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February 2 – February 26

Kevin Jerome Everson -
Cinema and the Practice of Everyday Life

It’s a lamentable truth that those seeking fair-minded representations of Black life within the annals of American cinema necessarily have to swim upstream against the mainstream current, burrowing into forgotten crevices or sometimes forcibly dug holes. It’s also true, historically, that when there’s a dearth of representation pertaining to a particular group of people, sympathetic commentators are often moved to hyperbole and cultural generalization when faced with an artifact made by and about those whose daily lives and labor have been hidden in mainstream representation. Such a tendency leads critics to hail, for example, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep as a summative statement rather than an evocatively specific dramatization of a unique pocket of Black life.

Enter Ohio-born, Virginia-based artist Kevin Jerome Everson (b. 1965), a fierce original whose plentiful body of work—over 144 films ranging from under a minute to eight hours long—simultaneously represents delicious bait for such anthropologically-minded exegeses and a nifty, sustained rebuke to the very idea of seeking fixed cultural meanings in artwork. Rooted so firmly in African-American settings that any appearance of a white person comes as a surprise (in itself a substantial political act), Everson’s films obsessively fixate on the everyday, offering immersive depictions of people working, passing time in their neighborhoods, running errands, going to the doctor, fixing their cars, and enjoying brief respites of leisure. These slivers of quotidian activity stand on their own as “complete” cinematic subjects, not mere fragments of larger narrative scaffolding, and the plainly descriptive titles of Everson’s films speak to his unwavering conviction in the seemingly undramatic minutes and seconds that mainstream cinema—or, for that matter, even a wide swatch of documentary and avant-garde cinema—routinely passes over as unworthy of prolonged attention. 

With that said, the titles and synopses of Everson’s films are deceiving insofar as their directness and specificity gives an expectation of expository comprehensiveness that is utterly belied by the abstraction of his approach. While the employment of handheld camerawork, the regular uses of 16mm, and the embrace of material defects in the footage all give the strong impression of on-the-fly actualités left untouched in the editing room, Everson, a professor of art at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, is never less than profoundly self-aware in crafting this aesthetic and generating its associated baggage. The patina of verisimilitude is actually a ruse in Everson’s films, which take the stuff of life, and specifically the experiences and communities familiar to the director, and restage it as a dead-ringer facsimile in order to draw out certain truths, patterns, rhythms and gestures that might go unnoticed in more traditional documentaries. Indeed, while the willful hybridization of documentary and fiction modes of filmmaking has come into fashion in recent years, Everson’s work has thrived on such mutability for over a decade, forcing viewers to calibrate to each work without assumptions.

The subtle manipulation of reality on display in Everson’s films—which extends even to the director’s creation of utilitarian props that he inserts into scenes alongside real objects—is especially beguiling given his oeuvre’s recurring preoccupation with historical realities that would certainly benefit from conventional elaboration. Of special importance in Everson’s work is the post-WWII Great Migration, which found large quantities of African-Americans migrating from the South to the Midwest in search of new and better opportunities, a resettlement project undertaken by Everson’s parents and others in his extended family (The Island of St. Matthews is the rare film to focus on those who didn’t make the move). Everson communicates the complexity of this topic not with direct discussion of it but through sustained scrutiny of the individual lives affected by the displacement generations hence. Films such as Quality Control, Company Line and Park Lanes center on work environments, labor rituals and the precise forms of expertise accrued within industrialized work. Meanwhile, films such as Emergency Needs, The Reverend E. Randall T. Osborn, First Cousin and Sugarcoated Arsenic,all of which incorporate and then intervene with archival audiovisual material,look at a different form of labor, specifically that which occurs in constructing a persona for the general public.

Everson’s interest in the processes and procedures dominating his characters’ lives is echoed by an obsession with the form and practice of his own cinematic work. Working in the tactile medium of photochemical film, which is sometimes employed for its disorienting aesthetic resemblance to the found footage Everson uses, already bonds him closer to the handicraft on display in his films. When he leverages the full material capacity of the medium, pushing its limits in eleven-minute shots that expend every last frame of a 400-foot roll, the act of filming becomes a full working metaphor for the manual toils of his subjects, who are equally limited and liberated by their resources. This dynamic bond between form and content distinguishes Everson’s work from his antecedents in the avant-garde (durational filmmakers like James Benning, Sharon Lockhart and Andy Warhol). Trading static, machine-like surveillance for engaged, responsive handheld work, Everson moves the emphasis away from the fixity of time and space to the evolving role of the human within the mise-en-scene. 

