Dusty Stacks of Mom

By Sofia Bohdanowicz

The rigorous and vibrant visual rhythms of Jodie Mack’s cinema were first impressed upon me in 2009, when I premiered a short film at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in a section titled “Feminist Travelogues.” I was fortunate to have been programmed alongside Jodie, who was screening a 28-minute stop-motion animation musical epic titled Yard Work Is Hard Work (2008). During the screening I sat completely dazzled as I watched an intimidating wall of meticulously cut images pulled from catalogues perform intricate designs, which, in combination with acrobatic camera movements and an original soundtrack, told an allegorical story of the disillusionment of married life. I was overcome by the film: I found that it was suffused with an aura of isolation and defeat; it was impressively impenetrable. 

During our Q&A after the screening, a person asked “What does it feel like to be a female filmmaker in 2009?” I began to answer the question and spoke as to how I was so “honoured” to be a part of the selection, but, being then 23 years old and without any real experience of the festival circuit, my nerves got the best of me. Jodie took the microphone and responded confidently, “I feel like a human being.” The cinema grew quiet, and, as she proceeded to speak with an acuity that I had never heard before, it became obvious that neither the pigeonholing of Ann Arbor’s program title nor the naïve, all-too-honest question asked of us would weave itself into the fabric of her dialogue. She was clear and articulate not only about her feminist principles but also about her methods of production and emotional investment in the work. She detailed how it had taken her two to three years to animate the film, and I was and remain extremely moved that she had funded and shot the film all on her own. As a filmmaker looking to find economical examples of how to build my own practice, Jodie’s ebullient approach and unwavering self-sufficiency became something of a living manifesto for me. 

Given that, in my features Never Eat Alone (2016) and Maison du bonheur, my desire has been to capture domestic spaces and the everyday—drawing from Georges Perec’s exhortation to document what is undesired and ignored, to challenge oneself to “question the habitual”—an element that has consistently drawn me to Mack’s work has been her ability to exhume the ordinary by breathing new life into the discarded and the mundane. Her films focus on the dark side of the quotidian, injecting humour into banal interactions and, through her painstaking stop-motion animation, highlighting the invisible labour that takes place both in and out of the home. Labour in and of itself is boring, but Mack finds beauty not only in what it can produce, but in the marvel of human application and resilience. In Dusty Stacks of Mom (2013), which chronicles her mother’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to run a poster factory during an economic crisis, we come to understand that neither Mack’s work nor her mother’s is about the end result: as a singsong chorus informs us, “How hard you work, and all that you do, does not guarantee a bright future for you…Strength will come in handy and so will eye candy, a good attitude and all will be dandy.” 

Moving forward to The Grand Bizarre (2018), we learn that, despite the grim, greyscale realities that persist in the world around us, colour still exists, waiting for us to engage and inquire. It is not simply Mack’s spellbinding animation of the film’s textiles that matters, but also the space that is given to us to organize these images in our minds and to make sense of them (a principle that applies to Mack’s work as a whole). In the film’s conclusion, Mack’s soundtrack fades out and, in the mesmerizing oscillation and juxtapositions between combinations of colourful cloth, we are invited to ponder the overwhelming notion of the infinite. Before too long, the stream of images is interrupted with the sudden, poignant punctuation of a sneeze. As we listen to Mack capture one frame at a time, this humble reminder of bodily presence transports us into her perspective, not just as an artist, or as a woman, but as a human being. This simple gesture removes the imposing wall built of Mack’s magnificent labour, and we are given a rare glimpse of the grit required to render such a work; we are invited to be defeated by the power of possibility not alone, but alongside her. 

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