Questions concerning “the real” have haunted cinema from its inception, and they have often been entwined with performance. Filmmakers have long experimented with the use of nonprofessional, untrained actors, whether to inject a measure of documentary reality into fictions, to deconstruct acting itself, or to challenge the conventions of screen performance and cinematic realism. The non-actor has emerged time and again as a totem of renewal, central to many of film history’s most consequential movements, beginning with Robert Flaherty’s subjects and Sergei Eisenstein’s principles of “typage,” continuing with Italian neorealism’s men on the street, Robert Bresson’s models, and Andy Warhol’s Superstars, and running through the work of innovators as varied as Shirley Clarke, Straub-Huillet, Agnès Varda, and Pedro Costa. This series is a historical survey of the myriad ways in which filmmakers have used so-called amateurs to reimagine the language of cinema and to investigate (and perhaps fundamentally change) the medium’s relationship with the realities it depicts.

Organized by Dennis Lim and Thomas Beard


Anthology Film Archives; Cinemateca Portuguesa; the Cultural Services of the French Embassy NY; Harvard Film Archive; Institut Français; Istituto Luce Cinecittà; The Jones Film and Video Collection, Southern Methodist University; Northeast Historic Film; UCLA Film & Television Archive; Peter Watkins; Valeska Grisebach; Pedro Costa; Ronald Bronstein; Teemour Mambety; Miguel Gomes

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Village Voice‘s Leo Goldsmith:

Drawing together nearly three dozen films, the program traces a fascinating lineage of amateur performance across history, geography, and genre. From agitprop and docufiction to neorealist art cinema and Warholian experimentation, the series highlights some of the inventive ways filmmakers have enlisted the non-actor to create new hybrids of the real and the imaginary.

Artforum‘s Tony Pipolo:

It’s hard to imagine a more eclectic group of films sharing a single series than those being screened by the Film Society of Lincoln Center under the umbrella title “The Non-Actor.”

Film Comment‘s Chris Shields:

Ever since the workers left the Lumière Factory, “real people” have played an essential role in cinema. The notion of what constitutes nonprofessionals or non-actors can be a slippery one, but broadly speaking, the sociopolitical authenticity and unfiltered psychological realism presumed in such casting has been sought at least since Italian neorealism.

The New York Review of Books:

The impulse to draw on non-actors, this series suggests, has moved filmmakers for nearly a century and continues to figure in debates over realism, documentary, and the ethics and politics of filmmaking.