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May 6 - May 9, 2016

Chick Strand, Señora con Flores

“Ethnographic films can and should be works of art, symphonies about the fabric of a people, celebrations of the tenacity and uniqueness of the human spirit. – Chick Strand, Wide Angle, 1978

Chick Strand (1931-2009) was a trailblazing free spirit and West Coast filmmaking pioneer who lyrically combined elements of documentary, ethnographic and experimental techniques to create a distinctly unique body of work. Strand played a vital role in the 1960s Bay Area filmmaking community both through her work and her involvement in the cofounding of Canyon Cinema—which would become the San Francisco Cinematheque—with friend Bruce Baillie in 1961. Strand also taught film for twenty-five years at Occidental College in Los Angeles, influencing a generation of filmmakers. Meanwhile, she made frequent summer trips to Mexico, where she shot many of her films over a thirty-year career.

The Harvard Film Archive is proud to present a near complete retrospective of Chick Strand’s groundbreaking filmography, which includes her first film—made with her son Eric Strand, Eric and the Monsters—to her masterpiece Soft Fiction, and up through to her last film (edited posthumously) Señora con flores / Woman with Flowers.  Underappreciated by critics and at times overshadowed by various male contemporary filmmakers, Strand’s work is now enjoying renewed interest and critical appreciation, due in no small part to recent film restorations by both the Academy and Pacific Film Archives.

In the early 1960s, Canyon Cinema organized screenings throughout the Bay Area in a variety of makeshift venues. By providing a communal space for documentary and experimental filmmakers who previously had no audience, Canyon helped usher in a new era of independent cinema. However, upon receiving her degree in anthropology from UC Berkeley, Strand left cinema exhibition behind. She was determined to make her own films and enrolled in the ethnographic film program at UCLA. There she fortuitously met filmmaker Pat O’Neill, whose instruction on optical printing and solarization techniques would heavily influence Strand’s early films. Waterfall masterfully incorporates these styles along with found footage and Japanese koto music to create a dense, lyrical abstraction. Made during Strand’s time at UCLA, Mosori Monika is an ethnographic film shot in Venezuela’s Orinoco River Delta that examines and documents the complex relationship between the Warao Indians and the missionaries through Strand’s caressing close-up camerawork and a series of voiceover interviews with women presented in a point/counterpoint succession.

Moving from the 1960s through the 1980s, Strand’s work often focused on filming portraits of people while traveling in and around the area of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato Mexico. Strand loved the “psychedelia and freedom, the sounds and textures” of Mexico and would make numerous summer trips during teaching breaks with her longtime partner, artist Neon Park, shooting and gathering material, sometimes over extended periods of time, for her films. Fake Fruit Factory powerfully documentsyoung women as they gossip while making colorful papier-maché fruit and vegetables in a small factory, and Artificial Paradise successfully captures what Strand referred to as “the anthropologist's most human desire: the ultimate contact with the informant.” Strand spent over twenty years documenting her friend Anselmo Aguascalientes’ life, eventually creating a stunning trilogy of films—Anselmo, Cosas de mi vida, and Anselmo and the Women—tender portraits that are also glimpses into poverty, resourcefulness, perseverance and patriarchy.

Strand’s films primarily concentrate on women and women’s stories; she did not try to make statements or address feminist issues of the time, but attempted to deeply and personally connect with people in ways that both ethnography and experimental cinema often failed at accomplishing. Strand’s style of filmmaking would eventually evolve from the solarization and optical effects of the early films to what became known as her signature style: filming subjects in motion primarily with handheld camerawork and extreme close-ups that flattened distances—both focal and literal—over long takes. Strand sought to break down the barriers between herself and her subjects while filming and capturing fleeting fragments of movement. She layered nonsynchronous sound over the images in her films to create complex meanings through juxtapositions of audio and picture.

An exquisite culmination of Strand’s filmmaking techniques, Soft Fiction is an innovative collaboration among five women, blending their intimate stories into an intricate personal documentary. Strand’s only film shot with a tripod and her longest completed work, Soft Fiction attempts to depict how memory changes over time and “becomes soft around the edges.” With its open reference to softcore erotic fiction, Soft Fiction recounts the women’s personal stories of sexuality in a direct manner fairly uncommon at the time. Strand’s sensuous, unique and poetic work has been recently restored and is finally receiving the critical acclaim it deserves.

Made at around the same time, Strand’s film Kristallnacht is a shatteringly powerful work featuring black-and-white solarized images of women swimming in a glistening pool of reflective water and concludes with Strand’s moving dedication to “Anne Frank and the power of tenacity and the human spirit.”

The power and tenacity of the human spirit and a life lived on one’s own terms are the recurrent threads at the heart of every film she made. We offer this program of films as a tribute to Chick Strand’s life and the profound impact she made on the history of cinema. – Jeremy Rossen

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Logo

Curated by Jeremy Rossen. Presented in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All films directed by Chick Strand.

Special thanks: Mark Toscano, May Haduong—Academy Film Archive; Antonella Bonfanti—Canyon Cinema; Eric Strand and Irina Leimbacher.

 

 


Friday May 6 at 7pm

Waterfall

US 1967, 16mm, b/w, 3 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Angel Blue Sweet Wings

US 1966, 16mm, color, 4 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Mosori Monika

US 1970, 16mm, color, 20 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Fever Dream

US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 7 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Cartoon le Mousse

US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 15 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

By the Lake

US 1986, 16mm, color, 10 min

 

Kristallnacht

US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 7 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

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Saturday May 7 at 7pm

Elasticity

US 1976, 16mm, color & b/w, 25 min

 

Soft Fiction

US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 54 min

Soft Fiction was restored in 2015 by the Academy Film Archive, with restoration funding provided by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Film Foundation.

 

 

 

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Sunday May 8 at 7pm

Anselmo

US/Mexico 1967, 16mm, color, 4 min

 

Guacamole

US/Mexico 1976, 16mm, color, 10 min

 

Fake Fruit Factory

US/Mexico 1986, 16mm, color, 22 min

 

Artificial Paradise

US/Mexico 1986, 16mm, color, 12 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Cosas de mi vida

US/Mexico 1976, 16mm, color, 25 min

 

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Monday May 9 at 8pm

Eric and the Monsters

US 1964, 16mm, b/w, 6 min

Restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Pacific Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Loose Ends

US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 25 min

 

Anselmo and the Women

US/Mexico 1986, 16mm, color, 35 min

 

Woman with Flowers
(Señora con flores)

US/Mexico 1995/2011, 16mm, color, 15 min

 

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