Forest of Bliss: A Tribute to Robert Gardner
Sunday January 25, 2015, 7:30 pm
Los Angeles Filmforum presents
Forest of Bliss: A Tribute to Robert Gardner
At the Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028
Filmmaker Robert Fenz and anthropologist Nancy Lutkehaus in person
Join us as we pay tribute to the late filmmaker Robert Gardner, who died in 2014. Filmmaker Robert Fenz and anthropologist Nancy Lutkehaus share their thoughts on Gardner's complicated and vital legacy, and together we'll watch his early film, Mark Tobey, and his acknowledged masterpiece, Forest of Bliss.
"A friend and collaborator to countless artists, poets and philosophers, Gardner surrounded himself with inspiration and talent. He made several cinematic tributes to his artist friends like Mark Tobey, Sean Scully and the filmmaker Miklos Jansco. He also wrote and published accounts of his travels and films, worked on unfinished fictional film scripts and left behind a trail of aborted projects. Most profoundly, his influence reverberates throughout contemporary documentary work today, from the work of filmmakers like Sharon Lockhart and Lucien Castaing-Taylor to the current students of Harvard's own Sensory Ethnography Lab who have fully adopted an experimental approach to the ethnographic. Brittany Gravely
Robert Gardner and Peter Matthiessen in conversation, 1996
For more event information: www.lafilmforum.org, or 323-377-7238
Tickets: $10 general, $6 students/seniors; free for Filmforum members. Available by credit card in advance from Brown Paper Tickets at or at the door.
Forest of Bliss
Directed by Robert Gardner, produced with Ákos Östör
1986, color, 90 min
Forest of Bliss is an unsparing yet redemptive account of the inevitable griefs, religious passions and frequent happinesses that punctuate daily life in Benares, India's most holy city. The film unfolds from one sunrise to the next without commentary, subtitles or dialogue. It is an attempt to give the viewer a wholly authentic, though greatly magnified and concentrated, sense of participation in the experiences examined by the film.
Mark Tobey (1952, color, 19 minutes)
Mark Tobey was made while the painter lived in Seattle Washington early in the 1950s. It is the third film made by Robert Gardner and it shows in cinematic language how this man looked at the world. It is a document in which Tobey himself both performs and is observed. The style is related to certain experimental tendencies of the period especially those of Maya Deren.
A unique film in the Gardner ouvre, the film not only presents an experimental portrait of Tobey, but serves as a window into the American art, avant-garde film, and poetic movements of this period.
Robert Gardner was an internationally renowned filmmaker and author whose works have entered the permanent canon of non-fiction filmmaking. Some of his most prominent films include Dead Birds (1963), a lyric account of the Dugum Dani, a Stone Age society at one time living an isolated existence in the Highlands of the former Netherlands New Guinea (Gardner was the leader of the Peabody Museum-sponsored expedition to study the Dani in 1961-62); Rivers of Sand (1974), a social commentary on the Hamar people of southwestern Ethiopia; and Forest of Bliss (1985), a cinematic essay on the ancient city of Benares, India, which explores the ceremonies, rituals, and industries associated with death and regeneration.
Gardner's films have received numerous awards, including the Robert J. Flaherty Award for best nonfiction film (twice); the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Florence Film Festival (three times); and First Prizes at the Trento, USA Dallas, Melbourne, Nuoro, EarthWatch, Athens, and San Francisco film festivals. His films have been invited to Festivals throughout the world including Jerusalem, Bergen, London, Munich, Toronto, Montreal, Margaret Mead, Marseilles, Locarno, Chicago and Cinema du Réel.
Robert Gardner is the author of A Human Document (1965); and Gardens of War (1968). His book, Making Forest of Bliss (2002), is the outcome of a close watching of the film with his collaborator, Ákos Östör. In 2006 Gardner published his book entitled The Impulse to Preserve: Reflections of a Filmmaker and his latest book, Making Dead Birds: Chronicle of a Film, was published November, 2007. He is also the subject of three books, Rituale von Leben und Tod: Robert Gardner und seine Filme (1989); Gardner, by Harry Tomicek (1991); and Natural Rhythms: The Indigenous World of Robert Gardner, by Thomas Cooper (1996).
In the 1970s Gardner produced and hosted Screening Room, a series of more than one hundred 90-minute programs on independent and experimental filmmaking. The series, considered an invaluable historical record of modern cinema, has been transferred to digital format, for archival preservation by the Museum of Film and Broadcasting in New York City. Gardner was the Director of the Film Study Center at Harvard University from 1957 to 1997. He passed way on June 21, 2014. Visit Robert Gardner's website: www.robertgardner.net
More on Gardner at http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/collections/gardner.html
Nancy Lutkehaus is a Visual Anthropologist who done research in Papua New Guinea and other parts of the Pacific, including West Papua where Robert Gardner filmed Dead Birds. She is a former editor of "Visual Anthropology Review" and has taught workshops on ethnographic film with Timothy Ash and Jean Rouch. Her most recent book, Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon, looks at Mead's relationship with the media. She is currently working on a book about anthropology and art, with a focus on the display of non-western art in the Michael Rockefeller Wing of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the Co-Director of the Center for Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California.
Robert Fenz is one of the most singular and committed filmmakers breathing new life to avant-garde film traditions today. Fenz's films, mostly shot in black and white 16mm, have a rare energy and restless beauty that recalls both the jazz-inspired imagery of New York School photographers such as Roy DeCarava, but also the landscape films of one of Fenz's former teachers, Peter Hutton, and the documentary work of Johan van der Keuken and Chantal Akerman, some of whose recent film works have actually been shot by Fenz himself. His films are personal and poetic portraits of people and places he encountered during his many travels in countries such as in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and India. "Though they can be viewed as non-fiction works, objectivity is not one of their pretences. Images not words are central and the primary means by which their ideas are articulated. In each case, meaning is determined by three factors, 'intention, circumstance and chance' ingredients filmmaker Robert Gardner describes as central to the making of a non-fiction film." Fenz's attitude towards filmmaking has also been greatly influenced by jazz improvisation, especially by the work of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, under whom he studied. He worked with Robert Gardner and has spoken on Gardner's work on multiple occasions. Fenz views his own film, Correspondence, as "my tribute to Robert Gardner's body of work. Retracing his steps, I filmed in the same locations in which he filmed. Dead Birds (1964) was filmed in West Papua, Rivers of Sand (1974) was filmed in Ethiopia, and Forest of Bliss (1986) was filmed in Benares, India."
This program is supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission; the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. Additional support generously provided by American Cinematheque. We also depend on our members, ticket buyers, and individual donors.
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Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian (View)
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
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