The programme for the three nights of screenings at SFC as part of the TTFF, curated by Hilton Als
Last evening, the three nights of screenings at StudioFilmClub curated by Hilton Als as part of the trinidad+tobago film festival/09 drew to a close, with a series of short films by the black US artist Kara Walker. In his introduction to the films, Als spoke of the way he came to Walker’s art, and specifically these films, and about Walker herself (Als has written a profile of Walker in the New Yorker magazine; photocopies of the article were available at the screening). He spoke in a way that made me sense that for him, of the entire programme of films, Kara Walker’s were the ones that meant the most to him, had the most personal resonance.
Walker’s work, both filmic and non-, uses tableaux of paper cutouts or silhouettes to explore the issues of racism and slavery, issues that still plague US society. Though much of the work is literally in black and white, figuratively it is anything but, as Walker goes beyond the stereotypical and reductive black-is-good, white-is-bad notions that often inform such work and engages in a more nuanced critique of slavery and history and race relations. And with this thematic complexity comes moving images that are at once striking, disturbing, and as Melanie wrote previously, eerily beautiful.
Walker made her series of short films over a period of seven years, but last night, in an act of curatorial daring, Als showed them back-to-back over an intense period of around an hour. “It’s hard to say I hope you like the films,” Als said as he ended his introduction, “but I hope they’re deeply enlightening and emotional.” There were some among the audience who found the films perhaps too emotional (or maybe just offensive) and who left the screening, but most people sat utterly transfixed as haunting image after haunting image appeared on the screen: a large human head cum island swallowing black bodies whole; a man self-fellating; another man being sodomised and then giving birth.
There was also the presence of a recurring character called the Negress, a stand-in for the filmmaker herself–though Walker was also literally in the films, as her hands were often in view manipulating the cutouts, and in one ultra self-reflexive moment, when the camera moved behind the tableau to briefly show Walker and her collaborators at work. No unseen narrator here: this is work rooted in reality and personal experience.
“One of the ways we get to be good adults is not to varnish history,” Als said at the end of the screenings. In other words, we must always strive to tell the truth. And speaking true about our human reality and experience is one of the aims of the trinidad+tobago film festival. In sharing Kara Walker’s–and Kalup Linzy’s, and Leslie Thornton’s, and Robrt Altman’s–films with us, Hilton Als has helped us in this mission. For that, we give him our thanks.