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Filmmaker Portrait: Joan Jonas

Born and based in New York City, Joan Jonas pioneered the use of video in feminist performance art during the 1960s and 1970s. Originally educated in sculpture and art history, Jonas found that performance art was a better medium for addressing her concerns about female bodies and space. Her work frequently involves the use of […]

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Born and based in New York City, Joan Jonas pioneered the use of video in feminist performance art during the 1960s and 1970s. Originally educated in sculpture and art history, Jonas found that performance art was a better medium for addressing her concerns about female bodies and space. Her work frequently involves the use of mirrors, masks, and other props, sometimes using these objects to incorporate her audience into the performance. Jonas always places herself at the center of her art, whether it’s taking on the persona of Organic Honey—a mystical symbolic figure of femininity—or utilizing mirrors to examine her naked body. Jonas also explored these themes of female disembodiment through short experimental videos.

Jonas visited the Walker Art Center in 1974 for a multidisciplinary performance of Funnel, in which she incorporated film as performance. This piece involved images of seaside landscapes projected onto three separate screens. Throughout Funnel, she fluctuated between drawing images on a chalkboard and interacting with the film. Using a round mirror on the end of a stick, she interrupted the projection and reflected the images back at the audience while creating a void on the screen. Jonas’s video work also screened at the Walker in April of 1994 as part of a series called “Videocassettes” that featured work from Richard Landry and Keith Sonnier. Her two iconic videos, Vertical Roll and Left Side Right Side (the films included in the series) explore and challenge the mechanical qualities of video. Vertical Roll is a meditation on analog television glitches that cause the image to seizure across the screen. Jonas’s own body is fractured by the moving frame as she appears in masks, feathers, and other costumes. The video is also on view as part of the Art Expanded exhibition at the Walker that documents the expanded arts scene of the 1960s and 1970s. In Left Side Right Side, Jonas translates her performance art onto video. As the sole figure on screen, she challenges the voyeurism of the camera through use of mirrors, video monitor, and split screen editing.

Jonas continues her prolific career in the 21st Century. She is a Professor Emeritus at MIT where she teaches visual art. In 2015, she will be representing the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale.

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Waiting for a Film to Thaw: The Exchanges of Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon, Part 1

Looking through the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson study collection recently, a short note caught my attention. It read: reel may have been compiled by Stan Brakhage work in progress The reel in question was Crystal Clips, a 16mm film that was gifted to the Walker in 2005 by Sally Dixon, one of the most significant curators of artists’ film […]

Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon in Carnegie Museum of Art projection booth photo by Robert Haller, circa 1975

Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s projection booth. Photo: Robert Haller, circa 1975

Looking through the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson study collection recently, a short note caught my attention. It read:

reel may have been compiled by Stan Brakhage

work in progress

The reel in question was Crystal Clips, a 16mm film that was gifted to the Walker in 2005 by Sally Dixon, one of the most significant curators of artists’ film from the 1970s. The reel’s status as a work by Stan Brakhage, one of America’s foremost experimental filmmakers, was as yet unconfirmed. I requested that it be brought up from the archive’s preservation freezer for closer inspection.

It takes about a day for a celluloid film reel to thaw and, on the cautious side, another day for the film to acclimatize to room temperature so one can safely handle and examine the material up close. So, while I was waiting, I set about sorting through other information that was more readily available, identifying the following questions: What was the relationship between its unconfirmed source (Stan Brakhage) and its eventual owner (Sally Dixon), and how might that inform the provenance of the reel? How and when was this film made and displayed? And, most crucially, was this indeed a Brakhage “work in progress”?

Answering the first question didn’t immediately demand a viewing of the film, and so below I attempt to answer it with historical context and some facts I do know for certain. (The other two questions required patience, a projectionist, and bookable time to run the print in the Walker Cinema; I’ll come to that in Part 2.) Here are some things I do know: Crystal Clips first came into the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson collection among 30 rare films in Dixon’s possession, most of which are works by Brakhage.

The curator and the artist first worked together in 1970, when Dixon had just established the Carnegie Museum of Art’s dedicated film section (later named the film department), which was only the second of its kind after MoMA’s film department in New York. At the Carnegie, Dixon hoped to develop greater museological context around artists’ film, a medium she considered as “the 21st-century art form.” She invited Brakhage to premiere a number of his recent films and, as he recalled, to bring him on as a lecturer in Pittsburgh.

