Muted melodies of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain album fade inside Gallery 992. Andy Ditzler approaches the stage with anticipation. He introduces the monthly Film Love screenings. A full room awaits documentary films by British filmmaker, painter and writer Horace Ové.
American writer James Baldwin illuminates the screen in conversation with activist and comedian Dick Gregory. Baldwin is a persona recently brought back into the spotlight with the release of the critically acclaimed movie I Am Not Your Negro (2016). Black-and-white live-action footage captures students, activists and community members in the West Indian Student Centre of London. Baldwin’s N***** (1969) provides a window into the dynamic dialogue addressing the Black Power movement. Baldwin voices a critical analysis of his experiences as a black American man, responding to questions of language and the role of the white liberal.
The next film presents a different tone within London’s urban landscape. Reggae (1971) records a raw encounter of musicians Pyramids, the Pioneers, Millie Small, the Maytals and Desmond Dekker performing at Wembley Stadium in 1970.
What started as an exposé on the Beat generation taking place at Eyedrum has evolved into an expanding archive of text surveying film as an artistic medium. Film Love is one ongoing creative project among many for Ditzler.
Film Love began in 2003 showing carefully curated films for a public audience. To date, 145 screenings have taken place in venues throughout Atlanta. Each event incorporates an informed summary of the selected film(s) as an introduction and concludes with an engaging discussion integral to the communal viewing experience. In a conversation with ArtsATL, Ditzler delves into how this format enriches a contemporary cultural climate.
ArtsATL: Accessibility is a key component to the mission of Film Love. Can you expand on how this has shaped dialogue around individual films as well as Atlanta’s cultural landscape at large?
Andy Ditzler: The film screening, as a form, is giving way to more individualized viewing experiences [phones, handheld screens, Netflix at home]. I’m interested in helping preserve the communal experience. We discuss the films and, for me, this is fully part of the event — the audience is a group of people together in this room for this moment and this is our opportunity to talk with each other.
I often show current work, but it’s just as important to me to show historical work, which isn’t done as often. I don’t show these films out of a sense of historical importance but as something new to us — as something we are seeing in the present moment.
Ditzler: John Q began with the project Memory Flash that took archival documents and stories about 1960s queer life in Atlanta and reactivated those events in the public spaces where they had happened. We thought of this as a kind of queer memorial — instead of something object-based, like a sculpture, it was an ephemeral event intended to create new memories among attendees. Queer people have a peculiar relationship to the archive — the stories and materials are coded, hidden or nonexistent. And so we have a peculiar relationship to history. So more than a project about gay history, Memory Flash revealed to us that queerness can actually change something about the archive. And that extends out. We’ve talked about “queer” as a method for projects as much as queer in the usual sense of identity.
For me, there’s some overlap here with curation and the moving image. I think of film less as a preserved object telling a fixed story than as an opportunity for the ephemeral and communal experience of projected light. This leads to many different kinds of projection experiences in different kinds of venues.
[And] it suggests that a curated film screening doesn’t have to be a fixed, rigid event that one presents at the end of a process, as a kind of product. The screening could be the middle of the research process, rather than the end of it, which I find interesting.