Triumph of the Wall

Concordia Grad Bill Stone Releases First Full-Length Doc

Bill Stone pondering the meaning of the wall. Photo Amelia Moses

Most of the time, documentary films are not only the place to share experiences or information with viewers––they tend to evolve into personal journeys for their maker.

Triumph of the Wall is a film about two independent yet interconnected projects, but it is also an outlet for filmmaker Bill Stone to discuss the inevitability of change and the importance of an artist’s process, regardless of the medium.

Back at the turn of the millennium, Stone knew he wanted to make a film. After receiving a B.F.A. in film production from Concordia and then establishing himself as a successful director of photography on multiple films in Montreal, he was wandering in search of a luminous spark of inspiration.

On a seemingly ordinary day in 2001, he stumbled upon a normal-looking guy that would change his life for the following eight years.

“It’s like a relationship, you want something and suddenly you’re with someone wondering how it happened,” said Stone about his encounter with Chris Overing.

The two met at a café in one of those impromptu meetings that punctuate life. They had a passionate discussion about their respective paths, during which Overing shared his very ambitious project of building a 1,000-foot-long stone wall on farmland near Rigaud.

The original plan, back in 2001, was to get it done in eight weeks. Today it remains unfinished. Needless to say, the project encountered many obstacles.

Overing’s mysterious whereabouts and intriguing past give a mystical feel to the documentary that, as it rolls, reveals its true colours. It’s not only about building a wall or making a film; it’s about the process and the journey to get there.

Rock by Rock

Very quickly, the film’s heroes discover that massive walls of stone are difficult to erect. They are built rock by rock, without any glue or cement, relying only on gravity and precise construction to stay solid.

It then struck Stone: here was this man with a very symbolic yet accessible idea, offering him a unique chance to emancipate his artistic ambitions. The building of the wall would parallel the making of the film and give Stone a chance to convey to his viewers his inner questions.

Influenced by works that toe the line between documentary and fiction, as well as directors such as Nicolas Philibert and Agnès Varda, Stone’s approach to film is not restrictive.

“I don’t consider myself a documentary person,” he said. “I did one this time simply because it seemed right to do so.”

Stone was born and raised in Toronto, until the appeal of Montreal’s film industry called him in 1996.

Not knowing where to sleep, where to work or even why he was leaving his hometown in the first place, he arrived in Quebec’s metropolis hoping to find a job as a director of photography, and attended Concordia to study film production.

It took time, but he managed to make a living as a cinematographer—although he did it in a modest, unconventional manner.

“To be honest, I have a very unglamorous and inconsistent way of establishing myself,” he said.

“I don’t play games. When you say you’re a photographer, people see you as a photographer.”

So he didn’t dive into filmmaking right away—he was cautiously waiting for the right time to do a feature-length, which took five years to come.

In 2001, everything for Bill Stone was about getting this film done. After many postponed deadlines, it became obvious that it was not about “getting it done,” but rather just making it to begin with.

While Overing’s personal motivations are sometimes put into question in the film, Stone’s personal ups-and-downs are briefly mentioned. At one point, everything seems to go wrong, even the making of the film itself—with no money to continue.

“It was the first time I applied for grants,” Stone admitted. “I have always been under the radar: I am not in any union, I don’t work on big films.”

The first time he applied he was denied the money, but eventually he received the funding he needed to pursue his project with better means. It led to Overing’s revived confidence in the project, too.

Last year, Stone released a first cut of the film for festivals titled Work in Progress, which he says was a more suitable title, but not deemed marketable by distributors.

This first version earned the Pierre et Yolande Perrault Award at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois festival in 2012, whose attached grant allowed him to complete the final cut.

Stone uses his words to complement the film’s images and to convey that there’s more happening under the surface than simply the building of the wall. He also manages to tell a lot about himself without ever appearing on-screen.

“It opens up a lot of possibilities, there is a lot of freedom in doing that,” Stone said.

In the film, Stone tells us that sometimes he “films things just to look at them.” For him, the camera allows its user to learn how to see again, to understand surroundings more clearly. To contemplate things with a third eye is to break them down, especially when observing nature, which takes a lot of patience.

“I am taking in the movement of the world in a way that it’s a lesson,” Stone said.

Triumph of the Wall appears to be full of them.

Triumph of the Wall // 3536 St. Laurent Blvd., Cinema Excentris // Starts April 12 // 7 p.m. // Student tickets $9.25 to $9.82