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Interview: Kevin Jerome Everson - Contemporary American Artist and 'Black Filmmaker'

Shadow and Act By Terri Francis | Shadow and Act January 21, 2014 at 5:29PM

A Kevin Everson film combines archival, scripted, reenacted, and documentary elements for a look and feel that is sophisticated and no-nonsense like the artist himself. He’s made over 100 films and still cookin. Last year the Alpert Foundation and the California Institute of the Arts recognized his unique artistic vision with a 2012 Cal Arts/Alpert Award, an honor that has been held by such luminaries as Carrie Mae Weems, Kerry James Marshall and Suzan-Lori Parks. 
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Rehearsal still from Rita Larson's Boy (2012); pictured is Robert T. Stewart, who also appears as Lo-Boy in Early Riser (Cotton Comes to Harlem). Rita Larson’s Boy is part of The Tombigbee Chronicles Number Two: three short shorts based on famous people and objects from Columbus, Mississippi, the hometown of the filmmaker’s parents. Tombigbee is the river that runs through Columbus. Photo: KJE
Rehearsal still from Rita Larson's Boy (2012); pictured is Robert T. Stewart, who also appears as Lo-Boy in Early Riser (Cotton Comes to Harlem). Rita Larson’s Boy is part of The Tombigbee Chronicles Number Two: three short shorts based on famous people and objects from Columbus, Mississippi, the hometown of the filmmaker’s parents. Tombigbee is the river that runs through Columbus. Photo: KJE

Terri: I saw your film Rita Larson’s Boy at the NY film festival this year and it seemed to play with black male performance. I really enjoyed that.

Kevin: Those guys were great. It only took us an hour and a half to do that. It was funny that I was getting all these emails about how experimental films are all the same way but this was a breath of fresh air. Which is odd because I saw it as the same as my other films.

Terri: How did this film come about?

Kevin: For years I was trying to find the audition tape of Nathaniel Taylor –he’s from Columbus, Mississippi. I had been trying to find him and his audition tapes for ten, eight, nine years, so I just said forget it and I’ll just film an audition tape or an audition film. So I just picked an episode of Sanford and Son and it happened to be one where they end up walking into a gay bar. The Rollo Larson character was pretty liberal. He was like c’mon man it’s a new experience.

Terri: I watched it with my friend who is also an experimental filmmaker – Ina Archer?

Kevin: – Oh, she’s awesome!

Terri: She’s going to be artist in residence at Headlands.

Kevin: She’s no joke! We were on a panel together in Portland and she rocked that shit.

Terri: We had so much fun and at a certain point we both started recognizing the lines—wait a minute, that’s Sanford and Son! We could not stop laughing.

Kevin: Yeah I think it’s funny too. I like that guy at the end. He showed up a little late and was kind of drunk but…

Terri: Were those guys actors?

Kevin: Yeah, they’re all actors.

Terri: And you gave them a script?

Kevin: Yeah I gave them the script and I told some to remember it. And I told some of them to read it. They were sweet. It was cool.

Terri: Now that I’m thinking about it, and I hope you’ll think of this in a positive way, it reminds me of that scene in She’s Gotta Have It where these guys are talking to the screen.

Kevin: Oh, “I’ll drink a tub of your bathwater?”

Terri: Yeah, the men-are-dogs sequence. I guess what I’m excited about is I never see anything funny at the NYFF Views from the Avant-Garde.

Kevin: It’s like a funeral up in that muthafucka!

Terri: And we’re always talking about the death of film.

Kevin: Yeah, the audience is mourning every time they walk in there.

Terri: Mourning as acting like serious intellectuals.

Kevin: I’ve never been but I know New Yorkers don’t mess around.

Kevin: I think people get freaked out when they see black people on screen. Sometimes they get freaked out.

Terri: What do you think that’s about? What’s going on?

Kevin: Well, I remember one time I showed Erie in New York and this guy was like well, I feel alienated. I said brah, I can’t help you. What do you want to me to do? (Terri and Kevin laugh.) I don’t know where you live at – Brooklyn, Queens, and you come here and you feel all alienated. It’s Anthology Archives. You see foreign films all the time. I’m sure you know every Ingmar Bergman film known to man, right? What’s that gotta do with this but you know, whatever. Move on, jack.

