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October 15 – November 8

Still Journey On – The Films of Robert Gardner

One of America’s great documentarians, Robert Gardner (b. 1925) has remained committed to a fearsomely independent and uncompromising vision of the cinema throughout his long and prolific career. Gardner’s early films, such as Blunden Harbour, align with the tradition of poetic ethnographic cinema alternately pioneered by Robert Flaherty and the British filmmakers loosely grouped around John Grierson. In his first major works, such as Dead Birds, Gardner began to define his signature mode of lyrically classical documentary, equally distinguished by its rigorous yet nuanced structure and its often stunningly beautiful imagery, frequently shot by Gardner himself. Since his time as a graduate student of anthropology, Gardner has long been fascinated by ancient civilizations, tribal cultures and religions that together seem to describe an absolute “other” from the contemporary Western world. In celebrated films such as Forest of Bliss and Rivers of Sand, Gardner traveled to distant lands – here India and Ethiopia – to capture a distinct essence of the different cultures he studied while also evoking the texture of his own deeply personal experience. A devoted student of poetry, Gardner has an enduring interest in first person voices and in the nuances of language, which contributes to the richly textured voice-over narration frequently used in his films. Equally important as Gardner’s fascination with religious and cultural ceremonies is his abiding interest in art and the creative process, which has led him to direct an ongoing series of insightful and visually stunning “artist films.” Poetic in both their visual beauty and their structure, Gardner’s powerful cinematic essays document the human experience with a classicist’s eye for rhythm and framing and a deep compassion and understanding.

As a founder of the Harvard Film Archive and the founding director of the Film Study Center at Harvard, Gardner has exerted an immeasurable influence on the creation of the vibrant film community that continues to thrive here at Harvard and throughout the Greater Boston area. The Harvard Film Archive is honored to welcome back Robert Gardner for a celebration of his work and legacy, which includes a showcase of new work. This program coincides with the release of Gardner’s most recent book, Just Representations, a collection of journal entries written while working on films, anthropological essays and scripts of voiceover narrations from his films.

Special thanks: Rebecca Meyers; Pamela Gerardi, Catherine Linardos, Faith Sutter, Helen Najarian, Peabody Museum.


Friday October 15 at 7pm

Rivers of Sand

Directed by Robert Gardner.
US 1974, 35mm, color, 85 min.

Gardner’s devastating and sharply observed documentary about the Hamar people of southwestern Ethiopia, Rivers of Sand shows the effects their severe isolation from the outside world has had on the group’s relationships between men and women.

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Friday October 15 at 9pm

Dead Birds

Directed by Robert Gardner.
US 1964, 35mm, color, 85 min.

Gardner stayed with the Dani of New Guinea for six months to film one of his best-known works, an essay on the theme of violence and death that details the intense ritual warfare conducted by the Dani and their neighboring tribes.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Friday October 29 at 7pm
Reception in the Sert Gallery at 5:30pm

New Work and Forsaken Fragments

All films directed by Robert Gardner, Appearing in Person

An evening given to seeing fragments of forsaken and newly finished work. Fragments include excerpts from Hauling Sharks, Lobsterman, Farmer, and National Anthem. New works are Deus Ex Boltanski, Supplicating Women, Life Keeps On Passing and Still Journey On.

Robert Gardner's new book, Just Representations, will be for sale at the reception. Books may also be purchased by emailing
peapub@fas.harvard.edu or by calling 617-495-4255.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Saturday October 30 at 7pm

Artist Films

All films directed by Robert Gardner, Appearing in Person

This group of “Artist Films” – The Great Sail, Mark Tobey, Mark Tobey Abroad, Testigos, Passenger and Scully in Malaga – are paradoxically among Gardner’s most personal, relating as they do to his interest in exploring the other as a means to better understanding the self.

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Sunday October 31 at 7pm

Ika Hands

Directed by Robert Gardner.
US 1988, 16mm, color, 58 min.

An isolated mountain group in the Sierra Nevadas of Colombia, the Ika, who may be a remnant of the once flourishing Mayan Civilization, are agriculturalists with a profound interest in matters cosmological. Their difficult and vanishing way of life is captured with great attention to detail by Gardner’s always alert but respectful camera.

The Nuer

Directed by Hilary Harris and Robert Gardner.
US 1971, 16mm, color, 73 min.

A collaborative effort between Gardner and Hilary Harris about the Nilotes, who live on a tributary of the Blue Nile, the filmmakers’ original intent was to study their dancing, for which they have a great passion. Unhappily, small pox was rampant at the time of their trip, and people cared little about dancing.

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Monday November 1 at 7pm

Marathon

Directed by Robert Gardner and Joyce Chopra.
US 1965, 16mm, b/w, 28 min.

Started as a class project in what was likely the first filmmaking course ever taught at Harvard, Marathon documents the running of the 1964 Boston Marathon.

Deep Hearts

Directed by Robert Gardner.
US 1981, 16mm, color, 58 min.

The Borroro live in the Sahel of Central Niger as semi-nomadic cattle herders. Seasonally they congregate by large mares or ponds of rainwater to perform their nearly ecstatic “beauty contest” dances. When the contests are over they return to their familiar wandering in the Sahelian desert.

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Monday November 8 at 7pm

Forest of Bliss

Directed by Robert Gardner
US 1986, 35mm, color, 90 min.

An unsparing look at the chaos of daily life in Benares, India, one of the world’s most holy cities, Forest of Bliss unfolds from one sunrise to the next with no voiceover commentary, dialogue or subtitles, forcing the viewer to focus on the larger issues of life and death that gradually and inevitably take hold.

Blunden Harbour

Directed by Robert Gardner
US 1951, 16mm, b/w, 22 min.

An early film made while Gardner was a graduate student at the University of Washington, Blunden Harbour is an incisive look at the small group of Kwakiutl Indians living on the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The black and white short can be viewed as Gardner’s first film, indicating the direction and tendencies which would continue to resurface in his subsequent work.

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