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LOS ANGELES — The first wave of Black students who entered the ethno-communication program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television did so at a particularly politically charged time in Los Angeles and the nation as a whole. The students began their term at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, and some, like filmmaker and storyteller Ben Caldwell, after they had returned from fighting in the Vietnam War. They arrived on campus in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising and the shooting at a Black Student Union meeting in 1969, which left two UCLA students and Black Panther leaders dead. In the face of racism on campus, the students joined together in a tight cohort, learning and collaborating with one another. This class of students, and those who followed, until the program ended in 1982, became known as the LA Rebellion.
Time is Running Out of Time: Experimental Film and Video from the LA Rebellion and Today brings together the works of the LA Rebellion filmmakers and the early film and video works of younger generations of Black artists, filmmakers, storytellers, and scholars working in Los Angeles. While 47 years exist between the date of the oldest film in the exhibition and the most recent, the pieces made by the younger generation of artists critically work through many of the same subjects decades later. The films and video art in this exhibition — all formal experiments in the medium — center women’s narratives, Black consciousness, and the complexity and diversity of the Black experience.
“Being able to see in people’s work how they, very transparently and with a sense of vulnerability, grapple with their developing consciousness, their relationship to the medium, their relationship with how they’re thinking of their cultural production, how they’re thinking of Blackness as represented in a visual medium, that was important to tease out,” commented Jheanelle Brown, co-curator of the show and Program Manager at the Broad, in an interview with Hyperallergic.
The experimental nature of the works exists beyond just the risks in style. Most were crafted early in the careers of both generations of filmmakers and, in some cases, they were the filmmakers’ first projects. Caldwell edited images in rapid succession for his first project, “Medea” (1973), which depicts the information and history that is passed onto a child before its birth. The glimpses of images explore ancestry and identity through collage. “Hour Glass” (1971), Haile Gerima’s first project at UCLA, draws on the lyrics and words of speeches and song. The montage film chronicles the developing Black consciousness of a young basketball player.
Together, the 18 works in the exhibition add up to over three hours of content, an amount that can feel just as inspiring as overwhelming. In the first gallery, six small monitors each play two films on loop, and a large projection screens two others. In the back gallery, four longer, more narrative films play on loop via a large projection in front of a few beanbags and black benches, in a space that is arranged to look more like a mini-theater. It can feel as if there is almost too much material in one small space. What we really need, a gallery setting could not provide: a theater for each individual screen and the space to digest the complexity and depth of one video before the next begins. But the amount of content also urges the viewer to return and spend time with each of the works to understand what they have to offer individually before beginning to understand what they offer collectively.
In her second film, “Your Children Come Back to You” (1979), filmmaker and educator Alile Sharon Larkin elegantly examines economic inequality through the eyes of a child. The film oscillates literally and thematically between scenes of Tovi and her Pan-Africanist mother living on welfare and her assimilated, well-off aunt. Larkin’s narrative film leans on the power of silence with many extended pauses and one long scene without dialogue. This, along with two phrases that repeat throughout the black-and-white film, make the dialogue itself feel as intentional as the stanzas in a long poem. Larkin captures the simultaneous innocence and astuteness of children in a film that examines class, motherhood, Black pride, and Black consciousness, all through the eyes of a child.
Alima Lee’s “Naia” (2017) also unfolds from the perspective of an adolescent girl, the film’s namesake. Naia narrates the film in a way that is both comfortable and reflective, unguarded and unrehearsed. She tells the story of her life thus far at 14 years old: the difficulty of being one of the few Black students at school, how she appreciates the hard work of her single mother who raises her and her younger brother, and her close relationship with her incarcerated father. Her tone and cadence convey an intimacy between her and Lee, and as a result, her and the viewer, making the short documentary feel more like a video journal.
These films are emblematic of the artworks shown in Time is Running Out of Time: They convey the nuanced and often subtle intersections of race, gender, and class with an honesty that prioritizes expression and experimentation over winning a specific audience’s attention.
Time is Running Out of Time: Experimental Film and Video from the LA Rebellion and Today continues at Art + Practice (3401 West 43rd Place, Leimert Park, Los Angeles) through September 14. This exhibition is presented by Art + Practice in collaboration with the Broad, and is curated by the Broad’s Jheanelle Brown, Programs Manager and Sarah Loyer, Associate Curator and Exhibitions Manager.