It was through invitations such as this that Dixon began her career as a film curator. Her work went on to uniquely broaden the field of artists’ moving image, not simply because she was one of the only female curators working with moving image at the time, but because Dixon brought the work of an incipient generation of avant-garde filmmakers to new audiences throughout the Midwest. She cultivated a new appreciation and scholarship of these emerging artists’ film practices as they unfolded and grew.

She screened and discussed the work of artists including Kenneth Anger, Bruce Baillie, Robert Breer, Hollis Frampton, Ernie Gehr, Storm de Hirsch, Chick Strand, Carolee Schneeman, and many others—in addition to organizing tours for shows at other galleries and cinemas, working with Film in the Cities in St. Paul, and, later, founding Filmmakers Filming in 1979. At the Carnegie, Dixon was one of the first advocates for paying artists working with moving image (MoMA did not initially pay artist-filmmakers for the presentation of their work), a fundamental source of income to artists who were often struggling to afford to produce their own work. In an illuminating letter Schneeman wrote to James Tenney on August 9, 1973, she noted her own encounter with Dixon:

“Very hard to come by jobs lately. Only one thing for fall (Nov.) workshop & film retrospective at Carnegie Tech—which is great—no, Brakhage had nothing to do with it! Program run by a woman which means delight, curiosity, emotional generosity in all the dealings/arrangings.”

But it was primarily Dixon’s work in organizing the production of artists’ films—securing access to facilities, providing equipment, hosting her artists, as well as occasionally starring in a number of roles in front of the camera—for which she is perhaps better known, and it was this work as a commissioner that established her friendship with Brakhage.

In a letter in the Walker’s Sally Dixon Archive, Brakhage wrote to Dixon on September 8, 1970, to confirm his artist fee and travel arrangements to the Carnegie, adding:

“Thank you: Looking forward to the world premiere of these three new films—to get them happily out of my hair and into the eyes and knowing of the world… via this mysterious city Pittsburgh I’ve heard/seen so much about but never been able to visit.”

While picking up Brakhage from the Pittsburgh airport, Dixon and the photographer Mike Chikiris listened to the artist describe an unmade work he hoped to shoot in the back of a police car. In his hometown he hadn’t been successful in securing permission to ride with the Boulder Police Department. Dixon and Chikiris took on Brakhage’s project and arranged access for the artist to shoot in a number of Pittsburgh locations, including a police car. And so a year later, in the fall of 1971, Brakhage returned to shoot what was to become his Pittsburgh Trilogy (1971), also known as the Pittsburgh Documents. The Trilogy darkly documents the civic spaces of the police, a hospital, and a morgue; and respectively comprises eyesDeus Ex, and, one of Brakhage’s most famous films, The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes.

Stan Brakhage shooting "Eye" in Pittsburgh, 1975. Photo: Mike Chikiris

Stan Brakhage shooting eyes in Pittsburgh, 1975. Photo: Mike Chikiris

Although Dixon left the Carnegie in 1975, she kept in close contact with Brakhage, exchanging a huge volume of letters, notes, films, programs, essays and newspaper clippings. Along with the voluminous number of letters she received from Brakhage, she also collected and was gifted a large number of his films, both on 8mm and 16mm. (While working my way through both collection and ephemera, I also found a hand-painted, 70mm trim among their correspondence, possibly from the period Brakhage worked with the format for Night Music (1986) and, a year later, for The Dante Quartet.)

Brakhage sent many of these films as gifts, in acknowledgement of Dixon’s relentless championing of his work. And when the Walker received Dixon’s film collection in 2005, the original cans, reels, and packaging were removed, and the films were transferred to archival plastic containers and placed in the archive’s freezer to keep the films stable.

Stan Brakhage's original reels and packaging. Sally Dixon collection, Walker Art Center. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

Stan Brakhage’s original reels and packaging. Sally Dixon collection, Walker Art Center. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

Brakhage’s original packaging was kept together, and it was among these boxes that I located the original can for Crystal Clips—the most likely rationale behind the assignation of the reel to Brakhage. The grouping of the packing materials at the Walker mirrored Dixon’s own storage sequence for the films themselves but, even so, provenance of Crystal Clips was far from confirmed through its proximal location to other Brakhage works. That said, this did explain the “may have been” description that caught my eye in the first place. The question would have to be answered in relation to the content of the film itself.

