I interviewed artist-filmmaker Daniel Cockburn for Canadian Art‘s website this week, about his new film You Are Here. He spoke to me in his car on the way back to Toronto from New York, where he and his wife Brenda Goldstein are moving. The title of his film lent a humourous air to our talk when he and Goldstein realized, after meandering through a large parking lot full of semi-trailer trucks, that they were actually still in the U.S., and not in Canada. Another titular echo came near the end of our talk, when Cockburn mentioned to me that he wanted to go back to making shorter work now, after his feature had been released: “I hate the idea that one should make shorts and then once one has made a feature, keep making features and never look back. That may have been the dream, but that was by no means the only goal.”
He cited, as a guide in this respect, Miranda July (whose previous feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know boasted, like You Are Here, the charisma of late performer Tracey Wright). As a short-story writer who is currently working on a novel, but who is still enamored of short narratives, I was happy to hear Cockburn’s comments. Today, artists are so often told that short work is only an entrée to bigger things that can be packaged and marketed more viably. This is an old sentiment, of course: we live in a time rife with the tidbit-sized and the ephemeral, that is often heedless of, or, rather, still relatively clueless about, how to make anything out of its long-term value. As Cockburn mentioned in his interview, however, the model of making shorter work lies at the foundation of the longer. At the moment, I’m finding preparatory novel-work very similar to short-story-collection writing, as I parse narrative events into sections and episodes. Before I obtain enough money and time to work with sustained effort on the project and to see its broader strokes/overtones, it’s the only way to keep vigilant of where I am.