Ephraim Asili: An Interview

Video Data Bank

2018 | 01:14:43 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 16:9 | HD video

Collection: Interviews, New Releases, On Art and Artists

Tags: African-American, Documentary, Interview, Landscape, Migration, Post-colonialism, Travel, VDB Interviews

In this interview, African American filmmaker and DJ Ephraim Asili (b. 1979) discusses his upbringing, education, and creative process. Born and raised around the city limit of Philadelphia, Asili’s childhood and adolescence were imbued with hip hop music, Hollywood movies and television. He studied film at Temple University where he finished his thesis project, the documentary Points on a Space Age (2007) with the Sun Ra Arkestra. This success got him into the graduate program at Bard College and introduced him to experimental filmmaking. At Bard College, he was advised by filmmakers such as Jeanne Liotta and Sadie Benning, and began to use a Bolex and 16mm.

Asili’s five-part 16mm film series The Diaspora Suite (2011-17) explores the titular theme through rhythmic montage of music performances, texts, and footage of the artists' travels to Africa and South America. As episodes of a homecoming pilgrimage, Asili’s foreign travels are his way to investigate the transatlantic slave trade, and the question of what it means to be an African American. In the interview, Asili expresses that he would go on a trip alone and immerse himself in completely foreign environment for several days before even taking his camera out. The Africa in Asili’s films is therefore both familiar and unfamiliar. Cosmopolitan cities are bustling like Times Square; other scenes depicting children and villages resemble footage from a historical archive. “In order for anything to become art it has first to become obsolete.” Asili speaks frankly of his using 16mm film as a distancing mechanism, an obsolete artifice that diverts the intense realism of the content. As a result, his work is less ethnographic than poetic and musical, like a river that connects the past to the present, carrying personal and collective histories, flowing between imaginations and realities.

Interview conducted in 2017 by Zach Vanes.

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