Sara (Seret Scott), a middle-class philosophy professor, is looking for something a little more ecstatic than what’s she got. Her husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), is a painter—not to mention a philanderer—who wants to relocate to a summerhouse for the season. Sara reluctantly goes with him and finds emotional experiences well beyond the logic of her profession.
Losing Ground was Kathleen Collins’ first and only feature film, one that was virtually unseen until recently. The multi-faceted Collins was a professor of film history and screenwriting at City University of New York when one of her students urged her to get into filmmaking—a version of this autobiography is woven into Losing Ground’s plot. But the movie did not receive a theatrical run, and after Collins’ death in 1988, at the age of 46, Losing Ground vanished. Then, in the 2010s, a New York City film-processing lab contacted Collins’ daughter, Nina, to see if she wanted the surviving prints of her mother’s work. Nina worked with Milestone Films to restore Losing Ground, and when the restoration debuted in 2015, the film was herald as a revelation.
Had Losing Ground played theaters in 1982, it would have been the first feature film directed by a Black American woman since the 1920s. To watch it today is to discover a missing piece of history. The story of cinema is littered with undiscovered gems, what fun it is to uncover them.
Losing Ground is available to stream on The Criterion Channel. The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 28, No. 4, “Home Viewing: Zero Motivation and Losing Ground.”