combines glimpses into the lives of the characters who live in this remote environment with the film crew’s own comic and absurd attempts to deal with the extreme living conditions close to the North Pole. The film reflects upon the paradoxes involved in trying to capture the natural wonder of the Northern Lights on celluloid.

Gambling, Gods and LSD is a filmmaker’s inquiry into transcendence in the form of a three-hour trip across countries, connecting people over culture and time. Mettler blends documentary observation with lyrical camera work, location sound with aural sculpture. The result is an audiovisual composition whose movements challenge our preconceptions, evoking the wonder and awe of our daily lives.

‘Maybe there is a difference between looking for something and looking at something, when you are a part of what you are looking at, and you look at it and it looks back at you.’ - from Gambling, Gods and LSD.

Program Details

Eastern Avenue & balifilm
Friday, August 27, 8:00
Durham Town Hall
185 George Street West, Durham

This series starts with two films that reflect Peter Mettler’s fascination with journey, capturing the improvisation of shifting surroundings and environments.

Eastern Avenue

55 min. (1985) Canada

Peter Mettler

Eastern Avenue was shot during a trip through Switzerland, Berlin, and Portugal. The structure and implied story of the film are dictated by the chronology of the experiences and the perceptions that accompanied them. Fleeting images pass by – shot from trains and cars – the landscape takes on an ethereal quality, almost abstract in nature. Only when the camera falls still, usually while peering into a face, do we reflect the personal observations made by Mettler and we begin to see ourselves peering back.


28 min. (1997) Canada

Peter Mettler

Originally commissioned as a stage piece, balifilm is a collaborative work between the Evergreen Club, a Toronto-based percussion ensemble dedicated to performing Gamelan and contemporary music, and images collected by Mettler during travels to Indonesia.

Picture of Light
Wednesday, September 1, 8:30
Hanover Drive-In Theatre
Drive-in Road (South at Campbell’s Corner), Hanover

Picture of Light

83 min. (1994) Canada

Peter Mettler

On the surface, this is a documentary about Mettler’s attempt to film the Northern Lights in Churchill, Manitoba. But like any Mettler film, there is more complexity to the story than the simple attempt to capture the Aurora Borealis shimmering in the northern sky.

First, there is the long journey north past the tree line, and the necessary adjustments to the alien environment. Driven inside by violent snowstorms, the film crew reflect on their minimal surroundings. During a blizzard, a motel owner convinces the crew that wind through a single small hole in the wall of their room would eventually fill the room with blowing snow. Before long the filmmakers fire a bullet through the wall to see how long it will take.

When the weather breaks and the northern sky is clear, Mettler and crew move outdoors to capture the mesmerising beauty of the lights. But the filmmaker is forced to shoot at three frames per minute, later expanding the process/experience by optically printing the film. Now the viewer is presented with an altered reality, completely different from Mettler’s own experience.
Herein lies the tension as the filmmaker ponders the ability to coerce technology to capture a natural wonder on film. The film raises the questions: Is it worth the effort? and: Would we be better off experiencing the Northern Lights on our own?

Gambling, Gods and LSD
Thursday, September 2, 8:30
Hanover Drive-In Theatre
Drive-in Road (South at Campbell’s Corner), Hanover

Gambling, Gods and LSD

180 min. (2002) Canada

Peter Mettler

A lucid and personal portrait of our times, Gambling, Gods and LSD may change the way you look at the world.

From Toronto, the place of his childhood, Mettler set out on a physical and spiritual journey that included evangelism at the airport strip, demolition in Las Vegas, chemistry and street life in the model society of Switzerland, and the coexistence of technology and divinity in contemporary India.

Filming solo in both film and video, Mettler traveled from Canada to the US Southwest, to Switzerland and to Southern India. The wide area covered and the people studied don’t seem to share a great deal in common (a junkie, ravers, Christian revivalists, and an Indian guru, among others). But the filmmaker, without a working script, set the conceptual guidelines for his subjects: the desire to transcend, the denial of death, the illusion of safety, our relationship to nature.

As with earlier films, it is the voice of Mettler, on camera, that helps to guide the viewer from subject to subject, philosophy to philosophy. In GGLSD each setting becomes the starting point for the one following, and Mettler allows one topic to meld into the next. His gorgeous imagery and lush soundscapes provide the string that pulls us through the re-occurring themes: the quest for happiness, for a belief in God, for the risk in seeking a thrill.