Helene Keyssar Distinguished Lecture Series in Film and Media Studies

In 2012 an anonymous donor gave the burgeoning Film and Media Studies Program at Amherst a generous gift to honor the late Professor Helene Keyssar, who taught at Amherst from 1974-1980.

The Helene Keyssar Distinguished Lecture Series was initiated by Film and Media Studies faculty in Fall 2017 with the help of this gift. This annual talk series features speakers who embody the FAMS program's distinctive integration of creative and critical practice.

Image shows Christopher Harris, the featured presenter, in dramatic lighting. In the background, a wall of books is partially illuminated.

"Filmmaking in the Wake: Found Footage, Found Sound, and Black Nostalgia" with Christopher Harris.

On March 25 at 3pm in Stirn Auditorium

A video recording of the lecture can be found here: Christopher Harris Keyssar Lecture with Q & A

We are pleased to present artist and filmmaker Christopher Harris as our Spring 2022 speaker for the Helene Keyssar Distinguished Lecture Series.

Christopher Harris is the F. Wendell Miller Associate Professor and Head of Film and Video Production at the University of Iowa. Harris's celebrated films and installations employ a variety of experimental approaches to African American historiography, including manually and photo-chemically altered appropriated moving images, staged reenactments and interrogations of documentary conventions. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions at festivals, museums and cinematheques, including MoMA, the Whitney, Locarno, the Flaherty, and Rotterdam, and his honors include a Creative Capital Award and fellowships from Radcliffe, Chrysalis, and Alpert/MacDowell. 

In this talk, Christopher Harris will ask us to rethink obsolescence, historical context and perhaps even nostalgia in regard to Black cinematic practices employing analog found footage. Harris will discuss his bricolage filmmaking practice that remixes and mismatches source materials drawn from the detritus of visual and sonic cultures. Highlighting the ways in which he juxtaposes and layers free floating sound/image fragments as an act of refusal, Harris will explain how his films resist what Sylvia Wynter describes as the “narratively condemned status” so insistently imposed upon the Black diaspora by the absences and silences of the archive. As Harris puts it, his films meet the epistemic violence of the archive on its own terms, matching it silence for silence, rupture for rupture, and gap for gap.

A questions and answer period will follow the lecture, and will be moderated by Jennifer DeClue, Assistant Professor of the Study of Women & Gender at Smith College.

Recommended Reading

Tone Glow interview

Film Quarterly interview

Film Comment interview on still/here

Mubi.com interview on still/here

Cinema Scope


Film Screening

On March 24, Harris screened his landmark film still/here (2000, 60 mins), a stunning meditation on urban ruin and extraction in the predominantly African-American northern St. Louis, along with two other short films: Reckless Eyeballing (2004, 14 mins), and Dreams Under Confinement (2020, 2.5 mins).

A video recording of the Q&A following the screening can be heard here: Q&A with Christopher Harris

Film Descriptions

Reckless Eyeballing (2004, 14 mins, 16mm): "Taking its name from the Jim-Crow-era prohibition against black men looking at white women, this hand-processed, optically-printed amalgam is a hypnotic inspection of sexual desire, racial identity, and film history...I take up the idea of threatening, outlawed gazes in order to suggest the ambivalent interplay of dread and desire associated with the bodies of black outlaws." - Christopher Harris

Eyeballing‘s dominant motif is the image of Pam Grier from her Blaxploitation apex, with an unusual exchange of gazes – hers out at us, and the men in surrounding footage back at her. Harris is quite explicitly exploring the racial dimensions that Laura Mulvey left implicit (to put it kindly) within the Male Gaze question, sending Foxy Brown into the cinematic apparatus as a kind of test case. Can she look back, or will she too be pinned and mounted by the gaze? Or, is there a place for an African-American female spectatorship, an active subject position inside visual culture?...Within the film, Harris juxtaposes images of Angela Davis (including wanted posters) with the Grier footage, generating a fantasy/reality dialectic, and articulating precisely how cinema’s cultural image bank conflates African-American women’s desirability with danger." - Michael Sicinski, Cinema Scope Magazine

still/here (2000, 60 mins, 16mm): In still/here, his MFA thesis film from the School of Art Institute of Chicago, Harris reflects on the slow, inexorable decay of a once tight-knit African American neighborhood on the north side of St. Louis through government indifference, neglect, and corruption; White suburban flight; the collapse of manufacturing; and the chronic systemic racism of redlining, redistricting, and perverted currents of sociological thought and urban planning. His polyphonic voice of spoken words, dreams retold, and the sounds of telephones and doorbells is not so much elegiac as searching, in the way that, as he describes, Miles Davis or Roscoe Mitchell find meaning and infinite variation in musical notes and in the silences and spaces between them, or what he calls “a post-industrial city symphony in a minor key.” His black-and-white images, shot with a 16mm Bolex camera, capture a ghostly palimpsest of working-class Victorian homes long since abandoned, and once successful African American businesses, including the Criterion movie palace, now shuttered and in ruins. A vibrant cosmopolitan culture, a life of bustling commerce, domestic comforts and hardships, of movies and music and food made by Blacks and for Blacks, once thrived behind these broken windows and crumbling walls." - MoMA 

Dreams Under Confinement (2020, 2.5 mins, digital video): "Frenzied voices on the Chicago Police Department’s scanner call for squad cars and reprisals during the 2020 uprising in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as Google Earth tracks the action through simulated aerial views of urban spaces and the vast Cook County Department of Corrections, the country’s third-largest jail system. In Christopher Harris’s Dreams Under Confinement, the prison and the street merge into a shared carceral landscape." -NYFF