SFIFF 57: Persistence of Vision Award/Isaac Julien

Isaac Julien, image courtesy of Graeme Robertson and the San Francisco Film Society
Isaac Julien, image courtesy of Graeme Robertson and the San Francisco Film Society

The last time I attended the POV award ceremony at the San Francisco International Film Festival was for Matthew Barney, whose work continues to infuriate and fascinate me in equal measure. However, I appreciate his use of movement and choreography in his time-based work: as a former athlete and dancer, he knows how to use the body as a narrative vehicle, as punctuation, as subtitle, and as element of beauty.

Movement and choreography is also a hallmark of Mr. Julien’s expansive and endlessly-interesting oeuvre. The body, and particularly the face, are mutable and enigmatic landscapes which frame his longtime intellectual inquiries into globalization, identity, class, and of course, beauty. In his latest, Playtime (showing at Metro Pictures in New York and Victoria Miro in London), dominant males of the art and financial market move freely and in unison; against this, a lone female domestic worker is trapped, like a slave, in her employer’s high-rise flat. In 10,000 Waves, which was originally produced on nine enormous screens at the MoMA, the victims of the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster are represented by a single floating nameless body, both beautiful in its freedom of movement and poignant in its embodiment of injustice. Likewise the ancient Chinese sea goddess Mazu (played by the mesmerizing Maggie Chung), while free in her movement, is definitely not free to go past her myth and rescue contemporary lost souls. The centrality of the body, and the way it can represent humanity, myth, and global currents, anchors and illustrates the high discursive content of his films, and most of all, provides beauty. In her engaging award interview with the artist, B. Ruby Rich noted that while Mr. Julien is known as a collaborator, his films have a quality which is unmistakably his. His use of the body and face, his insistence on beauty despite some “ugly” narratives, his insistence on immersion, and many more, all contribute to the particular persistence and flavor of his vision.

Read: Issac Julien: Expanding Cinema’s Vision, by B Ruby Rich

10,000 Waves screened at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival.