The Elisabeth Subrin Program, taking place Saturday, April 11 as part of the 2nd Art of the Real series at the Film Society (April 10-26), features several works, including the re-release of Shulie (a re-creation of an unreleased, direct-cinema documentary about radical feminist Shulamith Firestone), as well as Lost Tribes and Promised Lands and Sweet Ruin. The screening will be followed by a panel with Subrin, Thomas Beard, and Johanna Fateman.
Elisabeth Subrin is a Brooklyn-based film and video artist and curator. Her film and video work explores relationships between history and subjectivity, especially within female biography, as well as the nature of evidence. She works across many genres including documentary, and explores mental illness, feminism, and social history. Subrin has characterized her work as being “fairly experimental, in the sense that it’s very difficult to say whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.”
[For descriptions of Subrin's films screening Saturday, April 11 at Art of the Real, click here.]
Responses from Elisabeth Subrin:
On interests and her subjective interpretations of society:
Responding from the perspective of all of the films I’m screening at Art of the Real, my interest in my subjects usually emerges from an exploration of the relationship between personal/subjective history and broader cultural and historical forces—social, political, economic. I re-create preexisting narratives and infuse them with my own, subjective interpretations, drawing from feminism, psychoanalysis, and biography, challenging myself to find unique formal devices.
On creating work not “driven by profit”:
With experimental and independent media, it’s always a challenge, especially in production, because films not driven by a profit motive don’t have the financial support we need to make them. Creatively, I work from a space of “not knowing.” As a formal and conceptual strategy, I propose questions and problems for myself, and the resulting work is my answer. So I don’t always know if the film will work, which is scary, but I don’t see the point of making art if you know exactly what it will look like, if the questions are already answered before you even make it.
On finding inspiration from filmmakers who blend fiction and nonfiction:
I’ve been most influenced by filmmakers who provoke the line bewteen fiction and nonfiction. Of course, that could include the “first feature-length documentary,” Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, and the most interesting documentarians and experimental filmmakers ever since. The ones who engage nonfiction as a “genre,” as a signifier, and experiment with or push the form, bring new life to documentary, if there even is such a thing. Major inspirations include experimental filmmaker and video/installation artist Leslie Thornton and my mentor, the late, great experimental ethnographer Mark LaPore, whose films and teaching completely changed my life. Both of them really inspired me, though my work looks nothing like theirs. Other films I really admire for messing with that line include Samira Makmahlbaf’s The Apple, Matt Porterfield’s Putty Hill, Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames, and so many more…
And some hints about what's next:
I’m currently in preproduction for my first feature-length narrative film, A Woman, A Part, starring Maggie Siff and Cara Seymour. The film’s about an exhausted, workaholic, Ritalin-addicted actress who abruptly extricates herself from her successful but mind-numbing TV career, impulsively returning to New York to squat in her old rent-stabilized apartment. In an effort at reinvention, she reinserts herself in the lives of old downtown creative collaborators who are also struggling with their current lives. Gentrifying New York also plays a role, a document of constant urban pressures and the erosion of their shared histories as struggling young artists. Like the nonfiction/fiction line, my film explores the hazy boundaries between acting and being as an analogy for the very human desire to find and connect with our authentic selves. Other themes include forty-something burnout, workaholism, addiction, gentrification, female representation in the media, and the profound impact of deep friendships. And I explore these issues in a more populist medium, blogging at whocaresaboutactresses.tumblr.com, written up in Film Comment here.