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Add to Queue: Emily Apter and Inney Prakash's top docs, pt. 1

A selection of curated media lists from our global community
words – emily apter and inney prakash
location – new york city, usa

Maysles Documentary Centre [MDC] is located in the heart of Harlem and has been delighting and surprising New York cinephiles for almost two decades. Run by a hardworking team, including co-directors of programming, Emily Apter and Inney Prakash, the centre has had an undeniable impact upon both the local community and visitors from further afield. Both Apter and Prakash curate and select exemplary documentaries to share with their audiences, screening an eclectic and varied mix of works from all across the globe. To continue the conversation sparked in this month’s response feature, we invited the pair to share their personal documentary favourites – a selection which runs the gamut of genre-defining and eye-opening, exploring subjects as varied as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit and gleaners in rural France, with much more in between. 


01_Attica [Cinda Firestone, 1974]

A favourite visual document of organised rebellion as it draws attention to the fact that it is only through the Attica Brothers’ organisational work that press, photographers, activists, legal observers, filmmakers [and, subsequently, us as viewers] were able to witness the inside conditions that prisoners were rebelling against during one of the largest U.S. prison riots ever. This raises essential questions around the political utility of filmmaking and the concealment of carceral violence from the public eye.


02_The Gleaners and I [Agnes Varda, 2000] 

A gleaner [“la glaneuse,” in the French] is someone who slowly, methodically gathers small pieces; someone who collects [and possibly puts use to] the crops or produce left behind after a harvest. This is a film that is full of gleaning, observing, extracting, tending, toiling and making. This is her project: to film one hand with the other hand and consider how things are made, how they are kept and how they are discarded.


03_Videograms of a Revolution [Andrei Ujică, Harun Farocki, 1992]

The 1989 ousting of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu prompted some of the most hilarious, absurd and profound meditations on the nature of image-making, language and revolution. For this reason, we’ve become die-hard lovers of Romanian cinema – and ‘Videograms’ is a film of cinematic splendour.


04_Mi Aporte [Sarah Gomez, 1969]

The overdue restoration of Gomez’s shorts was occasioned by a cinema visit from the Vulnerable Media Lab’s Susan Lord, who also co-edited ‘The Cinema of Sara Gómez,’ an essential volume. ‘Mi Aporte’ is one of our favourites and features an extraordinary scene of Gómez soliciting feedback from her subjects.


05_Born in Flames [Lizzie Borden, 1983]

‘Born in Flames’ was the first film I [Emily] ever programmed at Maysles, and was a rare instance in which we had grant money to fly a filmmaker out to NYC. Spending an evening with the inimitable Lizzie Borden is a memory I deeply cherish. The film is a razor-sharp satire/ drama/ hybrid documentary about grassroots rebellion and the enduring and adaptable forces of oppression – fittingly soundtracked on the night of screening to chants of “Fuck the Police!” from the sidewalks of Harlem, heard from within our [not at all soundproofed] cinema walls. Lizzie encouraged audience members to go join the FTP action as soon as the screening ended. 


06_Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One [William Greaves, 1968] 

We love William Greaves. Perhaps the essential self-deconstructing, or self-destructing, work of cinema, ‘Symbiopsychotaxiplasm’ appears to feature Greaves’s crew revolting against him, and underscores the scepticism we maintain about the documentary form. 


07_Meet Marlon Brando [Albert and David Maysles, 1966]

When we decided to screen this with a 16mm print of Julius Caesar, a woman called to introduce herself as Marlon’s niece and joined us for an introduction. Preceding the Maysles brothers’ incredible, charming portrait of the method actor at his finest, the crowd was captivated by zany stories of her favourite uncle, adding a human element to the event. 


08_Finally Got the News [Stewart Bird, Rene Lichtman, Peter Gessner; Produced in Association with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, 1970]

An incendiary and uniquely-made documentary about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a radical union of largely Black Detroit based auto workers whose agenda was rooted in principles of Black Liberation and Marxism. One of the most incredible and under-taught slivers of American history – could not recommend this film more.


09_Last Angel of History [John Akomfrah, 1996]

John Akomfrah and The Black Audio Film Collective redefined cinema with radical, political, theory-driven energy. ‘Last Angel of History’ features a character called The Data Thief mining through the remnants of Black culture at some point in the future, a framing device which incorporates interviews with Black artists, theorists and visionaries. It’s an essential work of “Afrofuturism” and we included it in a series focused on speculative documentaries.


10_still/here [Christoper Harris, 2000]

Subverting the tradition of the “city symphony,” Harris crafts a masterful portrait of St. Louis’s urban blight, brought back to life by the echo of lingering energy. One of our shared favourite movies of all time.

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