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four individuals surrounding a coffin

Jump the Line

Eric Baudelaire, Gerard Byrne, Stan Douglas, Tamar Guimarães, Onyeka Igwe, Ruchir Joshi, and Trinh T. Minh-ha

To “jump the line” in filmmaking means to break a basic rule of cinematic realism—moving the camera across an imaginary 180° line that normally allows viewers to maintain their natural sense of left and right within the film. This week-long film series celebrates jumping the line by presenting moving image works whose directors deliberately break the rules to reveal the unquestioned structural and stylistic conventions of image and sound production.

Jump the Line is a reflexive take on the multiple timescales and varied technical and dramaturgical strategies that make up films, recordings, performances, and broadcasts. By focusing on how, why, and for whom such things are made, Jump the Line represents what EMPAC stands for as an institution: the daily work of producing new artworks behind studio doors, invisible to the public until completion.

Spanning the week of film events, Gerard Byrne’s installation In Our Time is open to the public in Studio 1 where the film’s temporal reality is synched to the actual hours of each day. A radio host goes about the repetitive activities of a daily live broadcast, reinforcing Byrne’s questions around synchronicity, (in)visibility, and the dramaturgy of production.

In much the same way, Stan Douglas’s legendary jazz epic Luanda-Kinshasa (2013) is presented for the first time ever as a single six-hour theatrical screening. Luanda-Kinshasa depicts a fictional 1970s jazz-funk band engaged in a seemingly endless real-time jam turning EMPAC’s Concert Hall into the recording studio.

Two further screening programs are presented using the double-and triple-bill format: The first framed by Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Shoot for the Contents that renders “the real in the illusory and the illusory in the real” in a journey through Chinese storytelling, and the second anchored by Eric Baudelaire’s newly released documentary, Un film dramatique, that charts the artist’s four-year collaboration with a group of Parisian middle-school artists, who learn to use the camera in ways unique to their burgeoning points of view.

Main Image: Tamar Guimarães, O Ensaio (2019), Courtesy the artist and Arsenal-Institut Für Film Und Videokunst E.V.

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Ephraim Asili

The Inheritance

Ephraim Asili

Special physically-distanced screenings are available for Rensselaer classes of the EMPAC-commissioned film The Inheritance by Ephraim Asili during the week of 16-20 November. 

In addition to these in-person class-specific screenings, all Rensselaer students, faculty and staff can request to watch The Inheritance online and we will provide a link.

Ephraim Asili’s The Inheritance weaves histories of the West Philadelphia–based MOVE Organization, the Black Arts Movement, and dramatizations of the life of the filmmaker when he was a member of a Black activist collective. Centering on what Asili describes as a “speculative reenactment” of his time in a West Philadelphia collective, the actors scripted lives on set are entwined with cameos by MOVE's Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Sr., and Mike Africa Jr., and poet-activists Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker.

After the EMPAC preview of The Inheritance on April 9, 2020 was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, it premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and had its US premiere at the New York film festival US premiere on Friday 19 September. 

 

Main Image: Ephraim Asili, Production still from The Inheritance. Photo: Mick Bello/EMPAC.

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two young boys engaged in conversation.

What Are We Doing Here Together?

Eric Baudelaire and Tamar Guimarães
  • Un Film Dramatique (2019)
  • By Eric Baudelaire

Eric Baudelaire’s principle that “we would make a film that starts as a film about them, slowly becoming a film made with them, and eventually, after four years, it would end up as a film by them,” produces a brilliantly incisive and intimate feature film that was shot over four years with a group of middle-school students from the Dora Maar School in Saint-Denis, France. Riffing on their own lives, and all that is happening politically and socially around them, the young artists use the implicitly collaborative process of filmmaking as an explicit way to make their own voices heard. Going up against the power structures inherent to the world they will one day inherit, they debate issues of discrimination in the face of the current struggles around racism and immigration in Europe to attempt to answer the central question: “What are we doing here together?”

  • ENSAIO / THE REHEARSAL (2018)
  • By Tamar Guimarães

Bubbling underneath the wryly comedic attempts to rehearse a dramatization of Machado de Assis’s nineteenth-century satirical novel, The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, lies is a searing critique of the racism and sexism of Brazilian society. O Ensaio follows a group of performers directed by a young artist, Isa, as they encounter multiplying difficulties putting together a play for an exhibition. Punctuated by the neurotic repetitions of rehearsal structures and the accompanying group dynamics, the screenplay was developed by Tamar Guimarães in tandem with the cast of largely nonprofessional actors. Described by the artist as a film about “short-lived revolutionary actions,” O Ensaio delves into 1880 Machado de Assis’s prediction that, although the end of slavery would come, “everything would remain the same.”

Refreshments will be served.

Main Image: Eric Baudelaire, Un Film Dramatique (2019). Courtesy the artist and The Cinema Guild.