The Exchanges of Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon, Part 2 will be posted next week.

 

 

Filmmaker Portrait: Marlon Riggs

The early 1990s found America in the throes of a culture war. Publically funded art was the site of controversy, especially for Marlon Riggs. Riggs was a black, gay documentary filmmaker who challenged America’s preconceived notions about race and sexuality through his films. He received funding from various government grants such as the National Endowment […]

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The early 1990s found America in the throes of a culture war. Publically funded art was the site of controversy, especially for Marlon Riggs. Riggs was a black, gay documentary filmmaker who challenged America’s preconceived notions about race and sexuality through his films. He received funding from various government grants such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and San Francisco’s public television station, KQED.  He taught at UC Berkeley and distributed many of his films through California Newsreel, a nonprofit distribution company with an emphasis on social justice.  A vocal group of politicians and right-wing pundits felt that his work was pornographic propaganda. The Christian Coalition edited his 55-minute film, Tongues Untied, into a provocative seven-minute clip in an attempt to place limitations on public art funding. They distributed a VHS of this footage to every member of the House of Representatives as “proof.” Pat Buchanan also utilized unauthorized clips from Tongues Untied in the 1992 Presidential campaign to try to discredit George Bush as a candidate who was supporting illicit art.

The Walker was far from immune to this type of political mudslinging. The art center screened Riggs’ work multiple times, starting in 1989 with Ethnic Notions—a documentary that explores America’s complicated relationship with racial stereotypes. Tongues Untied screened twice, including once in 1991 with Riggs in attendance to introduce and discuss the film. This film blends personal footage with documentary as Riggs confronts the difficulties of expressing Black gay sexuality. The film ends with the exclamation “Black men loving black men is the revolutionary act!” The following year, the Walker screened Color Adjustment, which addressed the dangerous racial narratives engrained in prime time television programming.

Riggs died in 1994 at the age of 37 from AIDS. He shot parts of his final film, Black Is…Black Ain’t while he was hospitalized. The film was edited and released after his death by his co-producer Nicole Atkinson and co-editor Christiane Badgely.

Filmmaker Portrait: Hany Abu-Assad

“This movie is not screaming…I will not force people to change their minds.” —Hany Abu-Assad   Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 film Paradise Now portrays the complex psychology behind Palestinian suicide bombers. The filmmaker traveled to the Walker in October of the same year to introduce his film and field questions after the screening. Though born in […]

fv2005po_abuassad_01.tif Portrait taken of Hany Abu-Assad on Oct. 2 A part of Premieres: First Look Abu-Assad introduces Paradise Now (Al-Jenna-An)

“This movie is not screaming…I will not force people to change their minds.”

—Hany Abu-Assad

 

Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 film Paradise Now portrays the complex psychology behind Palestinian suicide bombers. The filmmaker traveled to the Walker in October of the same year to introduce his film and field questions after the screening. Though born in Israel, Abu-Assad identifies as a Palestinian director. He shoots his films on site—frequently risking physical danger—and employs a Palestinian cast and crew. Aside from the subject matter, controversy played out when the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film as an entry from Palestine. After complaints from Israelis and defense from Abu-Assad, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to list the film under “Palestinian territories.”

Though Abu-Assad comes from a distinctly Palestinian perspective, Paradise Now eschews a clear moral agenda. The film offers no commentary on its protagonists’ motivations to become suicide bombers and does not prescribe a specific emotional reaction. The narrative ends on a bit of a cliff hanger, denying viewers any spectacle. Audience members had many questions for Abu-Assad at the post-screening discussion. There was lively debate about what constitutes a political film and what role cinema plays in changing the collective conscious. A full recording of the discussion is housed on the Walker’s website.

Abu-Assad’s latest work is 2013’s Omar: the story of a young Palestinian freedom fighter who must scale a wall to visit his girlfriend. This film was also nominated for Best Foreign Language film (this time listed under Palestine) at the 86th Academy Awards.

 

Filmmaker Portrait: Arthur Dong

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arthur Dong interviewed seven men. He sat with them, talked […]

Arthur Dong

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arthur Dong interviewed seven men. He sat with them, talked with them, looked them in their eyes. He gave them his full attention and complete respect. Not one for twisting stories, he filmed them in a way that told their truth. These men were also Dong’s worst fear.

