vic brooks

EMPAC Project Receives Prestigious “Spirit Awards” Nomination from Film Independent

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Watch Live, Mar 4, 2023.

Troy, NY–On November 22, industry leader and global influencer Film Independent announced that Martine Syms, Rocket Caleshu, and Vic Brooks have been nominated for the John Cassavetes Award for The African Desperate by the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

The nominated feature-length film, The African Desperate, was filmed in conjunction with writer/director/producer Martine Sym’s fall 2021 artist residency at EMPAC / Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer. EMPAC engineers and staff invested their expertise with pivotal production and post-production support throughout the development and creation of the art work. Martine Syms returned to Rensselaer to give a screening of the film on October 24 as part of EMPAC’s celebratory reopening Fall 2022 season.

The John Cassavetes Award nomination is a marquee honor from Film Independent’s international community of filmmakers and tastemakers because it requires that the feature be made for under $1,000,000–one mark of an endeavor that upholds the spirit of creative independence, free from commercial influence and obligations.

Named for the American actor, director, and screenwriter who helped pioneer American independent cinema, the John Cassavetes Award nomination recognizes outstanding achievement in uniqueness of vision, innovation, and boldness from the film’s creative team and is given to the writer, director, and producer of the film. The winner will be announced among a slate of 17 awards, and 85 nominees in all, at the 38th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards. The in-person live ceremony is scheduled to be held on Saturday, March 4, 2023 in Santa Monica, California.

Winners are chosen by the 7,500+ members of Film Independent.

Vic Brooks, EMPAC Associate Director of Arts and Senior Curator of Time-based Visual Arts, shares, “Many congratulations and immense gratitude to everyone at EMPAC for their incredible work making the film, particularly given it was the middle of covid.”

“A special shout out to the whole stage team for the amazing sets,” she continues, “and for Michael Valiquette's brilliant art-direction, Ryan Jenkins’s gorgeous cinematography, Stephen McLaughlin's mesmerizing sound, literally everyone’s constant advice and engagement, and crucially all the administrative and curatorial support it took to make it happen.”

The EMPAC curatorial program is committed to the in-depth support of artists over extended periods of time to develop and realize complex projects. These projects utilize not only EMPAC’s unequaled technological infrastructure, but also the interdisciplinary expertise of its curatorial, production, and administrative staff. Martine Syms has been part of the center’s artist-in-residence roster since 2016.

ABOUT Martine Syms

Martine Syms has earned wide recognition for a practice that combines conceptual grit, humor, and social commentary. She has shown extensively, including solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Tate Liverpool. She is a recipient of the Creative Capital Award, a United States Artists fellowship, the Tiffany Foundation award and the Future Fields Art Prize.

ABOUT The African Desperate

Synopsis: If this were a reality show, Palace would be the person who is not here to make friends. Palace needs to get home, back to Chicago from upstate New York. But that means surviving a hazy, hilarious, and hallucinatory night-long odyssey, stumbling from academic critiques to backseat hookups. The African Desperate executive producers are Dominica Inc., Ways & Means, Sadie Coles HQ, Bridget Donahue, and EMPAC at Rensselaer. The film premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam in Europe, and in the US as the closing night feature at MoMA and Lincoln Center’s New Directors / New Films festival in Spring 2022. It is distributed world-wide by MUBI.

ABOUT the Spirit Awards and Film Independent

The Spirit Awards is the premier awards event for the independent film community, produced by Film Independent, a nonprofit arts organization that champions creative independence in visual storytelling and supports a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation, and uniqueness of vision. With over 250 annual screenings and events and a membership of 7,500+, Film Independent supports a global community of artists and audiences who appreciate and sustain artist-driven filmmaking.


EMPAC—The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is where the arts, sciences, and technology meet under one roof and breathe the same air. Four exceptional venues enable audiences, artists, and researchers to inquire, experiment, develop, and experience the ever-changing relationship between our senses, technology, and the worlds we create around us. EMPAC is an icon of the New Polytechnic, a new paradigm for cross-disciplinary research and education at Rensselaer.

Since its first commission in 2006, the EMPAC curatorial program has supported the commissioning, production, and presentation of ambitious performances and artworks that span the visual and performing arts. The program’s polyvocal curatorial approach resonates through each project, generating time-based artworks that are diverse in content, method, technology, and audience experience.

Alongside the curatorial program, researchers at Rensselaer use the infrastructure of EMPAC to expand the discourse at the intersection of digital technology and the human condition through a broad range of research projects in science and engineering that include cognitive computing, immersive visual and auditory environments, and physical computing.