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The Futurism Is Ours: Born In Flames

  • maysles documentary center 343 Malcolm X Boulevard New York United States (map)

Lizzie Borden, 1983, 79 min. DCP

Preserved by Anthology Film Archives with restoration funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and The Film Foundation

Born In Flames imagines a not-so-distant New York City set 10 years after a peaceful social democratic revolution. Viewed through Lizzie Borden’s semi-documentary lens (including non-professional actors, improvised script, and fabricated media images such as newspapers, TV reports, radio, and grainy surveillance footage), post-revolution society, despite its futurity, gradually re-resembles  the present. Precarious labor, unfair hiring practices, sexual assault, and other indicators of systemic oppression and surveillance slip out from under the thinly veiled mechanisms of cis-white patriarchy and control. 

We watch the radicalization and organization of several grassroots feminist groups--one of white middle class journalists and one of queer black women taking direct action--who agree on the revolution’s failure to eliminate gendered violence but disagree on the best tactics for resistance. 

Through the film’s three radical, queer, black women protagonists, Borden urges us that liberation is not something linear and utopic on the horizon, but requires intimacy, militancy, solidarity, anti-capitalist politics, as well as a complete re-imagining of what constitutes “the future.” As Romy Opperman writes in Born in Flames and the No Future of Afrofuturism, “the future” of Afro-futurism is “not simply a repetition of the present [...] Instead, such a future is a kind of unthinkable moment that requires the reorienting of our desire away from the future as it is currently presented to us, and towards the impossible project of a complete re-envisioning of time.”

Lizzie Borden will be present for a post-screening discussion

Lizzie Borden: In her first act of rebellion, at age eleven, Lizzie Borden adopted the name of the infamous 19th century patricide-matricide. She studied art at Wellesley College, moved to New York City in the 70s, wrote criticism for the prestigious Art Forum magazine, worked on her own paintings, and then shifted to experimental filmmaking after seeing a retrospective of works by Jean-Luc Godard. Her films have dealt with themes of race, class, power, capitalism, and sex—including Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Working Girls (1986) and Born in Flames (1983), named one of "The Most Important 50 Independent Films" by Filmmaker magazine.

This program is a part of the The Futurism Is Ours, a program of afro- and feminist-futurist films that explore present-day dilemmas, envision the future, and re-imagine the past. By expanding notions of time, outer space, memory, and collective trauma, these artists treat cinema as a space for exploring and representing the often tangled intersections between diaspora and colonial legacies, utopia and dystopia, and for foregrounding a vision of black and queer liberation.

The Futurism is Ours is a section of the year-long experimental film series, The American Experiment, supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.