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Performance and Roundtable on William Greaves' Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1971)

Actors, film scholars, and critical race theorists examine the significance of this landmark film on the National Film Registry in this hybrid event to celebrate the publication of WILLIAM GREAVES: FILMMAKING AS MISSION, coedited by Jacqueline Stewart and Scott MacDonald

Presenters and Performers

Marc Gomes, actor and writer, Ithaca College

Joan Hawkins, film scholar, Indiana University (on Zoom)

Cynthia Henderson, actor and director, Ithaca College

Paula Ioanide, race and ethnicity scholar, Ithaca College

Andrew Utterson, film scholar, Ithaca College and moderator

This event features two parts, a live performance of some of William Greaves writing on film, followed by an interactive roundtable discussion examining the aesthetic, historical, and political significance of this landmark film.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take Two: Available on FLEFF"s Virtual Cinema Platform via Cinemapolis for this week only!

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Filmmaker William Greaves shooting Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1971).  

Over the course of fifty-two years, William Greaves created an immense body of work that documented, reflected on, and celebrated the African American experience.

From 1953-2005, Greaves was the producer, writer, director, cinematographer and/or editor of seventy-nine films. Spanning documentary, narrative, and hybrid forms, the films tell a vast, complex story about the major figures engaged in the fight for social justice, equal opportunity, and basic respect.

Cinéma vérité reaches a new level  in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1971, 75 mins.), a film-within-a-film in which director William Greaves dares to break the accepted rules of cinema.

It’s 1968: Greaves and his crew are in New York’s Central Park ostensibly filming a screen test.

The drama involves a bitter break-up between a married couple. But this is just the cover story.

The real story is happening off camera as the enigmatic director pursues his hidden agenda. The growing conflict, chaos, and uproarious humor explodes on screen, producing the energy the director is searching for.

Greaves uses multiple cameras, mixes cinéma vérité and conventional shooting styles, and experiments with techniques such as simultaneous split-screen images.

The result: a film with multiple levels that reveal and comment upon the creative process.

Greaves compares the making of “Symbio” to jumping off a cliff without a parachute.

WIlliam Greaves: Filmmaking as Mission

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William Greaves is one of the most significant and compelling American filmmakers of the past century.

Best known for his Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, Greaves was an influential independent documentary filmmaker who produced, directed, shot, and edited seventy-nine films on a variety of social issues and on key African American figures ranging from Muhammad Ali to Ralph Bunche to Ida B. Wells.

His career also included stints as a songwriter, a member of the Actors Studio, and, during the late 1960s, a producer and cohost of Black Journal, the first national television show focused on African American culture and politics.

William Greaves: Filmmaking as Mission provides the first comprehensive overview of Greaves’s remarkable career. It brings together a mix of incisive essays from critics and scholars, Greaves’s own writings, an extensive meta-interview with Greaves, conversations with his wife and collaborator Louise Archambault Greaves and his son David, and a critical dossier on Symbiopsychotaxiplasm.

Together, they illuminate Greaves’s mission to use filmmaking as a tool for transforming the ways African Americans were perceived by others and the ways they saw themselves.

This landmark book is an essential resource on Greaves’s work and his influence on independent cinema and African-American culture. Order the book here.

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