Introduction by Andréa Picard
Wavelengths is honoured to present this tribute screening to the late experimental filmmaker Amy Halpern (1953–2022), a generous artist, curator, and cinematographer whose large body of 16mm films deserves to be better known. Halpern — whom filmmaker, curator, and preservationist Mark Toscano called “the most elementally vital and vividly present person I’ve ever encountered in our film community” — was immensely collaborative throughout her entire career. These works included her appearance in Chick Strand’s feminist masterpiece Soft Fiction (1979); her collaborations with Pat O’Neill and Barbara Hammer, as well as many filmmakers affiliated with the LA Rebellion such as Julie Dash, Barbara McCullough, and Charles Burnett, for whom she worked as a cinematographer and gaffer; and, later, work with Ken and Flo Jacobs and their paracinematic 3D shadow play company.
Halpern’s formative years as a dancer informed her poetic, gestural approach to filmmaking. Hands play a distinctive role, as can be seen in this programme’s opener, Invocation (1982), which Halpern described as a “temporary sculpture.” Her only feature, Falling Lessons, came 10 years later, and is a “kinetic montage of almost 200 faces shot in vertical titles. Featuring filmmakers such as Alex Cox, Julie Dash, Shirley Clarke, Chick Strand, and Michael Snow, it functions on one level as a group portrait of a social scene, not unlike Warhol’s Screen Tests. But it’s also both a formalist study of eye contact and an indictment of police violence against the Black community in LA. Musician Ornette Coleman would call it "a healing film … it should be shown in mental institutions, to the patients and doctors alike” (Sophia Satchell Baeza, Sight & Sound).
We are extremely grateful to Halpern’s partner, David Lebrun, and Mark Toscano for proposing this selection of films. We hope that it can serve as encouragement to seek out the rest of Halpern’s essential work.
Film prints courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
- Invocation (Amy Halpern, USA, 1982, Silent, 2 minutes)
- Elixir (Amy Halpern, USA, 2012, Silent, 7 minutes)
- Falling Lessons (Amy Halpern, USA, 1992, English, 64 minutes)