Interview: Experimental Response Cinema on Nov 8’s “Ghosts of Lost Futures”

(Still from Tramaine Townsend’s FRAMES., part of Ghosts of Lost Futures)

On November 8, AFS and Austin-based Experimental Response Cinema reunite to present Ghosts of Lost Futures—a look at what happens to history when it goes into an archive and comes out the other side, fifty years later.

This special program features new video works by 10 artists commissioned by the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, housed at Southern Methodist University. It was intended to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the archive’s founding in 1970, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, it was not completed until Spring 2021. The artists were given access to the same cache of footage from the WFAA Newsfilm Collection shot in Dallas and complete freedom in how they re-interpreted the footage. The resulting works are profound meditations on mourning, melancholy, disaster, and various reinterpretations of the events of 2020 and 2021 through images of Dallas’ past.

Ahead of the event, AFS spoke with the Experimental Response Cinema team—Jennifer Stob, Liz Rodda, and Ana Trevino—and project curator Mike Morris to find out more.

Ghost of Lost Futures takes place Monday, November 8, 7PM at the AFS Cinema. Get tickets.

Tell us a little about Experimental Response Cinema.

Experimental Response Cinema was launched in February 2012 by Caroline Koebel, Ekrem Serdar, Scott Stark, and Rachel Stuckey. This team quickly established ERCATX as one of the most important venues for moving image art in Central Texas. Past programmers include Nayantara Bhattacharya, Phil Fagan, and Jarrett Hayman. Our current programming team is Liz Rodda, Jennifer Stob, and Ana Trevino.

As an itinerant microcinema, we hold screenings at locations generously provided by a variety of partner organizations. We love being hosted by AFS and are so proud of our past collaborations! Together we brought amazing programs to life featuring artists like Peggy Ahwesh, Chantal Akerman, and Stan Brakhage.

ERCATX screens rare and precious experimental film in all formats: 35mm, 16mm, analog video, digital video and more. Our shows are always uncommon, infrequent, intimate, and worth it! We mix activism and art, we share our platform with guest curators, we welcome internationally-renowned filmmakers, and we organize local showcases to uplift artists in our own community.—Jennifer Stob, co-programmer

Where did the idea for this particular project come from? Why this archive as subject/source material?

This project was originally conceived by archivists Jeremy Spracklen and Scott Martin of the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection. Jeremy and Scott have been eager to put this collection in the hands of artists and filmmakers as a way of providing access to the rich history of Dallas, as told through the local journalism of the WFAA television station’s reporting.

The makeup of the collection is fascinating in that it consists of raw 16mm footage that was shot by reporters at WFAA, used for a single broadcast, and then set aside before arriving at the Jones archive. That is to say, we don’t know what parts of this material ever made it onto television and what didn’t, but the films are well preserved and have been digitized by the archive in-house and they document many interesting (and sometimes baffling) moments in the city’s history.

My job was to select 10 artists who would all be given the same cache of footage to work from, without any restrictions. The program yields charged juxtapositions of the past with the COVID shutdows of 2020, the outpouring of rage during the George Floyd rebellions, and the over-mediated anxiety of the end of the Trump administration. Even so, some of the videos included in the program are also deeply personal, formally experimental, and think deeply about different forms of mediation. Mike Morris, curator

How was this presented to the filmmakers/artists?

I tried to select those that either had a history of using found footage in their work, or some who didn’t that I thought might be interestingly challenged by a project of this nature. I presented it as an opportunity to work with this rich material in an unrestricted way, with total freedom of how to treat the history depicted in the footage–whether to make use of the historical narrative it is attached to as part of the raw material, or to ignore it completely and create their own interpretations.

I knew that what resulted would be a totally new re-making of that history in either case. Some artists had connection to the region and some were from far away, having spent little or no time in Dallas. Mike Morris, curator

Did the title ‘Ghosts of Lost Futures’ emerge before the project or after?

I came to the title ‘Ghosts of Lost Futures’ as the new videos were starting to come together. I’ve been thinking about/with archives in my own work for some time, but at that moment I’d been reading Mark Fisher’s interpretation of Derrida’s concept of ‘hauntology’, or the notion that the past haunts the present in a number of ways. The concept comes from Derrida’s mourning of the desire for radical change in the postmodern period.

Fisher uses this concept in a similarly melancholic way, lamenting that we seem to be stuck in a period of perpetual recycling that forecloses the notion of a future that could be better than the present. He writes of the necessity to dream beyond this end of history. The works in the program feel, to me at least, haunted with the need for change in our current realities.Mike Morris, curator



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