Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

November 1 - 3

Abigail Child: Films and a Lecture

To foreground margins, of form and content, what we usually don’t examine, to speculate around the body as culture, to derange its narratives. My desire: to explode our preconceived notions. Form is intrinsic to this explosion. Then, how to remain human(e) within the reordering, how to touch the world we live in, how to be in and outside, how to pierce everyday so each moment is sacred, laughable, lasts. I use strategies – of asymptotic convergence, vertical montage, a-harmonic weave, digital archive, language mis-translation, sonata look-a-likes, sound and noise juxtapositions – jolly and foreboding. In a world cluttered with information and things, it is important to go below and behind, to unmake sense, to re-contextualize the given and refresh, to upset powers that restrain us. The desire – a maneuverability – fragmented, prismatic, fleeting.
We all get to watch
The whole thing a pretext at the heart of reason, which is why it’s so opaque. That excavates the possibility of a sideways motion. What is it in the broken I’m holding on to?
As if history is accountable
People try to appear in these scenes. They jump to be seen in. An anti-naturalization matrix: incompatible absolutely, untimely. You work by subtraction, draw all opposing forces.
Immigration umbrella with no capstan.

Introduction and film descriptions written by Abigail Child. Special support provided by the Academy Foundation of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Thursday November 1 at 6 pm

Text and Image, Voice and Elision

The following films will be integrated into Child’s lecture:


Directed by Abigail Child
US 1982-1983, 16mm, color, 10 min.

Mutiny employs panoply of expression, gesture and repeated movement. Its central images focus on women: at home, on the street, in the workplace, at school, talking, singing, jumping on trampolines, playing the violin. The broken syntax of the film reflects both the possibilities and the limitations of a speech, which "politically, physically and realistically" flirts with the language of opposition.

Covert Action

Directed by Abigail Child
US 1984, 16mm, b/w, 10 min.

Child subverts the truncated language of conventional narrative
cinema by interjecting title cards à la silent cinema as ironic counterpoint and uses a dialogue between two poets, Carla Harryman and Steve Benson, to confound any consistent hypothesis. A sexual politic steeped in deception, a story only half revealed. “Here rupture and repetition comprise the structuring principle. The film explodes in your face: it drives on until its final image, a summation of its prehistory, history and future – a tree being uprooted. What could be a more apt metaphor for the contemporary crisis in narrativity and sexuality?” – Robert Hilferty, NY Native

To and No Fro

Directed by Abigail Child
US 2005, video, b/w, 5 min.

First in a series of five “foreign films” for projection/installation.  A reworking of Bunuel’s Women Without Love and a chance to crack the mirror of family secrets and repression. Speculative play with image, sound and space outside the frame.  Status and culture haunt bourgeois dreams suggesting an alternative wish fulfillment of letters: the text speaks; the scene looks.

Mirror World

Directed by Abigail Child
US 2006, video, color, 15 min.

Second in the “foreign film” series. A reshaping of Mehboob Khan’s classic Bollywood feature Aan into surrealist noir. Formal play and poetic “mistranslated” subtitles deconstruct the narrative to locate a sub-version: princess becomes maid, the maid becomes queen. Mirror World wrenches narrative causality to explore class and sexuality, and in the process discovers ways to wreck havoc on our “normal” perceptions of world and story.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday November 2 at 7 pm

The Suburban Trilogy

Cake and Steak

Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 2002-2004, film to video, color, 21 min.

A rambunctious embrace, body to body, woman to woman, entrance to exit – in-law – foregrounding the construction of cinematic meaning, the elusive nature of memory and desire, the hysteric familial arena of the social. A comedy of manners and movement, the film excavates “girl training” in the legacy of home-movies and post-war American suburban culture, and is conceived for both loop installation and single-screen projection.

The Future is Behind You

Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 2004-2005, film to video, b/w, 21 min.

Child creates a fictional story composed from an anonymous family archive from 1930’s Europe, reconstructed to emphasize gender acculturation in two sisters who play, race, fight, kiss and grow up together under a shadow of oncoming history. At once biography and fiction, history and psychology, The Future is Behind You excavates gestures to explore the speculative seduction of narrative; it seeks a bridge between private and public histories.

Surf and Turf

Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 2007, Dvcam/16mm to video, color, 52 min.

Surf and Turf examines issues of immigration, nationalism and gender. A portrait of an East Coast shore community (Deal, New Jersey) where local surfers have defied police for years and forced change in access restrictions, Surf and Turf documents the ongoing battle between (largely) adolescent surfers, local fisherman and newly rich property owners. The result is a contested geography between private property and public interest, a battle in which disagreements on land-use become a forum for examining the 21st century’s vision of Paradise and property, property and public space. With this tape, the Diaspora returns to the shores of 21st century America, and history and memory work out in unexpected and provocative ways. This is a US premiere screening.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday November 2 at 9 pm

Influences and Early Work


Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 1987, 16mm, b/w, 18 min.

