Black experimental filmmakers and films don’t get a lot of love it seems… I remember, several years ago, an African American college professor of mine, sharing a story to us during a lecture, about his entries into an experimental film showcase, and being met with a perplexed reception when the organizers and audiences realized that the filmmaker whose films they were watching, was black… because, for some reason, black filmmakers aren’t expected to be working within the experimental genre. I’m not telling the story as well as he told it, because I can’t remember all the details; but his version of it had a lot more weight than my 1 sentence summary.
Kevin Jerome Everson and Williams Greaves might be the most recognizable black experimental filmmakers – although Everson falls into that category much more-so than Greaves does, who’s actually more of a documentarian, as his resume will show. His (Greaves’) Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, made in 1968, is a brilliant work of cinema, and recommended if you haven’t seen it (it’s on DVD; Criterion Collection actually. Netflix has it). In fact, I will revisit it and post a writeup on this site, now that I’m thinking about it.
There was a sequel to it, made almost 40 years later, titled Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2. Not as much of a revelation as the first one was, but still worth a look, especially when paired up with Take One.
Luckily for you, if you live in New York, Take One will screen this Saturday, at Maysles Cinema – along with several other experimental films by black filmmakers, short and long-form features.
I plan to attend, since it’s in my backyard. And if you can make it, do so.
Read the full release below, which contains all the titles that will screen, as well as background on all the filmmakers, including Cauleen Smith (Drylongso), whose name has been mentioned once or twice on this site:
Black X: African Diaspora Experimental Film Series [Day Pass]
New York, NY
This marathon intends to present the work of black filmmakers working in experimental film styles and establish a supportive and authenticating audience for the work. These rarely seen and compelling films represent an uncompromised and revolutionary commentary on the cinema and black identity. Curated by Bill Jennings
Full day pass – $15.
Separate Tickets for $10 also available for 3pm and 7pm screenings.
3:00pm: SHORT FILMS
(Tocarra Thomas, 2009, 4 min.)
A mesmerizing, formal abstraction based on the mechanics of human perception.
(Tocarra Thomas, 2008, 4 min.)
A beautifully filmed, but disturbing allegory about repression and self-liberation.
‘ReProgram: Episodes 1-10’
(Shani Peters, 21 min.)
A group of 10 videos which unites characters from The Cosby Show and Good
Times with members of the Black Panther Party. The sitcom families, both icons
of economic extremes within the black community, are inexplicably united as
one family. These figures, both fictional and historical, interact in “episodes” that
loosely relate to the Panthers’ Ten Point Program, which called attention to issues
such as healthcare, housing, and police brutality.
(Christopher Harris, 2004, 14 min.)
Taking its name from the Jim Crow-era of black criminals staring at white
women, this hand-processed, optically-printed amalgam reframes desire by way
of everything from D.W. Griffith to Foxy Brown and Angela Davis.
(Ina Diane Archer, 2004, 3 min.)
“RW” creates a dreamscape comprised of characters from American gangster
movies, black musicals, and 1950’s era black women that questions the nature of
(Ina Diane Archer, 2002, 6 min.)
A media collage meditating on the legacy and cultural meaning of the academy
award winning actress Hattie McDaniel.
‘X The Baby Cinema’
(Robert Banks, 1992, 4 min.)
A media collage commentary on the legacy of Malcolm X and the
commercialization of it through the film by Spike Lee.
‘MPG: Motion Picture Genocide’
(Robert Banks, 1997, 4 min.)
A visually stunning, hand-painted, film collage responding to the violence toward
women and people of color as depicted in the mainstream cinema.
‘The Fullness of Time’
(Cauleen Smith, 2008. 52 min.)
In Smith’s groundbreaking science fiction allegory, A “sister from another planet”
is sent to earth to explore the terrain and learn our ways. In the process, she must
make sense of the passage of time, the enormity of loss, and the new landscapes
of New Orleans.
Panel Discussion with directors Cauleen Smith, Tocarra Thomas, Shani Peters, Ina Archer, Christopher Harris. Moderated by Bill Jennings, Professor Radio, Television, Film at Hofstra
(Introduction and Discussion TBA)
(Dir. William Greaves, 1968. 75 min.)