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people standing over a coffin
people standing over a coffin

Tamar Guimarães, O Ensaio (2019), Courtesy of the artist and Arsenal-Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V.

Eric Baudelaire, Un Film Dramatique (2019).

Tamar Guimarães, O Ensaio (2019).

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a frame showing a mans head

A Hundred Schools of Thought

Onyeka Igwe, Ruchir Joshi, and Trinh T. Minh-ha
  • Specialised Technique (2019)
  • By Onyeka Igwe

Specialised Technique is one of a trio of films made with images from the British Colonial Film Unit archives of the Aba Women’s War of 1929, the first major anti-colonial protest to British authority in West Africa, and a struggle led specifically by women. Onyeka Igwe’s own film delves deep into the technique of the Colonial Film Unit’s practice, and draws out how certain actions and gestures, like sequences of West African’s dancing, propagandized a positive image of British rule. A methodical and at times joyful reflection on questions of how, why, and for whom such images are produced, Igwe in turn develops her own filmic language in the reframing of these archival images in direct resistance to the violence of the colonial gaze.

  • Tales from Planet Kolkata (1993)
  • By Ruchir Joshi

Filmed in 1990s Calcutta, India, Tales from Planet Kolkata is a sharply canny satire on the city’s continued portrayal by the western media as a “black hole” and “the worst place in the world.” As lovingly photographed as it is acutely observed, the film is shot through with references from Godard to Hollywood, opening with Ruchir Joshi’s take on Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, as the director leads us on a riotous journey through the city along with a local Patua (a traditional Bengali scroll painter) and an African American video artist. In search of answers to perennial questions of cultural identity and belonging, Tales was originally commissioned by the UK’s Channel 4 television to shift the perspective of the dominant western gaze towards that of the global south.

  • Shoot for the Contents (1992)
  • By Trinh T. Minh-ha

Shoot for the Contents is a richly layered documentary that hinges on the protests that sparked the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Trinh T. Minh-ha draws out the expansive relationship between images, sounds, and the process of filmmaking itself in order to translate the complex motifs of Chinese allegory through the moving image. Titled after a Chinese guessing game, Shoot for the Contents delicately layers the voices of women artists and philosophers with Chinese music in an intimate meditation on Mao’s iconic phrase: “Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” All the while questioning conventions of the documentary format and questions of veracity in terms of political representation, structures of power, and the production of cultural identity.

Refreshments will be served.

Main Image: Ruchir Joshi, Tales from Planet Kolkata (1993). Courtesy the artist and Arsenal-Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V.

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an african woman flipping her hair dancing
an african woman flipping her hair dancing

Onyeka Igwe, Specialised Technique (2019).

Courtesy the artist
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an african woman
an african woman

Onyeka Igwe, Specialised Technique (2019).

Courtesy the artist
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two Japanese women
two Japanese women

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Shoot for the Contents (1992).

Courtesy the artist and Women Make Movies
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a man in a studio playing electric guitar

Luanda-Kinshasa

Stan Douglas

Stan Douglas’s Luanda-Kinshasa documents a jazz-funk recording session at The Church, Columbia Records’ legendary New York studio that was shuttered in 1981. The film telegraphs a group of contemporary musicians back to the 1970s to improvise in a reconstruction of the original Columbia 30th Street Studio, the site of such diverse and seminal recordings as Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (1959), Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979), and Glenn Gould’s Bach: The Goldberg Variations (1955).

Luanda-Kinshasa connects the New York music scene of the 1970s with its African roots, moving through funk, jazz, and Afrobeat to produce subtle pancultural connections played by musicians brought together by jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. At EMPAC, the recording session is projected theatrically and into a concert hall for the first time, reinforcing the real-time durations that exist between production and performance in the film. Edited sequences are cut together in homage to Miles Davis, with loops and repetitions integral as much to the experience of listening to the music as to the temporal flow of the images themselves. The film’s six-hour duration stretches far beyond the usual confines of the cinema and into the time of production, as the camera focuses on the band while technicians, producers, and groupies populate the edges of the frame.

Luanda-Kinshasa is a film by Canadian artist Stan Douglas and features musicians Jason Moran, Kahlil Kwame Bell, Liberty Ellman, Jason Lindner, Abdou Mboup, Nitin Mitta, Antoine Roney, Marvin Sewell, Kimberly Thompson, and Burniss Earl Travis.

Refreshments will be served throughout.

Main Image: Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa (2013). Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner.

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Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa (2013).

The UNDO Fellowship

This residency has been postponed to follow University policies that have been put in place in light of new developments related to the coronavirus.

EMPAC will host a retreat for the four pairs of artists and writers awarded the UNDO FELLOWSHIP, an initiative by UnionDocs: A Center for Documentary Art to expand radical filmmaking practices and research new languages of documentary cinema. The fellowship recipients include scholar Erika Balsom with filmmaker Eric Baudelaire, essayist and artist Steve Reinke with collaborative artists Dani and Sheilah ReStack, film scholar and programmer Nzingha Kendall with filmmaker Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, and writer and editor Matthew Shen Goodman with filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins.

