I met Renate Sami when the filmmaker Ute Aurand invited me to show films at FilmSamstag in Berlin in the late 1990s, but it was only later that I experienced the calm directness of her own film and video work, and became acquainted with the emotion at its source. When I moved to Berlin, I learned more: how she came to film and what directions her filmmaking took
“I once became infatuated with someone I could never know,” William E. Jones states at the outset of his probing essay film Finished, the director’s voice running calmly over scenes purloined from an old black-and-white Hollywood movie. “He was a loner and a rebel, a tragic character determined to sacrifice himself for some higher purpose. Most people dismissed him as a lunatic or a fraud, but they had been deceived by appearances. I wanted to fall into his arms and say that I cared about him for who he really was.
Throughout her career, Carolee Schneemann has produced moving images on film and video intended as cinema, installation, and used as elements in her Kinetic Theater productions. Fuses, Viet-Flakes, and Plumb Line are united by her varied manipulations of the filmstrip, focus on intersubjective—and interspecies—relationships, and the intersection of emerging feminist politics with protest against the Vietnam War. Across all three, Schneemann explores the incorporation of visions other than her own into the space of film.
Writing of Joseph Cornell, Jonas Mekas remarked that his films “deal with things very close to us, every day and everywhere. Small things, not the big things…His works have the quality—be they boxes, collages, or movies—of being located in some suspended area of time.” One finds a similar sensibility in the films of Brian Frye, particularly so in a cluster of 16mm works completed around the turn of the 21st century, just as the end of small-gauge cinema seemed all too immanent. At once literal actualities and sphinx-like artifacts, Frye’s films might at first seem like outtakes from lost projects, or damaged archival isolates, bearing grainy images that beg for exegesis: Kennedy-era actors awkwardly intone lines from a portentous melodrama; a woman’s face flits in and out of legibility beneath a storm of visual debris; a old man points to a weathered gravesite, his lips mouthing silent words; Civil War soldiers maneuver at the edge of a forest. These moments play like misplaced bits of someone else’s memories, physical records of our world mysteriously unmoored from their origins.
Light Industry presents a double-bill of sapphic autoethnography from the 1980s, featuring work by pioneering lesbian artists Barbara Hammer and Cecilia Dougherty.
Barbara Hammer’s Audience is a fascinating deep cut from the director’s prodigious filmography. Relatively raw in its design, this 16mm diary of audience reactions at retrospectives of Hammer’s work in San Francisco, London, Toronto, and Montreal in the early 1980s bears none of the distinctive visual flourishes and essayistic form one usually finds in her filmmaking. Instead, it comes closer to the original ideal of cinéma vérité as seen in Chronicle of a Summer; informed by the consciousness-raising groups of the feminist movement, the artist herself acts as a catalyst for discussion, rather than fly-on-the-wall observer. Today, Audience serves as an invaluable historical archive, providing quick but complex portraits of lesbian scenes in different cities and countries: the San Francisco women are bold and raucous, treating Hammer like a celebrity; the London crowd more reserved and tentative; the Canadians politely critical after initial hesitation. It also functions as a testament to the power of Hammer herself as a figure in lesbian culture, showing how fully she engages audiences to incite new forms of discourse about representation.