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May 20

Acoustics: An Evening with Leighton Pierce

Rarely does a filmmaker appreciate and explore the complexities of sound and image as equally—and deeply—as Iowa-based filmmaker Leighton Pierce.  A musician before he was a filmmaker, Pierce’s relationship to sound has always been a crucial one; he has suggested that “the soundtrack is the movie, [and] the image is there to give people something to look at while they listen.”  While such an idea can be misleading—for Pierce’s images are lush, beautiful, and meticulously constructed—one of the prime reasons Pierce moved mostly to video by the late 90s was because of a dissatisfaction with 16mm film sound reproduction.  Nevertheless, in these films Pierce constructs evocative and nuanced soundscapes that open for us a vast world of perception, enhancing the camera’s lyrical contemplation of the visual details of his everyday surroundings.  Transformed by a purely cinematic engagement with lens technology, camera placement, and the diffraction of light bending around objects, these spaces are sublimely rendered—all the more spectacular for the degree of attention afforded a window curtain blowing in the wind and a child’s toy buried in the grass.  As described by critic Scott MacDonald in his book Garden and the Machine, these impressionistic interpretations of reality, which interweave the domestic and art-making worlds, offer serene revelations of “transcendental domesticity.”

This program is presented in collaboration with The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston and BostonUniversity's Summer Term and Department of Film and Television.  The ICA presents a program of Leighton Pierce’s recent video work on May 23.  For more information, please visit BostonUniversity will sponsor a week long digital video workshop with Leighton Pierce from May 21-June 1.  For more information, please visit All prints courtesy the filmmaker.

Director Leighton Pierce in Person
May 20 (Sunday) 7 pm

He Likes to Chop Down Trees

Directed by Leighton Pierce
US 1980, 16mm, color, 3.5 min.

A “wise-guy” film about editing, rhythm, and a bit about character

Red Shovel

Directed by Leighton Pierce
US 1992, 16mm, color, 8 min.

A narrow angle of a view, closely watched, on the Fourth of July is charged with “Turneresque luminosity.” 

Blue Hat

Directed by Leighton Pierce
US 1993, 16mm, color, 4.5 min.

An impressionistic painterly study of the work/play involved in learning simple things.

50 Feet of String

Directed by Leighton Pierce
US 1995, 16mm, color, 52 min.

The slow and subtle repeated rhythms of daily life are measured in small events like the mail arriving, a storm coming, and the grass getting mowed.  What is so astonishing is the way these “actions” are perceived, with an intimate watchfulness and acutely narrow depth of field that bends space and time; within one hundred yards of his kitchen Pierce creates a domestic epic.


Directed by Leighton Pierce
US 1998, 16mm, color, 7 min

Technically brilliant, Glass is an ultimately poetic study in the laws of optics.  An exploration of refraction, diffraction, diffusion, reflection and absorption transforms a not-so-still life in the backyard (with children, water, fire and a few other basic elements), distilling the essence of summertime and a shimmering memory of water.

Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700