A young lady’s eyes gently sweep across the floor, lost in thought, only to land on the giant sparrow wrapped deep within her arms. She pats and caresses it as if it were her child, with inexplicable worry escaping her lips. This is but one of the many soul-stirring moments that mark Stacey Steers’ Night Reels, an exhibit on display at the esteemed Cinémathèque Québécoise until Oct. 17. Based on her three previous animated films—Phantom Canyon (2006), Night Hunter (2011), and Edge of Alchemy (2017)—Steers adds a new light to her older stories by incorporating giant sculptures and tiny collages, newly imagined astrological instruments, and nearly forgotten Hollywood starlets.
Each of Steers’ three films tell vastly different stories, from a mother sparrow striving to protect her eggs from a giant serpent, to a peculiar woman with a honeycomb crown chased by a sea of giant wasps. What links each story is Steers’ decision to weave together different scenes from classic silent cinema with zoological drawings of different reptiles and insects. The process takes many years, as each film is a mix-and-match of thousands of collages. Slightly static in motion, the films capture subtle microexpressions, like quick smirks or watery eyes, that would otherwise escape even the most attentive of viewers.
“I don’t work very methodically. It’s more of an organic process where I try to freely associate with the work I have already created and move forward in a way that’s cohesive,” Steers said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “This is why I don’t always know where my story will go, even if looking at the film will give off the impression the story is planned out. It’s very subconscious for me.”
The exhibit itself brings a sense of reality to the films, with their fantastical elements coming to life as sculptures. The stills from the films line the walls, each lending a certain stagnancy to some of the most important scenes, and displaying the silent actresses’ powerful emotions. Steers also created new astrological instruments with steam-punk-inspired designs, which visually distort her films through their strange lenses. One of her most eye-catching sculptures features six bed-frames stacked and melded together—with bed-frames being a motif from Phantom Canyon (2006)—with a projector hidden inside that casts the film.
Resistance is a central theme of these films and the exhibition as a whole, whether against grotesque monsters or one’s own desires. Steers’ work highlights the feeling of helplessness; of fighting against different elements one cannot control. Steers’ protagonists, all maternal figures, counter this effect with a warmth that holds the audience’s curiosity and engrossment.
“I am making this for people who are introspective, [especially] in a world they know they can’t control,” Steers said.
Night Reels’s mystical and dreamlike exhibition continues until October 17 at the La Cinémathèque Québécoise.