Professor Philip Hoffman wins Governor General’s Award

March 11, 2016

Professor Philip Hoffman wins Governor General’s Award

York University Cinema & Media Arts Professor Philip Hoffman is being honoured with a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. The news was announced on March 7 by the Canada Council for the Arts. Hoffman was nominated by his department colleague, Professor Michael Zryd.

red car moving in kaleidoscope effect

Scene from Philip Hoffman’s experimental short film “Chimera” (1996)

The award recognizes outstanding career achievement and contribution in visual and media arts. Recipients receive a $25,000 cash prize and a  medallion bestowed by the Governor General of Canada. The award ceremony takes place on March 23 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

“The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts celebrate Canada’s leading artists and most dedicated supporters of the arts,” said Governor General David Johnston. “Each laureate has a unique visual language that enriches our culture and strengthens our nation.”

“The special recognition the Governor General’s Award bestows on Professor Hoffman is exceptionally well deserved. Phil’s unique, highly personal form of cinematic expression brings us to an utterly human place, where the rational and emotive intellects intersect to form a heightened common language of memory, place, love, loss and mortality,” said AMPD Dean Shawn Brixey. “We join in celebrating Phil’s remarkable work, and thank him for the artistic inspiration and invention he shares with us and the world.”

sunlit man lying in cornfield with dilapidated building in background

Scene from Philip Hoffman’s experimental documentary “All Fall Down” (2009)

Ali Kazimi, Chair of the Department of Cinema and Media Arts, applauded Hoffman’s “incredibly rich body of work” as a significant contribution to the canon of experimental cinema. “Phil is also a brilliant teacher,” Kazimi said. “Year after year, I’ve seen our students being inspired and transformed by his alternative film workshop courses. We are so proud to have him as a colleague.”

In his nomination letter, Zryd said: “Philip Hoffman is one of the most influential experimental film artists working in Canada today. He has created a remarkable and sustained body of media art that has had an immense impact on several generations of Canadian experimental filmmakers and digital moving image artists.”

headshot of Philip Hoffman

Philip Hoffman

Hoffman said he is honoured to receive the Governor General’s Award for the creative work he has produced in the course of his 35-year career, and for his workshop, The Independent Imaging Retreat (also known as the Film Farm), developed over the past two decades.

He also acknowledged the award as a nod to his communities – the fringe film and media communities of artists, curators and independent film and media exhibitors who make “pushing boundaries of film and media” possible.

“Also, I must say how fortunate I am to be working and teaching at York within such a vibrant department [Cinema & Media Arts], with colleagues who stimulate me and make room to develop my teaching and practice of ‘process cinema’ – the experimentation with narrative, documentary form and audio-visual materials,” Hoffman said.

five images from Philip Hoffman's film Slaughterhouse

Compilation of screen shots from Philip Hoffman’s short film “Slaughterhouse” (2014), integrating archival images gleaned from public and personal sources

“I think one of the most important aspects I have been developing is the process of working without a script — letting the interaction of the camera with the world be the starting place for projects,” said Hoffman. “I collect images sometimes without knowing why, with a diaristic approach, and sometimes these images tell me where to go with a current project, or lead me into a new project. So doing comes before thinking, in a way.

black and white image of two girls skating

Scene from Philip Hoffman’s “On the Pond” (1978)

“This is the heart of ‘process cinema’ – working with chance and spontaneity in every aspect of the project, adapting to the changes that time offers,” he said. “It’s an aspect of any filmmaking or artistic practice, but more visible and central within an experimental practice such as mine. It rubs up roughly against mainstream industrial filmmaking practices and suggests there is another way.”

As a precursor to the March 23 ceremony at Rideau Hall, there will be a screening of some of Hoffman’s films in their original 16mm format projected on celluloid. This event, at Arts Court Theatre on March 22, is presented in partnership with the Canadian Film Institute with support from the National Gallery of Canada.

From March 24 to Sept. 4, the National Gallery of Canada will feature the 2016 #GGarts exhibition, which showcases selected works by this year’s winners.

For more on Hoffman and his work, visit