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February 25, 2018

Film as / for Music as / for Film
Work by Robert Schaller

In collaboration with local film collective AgX, the Harvard Film Archive presents Colorado filmmaker Robert Schaller with a program of his pinhole films shot onto stock coated with his own handmade emulsion. He will accompany two of the films on piano, and guest cellist Jonathan Butler will perform four pieces, all original compositions by Schaller.  

For more than twenty years, Robert Schaller has been making films that are fundamentally concerned with two essential aspects of filmmaking: the materiality of the film medium itself, and the creation of "visual music" through applying the formal structures of music to filmmaking. His approach is based on the fact that film, consisting merely of a transparent strip of plastic that can be held in the hand and seen with an unaided eye, is accessible to the artist in a direct and tactile way. He has been a pioneer in re-envisioning the industrial model of celluloid filmmaking into an embodied human-scale practice for the individual artist who seeks greater control of the means of artistic production. His is an anti-consumer world of filmmaking in which the work of creating and re-conceiving the materials, tools and methods of the medium on a personal non-industrial scale is as essential to the art as are the images light casts on a screen after passing through it. 

His current projects center around making silver emulsion and hand-coating it onto film, then shooting it in an imprecise handmade pinhole camera of his own design. He shoots according to precisely composed camera scores to visually constellate the world around him into elegant and often elusive visual forms, addressing issues of human nature and our relationship to the natural world both within and around us. 

Schaller draws on an eclectic set of experiences to inform and create his work. He derives a knowledge of science, math and laboratory technique from early experiences as a research assistant at the Max Plank Institute fur Biophysikalische Chemie in Goettingen, Germany, and as a lab technician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He went on to study music composition and ancient languages as an undergraduate, earning a BA in Classics in 1990 from the University of Colorado, Boulder, then a Master of Fine Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Art in 1997 at UC Boulder where he focused on combining film, music and performance. He studied there with legendary experimental filmmakers Stan Brakhage and Phil Solomon. 

His films have screened all over the world; he has taught at several universities, including the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of Colorado, Boulder; and has been a visiting artist and lecturer at numerous institutions. As the founder and director of the Handmade Film Institute, he has led retreats and workshops in Cornwall, England; Jamaica; Orcas Island, Washington and regularly in the wilderness of Colorado. 

Jonathan Butler holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, where he graduated with highest honors. His primary teachers have been Richard Aaron, Michel Strauss and Jan-Ype Nota, and Jonathan has studied baroque cello extensively with Lucia Swarts. Beginning his musical studies at age 4, Jonathan has been a section player in the symphony orchestras of Lansing, Michigan, and The Hague, and was a top prize winner in the 2012 Amsterdam Cello Biennale. An advocate of new music, he also received the prize for the best performance of the commissioned work of Yannis Kyriakides and has appeared as an artist in the Reinbert Festival with The Hague Philharmonic. Jonathan has collaborated with artists such as Ilya Gringolts, Elina Vähälä, Máté Szűcs and Paul Watkins. He plays on a cello made by Didier Nicolàs in Cremona, in 1830.

Admission is free, yet donations to support the work of AgX will be accepted. For more information on AgX, please visit

Text courtesy Robert Schaller and Jonathan Butler. All films by Robert Schaller.

Free Admission
Robert Schaller in Person with Live Musical Accompaniment

Sunday February 25 at 5pm

InVerge Invocation

Live cello performance, 1 min



US 2017, 16mm, b/w, silent, 5 min



US 2003/2007/2017, 16mm transferred to digital, color, 6 min


My Life as a Bee

US 2002, 16mm, color, silent, 3 min



US 2016, 16mm, b/w, 6 min


In the Shadow of Marcus Mountain

US 2011, 16mm, b/w, silent, 5 min


To the Beach

US 1999, 16mm, color, 10 min


Four Delicate Concerns

US 2015, 16mm, b/w, silent, 5 min


If Not One and One

US 2000, 16mm transferred to digital, color,
15 min


Sonata for Film and Piano

US 2018, 16mm, b/w, 6 min



US 2013, 16mm, b/w, 10 min


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