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The American Experiment: Forgetting Vietnam

  • Maysles Cinema 343 Malcolm X Boulevard New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)
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Sunday, February 17th, 3:00pm
Trinh T. Minh-ha, 2015, 90 min

One of the myths surrounding the creation of Vietnam involves a fight between two dragons whose intertwined bodies fell into the South China Sea and formed Vietnam’s curving S-shaped coastline. Influential feminist theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha’s lyrical film essay commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of the war draws inspiration from ancient legend and from water as a force evoked in every aspect of Vietnamese culture. Minh-ha’s classic Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) used no original footage shot in the country; in Forgetting Vietnam images of contemporary life unfold as a dialogue between land and water—the elements that form the term "country." Fragments of text and song evoke the echoes and traces of a trauma of international proportions. The encounter between the ancient as related to the solid earth, and the new as related to the liquid changes in a time of rapid globalization, creates a third space of historical and cultural re-memory—what local inhabitants, immigrants and veterans remember of yesterday’s stories to comment on today’s events.

Q&A with Trinh T. Minh-ha to follow screening.

Forgetting Vietnam has the capacity to carry viewers away, to sweep them up in the river-flows of Vietnam’s history and present. In these currents, the distinctions between poetry, philosophy, and pop music, grand historical events and everyday actions are blurred.”
-Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa & Patricia Alvarez, The Brooklyn Rail

This program is part of:
The American Experiment (1969-2019)
Programmed by Emily Apter, Edo Choi, Jessica Green, and Annie Horner
On 16mm, video and DCP

Winter 2019-Winter 2020
Experimental film in the United States has always been about the search for voice and true expression, and we’ve seen the diversity of these voices build over the last half-century. The so-called New American Cinema of the 1960s, which emerged largely in response to censorship in the Hollywood Studio system, grew into, more broadly, into an international cinema of experimentalism. These films looked inward and outward, toward something porous: what constitutes Americanness, who is represented within American power structures, and what is the the place of the American project of democracy in a globalizing world? With a multitude of identities at the forefront, these filmmakers ask, is America by and for white people, or has it always been an intersection of diverse origins? Or both?

In post-war America there were three conditions out of which the experimental film movement arose: 1) Advances in camera technology and an abundance of cheap 16mm film stock left over from the military, which to an increase of/continued interaction between experimental films and home movies. 2) A desire to explore psychological themes and aesthetic forms precluded by Hollywood’s broad commercial appeal and production code 3) An equally strong desire to interrogate the exteriors and interiors of modern American life (informed by psychoanalysis and advertising) as it had been codified during the period post-war ascension.

The 60s and 70s marked an intersection between cinema and the broader struggle for civil rights, queer rights, anti-imperialism, and feminism. As these movements expanded, so did the experimental film movement. The possibility of a more sustainable experimental film economy included intersections between film and performance art.

In the 80s and 90s the notion of expanded cinema exploded, and experimental film continued merging with other art practices like mixed media. Futurism was explored, and marginalized voices evoked. Experimental film gained support by museums, galleries, and art institutions.

In the 21st century, the experimental movement has reflected filmmakers who continue complicating notions of identity. As technology continues to evolve, it informs and expands the possibilities of cinema and, in turn, the representations of self. Many contemporary experimental films emerge out of a documentary paradigm, as there are more ways than ever to document both the outside world and the self. These films retain elements of nonfiction storytelling by documenting the outside world, the self, and their own making. This is the rich terrain The American Experiment will explore.

1.) The Truth is Out There
(Winter 2019, Feb 7th-8th, 16th-17th)

Documentary and experimental film have been intermingling since Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North in 1922, which is before the word “documentary” was coined by the Scottish documentary filmmaker, John Grierson in 1935. If documentary is more concerned with reality than fantasy and experimental film is more concerned with feeling than fact, mash-ups of these forms embody radical aesthetics. Today’s experimental non-fiction film reckons with the filmmaker’s personal experience, offering a non-traditional lens to a non-traditional American experience.

2.) Personal Ethnographies
(Spring 2019, TBA)

These films represent the various modes of personal expression that woman, indigenous, immigrant, African American, and LGBTQ artists have developed within and against the American avant-garde tradition. Personal Ethnographies explores films and makers traversing the borders between the personal and the political, the self and the body, the imagined and the “real” America.

3.) The Futurism Is Ours
(Fall 2019, TBA)

The Futurism is Ours features Afro- and feminist-futurist experimental films that explore present day dilemmas, envision the future, and re-examine the past. Together, these films expand notions of memory and selfhood through cultures of the African diaspora, queerness, science fiction, historical trauma, and collective remembering. Beginning in the late 20th century and moving into the present day, The Futurism is Ours is a program of re-imaginings--of utopias and dystopias, of futurist possibilities for self, society, and cinema.

4.) The Big Crossover @ URL
(Winter 2020, TBA)

The Big Crossover @ URL examines the place of experimental film within the ecosystems of art making, stardom, currency, and the Art Economy, as well as the mainstream content economy and ideas pipeline. This section is a meditation on the new, elusive social capital experimental filmmakers sometimes garner and sometimes reject in the Internet era. Utilizing both physical and screen space we explore the role of internet-mediated representations of marginalized people in digital hierarchies of exposure, profit and expectation. Through this lens we seek to ask: how do, and how can, marginalized people claim ownership and representation of their identities online?

This series is supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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Earlier Event: February 16
The American Experiment: Shakedown
Later Event: February 23
Made in Harlem: Black Theatre