Early Life and Student Days
Andrew Mackenzie Hull was born August 15, 1963, in Oshawa, Canada. He was the youngest of three children. Hull’s childhood was spent both in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Peterborough, Ontario. Between 1974 and 1982, he attended Lakefield College School, a private school situated near Peterborough.
Hull would often describe his childhood with stories of sporting in the Canadian outdoors, life-guarding as a teenager, and working at a girl’s summer retreat as a camp counsellor. During his childhood, Hull and his older siblings often used the family Super 8 camera to shoot films and enact stories together. As a young adult, Hull studied architecture, which later lead him to film and video. As he delved further into film making, his interest in metaphysics and beauty came to reflect the influence his parents’ vocations of psychiatrist and artist had on his way of processing and engaging with the world around him.
Upon graduating from Lakefield College in 1982, Hull was awarded the British Alumni Travelling Scholarship, an award that allowed him to travel to England and board for one year with a local family. While abroad, Hull traveled hitchhiking through Europe, and made a living in London as a sales clerk in an Oxford Street shoe store, working as a labourer in construction, bartending in pubs and hotels, and busking with his acoustic guitar in the London Underground.
Upon his return to Canada in 1984, Hull lived briefly in Montreal before enrolling in the School of Architecture at Carleton University, Ottawa. At the time, the program was well known for its experimental and conceptual approach to architecture. In Ottawa, he co-founded an outdoor deck-building company, “Archi-decktur” that garnered a reputation for it’s eccentric, off-the-wall designs.
During his studies in 1989, and despite resistance to his work by faculty, Hull won the prestigious AIA/ACSA Research Council annual student design competition for his commercial, retail, residential, and mixed-use design for a development in historic London. Based on a stack of film-reel canisters, the winning design exposed his shifting interests away from architecture. One of the first students to work with video at the School of Architecture, Hull graduated with an experimental work about a cryptic symbol (a traced hand) appearing repeatedly in the urban environment. This first completed video marked a clear move towards narrative film.
Post Unification Germany
We would wake up in the morning and wander through abandoned apartment buildings finding all the detritus of the culture dumped everywhere. [Things like] left milk still in bottles in fridges… There was a flight of people leaving and then there was a slow trickle, after the missionaries, the creep of big Mercedes, sliding through the potholed streets, looking for business opportunities.
-Andrew Hull, (2010), speaking to a class of young film students in Bournemouth, U.K. about life in Dessau after German re-unification.
In 1991, while working as an architect in Paris, Hull was invited to Germany by fellow Carleton University colleagues Stephen Kovats (Berlin-based media researcher, architect, and artistic director of Transmediale, the annual digital technologies festival,) and Ian Johnston (Nelson, British Columbia-based architect and artist) to work on various video and animation projects, and to mentor students of the international and multi-disciplinary program “Experimental Studio – Dessau North” at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.
In 1992, Hull was co-commissioned with Kovats by the Werkstatt Industrielles Gartenriech of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation to make a documentary video about the Kulturpalast Bitterfeld, a socialist utopian model project, built in 1954, of the German Democratic Republic. Making reference to the 1939 film Wizard of Oz, and the Iron Curtain that divided Europe after World War II, the film was entitled Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain. Intermingling archival footage, interviews, and fictional material, the film captures the air of uncertainty and denial prevalent in the former East Germany. Interviews with both East and West Germans and their connections to the culture palace touched on the social and political realities of a newly unified Germany. The narrative, which involved a worker, a cosmonaut, and two state security agents, was woven into the interviews to dramatize some of the unspoken aspects of life in the German Democratic Republic. Raising questions about culture in both East and West Germany, the film came to an ironic ending with all the characters – both real and fictional – being involved in the taping of Gluck Muss Mann Haben (You Gotta Have Luck), a painfully westernized television game show taking place on the stage of what was once a palace of culture.
As a result of his Dessau collaborations, Hull relocated to Germany, later living in Berlin. During this period, Hull delved into film-making, while also teaching at the newly created Electronic Media Interpretation Studio at the Bauhaus. At the Ostranenie International Video Festival in 1993, Hull presented his video installation “Home Studio 3000”, a video monitor powered by a jogging machine.
Hull’s films from this period explored horror and comedy, the real and the fictional. Earworm, a forty-three minute film funded by both German and Canadian Arts Councils told the story of a group of anarchist karaoke enthusiasts gripped by a mysterious virus that causes an addiction to techno music and a taste for sucking the inner ear out of unsuspecting victims. The film used the characters’ addiction to a persistent and unforgettable tune as an allegory “for the way in which the West German government was systematically obliterating any trace of East German culture” (Hull, 2010), post re-unification. It could also be interpreted as a biting satire on the paranoia of Communist-era East Germany, intertwined with the politics around HIV and AIDS, and the growing gay underground club and rave scene in Germany in the late eighties and early nineties. In a particularly climactic scene, in what could also be a telling comment on the onslaught of what we now call the “communication age”, a zombied clubber cries out with delirious pleasure, blood falling from his chin after sucking yet another inner ear from a victim, “Ahh…! The ecstasy of communication!” The idea of a seductively lethal sound foreshadowed Hull’s first feature film, Siren, made nearly twenty years later.