Evolution, after all, is an essential concept in Everson’s work. The films consider Black life within America on a continuum in which old inequities are repackaged as “sugarcoated arsenic” (to borrow a film title) but perseverance ultimately wins out. Images of resilience flood his body of work: a man shadowboxing to stay warm in Undefeated, two clashing music rehearsals continuing in full force side by side in Erie, African migrants describing their turbulent paths to Italy in Rhino, a plethora of factory specialists masterfully sculpting metal and plastic to compose bowling alley parts in Park Lanes, and even a pair of petty thieves on the hunt for Cleveland’s copper parts to feed their families in Fe26. The seeming offhand simplicity of Everson’s films is what most strongly registers on first exposure, but the running subject matter, motifs, themes and formal strategies are impossible to miss once detected. This is an artist with a monomaniacal commitment to his particular niche, and though he asserts that he makes films for his subjects rather than for any perceived audience, the rewards on this side are plenty. – Carson Lund

Presented in collaboration with Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research and the Film Study Center with support from the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities, Harvard.

All stills copyright Kevin Jerome Everson and courtesy the artist, Trilobite-Arts DAC, and Picture Palace Pictures. All screening copies courtesy Picture Palace Pictures. Film descriptions by Carson Lund.

Special thanks: Kevin Jerome Everson; Madeleine Molyneaux—Picture Palace Pictures; Claudrena N. Harold; Matilda Washington; K.I. Pedizisai; Justin Thompson; Lydia Hicks; Wexner Center for the Arts; Andrew Kreps Gallery; Black Fire at UVA; Abby Wolf—Hutchins Center for African & African American Research; Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Cozette Russell—Film Study Center, Harvard.

Dedicated to DeCarrio Antwan Couley (1984-2010).

Friday February 2 at 7pm

Tonsler Park

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2017, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w,
80 min

The contentious 2016 presidential election has been a hot talking point for almost a year now, and yet Everson’s Tonsler Park, which documents polling station workers in the eponymous Charlottesville, VA precinct on November 8th,stubbornlyresists being read as any kind of cultural barometer. Seemingly eschewing topical issues altogether (the words “Trump” and “Clinton,” for instance, are never heard), the film instead bears witness to the mundanity of the polling process, the hours burned away staring at computer screens and reciting the same pleasantries to voters over and over. What ultimately politicizes this unorthodox conceptual documentary is its choice of setting, not only for it being the notorious site of racist commotion just months later but for the predominantly African-American populace, a considerable sample of which become the subjects of Everson’s unblinking gaze. As non-synced ambience from the room hums away on the soundtrack, the director trains his telephoto lenses on the faces of these generous workers, all doing their part, however dispassionately, to ensure democracy is preserved.

Preceded by

Polly One

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2018, 16mm transferred to digital, color, silent, 6 min

Everson contemplates the August 2017 solar eclipse over two skyward shots in this tranquil silent short, which plays like a tribute to James Benning’s Ten Skies.

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Monday February 5 at 7pm

Quality Control

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2011, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w,
71 min

Anticipating the durational extremes of Park Lanes,Everson’s Quality Control describes life at an Alabama dry-cleaning factory over six takes that each span the totality of a 400-foot film magazine. Unlike a more staunchly formalist examination of blue-collar labor such as Sharon Lockhart’s Lunch Break, however, Everson shoots handheld, never letting the audience forget the presence of a filmmaker actively aware of his surroundings. Within these slabs of real time, Everson finds much to observe and listen to: the ingrained routines of the laborers, the contrapuntal movement of clothing as it carriages across the foreground, the chatter of the employees and the background rhythms of an FM radio, all juxtaposed against the relentless hum of the machinery. The overall impression, strengthened by short montages of silent footage around the factory that interrupt the otherwise rigid structural framework, is not of mechanized drudgery but rather a lively, spirited ecosystem, one where workers make the most of their time while plying skills long ago mastered.

Preceded by

Something Else

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2007, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
2 min

An extracted clip from the 1971 Miss Black Virginia beauty pageant in which a white journalist interviewing the elated winner reveals a complicated thicket of contemporaneous attitudes toward race in Something Else, a scrap of found-footage ephemera thatdemonstrates Everson’s acuity as an archival researcher.

 

 

 

How Can I Ever Be Late

Directed by Claudrena N. Harold and Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2017, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w,
5 min

Co-directed with his UVA colleague, African-American and labor historian Claudrena N. Harold, the joyous How Can I Ever Be Late plays as a kind of alternative music video for Sly and the Family Stone, who are shown to be natural stars even when out of the spotlight.

