October 2014, arsenal cinema

Sensory Ethnography – The Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab


The Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) at Harvard University is one of today's most interesting production facilities for documentary film and cinematographic research, where social and natural sciences enter into a subtle relationship with analogue and digital media art. Sound and image become the seismographs of a physical experiential world inhabited by people, animals and spirits. We are very happy to be able to welcome two representatives of the SEL to Arsenal in the form of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel.

For the opening film SWEETGRASS (USA 2009, Berlinale Forum 2009, 10.10.), Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash accompanied a rancher family three summers long as they led their sheep into the North American hinterland of the Montana mountains for one of the last few times. Without a didactic voiceover commentary, without interviews, without music and certainly without artificial dramatics, the filmmakers observes the lives of their protagonists and create a portraits of sheep, shepherds, and the natural world that surrounds them. The raw humor of the ranchers among themselves while they brand the animals equally tells the story of sheep farming in the open air in the American West, which began in the 19th century and is slowly coming to an end.

FOREIGN PARTS (USA/France 2010, 11.10.) is the portrait of a run-down industrial quarter on the edge of Queens which Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki visited over a two year period. The film observes the controversial expropriation of a neighborhood before it founders in New York's capitalist city ecology. "FOREIGN PARTS shows how these people live and work in the worst possible conditions and yet still try to evade the impending redevelopment of their quarter. The film’s dramatic structure allows the viewer to get to know the location slowly, almost as if by touch alone, to see the unconventional beauty of the car parts, to get close to its inhabitants and to experience their stories and daily battles for survival.  One is ensnared by a place that has nothing beautiful about it but is captivating nonetheless." (Christine Dériaz)

For LEVIATHAN(USA/F/GB 2012,12.10.), Castaing-Taylor and Párável spent a year at sea with deep-sea fishermen from New England.The portrait of fishing work created as a result stands in the old tradition of using fishermen as visual motifs. And yet the film entirely resists the sort of romanticization and anthropocentrism that often go hand in hand with this tradition, evoking instead a less emotional relationship between humankind and the ocean and giving equal weight to the human, ecological and industrial in aesthetic and ontological terms. In the same waters in which Melville's ship Pequod hunted Moby Dick, LEVIATHAN captures the head-on collision between humanity, nature and machine. Shot using a dozen cameras that are swirled around, attached to different places and passed from fisherman to filmmaker, a cosmic portrait of one of humankind's oldest endeavors gradually comes into focus.

MANAKAMANA(Nepal/USA 2013, 13.10.) by Stephanie Spray und Pacho Velez is a new addition to our distribution range. The film uses fixed camera shots to observe pilgrims, tourists and animals as they take the cable car to the Manakamana Temple of Hindu goddess Bhagwati in Nepal.Each of the twelve shots is one cable car ride, twelve portraits of people and the landscape and culture that surrounds them. The film is at once a cinematic trance, a conceptual transgression and ethnographical study.  (stss)

Sound Works by Ernst Karel:

1. Leviathan, post-credits composition (2012, 4:49)
Sounds recorded on location by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

2. For Warner Jepson
(2012, 11:08)
Recorded in 2011 in West Oakland, California, on a Buchla 200 analog modular system that belonged to the composer Warner Jepson, who died later that year.

3. Outside Laboratories at Night (2007, 29:29)
Recording of a live performance at AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island, using location recordings made on the campus of Harvard University and a Doepfer A-100 analog modular system.

4. Plattenbau (Abfall herausgenommen) (2011, 9:11)
Single-take location recording made in Mitte, Berlin, Germany, in August 2010.

5. Amoco (2006, 3:30)
Recorded on the SynLab analog modular system, built between 1975 and 1978, in the Elektronische Studio, Technische Universität Berlin, and at Harry Bertoia's 1975 'A Sounding Sculpture' at the former Amoco Building Plaza, Chicago.

Ernst Karel is Lecturer on Anthropology, Assistant Director of the Film Study Center, and Lab Manager for the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University. 

An event in collaboration with the dffb (Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin).