Feb 1, 2019 at 7:30 pm
Conversation following the program with Sable Elyse Smith, Brett Story, and Travis Wilkerson & Dr. Alexandra Juhasz
This evening focuses in on an article from World Records Volume 2 Ways of Organizing. We’ll gather artists Sable Elyse Smith, Brett Story, and Travis Wilkerson to screen and discuss excerpts from their recent work to examine how and why their practices subvert the formal and political logics of character-driven storytelling.
In their Beyond Story: An Online, Community-Based Manifesto, scholars Alexandra Juhasz and Alisa Lebow argue for a documentary culture that moves beyond projects that rely upon two things: 1) a small number of recognizable characters around whom feelings are generated, primarily by way of identification, humanism and empathy, and; 2) said characters’ actions being arranged through a set of recognizable spatial/temporal templates that cohere only nominally to lived reality given that they are arranged through a cause-effect logic that does not remotely resemble reality as it is experienced. This dominant mode of cinematic storytelling—developed to serve commercial interests—privileges individuals over collectivities, people over their environments, human will over systemic forces, feelings over analysis, and passivity over action.
Each artist will present and discuss excerpts from their work and join a conversation following the program moderated by Alexandra Juhasz.
Men Who Swallow Themselves in Mirrors
Sable Elyse Smith, 8 min, 2017.
Connecting us to the artist’s personal experience and the implicit, but radiating psychosocial space of the prison system, the video highlights the silent brutality of a cycle that begins well before one enters the visiting room, and extends well beyond it.
The Hottest August (excerpts)
Brett Story, 2019.
The Hottest August is a film about climate change, disguised as a portrait of collective anxiety. Filmed entirely over the course of one month, in one city, the film offers an evocative and empathetic mirror onto a society on the verge of catastrophe, registering the anxieties, distractions, and survival strategies that preoccupy ordinary lives.
Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (excerpts)
Travis Wilkerson, 2017.
“In 1946, my great-grandfather murdered a black man named Bill Spann and got away with it.” So begins Travis Wilkerson’s critically acclaimed documentary, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, which takes us on a journey through the American South to uncover the truth behind a horrific incident and the societal mores that allowed it to happen. Acting as narrator and guide, Wilkerson spins a strange, frightening tale, incorporating scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird, the music of Janelle Monáe and Phil Ochs, and the story of Rosa Parks’ investigation into the Recy Taylor case, as well as his own family history, for a gripping investigation into our collective past and its echoes into the present day.”
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Sable Elyse Smith is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in New York. Her practice considers memory and trauma while enacting an undoing of language. She works from the archive of her own body creating new syntax for knowing and not knowing, thereby marking the difference between witnessing and watching. To see is unbearable. She has performed at the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, Eyebeam, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA. Her work has also been screened at Birkbeck Cinema in collaboration with the Serpentine Galleries, London, Artist Television Access, San Francisco, and MoMA Ps1, New York. Her writing has been published in Radical Teacher, Selfish, Studio Magazine and with Recess Art’s Critical Writing Fellowship. She is currently working on her first book. Smith has received grants & fellowships from Creative Capital, the Queens Museum, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Franklin Furnace Fund, and Art Matters. She is currently part-time faculty at Parsons The New School for Design and will be a visiting Faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University this Fall in the Sculpture and Extended Media department.
Brett Story is a writer and independent non-fiction filmmaker based out of Toronto and New York. Her films have screened at True/False, Oberhausen, Hot Docs, the Viennale, and Dok Leipzig, among other festivals. Her second feature documentary, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (2016) was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Canadian Feature Documentary at Hot Docs and the Prize for Best Canadian Documentary at the DOXA Documentary Festival, and was a nominee for a 2016 Canadian Screen Award. The film was broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens in 2017. Her journalism and film criticism have appeared in such outlets as CBC Radio and The Nation magazine, and she is currently completing a book manuscript for the University of Minnesota Press titled The Prison out of Place. Brett holds a PhD in geography from the University of Toronto, for which she received a 2016 Governor General’s Gold Medal for academic excellence. Brett was the recipient of the Documentary Organization of Canada Institute’s 2014 New Visions Award and was a 2016 Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fellow. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Image Arts at Ryerson University and is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow in film and video.
A chance meeting in Havana with legendary Cuban film propagandist Santiago Alvarez changed the course of Travis Wilkerson’s life. He now makes films in the tradition of the “third cinema,” wedding politics to form in an indivisible manner. In 2015, Sight & Sound called Wilkerson “the political conscience of American cinema.” His films have screened at scores of venues and festivals worldwide, including Sundance, Toronto, Locarno, Rotterdam, Vienna, Yamagata, the FID Marseille and the Musée du Louvre. The NY Times called his most recent film Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? “an urgent, often corrosive look at America’s past and present through the prism of family, patriarchy, white supremacy and black resistance.” His agit-prop essay on the lynching of Wobbly Frank Little — “An Injury to One” — was named one of the best avant-garde films of the decade by Film Comment and a “political cinema landmark” by the LA Times. His work with Erin Wilkerson in Creative Agitation was included in the Venice Biennale. His writings on film have appeared in Cineaste, Kino!, and Senses of Cinema. He has taught filmmaking at the University of Colorado, CalArts, Pomona College, and Vassar. He is also the founding Editor of “Now: A Journal of Urgent Praxis.”
Alexandra Juhasz is the chair of the Film Department at Brooklyn College, CUNY. She makes and studies committed media practices that contribute to political change and individual and community growth. She is the author of AIDS TV: Identity, Community and Alternative Video (Duke University Press, 1995); Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video (University of Minnesota Press, 2001); F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing, co-edited with Jesse Lerner (Minnesota, 2005); Learning from YouTube (MIT Press, 2011: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/learning-youtube); co-edited with Alisa Lebow, The Blackwell Companion on Contemporary Documentary (2015) and with Yvonne Welbon, Sisters in the Life: 25 Years of African-American Lesbian Filmmaking (Duke University Press, 2018). Dr. Juhasz is also the producer of educational videotapes on feminist issues from AIDS to teen pregnancy as well as the feature fake documentaries The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1997) and The Owls (Dunye, 2010). Her current work is on and about feminist Internet culture including fake news (http://scalar.me/100hardtruths), YouTube (aljean.wordpress.com), and feminist pedagogy and community (feministonlinespaces.com and ev-ent-anglement.com). With Anne Balsamo, she was founding co-facilitator of the network, FemTechNet: femtechnet.org.
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