27th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke

Shirley Clarke (1919-1997) was an American film director and academic. Originally a dancer and choreographer, she made short films in the 1950s , and later documentaries and feature films. She was active in the feminist movement and her work is often included in the New American Cinema.

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A Moment in Love
Two young lovers dance in the countryside and they express love, doubt and fear with their movements. Passion is the drive that moves their bodies and the surrounding landscape changes to fit the mood in their romantic relationship. The impressionist nature and expressive choreography is enhanced by plaintive string music. “Most of the dance films I’d seen were awful and I figured I could do better. Essentially, film’s a choreographic medium.” — Shirley Clarke
personal program

A Moment in Love

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1957 / 9 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Bridges-Go-Round 1
The shots of New York bridges and skyscrapers create abstract patterns that remind us of a colourful caleidoscope. The author discovers a new face of New York, the face which reveals an unusual industrial beauty. A dynamic montage and layering of images is accompanied by vivacious experimental jazz music.
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Bridges-Go-Round 1

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1958 / 4 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Bridges-Go-Round 2
Accompanied by ambient electronic music, this visual experiment presents New York with its industrial architecture as an unknown dystopian city. With everyday urban elements the author creates impressive abstract collages which evoke an extraterrestrial gloomy valley.“Bridges-Go-Round is pure Clarke, and a fine example of her interest in manipulating the image, from color tinting to off-kilter angles providing vertiginous rides along a city bridge; you might even call it a dance.” — Christopher S. Long
personal program

Bridges-Go-Round 2

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1958 / 4 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Brussels Loops
A collection of silent shorts was designated for the US pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Worldʼs Fair. The film sequences were screened in the pavilion in a neverending loop. The story and characters were not important, what was of significance was showing moments from the everyday life of Americans. The film programme was to showcase the best of the US: modern metropolises, happy nuclear families, miracles of technology, full shelves in supermarkets. With a dynamic montage and distinct aesthetics the director managed to create a film collage that is reminiscent of the avant-garde experiments.“They were to be little bits of Americana. While I did the filming in and around NewYork City and the editing, Donn Pennebaker traveled around the United States collecting images that he sent back to me. We made about 30 loops. Penny made some, I made some, and Ricky Leacock and Wheaton Galentine each made one. I came up with a lot of rhythmic editing in order to get these three minute loops to work. I had to get a lot of information into 100 feet of film. Those loops were a big hit at the fair.” — Shirley Clarke
personal program

Brussels Loops

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1957 / 58 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Bullfight
In this film, the danger and unpredictability of bullfights is paralleled with the passion and expressivity of the dance. Documentary footage of the audience and the matadors of the Spanish corrida intertwine with contemporary dance of a young woman who, in her movements, encompasses both the matador and the untamed wild animal.“Well, in many ways that film doesn't really quite work. But it has a couple of moments in it that are extraordinary. One of them has to do with the death of the bull. The story is about a woman watching her lover fighting a bull and how he kills the bull. In the original dance, the solo dancer is both the matador and the woman watching, and I just added the fact that she was also the bull. I came up with several exciting concepts for me. I used repetition; I rechoreographed the film. I employed abstract use of color, fast editing, layered images.” — Shirley Clarke
personal program

Bullfight

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1955 / 9 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Dance in the Sun
Through a dynamic motion of a man, we move from a dancing studio to the beach and the sand dunes. With his dance the man worships the sun which sheds light on his athletic body. Another dance film sketch by Shirley Clarke experiments with editing and sharp contrasts between the light and the dark, this time accompanied by piano music.“The camera dances along with the performer and places emphasis on movements, gestures and the plasticity of his performance. The changes in spatial relationships occur without prior notice and the film’s distinctive form thematises movement in itself. Ralph Gilbert’s background music is not lyrical, but is used as raw material that draws attention to the dancer’s movement in space.” — Angelos Koutsourakis
personal program

Dance in the Sun

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1953 / 7 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
In Paris Parks
A playful film which captures a quiet afternoon in a park in central Paris: playing children, fairground rides, walking couples, men playing croquet. The optimistic mood is complemented with playful music and the dynamic editing shows authorʼs enthusiasm for the newly discovered form of artistic expression.“Dancer, bride, runaway wife, radical filmmaker and pioneer — Shirley Clarke is one of the great undertold stories of American independent cinema. A woman working in a predominantly male world, a white director who turned her camera on black subjects, she was a Park Avenue rich girl who willed herself to become a dancer and a filmmaker, ran away to bohemia, hung out with the Beats and held to her own vision in triumph and defeat. She helped inspire a new film movement and made urgently vibrant work that blurs fiction and nonfiction, only to be marginalized, written out of histories and dismissed as a dilettante.” — Manohla Dargis
personal program

