The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2014

All Issues
JUL-AUG 2014 Issue
Critics Page

Questions for the Frozen Sea

Why have the discussions of the state of “avant-garde/experimental/artists’ cinema” essentially remained the same for 30 years or so?

Why hasn’t a single name for these types of “avant garde/experimental/personal/artists’ cinema” works ever stuck?

Is this inability to settle on an encompassing name one of the reasons this work can continue to stay alive, mutable, and vital despite existing, at this point, within well-trod subgenres and being regularly assimilated into other forms (features, music videos, galleries, YouTube)?

Speaking of well-trod subgenres, why is it so rare these days that a filmmaker is radical and visionary enough to create new categories and genres?

Where are the filmmakers we don’t know what to do with?

Can the avant-garde artist be bold?

On the other hand, why are we so hung up on novelty?

We don’t seriously believe in the idea of progress anymore, do we?

Isn’t it enough for artists to find their own voices within already established parameters and join/expand the conversation already in progress?

Sure, we all love us some titans of cinema, with their predilections for creating new traditions on a regular basis, but don’t we also want filmmakers to work within and against those histories by refracting them to their own personal ends and the needs of the times?

Why do we give more weight to a blowhard who makes grand sweeping pronouncements than to a still, small voice that asks modest questions that burrow deeply inside us?

A pebble in the shoe can cause more distress than a boulder in the path, can’t it?

But, really, the problem isn’t that we don’t have artists moving the field forward, is it?

Do you agree that we’re more in need of astute writers and viewers engaging with the work that’s being created?

And where did all these curators come from?

Is there a breeding ground for them somewhere?

Do you think a new curator is born each day? Or is it more like each hour?

What gives me the most hope and enthusiasm about the state of the field today, you ask?

Well, that’s nice of you to inquire. I’d have to say it’s that the vast majority of the most exciting experimental filmmakers to emerge in the past few decades have been women. Surely it’s a greater percentage than in any other realm of filmmaking. Many remain underseen and underdiscussed. But the curators and writers and audiences will catch up soon enough. For every new male filmmaker who catches my attention, I can think of five new female filmmakers who are as good (if not better). Let’s get some new voices up in here. I want to hear from the unheard.


Chris Stults

Chris Stults is Associate Curator of Film/Video at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. He organized the series Cruzamentos: Contemporary Brazilian Documentary, which is currently touring the U.S.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2014

All Issues