The 2017 STRANGE TRUTH film series revives a rare pairing

3 minute read
Shirley Clarke's 1967 'Portrait of Jason' will screen at Bryn Mawr on March 15.
Shirley Clarke's 1967 'Portrait of Jason' will screen at Bryn Mawr on March 15.

The STRANGE TRUTH documentary film series returns, organized by Haverford College faculty and filmmakers Vicky Funari and John Muse. It kicks off at 7pm on Wednesday, March 15, at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, with the acclaimed (and controversial) Portrait of Jason (1967) by Shirley Clarke. A week later, Stephen Winter’s fictional film about the making of Clarke’s film, Jason and Shirley (2015), will screen at 7pm, introduced by Winter. The opportunity to see either film is rare; to see them paired is not to be missed.

Portrait of Jason

Filmed over a 12-hour period in 1966 in the Chelsea Hotel in New York, Portrait of Jason is ostensibly just that: an interview with Jason Holliday, a middle aged black, gay man and self-described hustler. But Jason, and filmmaker Clarke, were up to something more complicated. An NPR review indicates why Portrait of Jason is a perfect choice for the STRANGE TRUTH series:

“You see, beyond its astonishingly intimate look at one man, Clarke's movie gets you thinking about essential issues that most nonfiction naively or cynically ignores. It raises profound questions about the nature of the self, about the relationship between fiction and reality, and about the way that film doesn't simply record raw truth but shapes it into something reflecting the filmmaker's vision of life.”

The final film, edited to 1 hour and 45 minutes, was released in 1967, largely forgotten, then restored by Milestone Films and rereleased in 2013 as part of the Berlin Film Festival.

Philadelphia filmmaker Sosena Solomon will introduce the film.

Jason and Shirley

Winter’s Jason and Shirley, which tells the story of the making of Clarke’s film, turns the focus onto Clarke herself: a Jewish woman in a world of mainly white, male filmmakers. Winter, a black, Jewish, gay filmmaker, explores the impact of her film on his own development as well as offering an homage to Clarke, who is best known for her 1962 Oscar-winning documentary Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel With the World, and two fictional films: 1960’s The Connection and 1963’s The Cool World. In an interview with Filmmaker magazine, Winter explains:

“What’s wonderful and amazing about Shirley Clarke is, first of all, that she existed: an avant-garde woman filmmaker in the sixties who dealt with outsider subjects, specifically — almost exclusively — black men, at a time when no other filmmaker, avant-garde or otherwise, was focusing on them with such intensity.”

Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel

Completing the STRANGE TRUTH series, Portuguese director Joaquim Pinto will screen and discuss two remarkable documentary films: 2013’s E Agora? Lembra-me (What Now? Remind Me), recounting his yearlong treatment for HIV, and 2015’s Rabo de Peixe (Fish Tail), codirected with his husband Nuno Leonel, about their extended stay in a fishing village on an island in the Azores. E Agora screens on Wednesday, March 29, at 7pm at Bryn Mawr; and Rabo de Peixe is coming up on Thursday, March 30, at 7pm at Haverford College’s Sharpless Auditorium.

On the surface, these are beautifully filmed stories of one man’s health and one village’s way of life, but they also probe the boundary between fiction and documentary and ruminate on the meaning of life. (A third film by Pinto and Leonel on the New Testament’s Book of John, outside the series but extending those existential concerns, will screen at International House on March 28.)

Harlow Figa and Sarah Moses, both Emerging Artists in Residence at the Haverford College Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities, will moderate the first Joaquim Pinto discussion.

The 2017 STRANGE TRUTH film series, hosted by Haverford College and Bryn Mawr Film Institute, runs March 15 through 30. All screenings are open to the public. The screening at Haverford is free for all, and the Bryn Mawr screenings are free for all students, staff, and faculty of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges. Visit online for the full lineup and more info.

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