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84 min. Without dialogue.

A portrait of an art institution as a cinematic landscape: in a succession of static shots, James Benning explores the buildings and terrain of the California Institute of the Arts, where he teaches. A series of views of nature filmed in the surrounding park and woods transitions into images of floors, seating areas and other details of a public building not meant for show. In both parts, an uncanny feeling dominates: the geometries of nature, the dark green and brown tones, the rushing of the highway in the background on the one hand and the humming of halogen lamps, the sound of steps in an otherwise seemingly empty school on the other – it all seems to be hiding a secret. The camera’s gaze is almost always restricted; it rarely penetrates very far into the image. It discovers shabby corners, observing scenarios more reminiscent of a mystery novel than the campus of an art institution. More so than in the majority of James Benning’s longer works of recent years, a narrative lies concealed within the images; every shot creates an urge to move forward, a tension, almost as if the landscapes and interiors were the scenes of a crime. (ab)

James Benning was born in Milwaukee, USA in 1942. He began working independently as a filmmaker in 1972, even before studying film at the University of Wisconsin, first making shorts and then longer experimental films. From 1977 to 1980, he taught at the Universities of California and Oklahoma, then worked as an independent filmmaker in New York. In addition to his film work, Benning has been teaching at the California Institute of the Arts since 1987. He lives in Val Verde, California.

Interview with James Benning: “3.5 minutes are long, long enough to think”

You have been showing your films in the Berlinale Forum and Forum Expanded for many years, which place does MAGGIE’S FARM take among all these films?

It’s the latest.

You said the artist is someone who pays attention and reports back. Are attentiveness and patience the cornerstones of your artistic work?

Yes, and how you report back makes it art or not art.

MAGGIE’S FARM is a place you know well. How did you determine the camera's position as well as the duration of the shots?

All the shots are 3.5 minutes long, long enough to think. The camera positions and angles were found while thinking about William Eggleston, Heinz Emigholz, and John Cage.

How would you describe the difference between 16mm and digital film material?

It's like night and day. One doesn’t replace the other.

(Interview: Gabriela Seidel-Hollaender, February 2020)

Production James Benning. Production company James Benning (Los Angeles, USA). Director James Benning.


selection: 1972: Time & A Half (17 min.). 1977: 11 x 14 (83 min., Forum 1977, Forum 2018), One Way Boogie Woogie (60 min.). 1979: Grand Opera. An Historical Romance (90 min., Forum 1980). 1985: O Panama (28 min., Forum 1987). 1986: Landscape Suicide (95 min., Forum 1987). 1997: Four Corners (80 min., Forum 1998). 1999: El Valley Centro (90 min., Forum 2002). 2000: Los (90 min., Forum 2002). 2002: Sogobi (90 min., Forum 2002). 2004: 13 Lakes (133 min., Forum 2005), Ten Skies (101 min., Forum 2005). 2005: One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later (120 min., Forum 2006). 2007: RR (110 min., Forum 2008), Casting a Glance (81 min.). 2009: Ruhr (121 min.). 2010: John Krieg Exiting the Falk Corporation in 1971 (71 min.), Reforming the Past (60 min.). 2011: Two Cabins (30 min.), Faces (135 min.), Milwaukee/Duisburg (Installation, Forum Expanded 2011), Twenty Cigarettes (99 min., Forum 2011), Small Roads (103 min.). 2012: Nightfall (98 min.), Stemple Pass (121 min., Forum 2013), Easy Rider (95 min.), One Way Boogie Woogie 2012 (90 min.), BNSF (194 min.). 2013: US 41 (52 min.). 2014: Natural History (77 min.), Farocki (77 min.), Concord Woods (121 min.). 2015: American Dreams (85 min.). 2016: Fall Equinox (77 min.), Spring Equinox (77 min.). 2017: Untitled Fragments (75 min.). 2018: L. Cohen (45 min., video installation, Forum Expanded 2018), TELEMUNDO (82 min.), two moons (43 min.), glory.

Photo: © James Benning, 2019. Courtesy the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin

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