Paige Smith explores unknown insides in Black Box Investigations

The SFU film studies alum talks about her experimental short film

A black and white photo of Paige Smith with a disposable camera halfway in her mouth, with the flash going off.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Paige Smith

By: Petra Chase, Arts & Culture Editor

Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is an exciting time of year. From September 28–October 8, the latest exceptional films all over Vancouver, showcasing local and global talent. Among the selection of 140 films stands SFU alum Paige Smith’s Black Box Investigations

Smith works primarily with lens-based mediums, interrogating their function in her films and visual art. Previous projects like “Watching You Watching Me” have pointed out how the lens mediates queer identity. Her latest short film is an instinctive exploration of the inner workings of a disposable camera and her own body, or what Smith calls the “human-camera body.” In it, she attempts to document inside her body with a disposable camera, and then the inside of the camera itself.

According to her, the film explores the “excitement of the game between photographer and camera — and that makes the viewer aware of how these apparatus influence how we imagine and see the world.” The Peak spoke to Smith about her venture inside these “black boxes,” what brought her here, and what’s next.

The Peak: What is the “embodied art-making” practice and what drew you to explore this in your work?

Smith: For me, embodied art-making really is just about trying to be in tune with my body during the creation process, and connecting that within the work I’m creating. I try to notice my senses just as much as my thoughts while creating.

What sort of questions do you want viewers of this film to ask themselves?

I want them to wonder about an everyday tool they use a little bit more and how that tool functions. So many of us are working with these highly advanced pieces of technology everyday, be that a smartphone, a computer inside a car, mapping software, medical devices . . . and I just want people to wonder how these objects shape how we see and function in the world. Some designer, company, person created that tool with a specific purpose in mind. Maybe there is a way you can creatively misuse it?

What was the best part of SFU’s School of Contemporary Arts (SCA) film program?

I learned an incredible amount studying in the SCA film program. I appreciate the skills I learned in my undergrad more and more with every passing year. The SFU film program is an amazing mix of theory and hands-on experiences, and the professors I learned from helped push me to refine my creative voice. You also truly learn how to work collaboratively with a team, and how to creatively problem solve. I’ve made lifelong friendships with classmates, and I even met my partner while in film school, so I can’t not say that the people were the best part of the SCA Film program. 

What does it mean to have your film screened at VIFF?

It is immensely satisfying to have my own work, especially a work I created from start to finish on my own, now have the opportunity to be seen through such a large platform. I truly do believe in artists creating their own spaces, venues, and modes of exhibiting their work, I believe wholeheartedly in artist-run centres and DIY spaces, but it’s also gratifying to have the backing and support of a larger entity like VIFF. More people know what VIFF is, and more people go to VIFF screenings. The opportunity to have my work seen by more people, and hear what more people think of the film, means the world to me.

What are your plans for the future of your filmmaking?

I’m actually currently a master of fine arts candidate at the University of Waterloo out in Ontario (I just started in September). So, I’m going to be creating lots of new work during the next two years of this new program. I don’t only make moving-image work, but I think it’s always going to be a part of my artmaking. Filmmaking is just a language that makes intuitive sense to my brain, and it is an insanely satisfying medium to work within. Film, and especially films viewed in cinemas, have this magic ability to hold people’s attention and teach a viewer the “rules” of viewing this particular film. I don’t know exactly where my artmaking is going to take me in the long term, but I know I’ll always be making films in some way or another.

Black Box Investigations is screening in a program alongside eight other short films about “struggle and perseverance.” Buy tickets on the VIFF website for October 1, 8:30 p.m. at Vancity Theatre or October 2, 12:15 p.m. at International Village Theatre. Find out more about Smith’s work at her website.