Janie Geiser

Familiar films

 Janie Geiser’s films are filled with invisible envelopes, secret stories, hidden meanings, and strong emotions. The experience of watching one – or better yet, a sequence of her films – can feel uniquely overpowering. This is all the more remarkable because nearly every film that the Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist has made runs fewer than 12 minutes in length. (The lone exception, Magnetic Sleep, is a serial work comprised of nine short parts.) They all play nimbly with familiar objects to impart sensations that are both cosmic and particular. A single flower, or a drawing of it, can represent the whole of Nature in her films; a single photograph, well-examined, can tell the story of a life.

Janie’s films tell individual stories of searches – of characters looking for other characters, of disoriented people in search of themselves, of the filmmaker as she gathers materials to reconstruct the past. Running throughout them are internal searches made by viewers in response to what they recognize. Olhar de Cinema proudly offers them a showcase within which to explore Janie’s work. The largest-ever retrospective of her films features 21 titles, almost all of which will receive their Brazilian premieres at Olhar. Janie’s latest film, Valeria Street, will have its world premiere.

The festival will be additionally blessed with the presence of Janie herself, who will appear with four programs of her films, plus stage an expansion of her film Arbor within a live event classed as an “Illustrated Talk”. She has further curated two programs featuring films by artists she admires – Edwin S. Porter’s keystone Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, plus notable contemporary works from 20 peers who were glad to take part.

While most of the filmmakers are based in the United States, they hail from places including England, India, Ireland, Japan, Palestine, and Turkey, and they make their works in many countries, including Brazil (a site for Ephraim Asili’s Many Thousands Gone). They team with Janie to show that great personal cinema can be realized throughout the world.

They and Janie also show that no artist acts in a vacuum. For the realization of Janie’s Focus, many people must be thanked. Among the many, Kari Rae Seekins has been responsible for the sound mixing of Janie’s recent films, and Astra Price has been fundamental for digital mastering, including of several new transfers from 16mm originals. And Mariana Shellard deserves special gratitude, since her belief in the value of this retrospective helped turn its proposal from a dream into something real and possible.

PROGRAM 1: SECRET STORIES

“The Red Book” (1994) uses flat, painted figures and collage elements to explore the psychic world of a female amnesiac. “The Secret Story” (1996) reveals a woman wandering through landscapes of rivers, floods, home, war, memory, and illness. “Immer Zu” (1997) evokes an undercover world of secret messages, cryptic language, and indecipherable codes. “Lost Motion” (1999) uses small cast metal figures and toy trains to depict a man’s search. “Terrace 49” (2004) shows images of impending disaster colliding with a person’s body as she vanishes into filmic texture. “The Fourth Watch” (2000) presents rooms inhabited by silent film figures that occupy the flickering space of night in a printed tin house.

WHERE AND WHEN

8JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
19h30
9JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
14h00

PROGRAM 2: MAGNETIC SLEEP

“Magnetic sleep” was a 19th-century term referring to German physicist Franz Anton Mesmer’s magnetically induced trances. Geiser’s film “Magnetic sleep” is a black-and-white, elliptical narrative that unfolds over nine short, self-contained episodes. It follows a female hypnotist through an ever-shifting landscape of desire, confusion, and loss. It also integrates performers, collage animation, abstraction, rephotography, and painted elements in ways that recall silent film melodrama and serial storytelling as well as American expressionism.

WHERE AND WHEN

9JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
19h45
10JUN
Cineplex Batel (Sala 4 )
14h00

PROGRAM 3: THE NERVOUS FILMS

The program opens with “Ultima Thule” (2002), in which a small silver plane navigates an ultramarine storm towards the farthest point north. This film leads into The Nervous Films, a series of four collage-based works centered on the body, childhood, memory, war, illness, and loss. They use medical illustrations, photographs, found footage, and other materials to evoke, rather than to tell. These four “nervous films” – “Ghost Algebra” (2009), “Kindless Villain” (2010), “Ricky”(2011), and “The Floor of the World” (2010) – are followed by the world premiere of “Valeria Street” (2018), a photograph-based film of possible and impossible narratives.

WHERE AND WHEN

10JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
19h00
11JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 2)
21h30

PROGRAM 4: DOUBLE VISION

The program “Double Vision” presents seven recent Geiser films in the following order: “Arbor” (2012), “The Hummingbird Wars” (2014), “Cathode Garden” (2015), “Silent Sister” (2016), “Kriminalistik” (2013), “Look and Learn” (2017), and “Flowers of the Sky” (2016). A double vision of a life’s journey unfolds throughout their shared course. Geiser reappropriates a number of ephemeral objects – scenic props, handwritten notes, and most especially, found photographs – to recall the past with shamanic force, fill in its absences with imagination and memory, and heal its wounds with present-day dreams.

WHERE AND WHEN

11JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
16h15
12JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
14h30

PROGRAM 5: EXCHANGES

Geiser’s early film “Spiral Vessel”, which presents exchanges between humanity and science, screens in dialogue with exchange-based films by ten other artists she admires. The program includes: “Eclipse” (2005, Jeanne Liotta), “Shadow” (2007, Ernie Gehr), “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” (1906, Edwin S. Porter), “Many Thousands Gone” (2015, Ephraim Asili), “YOLO” (2015, Ben Russell), “Empyrean” (2017, Kalpana Subramanian), “Line Describing Your Mom” (2011, Michael Robinson), “Spiral Vessel” (2000, Janie Geiser), “Frequency Objects” (2013, Julie Murray), “Marseille Après La Guerre” (2015, Billy Woodberry), and “Village, silenced” (2012, Deborah Stratman).

WHERE AND WHEN

9JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 2)
16h30
13JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 2)
14h00

PROGRAM 6: PASSAGES

The program presents films by 11 contemporary artists that Janie Geiser admires, all of them working with the theme of passages. Its lineup includes: “Prima Materia” (2015, Charlotte Pryce), “House” (2005/7, Ben Rivers), “Shape of a Surface” (2017, Nazli Dinçel), “Orpheus (outtakes)” (2012, Mary Helena Clark), “Mount Song” (2013, Shambhavi Kaul), “Ten Mornings Ten Evenings and One Horizon” (2016, Tomonari Nishikawa), “Lessons of War” (2014, Peggy Ahwesh), “The Silver Age” (2015, Lewis Klahr), “A Set of Miniatures” (2014, Jonathan Schwartz), “A Field Guide to the Ferns” (2015, Basma Alsharif), and “Wasteland No. 1: Ardent, Verdant” (2017, Jodie Mack).

WHERE AND WHEN

12JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
16h30
13JUN
Espaço Itaú (Sala 1)
16h30