Filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez in person for Q&A moderated by Lucien Castaing-Taylor!
Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s (literally) transporting film—shot inside a cable car that carries pilgrims and tourists to and from a mountaintop temple in Nepal—is radically simple in conception. Each of its 11 shots lasts as long as a one-way ride, which corresponds to the duration of a roll of 16mm film. A kind of head movie that viewers are invited to complete as they watch, Manakamana is thrillingly mysterious in its effects: a staged documentary, a cross between science fiction and ethnography, an airborne version of an Andy Warhol screen test. Working within a 5-by-5-foot glass and metal box, Spray and Velez have made an endlessly suggestive film that both describes and transcends the bounds of time and space. Winner of the Filmmakers of the Present prize at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival. A Cinema Guild release, opening April 2014.
Focus on the Sensory Ethnography Lab
In a mere eight years, the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University has gone from an unusually ambitious academic program to one of the most vital incubators of nonfiction and experimental cinema in the United States. Lucien Castaing-Taylor established the SEL in 2006 on the premise that documentary and art are not mutually exclusive and that the intensive fieldwork of anthropology could nourish both. In practice this means rejecting the laziest devices in the contemporary documentarian’s tool kit: reductive story arcs, infantilizing voiceovers and talking heads, manipulative music cues. It also reconnects documentary to the work of such pioneers as Robert Flaherty and Jean Rouch, and indeed to the medium’s eternal promise as an instrument for both capturing reality and heightening the senses. The films in this selection, including work produced at the SEL and work that inspired SEL makers, attest to the aspirations of sensory ethnography: to experience the world, and to transmit some of the magnitude and multiplicity of that experience. Presented in collaboration with the 2014 Whitney Biennial.