What is between the frames: A weekend of experimental cinema

If you have ever walked through the East Village in New York City, you probably have never noticed the Anthology Film Archives. It is located in an indistinguishable brick building without a bright flashing marquee. In fact, you would probably recognize this building as the exterior for Doc Ock’s laboratory in Spider Man 2, before you ever knew of the significance the Archives have had in the history of avant-garde and experimental cinema.

The Anthology Film Archives has been the cornerstone of experimental cinema since it was founded in 1970 by Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, P. Adams Sitney and Peter Kubelka. It is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of experimental cinema. It was at the Archives where I found myself on Nov. 6 and 7 for a series of four screenings, sponsored by Mount Holyoke.

The event, entitled “Origins, Influences, & Interests: Four Women Filmmakers,” brought together four female experimental filmmakers who came of age during the 1970s and early 1980s:Peggy Ahwesh, Ericka Breckman, Abigail Child and Su Friedrich. Robin Blaetz, Associate Professor of Film Studies, asked the filmmakers to curate a program that featured work that influenced and intrigued them. What resulted was over six hours of films that represented every end of the avant-garde spectrum.

The first night of screenings began with the work and influences of Abigail Child in a program entitled “Beyond Gendered Sound: Noise Film, Scratch Video, and the New Psychedelic Acid House Vulnerability”. This 95 minute program emphasized how sound and image work together to create a sort of filmic poetry. This screening featured works from the last decade, highlighting how new media is changing filmmaking. Su Friedrich used her screening to show the works of filmmakers who have influenced her: Majorie Kellor, Leslie Thornton and Joyce Wieland. Friedrich also discussed her transition from film to digital filmmaking. Stating that she was “over it” already, she called video a lesser medium, but said because “this is what I’m doing, I have to do it.”

Ericka Beckman’s screening, “Performing the Image”, showcased performance art and conceptual imagery. Peggy Ahwesh, besides her 1993 film The Scary Movie and 1910 print of The Wizard of Oz, selected films from no earlier than 2008. These works, often by her students at Bard College, showcased the work of younger female experimental filmmakers who have been inspired by Child, Friedrich and Ahwesh.

Each screening addressed a common theme:how these filmmakers went against the establishment of avant-garde filmmaking in the late 70s and 80s. Their work was criticized by both feminist critics for being too “male-like,” and by male critics for having too much gendered content. Leslie Thornton, who was present at the screenings,said that because their work dealt with emotional life, “we didn’t fit into the establishment of our field because we were dealing with things so charged.” Yet despite these criticisms, what has resulted are the works of four unique female experimental filmmakers whose work is influencing a new generation of female filmmakers.

Published: Mount Holyoke News
November 12, 2009

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