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Doc Edge 2010: John Di Stefano

John Di Stefano’s essay film You Are Here explores the theme of transnational displacement or, if you prefer, social migration. Described in the festival programme as ‘a meditative and critically reflective work’, the film forms part of a much larger body of work in progress.

John Di Stefano is a visual artist, video maker, writer and curator. His studio work is focused primarily in video, installation, photo-based and time-based media, and has also included performance, bookwork, site-specific and public art projects.

With a Bachelors degree from Concordia University and a Masters from the University of California, and currently an associate professor at Massey University, Di Stefano is both well-travelled and well-versed in the intellectual examination of issues.

He has specialist knowledge in video art, experimental cinema, time-based art, photography, installation, documentary, film theory, queer theory, contemporary art history (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and transnationalism.

He’s also credited with an impressive range of research material and papers on cinema theory and related issues, dating back to 1992, including work for the Film Archive and the Moving Image Centre (MIC) in Auckland. He’s also the New Zealand editor of Art Asia Pacific magazine.

Di Stefano called You Are Here “a less linear way of telling a story, which encourages active spectatorship.” It examines his family archive, from still photographs to super 8 and video clips, seeking to reinterpret and find hidden meanings from its source material.

Part of a larger body of linked projects under the overall title of The Return, the film examines the inherent conflicts of returning to a homeland that is known only through recollections of a different era.

If it all sounds rather erudite and the product of too much navel-gazing, it has relevance for many New Zealanders, whether or not we share Di Stefano’s Italian-Canadian heritage. This is a country built on immigration, and common chords exist in the relationships between our new and ‘ancestral’ homes.

The wider body of work of which You Are Here forms a part includes a book, gallery and video installations, and an exhibition at Massey University’s Engine Room Gallery, using derivative material form You Are Here and another piece Ashes (Amsterdam). The Engine Room exhibition has been created in conjunction with photographer Anne Shelton.

Describing You Are Here as being, in part, an ode to his grandparents, the next film in the trilogy will be based on Di Stefano’s parents’ life experiences.

You Are Here screens in Auckland on Monday 1 March, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, and on Friday 5 and Saturday 13 March; in Wellington Monday 15 March (with Q&A), on on Friday 19, Tuesday 23 and Saturday 27 March. See the Doc Edge site for full details of these screenings and a downloadable programme.

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