Here’s the latest MFA|EDA 4th Alumni 6Pack, brought to you by EB Landesberg from the inaugural and pioneering Class of 2013. Take it away, EB.
Over the past six years, I’ve developed something of an itinerant lifestyle. From a home base that has moved from Durham to Montreal, and now to Oxford, England, my work as a filmmaker and educator has taken me to Peru and Mexico; Saratoga Springs and New Orleans; Arusha, Tanzania and the Listuguj Mig’maq First Nation in Quebec. Throughout, I’ve had the privilege of sharing media, messages, handmade gifts, and stories of struggle between communities. Now, I am getting used to stillness.
One of the best things about living in Oxford, besides the riverside towpaths, is its proximity to London. Before the lockdown, I would take the train there once or twice a week to visit old friends, and to go on cinematic pilgrimages. In the same week, I was electrified by watching Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives on the big screen at the Close-Up Film Centre, and by the radiant experiments on display at the Nam June Paik retrospective at the Tate Modern.
As a 2014-15 Felsman Fellow, I got to spend ten months facilitating media workshops with teenagers in Lima, Peru. I stayed close with two of these young women, Karoli and Christy, who are members of an indigenous Shipibo community that recently migrated from the Amazon. In 2018, the three of us joined Another Kind of Girl Collective—a media arts collective co-founded in Jordan by MFAEDA family member Laura Doggett.
Through AKGC, we connected Karoli and Christy to Khaldiya and Marah, two young Syrian filmmakers who are living in Jordan as refugees. All four are young mothers living in displacement, and were immediately drawn to the idea of co-directing a cross-border film together. Almost two years later, we are now in post-production on that film, which chronicles their beautiful, unfolding friendships across geographical, linguistic and cultural difference, as they shared their worlds with one another through sounds and images over the course of a year.
In the unfolding crisis, this work has become even more difficult than usual. It has also become that much more essential. The four young directors are no strangers to the task of remaking the world after disaster. Based on this work, Laura and I were invited by community organizer Cristi Rosales-Fajardo to work with young women in her New Orleans community, Village de l’Est, and in October 2019, we began workshops with a group of young women from Honduras. As soon as we are able, we will resume the work of creating a collective film that explores the relationship between their communities of origin and the place they now call home. The first stop on the Peru-Syria film tour, with the filmmakers, will be in New Orleans, so we can build further community and collaboration among all these young women.
My father, a stand-up comedian and actor, passed away in December 2010, just eight months before I moved across the country and started the brand-new MFAEDA. As a Visiting Fellow at the 2019 MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute, I had the chance to revisit my MFA thesis work about him for the first time since 2013.
My thesis had been a multimedia performance integrating archives of his talk show appearances, stand-up performances, and commercials, and it reflected the shape of my grief at the time—associative, all-consuming. This time around, I delved further into personal and family archives. I made use of homemade audio cassettes of him cursing his way through changing my diaper. I took his handwritten notebooks with me into the woods. In creating a film from this material, I sought to reconstruct an image of my father as a man who read me bedtime stories and told jokes about me to strangers.
In March, I got to share this work on the big screen in beloved community at Bill and Sabine’s Cosmic Rays Film Festival. It is hard, now, to fathom when bodies will be able to gather in the dark again for such collective viewing experiences.
This film, On the Road & other Places, feels like the culmination of a nine-year process of distillation. I have a feeling I’ll come back to this work, cyclically, for the rest of my life. The film is complete, but the grief remains. It reminds me that the world could come apart at any moment.
In a recent interview about vulnerability and COVID-19, Judith Butler speaks of collective mourning as a political act: “…learning to mourn mass death means marking the loss of someone whose name you do not know, whose language you may not speak, who lives at an unbridgeable distance from where you live.”
Many aspects of the current reality are not new for people who have lived through war, settler colonialism, and all kinds of state violence; for people of color living in a world of white supremacy; for the first peoples of the Americas.
People were organizing before, they are organizing now, and they know that to build another world in the face of this crisis, they must continue to organize. I am inspired by the many mutual aid efforts; by bail funds and rent strikes; by my collaborator Cristi’s tireless work in New Orleans.
What role can artists play, as and alongside organizers? I recommend the Center for Cultural Power’s “No Going Back: A COVID-19 Cultural Strategy Activation Guide for Artists and Activists”. I have also been inspired recently by the militant artist collective SAKA, in the Philippines.
Back in Lima, Christy and Karoli founded a collective of young people in their community to help pass out donations, so that elders could stay inside their homes. They have also been documenting their community’s struggle to fight COVID-19 in closely-packed homes without running water or sewage. Karoli’s photographs were featured in a human rights investigative report on the Peruvian website Ojo Público.
Coming soon: a music video made through video calls with Lisel, for her new song, “Specters”. An examination of the contours of yearning, of staying inside, of absorption into the screen, of the Zoom Zeitgeist.
Some days I give in to despair. I worry, frantically, about the safety and wellbeing of loved ones scattered across the globe; and about those whose names I do not know. I worry I cannot hold so much space. To keep the sorrow at bay, I try to stay present with the small joys of the world around me. To move at the pace and with the sensory abundance of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinema. I take walks with my cat. I watch the cows in the Port Meadow. I bump Bad Bunny.
I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 21 years old, and soon after, I got in a crash that spooked me out of trying again. Recently, however, something has shifted. The emptier roads invited me back, and now I ride all around Oxford – something I never thought would happen. I feel a renewed sense of possibility, new horizons for what my body and mind might be capable of. I go fast, so fast I forget to worry.
Next up: Sarah Borst (’17) in June.
See you all then.