I get that a lot. I either get that or like this cat in California that said I know black folks now. Man, I’m damn near 50 years old now and I don’t know black people. If you can sit here for 80 minutes and know black people you must be one smart muthafucka. (more laughter) I’m just astonished!

What are you going to do with that? James Benning doesn’t get that kind of shit.

I’m fully strapped for that anyway though. I’ve got the full clip. I know what’s happening. Every now and then there’s good Q&As but I get bored with the same shit.

Terri: You get the same kinds of questions.

Kevin: The one thing that really influenced me—I went to CAA [College Art Association]– this is when I was in grad school. The last day I ended up, accidentally, bumped into a couple of black people on this panel. On this panel was Arthur Jafa, Armond White, Isaac Julien, Cameron Bailey, and some white woman.

Terri: Your people!

Kevin: I did not know these people at all. I was young. Might have been 25 – I had heard of Isaac Julien though with the Langston Hughes thing [Looking for Langston, 1989]. Those guys -- I remember no matter how dumb that question was they gave it a better answer than it deserved. That’s my strategy.

Terri: You mention Julien--

Kevin: He’s got a joint at Sundance – the Stuart Hall film?

Terri: That’s John Akomfrah. Julien might be in it? What I was thinking was you guys all use historical footage.

Kevin: Yeah they use found footage. But they use it in essays.

Terri: How do you use it differently?

Kevin: I am looking for form, I’m looking for performance, and how it was made. I’m looking at not necessarily what it says. I see it as an audition tape. The performance. But those guys are serious essayists. Which is cool. I like that we’re all doing different things.

Kevin Jerome Everson works in film, painting, sculpture, and photography. Photo credit: Pamela Pecchio.
Kevin Jerome Everson works in film, painting, sculpture, and photography. Photo credit: Pamela Pecchio.
Pictures From Dorothy(2003) is a 35mm film relating to the Wizard of Oz. (16mm blown up to 35mm, mini DV, 5:30, color, black and white); Courtesy of the artist; Trilobite-Arts-DAC and Picture Palace Pictures.
Pictures From Dorothy(2003) is a 35mm film relating to the Wizard of Oz. (16mm blown up to 35mm, mini DV, 5:30, color, black and white); Courtesy of the artist; Trilobite-Arts-DAC and Picture Palace Pictures.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Pictures from Dorothy is available on the Fandor site, as part of the Cinemad Almanac - http://www.fandor.com/films/pictures_from_dorothy

For institutional and educational purpose, Video Data Bank has Broad Daylight and Other Times: Selected Works by Kevin Jerome Everson, a 3 DVD boxed set of Cinnamon and 23 shorts. It features a catalog with essays by Emmanuel Burdeau (France) Michael Gillespie (U.S.), Katrin Mundt (Germany), Monica McTighe (U.S.) - http://www.vdb.org/titles/broad-daylight-and-other-times-selected-works-kevin-jerome-everson

For information regarding exhibition or acquisition of the films: Picture Palace Pictures - picturepalacesale@yahoo.com

Upcoming screenings include:

The Island of St. Matthews in competition at Festival Punto de Vista, Pamplona Spain, Feb 19-24, 2013 - http://www.puntodevistafestival.com/es/ficha_pelicula.asp?IdPeli=277

Los Angeles:

RedCat, Los Angeles, March 9, 2013

http://www.redcat.org/event/kevin-jerome-everson-0

Film Forum (at the Egyptian Theater) Los Angeles, March 17, 2013

Century is an installation at the Flint Institute of the Arts for the month of Feb. 2013

http://www.flintarts.org/exhibitions/video.html

Century will screen at:

True/False Film Festival, Feb. 28-March 3, 2013

Bradford International Film Festival, April 11-21, 2013

Act One: Betty and the Candle will screen as part of the film programme curated by Apichatpong Weerkethsekul, Steve Anker, et al at the Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates, March-May 2013

http://www.sharjahart.org/biennial/sharjah-biennial-11/information/film-programme

Terri Francis is a professor at Yale University.


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