Ariella Pahlke's smoke signals

While investigating burnout marks on rural roads, the filmmaker discovered a deep connection with personal expression and contemporary art.

Living in rural Halifax, filmmaker Ariella Pahlke is used to sounds of the wild. And not just the chorus of chirping crickets and shushing leaves, but the piercing squeal of the real wild ones---drivers burning rubber.

The activity, also called laying a patch, burning out, squealing tires or simply just givin'er, was foreign to Pahlke. So after more than 15 years living in Terence Bay, she decided to investigate these mysterious marks and their makers.

The finished documentary, Burning Rubber, is being screened as part of the Atlantic Shorts program at the film festival. In just under an hour, the film mirrors Pahlke's own discoveries in her research: first finding the culprits; then talking to artists and musicians incorporating the practice; and finally bringing the two groups together in a spectacle of acrid smoke, noise and beauty.

"[Burning rubber] is definitely part of living in a rural community," says Pahlke. "There is no public transportation, there's really no community cafe, bar or restaurant and there's no youth clubs. There's nowhere to go besides school and church. So people use their cars not to just get around but to socialize."

This project fostered a new relationship with her neighbours, although her relationship with her car hasn't really changed.

"It's not like all of a sudden I'm going out and blowing my tires," she says. "I'm still totally afraid of something going wrong with my car."

For an inside look, Pahlke turned to her long-time mechanic Brad Wadden, owner of Double Z Automotive, in Bedford. A burnout champion, Wadden ended up being a primary figure in the film.

"For me it was just tearing the crap out of the car," says Wadden. "It was something to do, and fun to be able to do it without getting in trouble."

From Bridgewater's South Shore in Motion burnout competition and Friday nights on Burn Road in Prospect, Pahlke visits a quiet French gallery and speaks to artists working with burnouts as both medium and subject.

By marrying the highbrow with what one subject in the film proudly calls "the redneck Olympics," Pahlke avoids a heavy-handed paternalistic approach to her subject. She even incorporates herself as the naive and goofy participant, humbled when she tries to burn rubber in one scene.

Metcalfe also MCed the film's burnout performance at Exhibition Park. Tires burst into flames and the pavement melted while artists and drivers bonded by the thrill of the spectacle.

Like that event, Burning Rubber channels the humanity in an oversimplified and derided practice. Pahlke exposes its foundations of community and tradition, showing how the noise, power and raw energy can connect people no matter where you stand on the legal, environmental or gender issues surrounding burnouts.

"I'm not making a film that's purely celebrating this activity. There's a critical analysis---hopefully---there. The focus is about mark-making and expression---how do we give meaning to something...I can relate to that desire."

Burning Rubber, as part of Atlantic Shorts ||. Sunday, September 20, 2pm, Park Lane 8, $9-$10. Tickets at Video Difference, AFF box office,,, 422-6965.

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