Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exquisite corpse curating at Union Docs

The end of February, at Union Docs, Kevin Duggan and I are putting together a program from The Film-Makers' Cooperative using the exquisite corpse technique.  I'm not sure how much exquisite corpse curating has been done by other film programmers.  In 2007, at the Images Festival in Toronto, Guy Maddin and Bill Morrison did a "show and tell" screening together: choosing films to show each other, with the audience witnessing the process.  The nature of the remarks each of them made to set up the next film, "I picked this film for you, Bill, because..." gave it the feeling of a cinematic conversation between the two filmmakers, to which the entire audience was in the role of eavesdroppers.

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Programming with the exquisite corpse model is a very different process than the curating-by-consensus method typically used in a committee of curators for a short film program, often with a struggle between different works favored, and sometimes with serious disagreements about what is to be shown or left out.  With the exquisite corpse each programmer has to completely surrender to the other one's choice.  And no works are selected as second choices, that is to say, picked merely as an alternative when there wasn't agreement over showing something else that was the first choice.  There's a little bit of mischief in the process too.  Certain films are like a move in a chess game where you suddenly and unexpectedly send a bishop or a rook completely to the other side of the board.  Film curating as a competitive sport?

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But an interesting thing to ponder: does one hand out program notes for a such show?  Knowing what would be coming next would take away from the exquisite surprises of the curator's additions to the program's corpse.  Do you want to know what a gift is going to be before you open the wrapping paper?  Maybe just keep the suspense going while the projector starts up and the leader appears on screen, without knowing what the next film will be at all?  Or perhaps numbered envelopes the audience can open one at a time before each film?  Perhaps everyone gets program notes on a long strip of paper protruding from an envelope that can be partly slid out one film at a time?  (No peeking ahead!)  All this remains to be seen, but in the meantime read more about the screening below.


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7:30PM - Saturday
February 26, 2011

Union Docs
322 Union Avenue
Brooklyn NY

Kevin Duggan and Joel Schlemowitz, many years after first meeting at Films Charas, co-curate a program of short films from the Film-Makers' Cooperative. The program is selected in the manner of a chess game: Kevin selects the first film, Joel chooses the next film in response, and so on.  An exquisite corpse for two film programmers! No curatorial theme!  Neither player knows what comes next! What connections will emerge? How will it end?

The opening gambit: Rudy Burckhardt's evocative 1959 portrait of the Lower East Side, "East Side Summer," reflects the spirit of Films Charas, a L.E.S. neighborhood film program and forerunner of today's DIY microcinemas. Founded by filmmakers and activists Doris Kornish and Mathew Seig, and based in the El Bohio Cultural Center, it flourished in the '80s and '90s showing films ranging from political docs to Roger Corman B-movies to local East Village filmmakers to indie features. A frequent guest at Charas, Burckhardt also represents the Coop's mission of preserving and sharing independent and avant-garde film.

And so begins our program: what will be the next move?

About Kevin: Kevin is currently Senior Advancement Officer at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC); in addition to Films Charas, over the years he has worked for many independent media and arts organizations.  A visual artist exploring natural history (, he also directed the film "Paterson" (1989), an historical docu-fiction about that city's labor history.

About Joel: In the final year of Films Charas the duties of projectionist were taken up by Joel Schlemowitz.  Joel is an experimental filmmaker whose work is available on DVD through and who teaches experimental filmmaking at The New School.  Joel's films have received awards at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.  Screening have included the Tribeca Film Festival and New York Film Festival.  For the past three years he has curated the Cine Soiree film series.  More information about Joel at

About the Coop: The Film-Makers' Cooperative is the largest archive and distributor of independent and avant-garde films in the world. Created by artists in 1962, as the distribution branch of the New American Cinema Group, the Coop has more than 5,000 films, videotapes and DVDs in its collection.

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