In this 2006 interview, filmmaker Jem Cohen discusses his early interest in art, his family’s welcome antipathy towards commercialization, and his unconventional, anti-mainstream film practice. In particular, Cohen discusses his film This is a History of New York, and how this piece exemplifies his interest in the “territory of sensation” rather than simple visual descriptiveness. Cohen concludes by discussing the role of archiving in his practice, and how compulsive documentation of the quotidian and unexceptional can result in the empowerment of the everyday.
A poetic meditation on distance, Come Closer is a short and peripatetic film, casting an affective web between the locations of Lisbon, San Francisco and Brazil. Focusing on Brazilian-Algerian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz, musician Derrick Green –– the filmmaker’s brother and lead singer of Brazilian band Sepultura –– and her own work produced in Lisbon since 1992, Come Closer can be thought as a meditation on friendship and saudade.
Company Line is a film about one of the first predominately Black neighborhoods in Mansfield, Ohio. The title, Company Line, refers to the name historically used by residents to describe their neighborhood, located on the north side of town close to the old steel mill. The Company Line began during the post–war migration of Blacks from the south to the north in the late 1940’s. The neighborhood was purchased in the early 1970s and its residents were scattered throughout Mansfield.
During my stint as an entry-level acquisitions scout at a now-defunct art house distribution company, I amassed a small collection of VHS tapes from a vast pool of unsolicited submissions. By the standards of the art house canon, these were very bad movies, but I adored them for the sincerity of their intention. Bits and pieces of these movies became source material for a number of the videos on this compilation (Teenagers, Hymn Of Reckoning, Fantasy Suite).
“His heart was a dark cave filled with sharp toothed, fierce clawed beasts that ran snapping and tearing through his blood. In pain he left the work table and prowled around the room, singing to himself, ‘Who can I be tonight? Who will I be tonight?’”
—Alfred Chester, Exquisite Corpse (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967)
A hypnosis-inducing pan-geographic shuttle built on brainwave-generating binaural beats, Deep Sleep takes us on a journey through the sound waves of Gaza to travel between different sights of modern ruin. Restricted from travel to Palestine, I learned auto-hypnosis for the purpose of bi-locating. What results is a journey, recorded on Super 8mm film, to the ruins of ancient civilizations embedded in modern civilization in ruins, to a site ruined beyond evidence of civilization.
Done To (alternately titled It Is, Done To) consists of simple still-frames accompanied by a complex, incongrous soundtrack, or silence. There are instances where image and sound coalesce; however, the majority of the images are overwhelmed by the at-times symphonic, at-times cacaphonous soundtrack, displacing the normal film viewing experience. The standard film format of going from frame to frame — and then and then and then — is what this film is concerned with.
Imagine that the camera is possessed with a psychosis similar to human schizophrenia; suppose that this disease subtly changes every single frame of film while leaving the narrative superficially intact. Then imagine that these symptoms came on as a result of the trauma of recording bizarre or horrific events, for instance those of the 1941 horror film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde...
Adapted from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.
This title is also available on Paul Bush Pixilated.
Between 1892 and 1927, almost 16 million people came to Ellis Island attempting to immigrate to the United States.
Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin deals primarily with monumentality, narcissism and the ways in which our heroes are embedded into our identities, and manifested through the body. Through a variety of gestures, the pervasiveness of this practice is highlighted alongside its ultimate, inevitable failure. The viewer moves through various stages of anxiety, idolization and actual touchdown with 1970s gay sex icon Peter Berlin himself, capturing both the apparent and the hidden.
Endless Dreams and Water Between is a feature film with four fictitious characters sustaining an epistolary exchange in which their “planetary thought” is woven with the physical locations they inhabit, visual and aural characters in themselves: the island of Manhattan, the island of Majorca, in Spain, and the islands and peninsula that form the San Francisco Bay Area. The characters’ reflections and dreams enact what could be described as “an archipelagic mind,” linking worlds, time, and space.
ETC: Experimental Television Center 1969-2009 is a five-DVD box set presenting the electronic media work of over one hundred artists who participated in the Center’s Residency Program during a 40-year period. The collection offers a look at the evolution of the unique artist-designed sound and image tools that are the hallmark of the Center’s studio, and provides a view into the constantly changing artistic processes and practices that have shaped the work over the years.
Fifeville is a film about a neighborhood in Charlottesville, Virginia. It focuses on the details, gestures, and material life of the citizens of Fifeville as they communicate their understandings of the neighborhood’s changing landscape. Although Fifeville is set in Charlottesville, it could be Any Black Community Experiencing Gentrification, USA, 21st Century.
