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FROM THE VANCOUVER SUN, SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 1989


By JEFF BUTTLE

In Penelope Buitenhuis’ latest film, They Shoot Pigs, Don’t They, the revolutionary group, Women Attack Pigs, seizes a New York radio station, broadcasts its manifesto, then hijacks a plane to Berlin.

At the end, one of the female protaganists asks: “Is revolution a vision sent to defeat me?”

Canadians generally like to think of themselves as people with a bright future in a prosperous country, so her often-bleak and uncompromising films aren’t always well received here, Buitenhuis admits.

In Europe, on the other hand, audiences sometimes find it hard to reconcile films set in decayed, urban centres with their image of North America as a wide open and clean place, she says.

Simon Fraser University film department graduate Buitenhuis, 29, makes short super-8 and 16-millimetre films she calls “new narrative,” from her home bases of Vancouver and West Berlin.

The films are generally shown in art galleries, meeting rooms and night clubs, to smallish audiences. Buitenhuis would like to reach a larger audience, and is moving into the feature film business to accomplish this.

“I don’t like just talking to artists, “ she says. “What I do is quite entertaining. It’s not difficult, experimental work.”


SHE has some concerns the hard-edged nature of her film esthetic won’t transfer easily to a mainstream setting, but Buitenhuis says Canadians are learning to appreciate smaller films.

One hurdle will be the Canadian media’s disregard for offbeat, local talent -- especially someone working in small-format films, she says. “When I have a show in Berlin, it’s covered in the press and the show is packed. I’m better known in Berlin than I am here,” she says. “I’m considered a filmmaker there, not a home-movie maker.”

Buitenhuis is spending the summer here to escape the “physical oppressiveness” of Berlin, and is co-writing a small-budget feature film script set in Vancouver’s Chinatown due to begin shooting shortly. It’s a comedy about language that follows the story of the search for a burgled parrot named Liberace, she says.

Buitenhuis is also editing a short black and white film she shot in the East Berlin with Vancouver poet Judy Radul, based on her poem, A Dream of Naming.

Buitenhuis was born and raised in Toronto and followed her father, English professor and author Peter Buitenhuis, to Vancouver in 1978. At a University of B.C. film history course, she was introduced to the work of filmmakers such as Jean Luc Godard and R.W. Fassbinder.

“I was totally amazed. I didn’t know these film existed, “ she recalls. “I felt very sympathetic to what they were doing.”

Buitenhuis enrolled in the SFU film department and made a half dozen “cross cultural” films in the program while travelling between Vancouver, Berlin, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, San Francisco, and elsewhere.

“I was very lucky. I was at Simon Fraser when people like Al Razutis and David Rimmer were there,” Buitenhuis says. “The first thing David Rimmer said was forget everything you ever did and just throw the camera around.”

After graduating in 1984, Buitenhuis set up Black And White Films in a squatter’s studio in a building in West Berlin. She was the centre of a controversy there when, in 1986, she entered her SFU graduate project film, Disposable, into the European Short Film Festival.

Disposable -- a film she describes as “a look at disposable culture versus tradition-based, living culture” -- won an $11,000 prize, but then had to be withdrawn because it had not been filmed within the past 12 months.

“It ended up being very messy,” Buitenhuis says. “It was good for me, because bad press is good press for me.”



THE next year, another film, Framed, won the audience’s choice prize at the Hamburg No-Budget Film Festival. Her most recent film has toured Germany, Austria, and the eastern United States and Toronto, and was featured as part of a series on the Canadian avant-garde at the Pacific Cinematheque earlier this year.

This fall, Buitenhuis is scheduled to shoot a rock video in Finland for a Finnish band, and in October her work will be featured at the IN-Sight women’s film and video festival in Edmonton. In January a retrospective of her work will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Buitenhuis is also producing rock videos for German television, and is working on a feature film script for a German television station.

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Penelope can be reached in Canada through her agent
THE CHARACTERS
Carl Liberman (Toronto)
Tel: 416-964-8522 fax: 416-964-8206

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