The films of Robert Gardner (1925–2014) are reflections about human existence, the cycle of life, dealing with death and the relationship between the sexes. At the same time, they seek a more profound understanding of what it means to be human. Gardner’s radical, subjective gaze and his poetic, suggestive style lend his films an expressive force, which let them become classics of ethnological and documentary cinema. Their intensity is based on the sheer beauty of his images and the audience’s immersion in a visual and acoustic universe.
After studying anthropology, Robert Gardner turned his hand to filmmaking. He made his first short documentary about the Kwakiutl in a village on Vancouver Island in 1951. He established the Harvard Film Study Center, the first center for cinematographic anthropology in North America, and ran it from 1957 to 1997, producing not only his own films but those of many others. Inspired by Andrei Tarkovski and Basil Wright, whose facility to examine the human soul in moving images he admired, he connected his literary and philosophical affinities with his profound interest in the structures of societies and finding the universal in the unfamiliar. He also always kept an eye on his own society. He put the spotlight on the creative process in a series of artists' portraits. His interest in the artists of his generation was also reflected in the TV series Screening Room that he hosted from 1973 to 1980, inviting experimental and documentary filmmakers to partake in long discussions. His first feature-length film DEAD BIRDS (1963) has a subjective commentary and a linear narrative and dramatic structure. In the course of his career, dialogue and a closed narrative gave way to a more open and associative film language, where a large role was played by the highlighting of the acoustic environment, alongside repetition and the interlinkage of visual motifs. The climax was his formally most radical film FOREST OF BLISS (1985), an examination of life and death in the holy Indian city Varanasi.
Gardner's influence on documentary and ethnographic film is also reflected by the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University (which became known to a wider public in 2012 through Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's "Leviathan"). Like Gardner, the films that were made there and continue to be made there do not focus on analytical knowledge but on the production of aesthetic experience and a direct, sensual perception of the world.
We are showing Robert Gardner's most important feature-length films, two shorter works and an homage to the experimental filmmaker Robert Fenz.
White suits, red shoes, black coats, dark sunglasses – there is many a piece of clothing or accessory to be found over the course of film history that seems to encapsulate an entire film, even outside of its immediate context. Yet even before costumes attain this iconic status, they tell stories within the film, give their wearers new life, conceal hidden chasms, create atmospheres and leave their mark on the look, texture and often even the soundtrack of films. The dramatic, narrative and psychological function of costumes in film is undisputed, as is their influence on the zeitgeist, fashion, trends and styles which they call into existence, play a role in and launch. The Magical History Tour invites audiences to take a look into the studios of international artists, costume and fashion designers, over nine decades.
Unknown Pleasures #8 is showcasing independent US films which consistently reveal an alternative insight into filmmaking, in a varied and adventurous manner. These are screening in Berlin for the first time. This year, Frederick Wiseman's IN JACKSON HEIGHTS paves the way for our focus on documentary works. In his 40th film, the director examines one of the liveliest areas of New York, one whose identity is under threat because of gentrification. The film is representative of many in this year's program not only because of its documentary form, but also because of its passion for the people in front of the camera. One question seems to be particularly important: How can films capture and depict our life without losing their vitality, without becoming trapped in a bubble that has nothing to do with our life? The answer can not only come from the (obvious) documentary form but also from two alternatives offered by these films - the return to history (based on a true story) and (auto)biography. In his new feature film EXPERIMENTER, Michael Almereyda looks at the life of Stanley Milgram and his psychological experiments on people's willingness to obey. Almereyda avoids the common conventions used in historical film by anchoring the film between abstraction and artificiality, having Milgram appear as a contemplative narrator of his own life, soberly commenting on contemporary events around him, while looking straight into the camera. Travis Wilkerson's essay film MACHINE GUN OR TYPEWRITER also brings together contemporary events - in this case, the disempowerment of the trade unions in Los Angeles and the Occupy movement - with the character of a narrator. Hidden behind a big microphone, Wilkerson uses the form of a radio program to tell a (fictional) love story.
The Lebanese filmmaker Ghassan Salhab (*1958) is currently the guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin program. In his six feature-length films so far, the impact of the wars in Lebanon is always palpable below the surface, but art and poetry are in no way neglected. Salhab's cinema is at once concrete and enraptured, angry and melancholy, intense and reserved.