This week A Place For Film editor Barbara Ann O’Leary had a chance to connect with Nzingha Kendall about her Four Seasons film installation taking place at the I Fell Building this Thursday, her commitment to supporting the work of experimental women filmmakers, and her engagement with IU Cinema.
BOL: You’ve been involved with IU Cinema as a filmmaker, a facilitator of Jorgensen Lecture conversation, a programmer of series and events, a guest blogger for A Place For Film and more. What inspires you to bring your time, insights, and energy to help the Cinema flourish?
NK: Given my deep commitment to promoting the work of independent women filmmakers—especially those of color—one of the main reasons I chose to come to IU for graduate school was the possibility of working at, and with, the Black Film Center/Archive and the IU Cinema. I had hoped that I might use my skills to bring programming related to these often under-appreciated artists to campus through collaborations with both units. Luckily, with the unstinting support of Jon Vickers and Brittany Friesner at the Cinema, and Michael Martin, Brian Graney, and Mary Huelsbeck at the BFC/A, I’ve been able to achieve this. My time at IU has been enriched by being involved with the BFC/A and the Cinema; both units are true gems on this campus. Just reading the list you’ve given, I’m amazed to see all the ways I’ve participated in the Cinema’s life over the past six years!
BOL: This Thursday you’ll be sharing your films at The I Fell Building as an installation piece with four of your original experimental films projected simultaneously on loops during the two-hour show. What’s your vision for this event?
NK: This project is part of my dissertation requirements as a doctoral student in the Department of American Studies here at IU. The dissertation is called “Imperfect Independence: Black Women Experimental Filmmakers.” It’s rare to have a creative component in PhD dissertations (and unprecedented in my department), so while it’s a thrill to be able to present my research-in-practice in this way, I’m also thankful that my committee approved it. The films I’ve made so far have been quite personal, and though I’ve been experimenting with making films and videos for the past three years, I’ve been hesitant to share them widely. I’m both nervous and excited for the community I’ve built during my time in Bloomington to see my creative work. Even my mom and sister will be flying in from the east coast for the weekend and it will be the first time they’ll see the films.
My hope is for the audience to have a different kind of relationship to the films than might be experienced in a seated, dark, theater setting. I’m curious to see how people will react to the films as they play all together. Which film might draw people in first? How will they circulate around the room? Will there be particular films that people may return to multiple times during their visit? Or might there be ones that repel them?
Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. In fact, even now the space is being transformed; they’re building new walls to accommodate more studio spaces at the gallery. So even the projection set up will be improvised. Yet in a way, I’m OK with this since my own approach to filmmaking is grounded in the improvisational.
BOL: Can you tell us a little about each of the films? And I’d love to hear your thoughts about any insights you may have gained while preparing this show about common themes the films may share or ways in which they might act as counterpoints to each other.
NK: Two of the films – Autumn Song and Summer Memorial – have already screened at the Cinema; I’ll be premiering the other two, Springtime Plaint and Untitled (Winter), on Thursday evening. The films are loosely linked in that they are all inspired by natural spaces and the four seasons. The other link is that all four films “document” my life as a black woman graduate student living in the midwest.
I photographed and edited the films myself, using both digital video and celluloid film formats. All of the films have footage from in and around Bloomington, and the bulk of the scenes in Summer Memorial come from time I spent on the Caribbean coast of Colombia two summers ago. I assembled the soundtracks as well, recording most of the audio myself. The exception is Summer Memorial, which I made as a Double Exposure project. I collaborated with another graduate student, Jay Hurst, from the Jacobs School of Music, who wrote the score. I also worked with an undergraduate student, Collin Thomas, on the sound mix.
These films are meditations on life cycles and perennially changing seasons. How do movement and stillness relate to the ways that life goes on? How do pleasures co-exist with hardships in the course of life? By exhibiting the films together in an installation form perhaps folks might think about different temporalities. This installation set up might also serve as an experiment on the simultaneities of linear time and cyclical time in and through the duration of the installation.
All that said, I’m reluctant to give too much explanation about the films individually, so as not to be prescriptive about how people should interact with and experience the films. None of the films has any kind of explicit narrative, so we’ll see if folks will “feel” their way or “think” their way through the films. Combining both these approaches would be just fine too.
BOL: A few of the films included in your installation have screened at IU Cinema in Double Exposure, Iris Film Festival and in the Student Showcase series. How have these kinds of screening opportunities impacted you as a filmmaker?
NK: I love watching films in theaters, with an audience. I’ve seen movies in cinemas all over world, and out of all my filmgoing adventures, the IU Cinema is one of my favorite theaters. It’s impressive how attentive the staff is to all aspects of the experience. To have my films projected with such care has spoiled me, for sure. It’s also wonderful that the Cinema supports student-led programming and student-made films; I feel privileged to have been able to participate in all these programs as a filmmaker.
BOL: What’s next? What can we look forward to? Are you envisioning making new work? Programming screenings or installations? Writing? I know you’re working on your dissertation!
NK: Yes, the dissertation! The plan is to finish up by next summer, and I have a lot of writing to tackle before then. I also have a couple other film projects in mind; both are experimental documentaries that center on black women and nature. So in a sense, they continue on the themes of this “Four Seasons” show. It’s been a while since I’ve done any programming work. I miss it! Before I leave Bloomington I’d like to organize a monthly cine-club in town focusing on experimental films by women of color. We’ll see if I can squeeze that in during the next academic year. There’s never enough time!
BOL: I love the idea of your cine-club. Let me know how I can help. I can’t wait to stand immersed in your films on Thursday. Thanks for taking time to talk with A Place For Film. And thanks for all your wonderful contributions to IU Cinema these past few years.
NK: Thank you, Barbara, for all your encouragement over the years. It’s been such an honor – and a pleasure – to work with you and the rest of the Cinema staff!
Four Seasons | A Film Installation: Experimental Shorts by Nzingha Kendall takes place at the I Fell Building Thursday May 11, 2017 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm with an artist talk at 7pm.
Nzingha Kendall is a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies at IU Bloomington whose research focuses on black women experimental filmmakers. A number of her film series have screened at the IU Cinema, including Luchando: Women in Contemporary Latin America, Roots/Routes: Contemporary Caribbean Cinema, and Black Poets: A Change Is Gonna Come.
She also makes experimental films, four of which have screened at the Cinema.
Barbara Ann O’Leary, Indiana University Cinema’s Social Media and Web Specialist, is delighted to serve as editor of A Place for Film Blog. Barbara’s love of film—particularly the work of women filmmakers—inspired her to launch the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party initiative.