September 2, 2020 - Artist Cinemas - Take Me Back: Week #3
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September 2, 2020

Artist Cinemas

Deborah Stratman, O’er the Land (clip), 2009.

Take Me Back: Week #3
Deborah Stratman, O’er the Land

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Join us on e-flux Video & Film for the online screening of Deborah Stratman's O’er the Land (2009), the third installment of Take Me Back, on view from Wednesday, September 2 through Tuesday, September 8, 2020 and featuring an interview with the filmmaker by Shuruq Harb.

Take Me Back is a six-part program of films, video works, and interviews put together by Jumana Manna. It is the third program in Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film

Artist Cinemas presents Take Me Back
Week #3: Wednesday, September 2—Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Deborah Stratman, O’er the Land, 2009
51 minutes

“[O’er the Land is a] meditation on the milieu of elevated threat addressing national identity, gun culture, wilderness, consumption, patriotism, and the possibility of personal transcendence. Of particular interest are the ways Americans have come to understand freedom and the increasingly technological reiterations of manifest destiny. While channeling our national psyche, the film is interrupted by the story of Lt. Col. William Rankin who in 1959, was forced to eject from his F8U fighter jet at 48,000 feet without a pressure suit, only to get trapped for 45 minutes in the up and down drafts of a massive thunderstorm. Remarkably, he survived.

This film is concerned with the sudden, simple, thorough ways that events can separate us from the system of things, and place us in a kind of limbo. Like when we fall. Or cross a border. Or get shot. Or saved. The film forces together culturally acceptable icons of heroic national tradition with the suggestion of unacceptable historical consequences, so that seemingly benign locations become zones of moral angst.”
—Deborah Stratman

Excerpt from the interview with Deborah Stratman by Shuruq Harb:

Shuruq Harb:
There are these static moments of wilderness in the film that bring to mind Mark O’Connell’s essay from January this year, “Splendid Isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours.” 

Deborah Stratman:
I think many of us can connect to the urge McConnell feels, as a person who’s primarily lived indoors, on the internet, or in books—that it’s time to go OUTSIDE. Time to be in-the-midst-of. Time to be humbled, made small, inconsequential, extra-humanly connected. This is similar to what I like about the documentary mode. The requirement that I insert myself into a situation that is not my own, a culture not my own, an occupation, a politic, or environment not my own. To be part of a scenario I can’t control and where I’m not an expert. This connects as well to the film’s metaphor of the fall—both [Lt. Col. William] Rankin’s ordeal, but also the young male body that steps intentionally off an edge and drops. 

The privatization of land central to the film’s dilemma is something O’Connell touches on too. It’s so difficult in the West to find someplace where you don’t sense yourself to be in trespass. This lack of access to non-owned (or commonly-owned) land has deeply impacted what freedom can be. And it’s the same with time. We’re over-oriented by the industrialized version of it. There’s a disregard for uncoordinated local time. If we didn’t keep time, we wouldn't have to save it, or serve it.

“Wilderness” is expressed through the film’s woods. Structurally, they’re grammatical, a bit like commas. Geographically, they mirror a western expansionist trajectory. Each forest depicted is further west than the last. Ontologically, they represent a myth of raw, untraversed land. But that’s a fiction. There was always a path just out of frame. I think the desire of the colonists to find some virginal plot to reconstruct themselves is just as animating today. Metaphysically, the woods are a respite from the film’s technological advance. But most productively for me, the woods are undeclared in allegiance. They can be a place of shelter, or a place to fear. 

Watch the film and read the full interview here.

About the program
In the weeks before we began mourning and raging over the destruction of one of the last few livable cities of the Middle East, the region, like many others, was experiencing new heights of precaution and paranoia with the second wave of Covid-19 cases. We would cross to the other side of the street to avoid germ-carrying humans, and make ourselves smaller amidst supermarket racks—spaces of potential virus transmission that are also a reminder of the world’s ecological imbalance. We planned for the great escape to quieter and greener landscapes, either temporarily (although we don’t quite understand what that means anymore) or, for some, permanently—as a lifestyle change we had been meaning to make but didn’t yet have the time, guts, or excuse to. The city that before signaled pioneering lifestyles and progress appears today as a symbol of danger and defilement, of overconsumption, overpopulation, claustrophobia, and deferred futures. And the countryside and wilderness are projected as the place of safety and liberty, cleanliness and truth: of original happiness where age-old wisdoms were born and aged, only to suffocate into the amnesia of the city. This dichotomy has been set up since early modernity, sustained with each new historical rupture and economic turn, and now gains new optics with the spread of the pandemic. 

In parallel to the urge to “return,” from early cinema till today filmmakers have been going back to the land, to study and draw inspiration from it—its traditions, its music, its cultural behaviors as a place of authenticity—either to critique ideological representations and claims to the countryside, or to perpetuate its imaginary in the name of the Nation. Sometimes, unwillingly doing both. The films compiled in this program are from different localities, not because we are all the same now, but because the impacts of global capitalism, of which the pandemic is mutant, have created uncannily similar forms of violence and resistance.

Take Me Back is a program convened by Jumana Manna as part of the series Artist Cinemas. The program will run for six weeks from August 19 through September 29, 2020, screening a new film each week, accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s).

About the series
Artist Cinemas is a new e-flux platform focusing on exploring the moving image as understood by people who make film. It is informed by the vulnerability and enchantment of the artistic process—producing non-linear forms of knowledge and expertise that exist outside of academic or institutional frameworks. It will also acknowledge the circles of friendship and mutual inspiration that bind the artistic community. Over time this platform will trace new contours and produce different understandings of the moving image.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

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