Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 7:30pm
Robert Gardner: 7 Fragments
177 Livingston Street, Brooklyn - PLEASE NOTE NEW ADDRESS
In twenty-nine completed works, surveying the daily life and rituals of societies from every inhabited continent, Robert Gardner probes acutely at the delicate borders that have always defined documentary film—the porous and slippery boundaries between objective facts and their subjective telling. He creates his films via encounters with traditional cultures—among them the Dani of New Guinea in Dead Birds (1963), the Hamar of Ethiopia in Rivers of Sand (1974), and the holy city of Benares in Forest of Bliss (1986)—and the resulting works embody profound and significant contradictions: they are at once beautiful and unsettling, instructive and mysterious, brutally true and mythically transcendent. In addition to his own work, Gardner has enhanced film culture more broadly for nearly half a century as a writer, educator and patron of other artists: two of his more significant projects have been The Film Study Center at Harvard, and Screening Room, a long-running television talk show that played host to figures like Hollis Frampton, Peter Hutton, Jonas Mekas, Yvonne Rainer, Michael Snow, and nearly a hundred others.
For this evening, Gardner will screen rarely-seen footage and discuss seven unfinished projects that span four decades of his career, providing a chance to explore the working process of one of the foremost living documentarians.
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An evening of films that might have been. I will try to explain why they were undertaken and why they were abandoned. It could be a lesson in how (or why not) to make films. - RG
In the late sixties I picked up my seldom used Arri 35mm camera and set off for the famous tidal flats of Nova Scotia.
This fragment is of an elderly farmer who fished a weir using his horse and carriage to go out to it with the ebbing tide and home with the incoming tide. I thought I saw a nice structure for a film that even included the element of chase, that old standby of film narrative. Would the carriage get home before being engulfed by the incoming tide, would the fog appear and obscure all points of reference?
Creatures of Pain (1968)
In 1967 I was hoping to make a film about sheepherders in Nigeria. Civil war intervened and I had to be content with a few days attending a ritual called "sharo" in a small village near Kano. It qualified as a true “ordeal," a contest of endurance to pain.
I went to Ladakh in the vain search for a shaman. What I found was a species of Buddhist healing that involved trance and a variety of magical tricks of the healing trade.
One of my filmic interests in Ethiopia was to see and film the salt trade between the Highlands and the Dallol Depression, a wondrous environment of unbearable heat and intense color. I managed a start only and these are the bits that emerged.
Early in the seventies I was involved in the programming of an ABC affiliate TV station in Boston (Channel 5). I was given the opportunity to make what I called "non commercials" to be shown between programs just like a conventional advertisement but consisting instead of a 60 second look at a commonplace social activity. Policeman was one of several such "non commercials" that aired on this station to many peoples' astonishment.
The Old Lady (1958)
AKA: A Human Document
The only film except for helping John Marshall with The Hunters that I did when I went to the Kalahari in 1957. I became entranced by an old lady about whom I photographed and made this little film.
It Could Be Good, It Could Be Bad (Flying in Chile) (1997)
Bob Fulton asked me to join him to do aerial photography in the Southern Chilean Andes. We rigged microphones to record what we were saying to each other as we flew among these extraordinary formations.
Followed by a conversation with Gardner.
Tickets - $7, available at door.