Follow Me to Certain Death: An Evening with Vanessa Renwick

Britton, South Dakota

In a program of six short films and videos, Portland-based filmmaker and curator Vanessa Renwick invites us to contemplate death, and to do so with a proper mix of wrenching horror and ecstatic wonder. In Britton, South Dakota (2003), Renwick pairs 1930s archival footage of children in a small Midwestern town with a haunting score by Johnee Eschleman. Photographed on a sunny day, the kids squint, grimace and cry as adults roughly position them for the camera. They seem at once slightly unmanageable, as if they aren’t yet fully browbeaten, and also deeply melancholy, as if they know already what sorrow the future holds. In the elegiac 9 Is a Secret (2002), Renwick recounts a sad time in her life, when a friend was dying and she suddenly became aware of the presence of crows. The dark birds in turn point her to the practice of counting crows, which is both a children’s rhyming game and a form of divination in which the number of crows suggests events in the future. Eight crows augur death; nine crows reference a secret. Renwick combines those fragments with glimpses of imagery — a bed, the crows captured as silhouettes, a man’s twisted body — to craft a lyrical and moving essay that works its magic through poetic accretion rather than narrative logic. Renwick will also show her recently completed three-screen projection piece, Hope and Prey, featuring stark, high-contrast images of wolves and birds in lovely, syncopated movements across the screens. This piece builds on Renwick’s devotion to animals, and to the alternate forms of understanding the world that also influence her filmmaking. Also screening: Travis Wilkerson’s National Archive, v. 1; Warren Haack’s Selective Service; and Dani Leventhal’s Draft 9. (Filmforum at the Egyptian; Sun., March 19, 7 p.m.

—Holly Willis


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