In his 1997 documentary Licensed to Kill, Arthur Dong begins by telling viewers about his own narrow escape from a homophobic attack which left him fearful and wary when walking alone. Dong confronted his fear through his film. He wanted to understand the people making these attacks, so he went into prisons to interview seven men, each one convicted of a homophobic murder.  While this itself is remarkable—to sit across from someone who decided to murder someone just for being who they are—what is even more extraordinary is how he approached each story. Dong tries to understand each man and his background. He doesn’t demonize them; he helps us to see them as human. Each convicted murderer has their own troubled past, their own story to tell. Licensed to Kill allows both Dong and the viewer to understand the full story on why these men committed the crimes.

Not many visiting filmmakers at the Walker created as much political and community impact as Arthur Dong’s artist residency in April 1998. His visit was centered on the Twin Cities premiere of Licensed to Kill, but also involved screenings of his other documentaries and community events to support the Twin Cities LGBTQ community. As Licensed to Kill focuses in part on a crime that took place in Minneapolis, his visit ultimately became a way for the public to discuss their fears and hopes about transforming this area into a safer, more accepting community.

The Twin Cities case featured in Licensed to Kill involved a young man named Jay Johnson who shot two men on separate evenings in areas of the city notorious for gay cruising. During Dong’s residency he was able to go back to the prison in St Cloud and tape an interview with Johnson after he viewed the film. Johnson discussed his thoughts on the film and the other murderers featured alongside his story. As he spoke with the director, he seemed to be considering the gravity of his actions for the first time. His conversation with Dong was the first interview Johnson allowed to be conducted. Johnson explained that he’d witnessed too many of his fellow inmates become traumatized after allowing interviews with local news programs who sensationalize their stories. Johnson trusted Dong because he researched Dong’s career.

Dong aims to make unbiased documentaries. “As a filmmaker, part of what I struggle with and try to do in the editing room is to allow the space for the viewer to participate in the interpretation of what I’m doing,” Dong told the Gay and Lesbian Review in 2005. “Certainly I have a point of view, but you in the audience can also delve into your own personal experiences and your own interpretation of what is being transmitted on that two-dimensional, flat screen.” This generosity—allowing viewers their own opinion—is what makes his work so remarkable.

Dong’s weeklong Walker residency ran from April 14 to 18, but was jam-packed with community events and discussions: a workshop at MCAD, a screening of Licensed to Kill with a discussion at South High School, multiple screenings of his films at the Walker, panel discussions with Minneapolis residents and members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), along with a follow-up interview with one of the convicted killers featured in the documentary Licensed to Kill.

Panels held by PFLAG  allowed community members to discuss lingering feelings about Jay Johnson’s crime along with how to make the Twin Cities a safer place. The panel members were open to discussing their own experiences—from having LGBTQ children, the impact of religion, and the influence that the community plays in this kind of violence. One panel member emphasized the importance of listening to and understanding the perpetrators in order to stop hate crimes. Dong ended the discussion with a motto, which is crucial to many community issues: “Think globally, act locally.”

Arthur Dong’s visit emphasized the importance of discussing local events and crimes with other community members. Licensed to Kill resonates with current issues facing Minnesota such as anti-bullying policies and the safety of the Minneapolis LGBTQ community. The Walker recently hosted Joshua Oppenheimer, a visiting filmmaker whose film dealt with similar topics. His documentary The Act of Killing, focuses on interviewing Indonesian men who killed thousands of people in an anti-communist purge and their reasoning behind these killings.

Arthur Dong’s visit 16 years ago created a discourse between the arts community and the Twin Cities at large that remains relevant today. His residency not only featured screenings of award-winning documentaries, but also inspired community and political action around the Twin Cities.

Palme d’Or Winning Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan visits Minneapolis

Acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan visited the Walker earlier this month to introduce his Palme d’Or Winning film Winter Sleep to a sold out theater. He was accompanied by his friend and actor, Mehmet Eryilmaz. Ceylan’s film takes place in the otherworldly landscape of Anatolia at a hotel run by a former actor, his […]

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Actor Mehmet Eryilmaz and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan during their November 2014 visit to the Walker.

Acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan visited the Walker earlier this month to introduce his Palme d’Or Winning film Winter Sleep to a sold out theater. He was accompanied by his friend and actor, Mehmet Eryilmaz. Ceylan’s film takes place in the otherworldly landscape of Anatolia at a hotel run by a former actor, his younger wife, and his distraught sister. The expansive, three hour long feature film questions the importance of family, love, charity, and forgiveness.  The film kicked off a retrospective that included screenings of Climates, Distant, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Ceylan’s career as a filmmaker grew out of a passion for photography. During his trip to Minneapolis, he made an excursion around the city to take photographs of the Mississippi River. Accompanied by Minneapolis artist David Goldes and Eryilmaz, the director visited the Stone Arch Bridge, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and Goldes’ photography studio.

Ceyland with Senior Curator Sheryl Mousley in the Cargill Lobby of the Walker Art Center

Ceylan with Senior Curator Sheryl Mousley in the Walker Art Center

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Ceylan in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

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Photographer David Goldes with Ceylan at the Mississippi River.

The artists’ portrait (top) was taken by Gene Pittman in the Walker studio. All other photos were taken by Mehmet Eryilmaz.

Filmmaker Portrait: Michael Powell

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. Imagine that it’s the late 1940s and you’re about to go to the cinema. The majority of […]

Michael Powell

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

Imagine that it’s the late 1940s and you’re about to go to the cinema. The majority of films coming out at that time are in black and white. You walk into Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and you are ushered into a new world. A ballerina spinning out of control, fantastical plotlines, and color, lots of color. So much of the film is focused on the color red, and you start to understand the danger that comes with this ferocious shade. You find yourself mesmerized. Never before have you come across such a captivating film. The audience claps and your feet are still stuck to the floor next to nibbles of popcorn. Thank you, Mr. Powell and Mr. Pressburger.

Fast forward to the ’80s: the Walker Art Center is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their new building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in the summer of 1981. There is also a visit by one of Britain’s most innovative directors. Michael Powell was brought to the Walker during a retrospective of his films organized by the Film/Video department. He visited the museum for two days to introduce two of his most celebrated films, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, both films written, produced, and directed with his filmmaking partner Pressburger. He was joined during his visit by William K. Everson, British film historian, who taught at NYU at the time. As the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Michael Powell showed up at Walker Art Center last week looking like an advertisement for one of his films, films whose use of color brightened the cinematic landscape in the 1940s and ’50s…red socks of a color so loud they almost shouted from under the cuffs of his blue wool suit. His shirt and tie were more modest, but not much. One was lavender, the other a reddish orange.”

His visit initiated a splash of headlines on newspapers across the Twin Cities. The previous year, he had a retrospective at MOMA and this rippled into a resurgence of excitement for his films. While Powell was perhaps not a very familiar name, his connections with Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola certainly brought him well deserved attention.  Fourteen of his films were shown at the Walker throughout June and early July of 1980. They included: The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, I Know Where I’m Going, The Spy in Black, The Thief of Baghdad, and Peeping Tom.

Peeping Tom was the only film that brought bad press and this was because of its disturbing subject matter. Because of the film’s blatantly violent scenarios, the Women Against Violence Against Women group chose to picket the screening. The film temporarily banished Powell from the British film world. Peeping Tom tells the story of a man who murders women in front of a camera in order to capture their last looks before death. When the film opened in theaters in 1960, audience members and critics alike were horrified by the storyline. Despite the initial reaction, Martin Scorsese rereleased the film 20 years later and it is now hailed as a British masterpiece. According to Twin Cities Reader, around 20 people showed up outside of The Walker to protest the screening.

Powell’s visit to the Twin Cities was short but jam-packed. He conducted numerous interviews and attended many dinners, one being at an old Minneapolis favorite: New French Café. The Walker’s Film/Video curator at the time, Richard Peterson, was eager to bring Powell to theater performances at The Guthrie. Powell especially wanted to see The Tempest (directed by Liviu Ciulei); a play that he had always intended to translate to the screen but never gained enough funding. Powell had lunch with Ciulei the next day to discuss the piece.