Part 5 of Is This What You Were Born For?
In the 1980s, I imagined a series of films, one section of which would examine sexuality. I had just read Sade's texts (in the then new Grove Press edition) and was excited by the pyramidal structure of the writings. By 1986, I was ready to begin the Sadean section of Is This What You Were Born For? I used the film as an opportunity to explore Noir lighting and to reshoot Noir from a feminist, anarchist position. I had multiple heroines, impossible plots, and organized the “scenario” around the sound tracks from Mexican cable television soap operas, abetted with recordings of my own and, ultimately, a session with four downtown musicians: Shelley Hirsch, Christian Marclay, Charles Noyes, and Zeena Parkins. The work explored the film gaze, then the obsessive subject of theorists, pushing at the boundaries or contradictions of the contemporary discussion. When shown, the film caused much dissension, attention, riots (even). Print courtesy of the filmmaker.

N. or N.W.

Directed by Len Lye
UK 1937, 35mm, b/w, 7 min.

A delicate and humorous narrative commissioned by the English Post Office. Both inventive and strange, the film uses music as a basis for romance. The film stuck with me over time and is asymptotically reflected in the following two works. Print courtesy of the British Film Institute.


Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 1989, 16mm, color, 10 min.

Part 7 of Is This What You Were Born For?, Mercy is encyclopedic ephemera, exploring public visions of technological and romantic invention, dissecting the game mass media plays with our private perceptions. Print courtesy of the filmmaker.

Very Nice, Very Nice

Directed by Arthur Lipsett
Canada 1961, 16mm, b/w, 7 min.

Saw this in college, in a first film class. Obviously influential even if I hadn’t realized it for a while. All of Lipsett’s work is worth reviewing, his sound conjunctions to image brilliant and his images themselves, literally found on the cutting room floor – poetic detritus of our culture’s effluvia. Print courtesy of a private collection.

Go Go Go

Directed by Marie Menken
US 1962-1964, 16mm, color, 12 min.

I saw this at Anthology in the 1970s and liked it best of the Menken films I saw at that time. Only later, when Scott MacDonald asked its influence on me, did I think again of her work and how it affected mine. In its speed, fragmentation, and diary-like recapturing of the daily, in its humor and lack of pretension – I had found an ally. Print courtesy of Canyon Cinema.

Surface Noise

Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 2000, 16mm, color and b/w, 20 min.

Surface Noise is a "layered collage of images with an equally fractured soundtrack, [which] explores Child’s perennial themes of the fascism of gender limits and the ways people exist in public and private spaces. Her skillful sound manipulations, a hallmark of Child’s work, are on full and florid display here. And in spite of her emphasis on found footage and sound, she’s true to her egalitarian roots, giving credit to her collaborators Zeena Parkins, Christian Marclay, Shelley Hirsch, and Jim Black for their contributions to the equally collage-like score" (Gary Morris, Bright Lights Film Journal). Print courtesy of the filmmaker.

Short Fuse

Directed by Warren Sonbert
US 1991, 16mm, color, 37 min.

Sonbert was colleague and friend, arch, prolific (particularly when
diagnosed with HIV), a companion for movies and the opera he loved. We talked of montage intensely and what I admired of his work was not only its richness of color, but its interlocking structure and the way political concerns began to increasingly appear in the works. I myself had trouble with the “merely beautiful” and always felt the need in montage to go deeper into the culture – how things mean and affect us as citizens – stemming from my college studies in ethnography or perhaps just coming through the 60s. With Short Fuse, we see Warren approaching these worlds. Print courtesy of Canyon Cinema.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday November 3 at 7 pm

New Documentaries

The Party

Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 2005-2007, video, color, 21 min.

I was interested in a film on bisexuality and someone said to me that downlow – having clandestine sex with men while leading apparently heterosexual lives – is “the bisexuality for the 21st century.” I researched and found a downlow networking party in the heartland of Cleveland, Ohio whose organizer invited me out. We filmed in a weekend and the results were remarkable, a complex intersection of sexuality, race, and class, that had never been seen before. Intimate and startling.

On the Downlow

Directed by Abigail Child, Appearing in Person
US 2007, video, color, 54 min.

The follow-up to The Party returns to Cleveland to look closer and
deeper, focusing here on four men negotiating their bisexual desire within the African-American community of Cleveland, Ohio, who self-describe themselves as “dipping on both sides of the fence.” The film showcases their secret lives and aspirations. Ray (20) dates straight women and drag queens, or femme queens. He is not into the "boy thing" and has a girlfriend he’s not telling. Antonio (32) spent seven years in jail, and is dating George who has just graduated high school and who in turn, is about to tell his high school sweetheart (who is a virgin) that he is gay and that their future together will never happen as she had imagined. Kerwin (23) has been with many women and men; his parents don’t know but he wants to tell. Billy (28) says the best sex of his life was with his “baby mama” (i.e. the mother of his children) yet he lives with a man. He says he would give up being gay to be with his kids. Strands of family, work, pals, lovers, moms and disappeared dads weave throughout. In the process, the story of a middle-American city with middle-American values, a large black population with denied gay sons and gay fathers, is told. AIDS, the ghetto, prison sociality, and a multitude of after-hours clubs in Cleveland and Akron form the backdrop to the picture as we raise the curtain On the Downlow.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700