In Paris Parks

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1954 / 13 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Ornette: Made in America
Ornette Coleman (1930–2015) was an African-American jazz saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter, and leading figure in the avant-garde genre of free jazz, which was an experimental approach to jazz improvisation. The film is made up of diverse stock footage, interview clips, live-action scenes, and wild musical dance sequences. This is no ordinary biopic film, but rather a depiction of the musician's passionate nature and musical talent, with many important composers and writers of the then-American art scene appearing among the interviewed fans. In addition to the achievements of this jazz icon, the film also depicts Coleman's difficult childhood and experience with racial segregation.
personal program

Ornette: Made in America

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1985 / 85 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Portrait of Jason
Jason Holliday was an African American prostitute, night club dancer and a houseboy. In a hotel apartment he is drinking, smoking and performing, while the director and her crew ask him about his life. The minimalist format works with the principles of cinéma vérité, which the filmmakers undermine by trying to get Jason into extreme positions that would reveal the tragic moments in his life. Thanks to the protagonistʼs extrovert nature and the amount of consumed alcohol we get to hear the stories from Jasonʼs life that bring him to tears and make him laugh and which point to everyday life of minorities in the 1960s USA. “In Portrait of Jason Shirley Clarke is a goddamn genius. I hope people compare me with her someday. Shirley and Rogosin are really interested in their subjects, in finding out about what they think and feel.” — John Cassavetes “The most extraordinary film I've seen in my life is certainly Portrait of Jason… It is absolutely fascinating.” — Ingmar Bergman
personal program

Portrait of Jason

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1967 / 105 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World
A melancholic documentary portrait of Robert Frost shows the American poet and the winner of 4 Pulitzer Prizes in the autumn of his life, when he is reflecting on his personal life, his poetry and the existentialist and philosophical themes he pondered on in his own works. Frost is spending his days in beloved rural New England while still lecturing at the universities and the eye of the camera transforms this legendary American poet into a universally humane, simple man. This is the first feature documentary by Shirley Clarke and the one which received the Academy Award in 1963.“The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the lost champion of the individual mind and sensibility, against an intrusive society and officious state.” — John F. Kennedy
personal program

Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1963 / 52 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
Skyscraper
A black-and-white film documents a construction of an impressive skyscraper on the 5th Avenue, from the architectural designs to laying the foundations and the final construction. The whole construction process is accompanied by the construction workersʼ dialogues and anecdotes. Thus the camera transforms the hard work into a poetic image of the 1950s New York.“While I was editing Skyscraper, I would be sitting at my moviola putting a sequence together when I would suddenly come across ashot of reflections in the skyscraper windows, and I thought that would make agood sequence. So one of the filmmakers would go out with a roll of film and make some reflections, and if he still had some film left, he would take something else. I would look at that, and I'd say, ‚Oh, that's great.‘ It was really handmade movies, made in the editing process of bits and pieces.“ — Shirley Clarke
personal program

Skyscraper

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1960 / 21 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
The Connection
A famous director and cinematographer is making an unusual documentary about a group of drug addicts who wait in a gloomy and dirty flat for their connection to bring them heroin. The existential anxiety of the drug addicts contrasts with optimistic jazz melodies they are playing. The film about making a film is based on Jack Gelberʼs play and employs found footage and metanarrative experiments. While the director is constantly trying to incide the protagonists to act naturally in front of the camera, he starts to lose himself in their intoxicating world.“I was really so determined to do it that I didn't care what anyone thought of me. If they thought I was crazy, it was OK by me. If they thought I was insane, that was fine. If they thought I had a lot of self-will, it was all right. And so as far as I was concerned, as long as I could get done what I wanted, I was willing to go to almost any lengths to do it.” — Shirley Clarke
personal program

The Connection

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1961 / 110 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
The film already had its Czech Premiere
The Cool World
An adaptation of Warren Millerʼs novel of the same name shows the viewer the harsh world of Harlem, New York. The main protagonist, a teenage African American boy named Duke, is trying to improve his social position by purchasing a gun, which helps him to become the leader of the Royal Pythons gang. The semi-documentary shows the reality of the black ghetto with its street violence, drug addiction and prostitution. In the film we can see the authentic non-actors and the real gang members. This dark film provides social criticism of the conditions in which the ghetto inhabitants have to live, while it is also an archetypal story about a manʼs desire to succeed despite the unfavorable circumstances and obstacles.“For years I’d felt like an outsider, so I identified with the problems of minority groups. I thought it was more important to be some kind of goddamned junkie who felt alienated rather than to say I am an alienated woman who doesn’t feel part of the world and who wants in.” — Shirley Clarke
personal program

The Cool World

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1963 / 120 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
The film already had its Czech Premiere
Tongues
The film captures a dying man who utters his last monologue, playful and intimate in Dadaistic style. The camera zooms in on his face and experimentation with editing and digital manipulation change the meaning of his words. The author of the text is Sam Shepard, with Joseph Chaikin being the performer.
personal program

Tongues

Shirley Clarke
United States / 1982 / 20 min.
section: Translucent Being: Shirley Clarke
Czech Premiere
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