Powell was able to introduce two films at the walker, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, which were both filmed in Technicolor and involve dramatic plotlines centered on escapism. The harmony of color and music energize scenes and make it almost impossible for viewers to look away. When the films were made, World War II had recently ended and Powell and Pressburger were sick of making war films. As Powell explained to the Minneapolis Star, they decided to “explode in color in a big way.”  These films generated excitement across audiences worldwide.

Michael Powell’s visit was a milestone for the Walker and represents the incredibly diverse range of artists the Walker has been lucky enough to host. Powell’s work not only celebrates the excitement and joy films can bring but also the ability that a film has to transport one into a new (and colorful!) world.

Filmmaker Portrait: Alan Berliner

What is in a name? According to Alan Berliner, everything. The independent filmmaker from New York visited the Walker many times over the course of 2002 as an artist in residence, exploring the social, political, and historical contexts of the family nomenclature. Berliner’s work centered on his documentary The Sweetest Sound and integrated five digital […]

Berliner during his year-long residency at the Walker in 2002.

Berliner during his year-long residency at the Walker in 2001.

What is in a name? According to Alan Berliner, everything. The independent filmmaker from New York visited the Walker many times over the course of 2002 as an artist in residence, exploring the social, political, and historical contexts of the family nomenclature. Berliner’s work centered on his documentary The Sweetest Sound and integrated five digital projects that questioned our associations with our names. For much of his life, Berliner was frustrated that he was frequently mistaken for other people with his same name. In The Sweetest Sound, he tracks down and invites twelve other Alan Berliners from around the world to a dinner party and investigates their shared identity. The Walker also screened Nobody’s Business and Intimate Strangers, companion documentaries about Berliner’s father.

His digital projects at the Walker shifted the focus to his audience and questioned the ways that names connect people. These interactive activities included a phone call to another visitor in the gallery to tell a “name story” or signing a digital screen that compiled all the signatures into an abstract video painting. To welcome guests, Berliner created an installation in the Walker lobby that documented the names of the 18,244 people who lived within a three mile radius of the art center. These discussions about genealogy and name calling continued throughout his year of residence through an online forum on Café Utne cohosted with Walker Curator Sheryl Mousley. To partake in some of Berliner’s name experiments, visit his Language of Names page.

Prior to his residency, Berliner’s films were featured in the “Lost Images Regained” programing. This series highlighted filmmakers who utilized found footage throughout their work. In conversation with Hungarian filmmaker Péter Forgács, Berliner discussed his process of transforming old material into something new in his films Everywhere At Once, City Edition, and The Family Album (all screened as part of the series). Berliner’s other work ranges from experimental film essays to personal documentary. He has created various projects since the late 1970s and his latest film, First Cousin Once Removed, debuted at the New York Film Festival in 2012.

Filmmaker Portrait: Julie Dash

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. Distributors regarded Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) as a foreign film. During her Regis Dialogue […]

Julie Dash

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

Distributors regarded Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) as a foreign film. During her Regis Dialogue at the Walker, she said that many distribution agencies found it to be a compelling film, but they insisted no audiences would be interested in watching it. Despite recognition at the Sundance Film Festival (Arthur Jafa won the Cinematography award for his work), every major and minor distribution company turned it down. Finally Kino International decided to distribute it because the agency thought of it as an international film. Julie Dash liked that idea: “It was a foreign film. It’s so different from mainstream America.” Daughters of the Dust was the first full-length film by an African American woman distributed theatrically.

Daughters of the Dust was first screened at the Walker in March of 1992 during a “New Women’s Cinema” festival organized by the Film/Video department. The festival was meant to celebrate the huge achievements that female directors had recently made with feature productions. It screened the day before the film was to open theatrically at the University Film Society. Daughters of the Dust takes place at the beginning of the 20th century and focuses on people of the Gullah Culture on the Sea Islands. It has two narrators, an unborn baby and a great grandmother, and is about the changing times on an island which was once specifically for slaves. The film exemplifies the diversity of the African American community, voicing the contrasting beliefs of various generations. The stunning visuals allow the audience to experience the beautiful landscape and guide viewers along a story that doesn’t necessarily need words to tell.

When Dash first started the project, she wanted it to be a silent film but knew that audiences would be less than enthusiastic. She decided to have the cast speak in the Gullah dialect to focus on the beautifully composed shots rather than the dialogue. She mentioned later on in her Regis Dialogue that she grew up learning how to translate different dialects like Irish or Italian and she wanted a new dialect to be featured and accepted in film. When she finished the film, she was told to redub the entire film into English, or at least into a southern accent so that audiences could understand it better. She refused. Dash knew she was breaking the rules with this film and that was a conscious decision.