Co-director: Corey D.B. Walker. Crew: bh103a.
A compilation of five early short films made between 1966 to 1969.
Hand Movie 1966, 6:00, b&w, silent, 8mm
Close-up of a hand, the fingers of which enact a sensuous dance. Camerawork by William Davis.
Volleyball (Foot Film) 1967, 10:00 b&w, silent, 16mm
A volleyball is rolled into the frame and comes to rest. Two legs in sneakers, seen from the knees down, enter the frame and stand beside it. Cut to new angle, same characters and actions. Camerawork by Bud Wirtschafter.
Fluid Frontiers is the fifth and final film in the series entitled The Diaspora Suite, exploring Asili’s personal relationship to the African Diaspora. Shot along the Detroit River, Fluid Frontiers explores the relationship between concepts of resistance and liberation, exemplified by the Underground Railroad, Broadside Press, and artworks of local Detroit Artists.
The Diaspora Suite
Filmed on location in Harlem (NY) and Ethiopia, Forged Ways oscillates between the first person account of a filmmaker, a man navigating the streets of Harlem, and the day to day life in the cities and villages of Ethiopia.
Provincetown, Cape Cod.
A reconstructed 'landscape' inspired by a drive down 6A. The norm when driving of watching the landscape approaching and receding, and the side-show of dioramas.
–– Ken Kobland
This work was restored in 2022.
Shot in the style of a silent film from the 1920s, Frida & Anita is a political fantasy, intersecting the lives of two queer radicals — Frida Kahlo and Anita Berber — who happen to meet one fateful Berlin night in 1924 at the infamous La Garcon Cabaret.
Frida & Anita is the first film in The Surface Tension Trilogy, a three-part short film trilogy looking at queer artists living in Berlin during the 1920s.
“To master the one-minute time span requires considerable discipline, and few pieces, if any, had been shaped as genuine miniatures—most having the appearance of being extracts from larger works. The notable exception was John Smith’s Gargantuan, which was not only the right length for the idea, but actually incorporated a triple pun on the word ‘minute.’”
— Nicky Hamlyn, “One Minute TV 1992”, Vertigo (Spring 1993)
"A wonderfully witty example of how to conduct pillow talk with a small amphibian."
— Elaine Paterson, Time Out London
Shot in black and white Super 8, this lyrical short follows a wandering, disengaged youth through grey afternoons. German Song features the hard-edged music of Come, an alternative band from Boston.
“In The Girl Chewing Gum a commanding voiceover appears to direct the action in a busy London street. As the instructions become more absurd and fantasized, we realize that the supposed director (not the shot) is fictional; he only describes—not prescribes—the events that take place before him. Smith embraced the ‘spectre of narrative’ (suppressed by structural film) to play word against picture and chance against order.
A meditation on the nature of “Nature” and the uncertainty of “Cause and Effect.”
“Originally (like most of my earlier film work) this was a performance piece: text performed alongside the projected image. A complex and absurd ‘story’ about a man who thought there was something wrong with his eye. He goes to the doctor, who can’t help him much, but he finds a way he can operate on himself with uplifting yet troubling results.”
Super-8 and 8mm, film mattes, painting directly onto film, and model/object animation.
Set between Swaziland and South Africa, in a region still struggling with the divisions produced by an apartheid government, Greetings to the Ancestors documents the dream lives of the territory’s inhabitants as the borders of consciousness dissolve and expand. Equal parts documentary, ethnography and dream cinema, herein is a world whose borders are constantly dematerializing.
A reflection on the phenomenon of the touring musician.
"I shot this film with a 16mm wind-up Bolex, and the 25th Anniversary tour of Dutch band The Ex, when they embarked on a 'convey tour' with about 25 performing comrades. If half the battle is getting there and half the battle is joy, then the other half is madness. I thank all of the musicians who float in and out — of the film, in particular, and my life, in general."
— Jem Cohen
Soundtrack music: Guitargument, an Andy Moor and Mia Clarke improvisation, arranged and edited by Jem Cohen.
A performer lip-synchs to archival audio featuring the voice of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston as she describes her method of documenting African American folk songs in Florida. The flickering images were produced with a hand-cranked Bolex so that the lip-synch is deliberately erratic and the rear-projected, grainy, looped images of Masai tribesmen and women, recycled from an educational film, become increasingly abstract as the audio transforms into an incantation.
–– Christopher Harris