 

 

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Kevin Jerome Everson in Person

Friday February 9 at 7pm

Erie

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2010, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w,
81 min

Ostensibly a portrait of daily life around the perimeter of the titular Great Lake, Erie offers as its second shot the Warholian anti-spectacle of a young girl, framed in medium shot in front of a dreary concrete wall, silently staring at a candle for just over ten minutes. In placing this scene directly after the film’s opening title card, Everson effectively calibrates a viewer’s expectations and sensitivities for what’s to come: a series of decontextualized vignettes in which abstract pleasures—such as meditating on the passage of time and studying the evolution of figures across long durations—precede any potential expository content. With the exception of one scene in which three former employees of a General Motors plant discuss the conditions surrounding their field of work, Erie scarcely illuminates the particular social fabrics of its chosen settings, which range from Niagara Falls to anonymous suburban Ohio. What it does offer is a hypnotic fixation on the subject of quotidian perseverance within the Black community, whether through a sustained study of a man tirelessly attempting to shimmy open his locked car door or a virtuosic sequence in a community auditorium that finds the camera shuffling between a pair of musicians rehearsing a piano ballad and a group of break-dancers emphatically practicing their routines, with Everson’s roving camera finding both chaos and harmony in their competing sonic signals.

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Saturday February 10 at 7pm

Round Seven

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2018, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
19 min

Rigorously divided into seven parts corresponding to the seven rounds fought between boxers Art McKnight and Sugar Ray Leonard in a 1978 Mansfield match, Round Seven stresses the alternately wistful, proud and frustrated recollections of losing contestant McKnight over dreamy footage of the boxer practicing his strokes in a darkened ring.

 

 

Ears, Nose and Throat

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2016, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
10.5 min

DeCarrio Antwan Couley, Everson’s son, was murdered in 2010, and Ears, Nose and Throat is the second of the director’s films (following 2016’s Shadeena) to reflect on the tragedy. As in the prior film, Everson takes a roundabout angle on the events by centering his attention on Shadeena Brooks, a woman who witnessed the incident in front of her home. Here, her trauma is manifested physically as she undergoes a hearing test at the doctor’s office, the left-to-right beeping of which becomes a crucial formal element in the film’s construction. As Shadeena recounts the story in voiceover, footage of her misidentifying the directionality of the beeping devastatingly materializes the toll of gun violence on African-American bodies.

 

Undefeated

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2008, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w, 1.5 min

In this striking single-panel sketch, a cleverly bifurcated composition shows a man on one half of the frame tending to an engine on the side of the road while another man shadowboxes on the opposite side, possibly to keep warm in the Midwestern winter. Throughout, the 16mm image skips and stutters, creating a visual analogue to the rhythm of the boxer’s gestures.

 

Emergency Needs

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2007, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
7 min

Emergency Needs centers around a press conference recorded after the Hough Riots of July 1966 with Carl B. Stokes, then Cleveland’s (and the nation’s) first Black mayor. Employing split-screen, Everson juxtaposes Stokes’s appearance against a word-for-word restaging with actress Esosa Edosomwan, provoking a heightened awareness of the moment-to-moment complexities of the high-pressure public performance.

 

Fe26

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2014, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
7 min

Everson explores petty criminality as a form of economic necessity in Fe26 by depicting a pair of copper thieves scouring the streets of East Cleveland for vulnerable manhole covers and crowbars (objects actually sculpted by the filmmaker but placed in the scene as “real”). The men describe their daily routines and struggles atop a montage of their assorted misadventures.

 

 

Company Line

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2009, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w & color, 30 min

Shot over a particularly snowy winter in Mansfield, Ohio, the wistful Company Line resurrects the submerged history of the town’s earliest Black neighborhood via the testimonies of past residents and local workers—among them a pensive plowman whose evening routes through the historic streets form a key structuring element. Alternating between crude prosumer video imagery and warm 16mm color footage while peppering its soundtrack with various recurrences of a hit song by a sixties African-American girl group, the film creates a poignant weave of past and present, exploring a largely forgotten community through its reverberations into the modern day.

 

Ninety-Three

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2008, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w, silent, 3 min

In this wry comic miniature, a man, presumably celebrating his 93rd birthday, gradually blows out 93 candles on a cake in slow-motion, failing numerous times before finally extinguishing all remaining light.

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Monday February 12 at 7pm

Brown and Clear

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2017, digital video, color, 7 min

This deceptively simple piece basks in the modest aesthetic pleasures of a neighborhood bar: the golden-hued liquor bottles and the smoky haze of poured whiskey. Shot entirely in tight, shallow-focus close-ups, the film never shows the bartender handling the liquor outside the frame’s view, but by tuning into the minutia of his labor, it nonetheless becomes a piece of portraiture.

