September 27, 2017
Founded in the memory of visionary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, The Flaherty is known for exhibiting innovative and deeply stimulating work at both their annual seminar, an infamous week-long escape, and their seasonal NYC film series. Through The Flaherty, voracious audiences are granted access to worlds previously unseen, as well as the opportunity to discuss and dissect what they find there. With each series, The Flaherty brings their spirit of bold investigation into the human condition to the Anthology Film Archives, a “cathedral” of avant-garde cinema. I spoke with 2017 Fall Flaherty NYC programmers Maori Karmael Holmes and Charlotte Ickes, who hope to dig deeper into these unknown worlds with their series, "Out From Under."
Maori is an artist, filmmaker and curator who coordinates programs for institutions across the United States. She’s the Director of Public Engagement for the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and founded and directs the Blackstar Film Festival, an annual showcase celebrating the work of black filmmakers from across the world. Since her experience as a fellow at the Flaherty’s 60th Seminar in 2014, Maori felt “compelled to apply” herself, and teamed up with Charlotte Ickes to conceive of “Out From Under.”
Charlotte is a curator and art historian who has been an active academic and organizer of public programs for several years. She’s currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and is interested in what is outside of or marginalized by society. Despite differing professional backgrounds, it was their “overlapping interests,” says Charlotte, that led to “a perfect melding of the minds” and the creation of a program concerned with these shared ideas. Running fortnightly through the fall, “Out From Under” will explore the idea of ‘the underground,’ and the beauty that can be found in the tension of subterranean and subaquatic spaces.
2017 Fall Flaherty NYC Programmers Maori Karmael Holmes and Charlotte Ickes
Maori describes initial discussions that focused on “underground clubs and societies that have been pushed out because they weren’t accepted in the greater society,” but the overall concept grew much wider. Their loose definition of ‘the under’ became “a larger space to explore metaphorically or physically…relating to different geographies and time periods,” Charlotte explains. Through films which explore the underground and underwater, the program addresses a number of intersecting themes and issues, such as migration; the unacknowledged labour of immigrants, women and people of color; and the idea of the Global South (including the southern US) being ‘sunken’ or below the rest of the world.
“We were interested in these actual subterranean spaces, like the subway or a prison — these spaces of containment where you feel under something, under foot, or under pressure…or when you ‘feel underwater,'” Maori adds. It’s here where one finds “alternative forms of world-making,” argues Charlotte. “There is a real value in going beneath what is readily available or readily seen or readily accessible…and what you find is very varied, but the act of doing it is valuable in and of itself.” This variation lies in the possibility that these spaces can function as both enclosures and openings. Described by Charlotte as a “tense ambivalence,” the uncertainty that festers in these places runs like a thread through the program. “When people are marginalized they have to create space where they find it. Sometimes that’s liberating and sometimes that’s constricting,” muses Maori. “What our program hopes to do is explore all sides of that.”
This program aptly offers more questions than answers, as Maori wants to provoke a “continuum of conversation” in the atmosphere provided by the work. “There’s quite a lot of work looking at people who are marginalized because of their race or their sexuality or their immigration status,” she went on. “I’m personally invested in people making connections between these different issues…and continuing to see people’s struggles as links, and also their joys as links.”
With work by filmmakers from all over the world, the program exhibits varied pieces of documentary, narrative and hybrid forms. “I’m interested in what it means to mix or bend genres, and to move between them,” said Charlotte, “and to show that a theme doesn’t just have to be approached in one way.” Through these means, the program looks to provide a rare staircase into a multiplicity of literal and metaphorical ‘under’ worlds — places of tension and possibility where many artists have found a voice.