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on a theater stage, a woman tipped over in a chair and a man upstage pointing to the ceiling.

less than no time

Taldans

Filmed in residence in 2019, contemporary dance duo Taldans worked in Studio 1—Goodman on sound, rhythm and motion in their new production examining the dynamics of the music technique and theory Serialism.

The duo, who prepared their choreography by using mathematical scores, sets and loops, directed their questions to their source of inspiration; Serialism: where can series created by Serialism’s use of features such as tone, rhythm, timbre lead images of the body and movement? How would Serialism’s approach, having previously been reflected in music, literature, architecture and art, affect a choreographic structure? How is the system of structures built and how can creativity enter this process? How to move from one discipline to another using series and sets? Can these series be used when transitioning from dance to video, from music to dance?

In this new project, Taldans explored the mathematics of nature and emotions through series and sets and aims to reflect this exploration on the stage.

Main Image: Taldans in residence in Studio 1, October 2019. Photo: EMPAC / Sara Griffith.

No food No money No jewels

Eve Sussman & Simon Lee

Eve Sussman, an award-winning film director and visual artist and Simon Lee, a film director and installation artist, along with their full creative team, engaged in research and development for this EMPAC commission. During a three-week film production residency, the team installed a large structural set, prepared all the props, costumes, lighting setup, as well as camera testing, leading up to a week-long filming period that transformed EMPAC’s Theater stage into a full-scale soundstage.

Eve Sussman creates work that incorporates film, video, installation, sculpture, and photography. In 2003 she began working in collaboration with The Rufus Corporation—an international ad hoc ensemble of performers, artists, and musicians—producing motion picture and video art pieces including 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004) and The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007). With humble materials and straightforward means—found snapshots, plastic toys, pinhole cameras, and projectors—Simon Lee creates evocative, dream-like videos, projections, and photographs.

No food No money No jewels is a cinematic event in three episodes loosely inspired by the Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker and the A.A. Milne book The House at Pooh Corner that conflates the “Zone” and the “100 Acre Wood” and the themes of escaping daily life to get ‘lost in the woods’ or ‘go to the zone’ that pervades both stories.

No food No money No jewels creates parallel characters that are sometimes human, sometimes anthropomorphic. The plot suggested by both the film and the book details a journey and an adventure. Episode 1 – At the FifthStroke introduces the protagonists as some of them attempt to escape their daily lives. Episode 2 – The Zone/The Hundred Acre Wood takes the characters in and out and around in circles on a journey that finally lands them in Episode 3 – Barroom Radio or “the room” (the goal of the protagonists in Stalker) that turns out to be the radio station, first heard as an audio broadcast during Episode 1 – At the FifthStroke.

Like the film and the book the characters strikeout on adventure only to end up where they started, back in the bar in time for “tea”. Each episode will have its own distinct set built for the EMPAC theatre space – the creation of Episode 1 is detailed below as the first part of our proposed three stage residency, the sets for Episodes 2 & 3 are to be developed.

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a dancer hanging like a gymnast 40' up among the theater fly tower line sets.

Void

A.K. Burns

A.K. Burns will be in residence to film collaborator Savannah Knoop among the line-sets and technical infrastructure in the Theater’s fly tower. This will be the final production in a series of residencies, which has included a shoot with performer Shannon Funchess in the catwalks above the Concert Hall and experiments with light, haze, sound, rigging, and video.

The scenes produced at EMPAC over the past two years will be incorporated into a long-form, multichannel image work for exhibition, which is premiering at the Julia Stoschek Collection in Dusseldorf in Fall 2019.

Main Image: A.K. Burns was in residence in May, 2019 to film collaborator Savannah Knoop among the line-sets and technical infrastructure in the Theater’s fly tower. A.K. Burns, Production Still, 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Mick Bello/EMPAC.

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a shot from above the studio of an film production.

The Inheritance

Ephraim Asili

Hudson Valley–based filmmaker Ephraim Asili was in residence between 2018 and 2020 for the production of his EMPAC-commissioned feature film The Inheritance. Based on real events, the film’s protagonist inherits a house in West Philadelphia that becomes home to an urban collective for activists of color. The increasingly claustrophobic drama unfolds as the group attempts to live together and find consensus through Black political discourse and social philosophy. 

The Inheritance, premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in early September 2020 and headlined Currents at New York Film Festival later in the month. The film is subsequently touring to festivals world-wide and will be presented at EMPAC once the Center is able to reopen to the public. 

Special preview screenings of the film in EMPAC’s theater are available for Rensselaer faculty and students during the current fall semester. For more information on campus protocols and to book a screening for your class, please contact the box office.

 

Main Image: Production still from The Inheritance in Studio 1, June 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Mick Bello/EMPAC.