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The first traveling edition of Columbus, Ohio-based microcinema “NO EVIL EYE” premiered to a packed house on Friday July 19th at Spectacle Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Despite subway delays and an unyielding heatwave, audience members sat excitedly through the seven short films curated by founders Rooney Elmi and Ingrid Raphael. During a short introduction, the duo cited a lack of shared resources and physical spaces in Central Ohio as their call to arms to create a radical moving image microcinema with politics at the forefront. After showcasing the first program “Sequence 01” in their hometown Ohio, Elmi and Raphael reached out into the ether of social media to see if anyone was interested in helping them take their show on the road. After a member of the volunteer-run theater saw their tweet and slid into their DMs, the rest was history.
The films in “Sequence 01, Edition 2” (specially curated for the New York showing) focus on the stories of immigrants and their children through “landscapes, legacy, and memory”. The seven shorts chosen, ranging from two to twenty minutes, come from a range of voices from newly emerging to more established filmmakers. Some, like Sahal Hassan, consider themselves more artists than traditional filmmakers. His work “Landmark” (2018) is a four-minute short that examines the remnants of the physical space where the New York Slave Market existed in Lower Manhattan during the 18th century. Hassan employs little dialogue aside from looped ambient street conversations interspersed throughout the film. Devoid of any recognizable landmark to give away its history, the footage of lower Manhattan near Wall Street, is eerily shot and appears sleek and dystopian. A glowing iPhone Notes app appears and animates with text, providing the only commentary or dialogue in the work. “Landmark,”, which opens the series, would feel comfortably contextualized in either a contemporary art screening context or a short film festival.
Other shorts like “Confrontations” (dir. Natasha Woods, 2018) and “Disintegration 93-96” (dir. Miko Revereza, 2017) feel more familiarly formatted, combining beautifully warm analogue footage with near-monotone millennial voiceovers. This stylistic approach to personal narratives may be more obvious, but both directors engage with their subject matter in a way that does not feel self-indulgent or overwrought. “Confrontations” features letters from the director’s grandmother, tracing her traversal from Brazil to Fredericksburg, Iowa; each of which is read aloud in their original Portuguese while an English translation crawls seductively across the screen. Woods recounts how lucky she is to be able to revisit home (Iowa) without living there — thus giving her a perspective at a distance — and how, unlike her parents and grandparents, she never had to work at the cheese factory.
This perceptibility of one’s privilege, and the ability it allows to have a vantage point slightly removed from the same struggle to survive as one’s parents, is also a theme in “Disintegration 93-96” (dir. Miko Revereza, 2017), which features present-day footage of the director interspersed with blue-tinged VHS home movies. Through voiceover, Revereza is keen to dissect the “disintegration of stability” his family experienced immigrating to the United States from the Phillippines, as the dreamy, blown-out footage ruminates on his family’s happier moments. Footage of American cars, shoes on Christmas morning, a new toy, seek to honor the memory of the family’s experience of going after their American dream when they were not worrying about overstaying their tourist visas or dealing with immigration lawyers. This reclamation of one’s own narrative runs through many of the other films shown and seems right in line with NO EVIL EYE’s mission. “Is this healing?” asks Woods’ disembodied voice over a yellowed backdrop of midwestern farmland.
“How Did Home Receive You?” (dir. Claudia Owusu, 2018) makes space to question what it is like for an immigrant to their homeland. After going back to Ghana for the first time in over a decade, the narrator remarks upon being received “like an American” and wonders “if I still belong to these people, or if they still belong to me.” She wonders “how not to sound broken,” her inquiring, pensive language underscoring an inability to feel at home. Owusu’s three minute short was one of my favorites because it questions diasporic feelings and the liminal grey space between dual identities. The dialogue, spoken like answers to interview questions, provide some of the most poetic and intimate pieces of language from throughout the series.
It is worth noting that all of the films featured some kind of closed captioning regardless of format; accessibility has been a key tenet in the creation of NO EVIL EYE. Programs such as anti-ICE zine-making workshops have also been included in NO EVIL EYE’s trip to New York City, as Elmi and Raphael are adamant about creating physical spaces to organize and take political action, as well as to champion cinema. The two also invited local filmmakers Hassan and Nuotama Bodomo, the director of the closing film “Afronauts” (2018), for a Q&A after the first screening. The conversation was casual yet dynamic, with the curators serving as excellent facilitators that engaged everyone in the intimate but packed venue. NO EVIL EYE’s first traveling series is greater than the sum of its parts, in that its careful curation and radical politics bring together an impressive selection of works and artists that compliment and create a dialogue with one another. It shows great potential to establish a space outside of major coastal cities for alternative forms of moving image works to thrive.
NO EVIL EYE: Sequence 01 screened at Spectacle Theater (124 S. 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY) on July 20 and July 22, and will screen again on Sunday, July 28th. The program was organized by NO EVIL EYE founders Rooney Elmi and Ingrid Raphael.