CITY SYMPHONIES featuring the work of Laura Kissel and Tan Pin Pin


November 11th, 2011

Drawn from the program of the 57th Annual Robert Flaherty Film Seminar programmed by Dan Streibel, the 2011 Flaherty on the Road film series explores the audio dimension of documentary. In these selections we encounter sound in its various roles in nonfiction film: as an element to confirm the fidelity of visual evidence (synch sound), as the conveyor of narrative (the voice-over), as evidentiary recording (the interview) and as a creative tool to counterpoint images. In a thoughtfully curated program, combining long-form pieces with shorts, the 2011 Flaherty on the Road series reveals how sound recording and design can help capture a cultural environment, sculpt a sense of place or evoke a historical period. And it urges us to see the contradictions that arise as music is added to the mix and moments of truth are either powerfully underscored or called into question.



(USA, 2010, 3 min, in Chinese; English subtitles)
Media artist Laura Kissel describes her subjects simply as “two workers I met, hanging off the edges of my apartment building in Shanghai.” This arresting video verite moment captures places, people and events that suggested the qualities of everyday life in contemporary Shanghai. A work self-aware of the verite tradition it inhabits, Window Cleaning uses only location sound and defers to long takes. Yet Kissel also has a photographer’s eye for composition, structuring her window on the world in ways that are beautiful, honest and only occasionally ironic.

TAN MIAN HUA by Laura Kissel
(USA, 2011, 15 min, in Chinese; English subtitles)
While documenting the contemporary textile industry in Shanghai, Kissel found on Chongming Island the Zhu family, whose members demonstrated the disappearing art of making a quilt with simple tools. Tan mian hua (beating cotton) is the process of assembling this type of handcrafted quilt.

(Singapore, 2005, 54 min, in English, Mandarin, Arabic; English subtitles)
Tan Pin Pin’s work shows a studied devotion to the audio dimension of contemporary life, particularly as experienced in her home city. Official declarations (school songs, patriotic parades) are heard in contrast to marginalized voices (a wheelchaired busker, avant-garde musicians) and the multilingual polyphony of everyday life. Explaining her chosen title, Tan said, “I wanted a name that was nonsensical, because Singapore GaGa was a rattlebag of random sounds.” Tan told MTV Asia that she first conceived of the project as an audio CD collection of things in her surroundings, to be called Sounds I Can’t Live Without, “featuring distinctly local sounds, like MRT announcements, or the sugar cane juice grinder, school cheers.” But, she continued, “It grew into a documentary about sounds of Singapore, and then into a documentary about what it means to be Singaporean.”

Laura Kissel is a documentary filmmaker and Director of the Film and Media Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. Her media work explores social/cultural landscapes, the representation of history and the use of orphan films. Kissel’s Cabin Field (2005), a nonfiction essay about farm workers in rural Georgia, was honored with three festival awards, including the Jurors’ Citation Award at the Black Maria Film and Video Festival. Her educational travelogue Beyond the Classroom: China (2007) was nominated for an Emmy and awarded a CINE Golden Eagle and three Telly Awards. A South Carolina Arts Commission’s Media Arts Fellow and Fulbright Award recipient, she is currently work on Cotton Road, a documentary connecting South Carolina cotton farmers, Chinese textile workers and global consumers.

Tan Pin Pin is one of Singapore’s best-known filmmakers, whose films explore Singapore’s diverse histories, contexts and limits, and the collective memories and artifacts inscribed on the urban landscape. Her films have screened at notable international festivals including Berlin, Pusan, Full Frame, South by Southwest, Rotterdam and Visions du Reel, as well as in theatrical release and at Singapore’s The Art House and Singapore Art Museum and at Berlin’s Aedes Gallery. Pin Pin’s latest works include the shorts The Impossibility of Knowing and Snow City.

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