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Experimental and Documentary Cinema: The Visible Spectrum

Published By Duke Arts
Published on: September 5, 2018

A new annual film series at Duke will allow guest curators to translate their personal, critical vision of experimental documentary cinema into five exploratory evenings of film.

Collage of stills from the film series

The Series

Experimental and Documentary Cinema is a new, annual film series to be presented as part of Duke’s Screen/Society at the Rubinstein Art Center.

The purpose of this film series is to expand discourses of “experimental” and “documentary” in cinema. Each fall semester, a guest curator or a curatorial team will be chosen to design a 5-part program that highlights films that lie at the interstice of these two terms. This inaugural year, the guest curators are Chi-hui Yang of the Ford Foundation and Jon-Sesrie Goff of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Their program, “The Visible Spectrum,” will run from September 4 through October 2, 2018 in the Rubenstein Arts Center Film Theater at Duke University.

The Visible Spectrum

Curated by Chi-hui Yang and Jon-Sesrie Goff, The Visible Spectrum brings the work of 18 artists to the Rubenstein Arts Center this fall. The program explores the ways that artists have radically experimented with documentary form to articulate the fullness of history and lived experience. By carefully building the shapes of ideas, these 18 artists offer exploded and wholly singular ways of seeing, and deep reimaginings of race, the state, the body and History itself.

An intergenerational conversation between filmmakers from across geographies, traditions and communities, the series asks us to consider how meaning is made, and how we construct history in our daily lives. From what deep diasporic time looks like, to how artistic lineages move across generations, to what an indigenous aesthetics is today, these works interrogate the power, limits and possibilities of images themselves and propose an accountability and ethics of working with the documentary form.

Including essay films, home movies, performance videos, unclassifiable hybrids, improvised poetics, archival interventions, landscape portraits and more from: Ayo Akingbade, Madeline Anderson, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Ephraim Asili, Cab Calloway, Nazli Dincel, Kevin Jerome Everson, Ja’tovia Gary, John Gianvito, Sky Hopinka, Adam Khalil, Zach Khalil, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Howardena Pindell, belit sag, Monica Saviron, Cauleen Smith, Maryam Tafakory.

Still from an Ephraim Asili film of a black man reading a book entitled black pride
Film still showing fragment of an ancient Greek monument
Close shot of a hand holding a photograph of a man
Film still with strange faces

Meet the Organizers

Headshot of Shambhavi Kaul

Shambhavi Kaul, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Filmmaking in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies

The idea for this film series, Experimental and Documentary Cinema, emerged from a graduate class I teach in the MFA|EDA program at Duke called Documentary Fieldwork. In that class, the question of how experimental and documentary approaches may confluence in a currently relevant practice comes up regularly.

Looking forward, the plan is for The Visible Spectrum to be the first in an annual series. Each year I hope to bring new guest curators who may have their own particular take on this framework. We thus hope to be challenged and surprised by what unfolds. This year we are extremely lucky to have Chi- hui Yang and Jon Goff as our guest curators.

The newly opened Rubinstein Art Center has dramatically raised the possibility of cooperation and collaboration between art units on campus and beyond. For this series, we hope our audiences will bring together our undergraduate and graduate students, our faculty, and the triangle area community at large. All five screenings are free and open to the public.

Headshot of Chi-Hui Yang

Chi-Hui Yang, Program Officer, Ford Foundation

Through my work at the Ford Foundation, I think quite a bit about the creative languages we need to make sense of and articulate responses to the social justice issues facing us. The works in this program represent the kinds of interventions I think we need in political and social discourse.

Jon-Sesrie Goff is an adventurous curator and thinker; I was drawn to collaborate with him because of his deeply political sense for documentary and his incredible knowledge and love for the archive.

These films, which represent reality but question the construction of it through careful formal play, could not be more vital and necessary to see today, when the need for a critical and engaged media-watching citizenry is needed more than ever.

Headshot of Jon Sesrie Goff

Jon-Sesrie Goff, Museum Specialist for Film at the Smithsonian Museum of African American Art and Culture

As a graduate of the MFA|EDA program, my engagement with the Documentary Arts on Duke’s campus has been integral to my exploration and innovation of the medium as a transformative tool for social justice.

Much of the work I do at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as the Museum Specialist for Film is about reclaiming lost works and voices in the moving-image field, reinserting them into archive, and providing forum for contemporary and emerging makers to share their work with new audiences. Working with Chi-hui on curating “Visible Spectrum,” gave us an opportunity to look across cultures and geographical borders to look at how filmmakers are grappling with an array of urgent issues.

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