The third film program in the series Experimental Ethnography at Cinemateket presents Feminism, Colonialism And Anthropology - three films by Chick Strand (USA, 1931-2009).
Chick Strand's accomplishments as an artist spanned more than three decades. In the early 1960s, with a new anthropology degree in hand, she turned her attention to ethnographic filmmaking. Her early work focused on Meso-American cultures explored through the language of the experimental documentary.
In 1961, she founded Canyon Cinema with Bruce Baillie, an organization that, in 1965, spawned the San Francisco Cinematheque. They organized screenings of experimental, documentary and narrative films in East Bay backyards and community centers. Acting in response to a lack of public venues for independent movies, they were part of a wider explosion in American avant-garde film. The era was one of social idealism and communal energy, and the films they showcased boldly embraced purely cinematic visual expression and cultural critique.
Strand left Northern California in the late 1960s to pursue studies in ethnographic film at UCLA. She then joined the faculty of Occidental College, where she served as the director of the film as art program for a quarter of a century. In the 1970s she continued to define her visual technique, and her subjects more frequently became women. She soon evolved a distinctive film style: backlit subjects photographed in close up and in motion, with a handheld telephoto lens. The technique produced sensual, lyrical images that became Strand's signature. Her entire filmography numbers nearly a score of works, and along the way, she also become an accomplished photographer and painter.
Curator: Daniel A. Swarthnas (Turbidus Film)
- Mosori Monika (1970, 16mm, color, sound, 20'00)
An expressive documentary about women in the Third World. This is an ethnographic film about two cultures that have encountered one another. The Spanish Franciscan Missionaries went to Venezuela in 1945 to "civilize" the Warao Indians, who live in the swamps on the Orinoco River Delta. Before the missionaries came, the Waraos lived in relative isolation and were little affected by the outside world. The relationship between the Indians and the missionaries is simple on the surface, but it is manifested in a complex change of techniques, values and life style which have indelibly altered the Warao vision of life.
The acculturation is presented from two viewpoints. A nun tells how the Indians lived when the missionaries arrived and what the nuns have done to "improve" conditions, both spiritually and materially. An old Warao Indian woman tells what she feels has been the important experiences in her life. The two viewpoints are structured in counterpoint so that the deeper aspects of the juxtaposition of the modern culture over the old becomes apparent through the revelations of the two women.
- Cosas De Mi Vida (1975, 16mm, color, sound, 25'00)
Expressive documentary in an ethnographic approach about Anselmo, a Mexican Indian. It is a film about his struggle for survival in the Third World. Orphaned at age 7, he was the sole support of himself and his baby sister, who eventually starved and died in his arms. The film continues with Anselmo's struggle to live and to do something with his life other than a docile acceptance of poverty. Totally uneducated in a formal way, he taught himself how to play a horn and when he became a man he started his own street band. The film was started in 1965 and finished in 1975. During the 10 years, I saw the physical change in Anselmo's life in terms of things he could buy to make his family at first able to survive, and during the last years, to make them more comfortable. I felt a change in his spirit from a proud, individualistic and graceful man into one obsessed with possessions and role playing in order to get ahead and stay on top, but one cannot help but admire his energy and determination to succeed, to drag himself and is family out of the hopelessness and sameness of poverty to give them a future. Anselmo tells his own story in English although he does not speak the language. After he told me of his life in Spanish, I translated it into English and taught him how to say it.
- Soft Fiction (1979, 16mm,b&w, sound, 54'00)
Chick Strand's Soft Fiction is a personal documentary that brilliantly portrays the survival power of female sensuality. Like earlier Strand films such as Mosori Monika (1970) and Cosas de mi Vida (1975) that also celebrate human survival, it combines the ethnographic documentary with a sensuous lyrical expressiveness. Strand focuses her camera on people talking about their own experience, capturing subtle nuances in facial expressions and gestures that are rarely seen in cinema. The film presents five women relating a powerful personal experience directly to the camera. The range of topics includes an erotic fantasy a bannister, a sexual adventure at a rodeo, incest with a grandfather, a deliberate trade-off of drug addiction for romantic love, and a painful childhood memory of persecution by the Nazis.
The title Soft Fiction works on several levels. It evokes the soft line between truth and fiction that characterizes Strand's own approach to documentary, and suggests the idea of softcore fiction, which is appropriate to the film's erotic content and style. It's rare to find an erotic film with a female perspective dominating both the narrative discourse and the visual and audio rhythms with which the film is structured. Strand continues to celebrate in her brilliant, innovative personal documentaries her theme, the reaffirmation of the tough resilience of the human spirit.