Welcome from the codirectors of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Thomas Shevory and Patricia Zimmermann
To splice the sensual into the environmental may, at first, provoke puzzlement: a disturbing contradiction, an oxymoron, a mash-up of different logical orders, scrambled code.
The 2008 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival explores the multiple zones for environmental sensualities. The festival invites our audiences to engage with each other in an active reimagination of the very definition of the term environment by interacting with featured guests, special programs, film, video, art, music, writing, and digital media.
External forces can sweep through the natural world—storms, rain, wind, sunshine, fire, floods, earthquakes, cold, heat. External forces also travel through less empirical and more intangible planes—ideas, concepts, ideologies, social relations, politics, repression, resistance. The popular imaginary stifles the term environment with a reductionist vision, marking nature as remote, ineffable, overpowering. This same popular imaginary amputates the sensual from its more collective and emancipatory forms, shrinking it down to individualistic pleasure channeled into consumption. A public commons of any sort in this episteme seems inaccessible, incomprehensible, impossible.
A divide surfaces. On one side, nature is figured as transcendent and immutable, beyond the body. On the other side, the sensual is marginalized as chaotic and dangerous, within the body, insignificant, invisible.
Environmental sensualities imagine locations differently, as composed with many intersecting layers of tactility, aurality, taste, visuality. Environmental sensualities work the spaces between these limiting binaries, insisting on interaction to enact and embody change. Environmental sensualities posit a notion of location that constantly moves. Location is always relational, often material, and resolutely collaborative. Environmental sensualities envision locations beyond and within the body.
On the evening of Wednesday, April 2, our free festival concert in Ford Hall with Argentine bandoneón virtuoso and composer Daniel Binelli, performing in quartet with Pablo Cohen, Steve Mauk, and Nicholas Walker, will traverse the counterpoint imbedded in tango. Emerging from Argentine popular culture, tango mobilizes sensualities with intricate musical forms dependent on collaborations between musicians and their responsive audiences.
Environments, then, constitute in-between zones where we actively manipulate, engage with, and negotiate external forces. Environments are not static. They are not places outside of human interaction and collective action. They are not essences. They are not objects or even places with definitive borders. For example, contemporary media arts are migrating away from the discrete, fixed object and artifact (a film, a video) into the creation of mutable environments: ambient media on plasma screens, locative media, live performances with archival film, user-generated content, radical robotics, iterative digital arts—and post-screening film discussions. These interstitial zones between the sensual and the environmental are urgent and critical.
In the liminal zones between bodies as active, sensing agents and the environment and the natural world as complex systems in flux, openings emerge. These pathways invent new aesthetic, social, biological, and political spaces through seeing, hearing, touching, tasting. Rather than hierarchies, environmental sensualities suggest networks, layers, clusters—horizontal, continually forming and reforming relationships.
We need to reconsider environments as locations and as provisional nodal points. Environments need to be reframed as systems comprising incessant interactions, changes, fluidities, movements, transversals. Environments may exist, but they can also be produced. Environments are only sustainable if they are heterogeneous, multiple, complex—and sensual.
The 2008 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival invites a journey into the various ways in which the sensual connects with the environmental through our four programming streams—camouflage, counterpoint, games, and gastronomica. Camouflage plays with seeing. Counterpoint implies layers imbedded in sonic environments. Games entail touching. Gastonomica probes the question of taste. All of these programming streams consider how the senses operate within larger social, political, aesthetic, and biological matrices. The FLEFF 2008 specially commissioned live music and silent film events offer a speculative—rather than definitive—opening into each programming stream.
Our free opening-night event in the Hockett Family Recital Hall on Monday, March 31, West Side Story Counterpoint, celebrates the 50th anniversary of this landmark American musical. This special FLEFF commission twists West Side Story with counterpoint, focusing on the innovative music rather than the story line. West Side Story Counterpoint features the symphonic score from Leonard Bernstein’s breakthrough musical West Side Story performed by pianists Jairo Geronymo and Deborah Martin, soprano Deborah Lifton, baritone Brad Hougham, and a specially commissioned multimedia projection produced by Ann Michel and Phil Wilde. A collaboration with the Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian Institution, this live music and archival film event engages counterpoint as musical and visual layerings, examining migration and immigration through sound.
On Friday, April 4, downtown at Cinemapolis Theater, It, a 1927 silent narrative film starring the inimitable Clara Bow, showcases camouflage as the intersection between representation and actuality. The live jazz score, performed by Fe Nunn and Friends with spoken word performance by actress Cynthia Henderson, poses the question of how to understand camouflage as mobile layers of identities, genders, sexualities, histories, and desires.
On Saturday, April 5, downtown at Cinemapolis, FLEFF celebrates the 80th anniversary of Steamboat Bill Jr., a 1928 silent film starring Buster Keaton. The film reengineers how we consider games as locales for touch. Keaton plays with and manipulates mise en scene while on a riverboat traveling down the Mississippi River. Keaton is an acrobatic agent traversing between physical spaces and imagined geographies, between land and water, between order and chaos. The Common Railers, an Ithaca-based band specializing in Americana music, situates live music as an interactive game with the film.
Sunday evening, April 6, the festival closes downtown at Cinemapolis with Grass, the 1925 silent film documentary about the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe in Iran, herding goats and sheep over a snowed-in mountain pass to find grazing lands and avoid starvation. An improvisational score by electric cellist Chris White, winds and percussionist Peter Dodge, and guitarist Robby Aceto crafts a zone from which to contemplate biodiversity, the food chain, and the gastronomic.
The 2008 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival seeks to explore the myriad zones for environmental sensualities. It proposes engagement with multiple forms of media, screens, arts, music, writing, ideas, featured guests as both environments and sensualities.
Our hope is that the FLEFF 2008 disturbances and debates can relocate us all into a new kind of interstitial zone. In this imaginary zone of camouflage, counterpoint, games, and gastronomica, the environmental, the sensual, and the collective just might present the possibility of joining together to build an energized and contentious public commons.