 

Sugarcoated Arsenic

Directed by Claudrena N. Harold and Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2013, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w,
20 min

Co-directed and written by Everson’s UVA colleague, African-American historian Claudrena N. Harold, Sugarcoated Arsenic takes as its starting point a moving speech on civil rights performed by Vivian Gordon during her tenure as the director of University of Virginia’s Black Studies program between 1975 and 1980. Then, as in Emergency Needs, Everson juxtaposes the historical record alongside a nearly identical recreation, in this case starring actress Erin Stewart. The mock-vérité monochrome images of socializing and camaraderie taken on the university campus are some of Everson’s most resonant, and nowhere more so than in the montage of “Black Power” marches that concludes the film.

 

Rhino

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2018, digital video, color, 22.5 min. Italian and French with English subtitles

Revisiting the subject of his 2012 film Rhinoceros, Everson’s latest imagines the final days of sixteenth-century Italian Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, a historical figure of particular interest to the director for being the son of an African servant woman. Working in digital on location in Italy, Everson stages crudely theatrical episodes featuring actors performing as historical figures within modern settings, then intercuts these unorthodox dramatizations with documentary footage of African migrants in the region. The stark juxtaposition, which recalls the work of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, connects ancient history and today’s Europe in a shared plague of intolerance—a sobering outlook at a time when blinkered reactions to refugee crises around the globe run rampant.

 

North

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2007, digital video, color, 1.5 min

A single unremarkable scenario—a man attempts to unfold a map while battling against gusts of wintry wind—becomes a microcosm for a number of recurring Everson preoccupations, chiefly the widespread migration of Blacks from the South to the Midwest following WWII.

 

The Reverend E. Randall T. Osborn, First Cousin

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2007, 16mm transferred to digital, b/w, 3.5 min

Martin Luther King Jr.’s first cousin speaks in an archival clip about race riots in Cleveland in the late sixties, but Everson re-edits the footage to amplify the presence of the black reporter questioning him, multiplying one sympathetic reaction shot to emphasize the procedure involved in moderating the interview.

 

Sound That

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2014, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
12 min

Everson’s fascination with manual labor institutions in Ohio and his ability to find poetry in the mundane is on full display in this immersive procedural tracking the Cleveland Water Department’s efforts to locate leaks in underground infrastructure.

 

 

 

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Saturday February 17 at 12pm

Park Lanes

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2015, digital video, color, 480 min

Expertise takes time to accrue, and so it’s only natural that it would take time to appreciate as an outsider. This idea infuses the eight-hour Park Lanes, Everson’s most severe and challenging experiment with cinematic time and process. Adopting the exact parameters of an average American work day, Park Lanes’ duration is comprised of the various specialized procedures undertaken around a cavernous metalwork factory devoted to the assembly of bowling-alley parts—a detail that Everson never clarifies through exposition, preferring instead to obsessively fixate on the micro until it gradually reveals the macro. Within this framework, individual employees—many African-American, though Everson puts an uncharacteristic spotlight on Asian-American and white workers as well—stand out for their impeccable mastery of highly niche processes, yet the absence of a larger context around their work draws attention to the impersonal ruthlessness of such an industrial ecosystem. Shot over the course of a week but craftily compressed to suggest one typically regimented day, Park Lanes recognizes and elevates some of the personal craft influencing mass production, and takes no shortcuts in doing so.

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Monday February 26 at 7pm

BZV

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2009, digital video, color & b/w, 30 min

BZVs title refers to the airport code of Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, where Everson visited in 2009. A breezy slice of compassionate tourism, BZV is a cinematic record of his time there, capturing in both black-and-white and color a variety of leisure activities in and around the Congo River.

 

 

 

 

The Island of St. Matthews

Directed by Kevin Jerome Everson
US 2013, 16mm transferred to digital, color & b/w, 64 min

The city of Columbus, Mississippi, and the neighborhood of Westport, home to some of Everson’s family, has fallen victim to numerous catastrophic floods over the past four decades, and one particular disaster from 1973 made an impact that resonates into the modern day. The Island of St. Matthews spotlights the weathered townsfolk whose family heirlooms, photographic archives, clothing, amenities, and loved ones have been whisked away by these calamities. Amidst these running biographies, Everson weaves discrete lyrical interludes, such as lengthy contemplations of the Tombigbee River and the town’s mechanically operated dam, recurring episodes focusing on a water-skier’s persistent attempts to keep balance, scenes with a group of teens who perform impromptu baptisms in the water, and one vignette featuring a bell-ringer who fulfills his duty with the same resounding force applied by the madman at the end of Bela Tarr’s Sátántangó. In its steady accumulation of these motifs of perseverance, the film frames Westport as a place of constant rebirth while always reminding of the region’s overwhelming personal, collective, and historical losses.

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