Previewing the 2019 Brakhage Center Symposium

The week belongs to Stan Brakhage, a titan of experimental filmmaking and a former University of Colorado Boulder professor. For information on Brakhage’s background, see Sunday’s post. For the remainder of the week, I’ve been posting previews of Brakhage Center Symposiums past, a must-see on every spring calendar. Click here for links to 2016, 2017, and 2018. And now to 2019, from Boulder Weekly Vol. 26, No. 30, “Truth at every level.”

An object is not without context, and a perspective is not without a point of view. For British philosopher Alan Watts, this was a question of magnification. For example, take a photograph: look at it close up, and you see the pixels, the small dots that comprise the picture. Now look at it farther back, and those pixels work together to form a face, a lamp, a street, whatever. Pull back farther still, and you’ll see what that face is doing, where that lamp is in the room, and where that street goes.

“Which level of magnification is the correct one?” Watts asks. His answer: “They’re all correct. They’re just different points of view.”

Few artists understood this principle quite like experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, the 16mm poet with the paintbrush and former CU-Boulder professor.

Following Brakhage’s death in 2003, colleague Suranjan Ganguly founded the Brakhage Center, an archive tasked with documenting and preserving the legacy of experimental film and media arts. Covering a wide range of disciplines, the Brakhage Center features talks, seminars, screenings, and the yearly centerpiece: the Brakhage Center Symposium, March 9–10.

The lineup for this year’s symposium—billed as “The Contemporary Body Reconfigured”—does not disappoint. Bringing together works from Laida Lertxundi, Nazlı Dinçel, Cauleen Smith, and two programs of Arab experimental cinema curated by Rachael Rakes, the 2019 Brakhage Center Symposium shows life in all levels of magnitude, each one as correct as the last.

As it has in previous symposiums, the 15th Brakhage Center Symposium sets the stage with “Celebrating Stan,” a collection of Brakhage shorts handpicked by Ganguly. Next up, six films from Lertxundi, a Spanish filmmaker who resides and works in Southern California. Using the vast network of cities and nature that comprise America’s dream factory, Lertxundi photographs the endless number of nooks and crannies connecting those spaces. “[She] makes the most photographed city in the world seem strange, almost uncanny,” R. Emmet Sweeny aptly wrote in his 2017 Film Comment piece.

What Lertxundi does for space, Turkish-American filmmaker Dinçel does for the body—specifically, sexual acts and the conversations they provide. In her Solitary Acts cycle, Dinçel breaks these familiar acts in two and then, literally, stitches them back together with fishing line.

Like the other works featured at the symposium, Dinçel’s films are first-person cinema writ large. For Smith, the eight works selected for her program take the first-person approach and magnify it. Starting with the everyday and weaving in science fiction, Afrofuturism, and a recurring theme of generosity, Smith explores the African-American female identity, past and present, by way of collage.

Similar to how Smith reinterprets familiar faces and images, curator Rakes will present a full day of works from the far-flung corners of cinema that rarely make it to the Centennial State, “Refiguration: Contemporary Experiments from the Middle East and North Africa,” on March 10.

Much like the films screened on March 9, this collection of eight works will be the only chance Boulderites will have to see gems of world cinema often overlooked. It’s an opportunity no true cinephile can pass up.

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