Dash’s first visit to the Walker was in 1993 for a Regis Dialogue titled “American Playhouse.” Dash was an American Playhouse director, a PBS series which brought classic and original drama and fiction to TV audiences. At the Walker, Dash discussed the changing film environment brought on by a growth of African American directors with producer Lyndsay Law. This dialogue was part of the Juneteenth Film Festival: a celebration to honor African American filmmakers. There were multiple events around the Twin Cities that weekend including workshops, screenings and filmmaker forums. This event helped bring the community together to celebrate an underrepresented group of artists.

Dash was a member of the film group LA Rebellion with notable directors like Charles Burnett and Haile Gerima. African American filmmakers who attended UCLA film school during the 70’s and 80’s and who created a new kind of cinema formed this group. Daughters of the Dust was Dash’s 11th film and her first full length feature. It pushed film-goers to consider what stories were commonly told and who was creating those stories.

Filmmaker Portrait: Pauline Kael

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. The artists that the Walker invites for visits span media, including journalism and the literary arts, making […]

Pauline Kale

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

The artists that the Walker invites for visits span media, including journalism and the literary arts, making for an exciting array of guests. While much of the hubbub at the Walker in August of 1998 was about Jonathan Demme’s upcoming dialogue, there was also buzz about the critic leading the interview. Pauline Kael, the interviewer joining Jonathan Demme, was one of the leading film critics who encouraged his work as a director and knew him personally. Kael, known for her controversial opinions and lengthy reviews in the New Yorker, was well established in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

Bruce Jenkins, Film/Video curator at the time, explained to the audience before the talk that it was a difficult task to convince Kael to visit the Walker Art Center, but he was able to persuade her to stay for two days. During the talk, Kael mentioned to the audience that she typically doesn’t do these kinds of interviews but felt this one might expand her film perspective. Jenkins’s next step was picking who to have the dialogue with Kael, and after mulling over different filmmakers, he and Kael came to the conclusion that bringing Jonathan Demme would be the best choice.

Kael had written numerous reviews of Demme’s films. She had always been excited about his “focus on the kitsch” and how he was able to transform it into art. Demme mentioned that if Kael liked a certain film of yours it’s “such a spectacular feeling—­­­you read these things over and over.” Kael didn’t always write positively about his work, though, and Demme said those reviews were ones you only read once. At one point in their discussion, Kael mentioned that she didn’t have time to review Married to the Mob being that she was on vacation. She couldn’t help herself and started to review the film on stage in front of Demme and the audience. She mentioned that she enjoyed the film but she thought the ending was lacking—specifically the use of outtakes. The audience began to lightly boo, but Kael just laughed, saying, “I welcome your disagreement.”

The criticism didn’t bother Demme however. He sounded star-struck during their dialogue. He mentioned that he was “really having a spectacular experience this evening,” noting that not only was he at the Walker, talking in front of Walker patrons, but also was sitting next to Pauline Kael. Demme gushed that, “even before you’re a filmmaker —just a film enthusiast, one reads Pauline Kael in a certain way—agree or not—there is point of view present —an artistry in the presentation of the thoughts that arise in her mind from seeing a movie that is extraordinary to be confronted with as a movie-goer.”

At the time of her visit, Kael was discouraged by how much impact marketing had on which films stayed in theaters longer, and thus reached a larger audience. She told Twin Cities Reader, “what kills you about all this is that there are so few movies that are really good, that when the good ones don’t get promoted and nobody knows about them and instead people go to all of this crap and—what happens is they wonder why movies are so lousy.”  She mentioned that she didn’t think that Demme was getting the full recognition he needed. As a film critic, she was on the lookout for exciting new filmmakers. Pedro Almodovar especially impressed her at the time.

Kael seemed to mostly keep to herself during the visit and the dialogue was her only planned Twin Cities event. Through correspondence though, we know that she was impressed by Minnesotan wild rice. Few dialogues at the Walker have half of the audience questions directed to the interviewer, but Kael proved that the critic can be just as interesting as the artist. Kael was a remarkable voice in the world of film criticism and she truly graced the stage at the Walker.

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