When artists make films

A video still from artist Kara Walker’s 2005 work, 8 Possible Beginnings . . .


What distinguishes a film that’s categorised as an “art film” from a film or video made by an artist? My personal answer: Who the hell cares, just as long as it’s good! This post highlights a few noteworthy, artist-made films that will be screened at the trinidad+tobago film festival/09. If, like me, you have a particular interest in the fine arts and experimentalism, then I suggest that you mark you calendars and be sure to catch the following:

Five Kara Walker short films at StudioFilmClub, September 18. In 2007, Time magazine named Walker one of the USA’s 100 most influential artists. An MFA RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) graduate, Walker won the MacArthur “genius” award in 1997—one of the youngest people ever to do so—for her body of work that centered around themes of race and gender roles. Using life sized cutouts, Walker spins difficult to swallow and often vexing tales of slavery and an antebellum south, many of which are centered around the Negress, a sort of alter ego of the artist. In 2004, she took her large-as-life silhouettes off the gallery wall and into a different medium when she directed her first film, Testimony: Narrative of a Negress Burdened by Good Intentions. Walker’s work is challenging; it is rooted in the history of slavery and often mixes sexuality into already confusing and dismaying situations, with an eerie beauty that is difficult to define.

And if eerie beauty is your cup of tea, then don’t miss the (September 17 at StudioFilmClub) screening of Peggy and Fred in Hell, directed by avant-garde artist Leslie Thornton. The film centers around the two last beings on earth—a pre-adolescent girl and boy (yes, Peggy and Fred). Together, the duo makes its way through a surreal, quasi-apocalyptic world that is bursting at the seams with the detritus of pop culture. Comprised of footage Thornton shot herself and archival footage, this experimental, semi-sci-fi film bravely challenges and beautifully explores the aesthetics of narrative form. One of the most interesting things about this process-oriented film is that it is comprised of a cycle of ongoing and ever-changing short films; Thornton has been making Peggy and Fred since the early 1980s and, chances are, the version of the feature-length film that will be screened at this year’s festival will not be last version the artist puts together.

Coming from Trinidad and Tobago is Jaime Lee Loy‘s film, Bury Your Mother, which is a haunting, non-linear narrative depicting a psychological engagement between a mother and her daughter. Through a range of techniques, we see the interaction (or lack thereof) between a mother, who clearly has some screws loose, and her daughter, who rarely makes it onto the screen. Lee Loy’s images read almost as a series of well-thought-out photographs, with special attention paid to cinematography and the use of symbolism to craft a tale, whether through costuming, objects, or actions.

Also on the film/art picks list is Kalup Linzy‘s series of short films, which will also be screened at StudioFilmClub. Linzy—an MFA graduate and 2007 winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship—is a performance artist and filmmaker who often performs in drag in order to reinvent classic Soap Opera story lines, but with black women as the central characters. I won’t go into too much detail here, as I already wrote about Linzy’s films in a previous post, suffice to say, that one critic describes his work as “Faulker by way of Tyler Perry.”

So, does art really imitate life? Judging from these films, we’d say yes.

Date: Sun 06 Sep, 2009
Category: ttff news and features

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