The first widely seen experimental film by a black artist, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One is a one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid. Director William Greaves presides over a beleaguered film crew in New York’s Central Park, leaving them to try to figure out what kind of movie they’re making. A couple enacts a break-up scenario over and over, a documentary crew films a crew filming the crew, locals wander casually into the frame: the project defies easy description. Yet this wildly innovative sixties counterculture landmark remains one of the most tightly focused and insightful movies ever made about making movies.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Cauleen Smith has received grants or fellowships from Rockefeller Inter-Cultural Media Arts Fellowship, the American Film Institute Independent Film and Videomaker Program, the National Black Programming Consortium, and a Western States Regional Fellowship, Artmatters, and Creative Capital. Smith was commissioned by Creative Time and Paul Chan to produce a video response to the city of New Orleans 2 years post-Katrina. The project, entitled, The Fullness of Time, premiered at The Kitchen and won the jury award for best film at the New Orleans International Film Festival. Smith is using the Creative Capital sponsorship to produce a series of digital videos that re-enact historical instances in which a traumatic human gesture of negation resembles earth sculpture or land arts projects from the early seventies. Her screenplay adaptation for the Martha Southgate novel, Third Girl From The Left is being produced by Washington Square Films, with George C. Wolfe attached to direct and Kerry Washington as executive producer. Smith is currently shooting an experimental psychogeographic film on Sun Ra, improvisation, and creative music in Chicago, IL. As a community building curatorial project for San Diego, Smith opened the Carousel Microcinema, a roving cinema space dedicated to the viewing and discussion of the moving image. The programs combine historical avant-garde and conceptual works with contemporary and emerging works ranging in genre from performance video to structuralist materialist filmmaking. Cauleen Smith’s short films are distributed by Canyon Cinema and Video Data bank. She is currently acting associate professor at the University of California San Diego in the department of Visual Arts.
Toccarra A. Holmes Thomas is a Brooklyn-based video artist and arts programmer, born in New Haven, Connecticut (and raised in Southwest Florida). Ms. Thomas received her B.A. in Anthropology and Film Studies at Smith College and her M.A. in Media Studies at New School University. A recipient of the Smithsonian Research Training Fellowship (2003) and the Mellon Mays undergraduate Fellowship (2004-2006), Ms. Thomas has researched and worked in examining cultural arts practices in various parts of the world, as well as serving as a interview facilitator for the popular oral history project, StoryCorps, before becoming the program coordinator at African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF). Currently, Ms. Thomas still holds her position at AFF and is also the founder and artistic director of the curated virtual multi-media exhibition space, Viral Mediaocracy.
Shani Peters is a New York based artist (born in Lansing, MI) focusing in video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public projects. Thematically, her work is based in cultural record keeping, social collectivity, generational connections, and a desire to make sense of the present through analysis of the past. She has exhibited and/or screened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Lower East Side Printshop, Jamaica Performing Arts Center, Rush Arts Gallery, the International Print Center New York, and the Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research. She has completed residencies at The Center for Book Arts, LMCC’s Swing Space, and the Lower Eastside Printship and is currently participating in the Bronx Museum’s 2010-11 Artist in the Marketplace program. In addition to personal and public arts projects she works as a teaching artist with various organizations including the Museum of Modern Art. Peters completed her B.A. at Michigan State University and her M.F.A. at The City College of New York.
Christopher Harris’ award-winning experimental films have explored post-industrial urban landscapes, black outlaws, the cosmic consequences of the sun’s collapse and a child’s nightlight. His work has screened at festivals, museums and cinematheques throughout North America and Europe including the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2005, 2008, 2010), the VIENNALE-Vienna International Film Festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Leeds International Film Festival, the San Francisco Cinematheque and Rencontres Internationales Paris among others. His current projects include a set of four 16mm experimental films inspired by the work of contemporary African American writers. He is currently an Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Ina Archer’s multimedia works and films have been shown nationally including in Cinema Project’s EXPANDED FRAMES: a celebration and examination of critical cinema in Portland, Oregon, “Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970” at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, GA., and The Contemporary Art Museum, Houston. Her awards include residences at Vermont Studio Center, Blue Mountain Centers and Civitella Ranieri in Umbria, Italy. Ina was a Studio Artist in the Whitney Independent Study program, a NYFA multidisciplinary Fellow, a 2005 Creative Capital grantee in film and video, and a 2010 nominee for the Anonymous Was A Woman award. Archer is adjunct faculty in Foundation at Parsons The New School for Design. She is a longtime member of New York Women in Film and Television’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund and a board member of IMAP, Independent Media Arts Preservation. She earned a BFA in Film/Video from RISD and a Master’s in Cinema Studies at NYU focusing on race, preservation, early sound cinema and technology.
“Reconciling the desire to be included in a medium that seems determined and in fact built on exclusion; in my film and installation work, I use commercial cinema as material and appropriation and montage as strategies to negotiate the difficult relationship of marginalized people to cinema and media representations.”
Robert Banks attended the Cleveland School of the Arts, and has taught film at Cuyahoga Community College, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Cleveland State University. Since 1989 he has made more than twenty experimental films. His best known work is the 1992 film, X: The Baby Cinema, which chronicles the commercial appropriation of the image of Malcolm X. The movie appeared on the compilation video The Best Of The New York Underground:Year One. The 1994 feature documentary film, You Can’t Get a Piece of Mind explores the world of Cleveland musician and Vietnam veteran, Dan “Supie T” Theman. Banks has had his films shown at the Sundance Film Festival, was named Filmmaker of the Year at the Midwest Filmmakers Conference, and in 2000, he was the honored guest filmmaker in London at the BBC British Short Film Festival. Banks lives in Cleveland, Ohio.