In 1996, Hull returned to Canada and lived in Toronto until 2008. While working as an art director in the Canadian and U.S. film and television industry, he continued writing and directing his own short films. After honing his skills with film in Germany and relocating to Toronto, Hull demonstrated a strong maturation in his film making style. His work from this time explored relationships and love, and questioned one’s place in the modern world. His stories were visually seductive, often stemming from personal experiences, and were sometimes based on what Hull would call his “epiphanies.”
Dizzy (winner of “Best Short” at the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2003), is the story of one man’s attempt to come to terms with his fragile balance in a world spinning too fast. The film grew from a speech Hull gave at his brother’s wedding. Hull would later claim that the film was also a love letter to Berlin. That Thing We Do (winner of “Best Short” at the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2004) is a coming out story set at a family reunion in Canadian cottage country. The film stemmed from a brief but transcendent experience Hull shared with his young cousin on the deck of his relatives’ cottage. Both films were made with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
In 2001, Hull met contemporary artist and painter, Shaan Syed, who would become his long-term partner. Syed was, at the time, in the midst of a public art intervention that unknowingly echoed Hull’s first film about the traced hand appearing anonymously in the urban environment. Syed’s project consisted of one thousand posters of a line drawing depicting the portrait of a woman named Jane plastered anonymously throughout Toronto.
In 2003, Hull was one of twelve students invited to enter the prestigious directors’ program at the Canadian Film Centre (CFC), Canada’s foremost school for advanced training in film, television, and new media, founded by Norman Jewison. Hull graduated later that year with his short film Squeezebox, a tragicomedy featuring actress, singer-songwriter, and Canadian cult-rock heroine, Mary Margaret O’Hara. The film tells the story of a teen accordion prodigy who struggles to reunite the family band after his father’s suicide.
Rewind, a five-minute film made shortly after Hull’s graduation from CFC, pays homage to film noir and is loosely based on Martin Amis’ novel Times Arrow. All of Hull’s films from this period went on to participate in film festivals around the globe.
In 2008, Hull relocated to London, U.K. to join Syed, who had moved there four years earlier to complete his studies. The couple were at the time of Hull’s move, recently engaged to marry. The relocation to London would also allow Hull to team up with U.K. producers Poisson Rouge to begin pre-production as co-Writer and Director on his first feature film Siren, (written with Canadian-born, U.S.-based screenwriter Geoffrey Gunn).
Siren, a low-budget horror/thriller film, is an allegory of the Greek myth in which mermaid-like creatures, portrayed as seductresses, lure sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Similarly, Gunn and Hull’s story tells the tale of three friends whose lives are forever changed when they stop to rescue a beautiful young woman on a remote island. The film was shot in Tunisia during the summer of 2009, and its soundtrack was based on a song called “Elephants” by the Los Angeles all-girl group Warpaint. Siren premiered October 2010 at the Abertoir Horror Festival in Wales, U.K. and was subsequently bought for distribution by Lionsgate. Men’s entertainment magazine Maxim wrote of the film: “The movie is beautifully shot, nicely paced and features some exciting up-and-coming British talent. It’s a welcome return to the simple thriller (think The Descent, Dead Calm and Open Waters)”
On the morning of May 8, 2010, Hull was admitted to the Royal London Hospital after suffering a fall from his bicycle in East London while riding with Syed. He died several hours later, in the arms of his partner, as a result of a head injury. A memorial gathering was held on May 14, 2010 in East London at Toynbee Hall, where the now defunct indie band, friends of Syed and Hull, Dog of Hearts played. A second memorial was held on May 21, 2010, on Toronto Island, a favourite spot of Hull’s during his time in Toronto.
Near the time of his death, Hull was close to finishing a final edit on his newest short film Breaking and Entering, which was shot in Toronto in 2008. The film is a poetic parable of a young man coming to terms with the death of his father and is adapted from a short story of the same name by Canadian author, Andrew Pyper. Hull’s interest in Pyper’s story likely stemmed from the death of his own older brother from cancer only a year earlier. The film was posthumously completed by Syed.
Hull’s archive includes several film script drafts and ideas, some of which were in development with his writing partner Geoffrey Gunn at the time of Hull’s death. Rarely without a camera in his pocket, Hull left behind a large collection of photography and hand-held video footage that documented the world in which he lived and created, and the people who came into his life. Also in this archive are over a dozen handwritten journals spanning his time as a foreigner and budding film maker in the new Germany through to his time as a feature film director twenty years later in the U.K. Amongst ideas and sketches surrounding his own film work, Hull’s journals are a dense volume of note books filled with observant critical analyses, lyrical commentary, and poetic prose surrounding his relationships and daily encounters. They frequently speak of his artistic “epiphanies”, and what his friends, family and colleagues remember as his inexhaustible and often relentless search for “beauty and truth”.
© Copyright 2012 The Estate of Andrew Hull