Patricia Zimmermann

Patricia Zimmermann

Professor, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies
Faculty, Culture and Communication
Faculty, Cinema and Photography
Faculty, Documentary Studies and Production

Flaherty Stories

Flaherty Stories

Voices from the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar

Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 9:27PM   |  Add a comment

I don’t recall who saw it, but my first film Woo Who? May Wilson [1970] was selected for the 1970 Flaherty Film Seminar. I finished it in 1969; it was my New York University MFA thesis. Thrilled to find out about the seminar, I was honored to be invited. 

That first seminar was a revelation. I met filmmaking peers and important people in the non-theatrical New York film world. I was taken seriously as a filmmaker.

The seminar gave me confidence to keep on making films. Edith Zornow, a Flaherty programmer [1965, 1967], was there. She selected my film for the 1970 New York Film Festival, a huge career boost.

Between 1970 and 1981, I attended nearly every seminar, either as an invited filmmaker (1970, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1981) or a participant. I missed 1980 due to the final editing on my Willard Van Dyke film, Conversations with Willard Van Dyke [1981], screened the following year.

During those years, the Flaherty was the single most important event for me; it opened me to creative possibilities. The contacts I made and the seminar’s open forum for impassioned argument invigorated, empowered, and fed my soul. I began advocating for others to attend “summer camp for filmmakers.”

The 1970s were amazing years for independent social-change filmmaking. Documentaries chronicled Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the developing Women’s Movement. For the first time, both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, both established in 1967, awarded grants supporting all kinds of filmmakers. The newly-formed American Film Institute also dispensed grants. These institutions were recognizing young producer/directors, especially people of color and women.

The 1971 seminar was transformative. It gave birth to New Day Films and the First International Festival of Women’s Films, held in New York City in 1972. That summer, I was producing It Happens to Us [1971] with an all-woman crew. My sound person, Angie Parnicky, had gone to college with Julia Reichert and Jim Klein. She told them about my film and told me to see their Growing Up Female [1971]—and that year Julia and Jim were seminar guests.

Willard Van Dyke programmed excellent political films: Millhouse: A White Comedy [1971] by Emile de Antonio, The Selling of the Pentagon [1971] by Peter Davis, The Murder of Fred Hampton [1971] by Mike Gray and Howard Alk, Sad Song of Yellow Skin [1970] by Michael Rubbo, One P.M. [1971] by D.A. Pennebaker and Jean-Luc Godard, and Interviews with My Lai Veterans [1971] by Joseph Strick.

Eight women directors presented films. These included The Woman’s Film [1971] by Judy Smith, Louise Alaimo, Ellen Sorrin, Mosori Monika [1970] by Chick Strand, Wanda [1970] by Barbara Loden, Julia and Jim’s Growing Up Female: As Six Become One [1971], and my own almost-never-seen The Center [1970]. The heated discussions around the women’s films led a group of women to gather for a breakfast meeting where, among other things, we organized the screening committee for the 1972 First Women’s International Film Festival.

After the seminar, Julia and Jim came to New York City. They moved in with my boyfriend (later my first husband) and me for five months. That fall Julia and I served on the screening committee for the Women’s Film Festival, which met in my loft.

That’s where we both saw Liane Brandon’s Anything You Want to Be [1971]. Julia and Jim had already started distributing Growing Up Female themselves. We joined forces. We felt that if you believed in your film, the other half of your job was to get people to see it. Julia went to Boston to convince Liane to join us to form New Day Films. While living with us, Julia shared with me that she had had an abortion. I filmed her story, which ended up in my film It Happens to Us, shown at the 1972 seminar.

At the 1976 seminar Susan Seidelman showed her fictional short And You Act Like One Too [1976], about an unfaithful wife and a hitchhiker. During the discussion Willard Van Dyke lobbed a negative comment. I disagreed completely, taking great umbrage. I raised my hand, stood up, and refuted him in what I hoped was an even-handed yet forceful way. I stopped short of calling him a chauvinist pig.

I was nervous. No one ever stood up to Willard. Later, he told me my comments made him think about his knee-jerk reaction. He admitted I was right and he was wrong. Although I didn’t realize it then, that exchange marked the beginning of his respect for me, and it led me to direct his biography, Conversations with Willard Van Dyke, which I began shooting in 1977.

Between 1975 and 1980, I served on the board of International Film Seminars (IFS) [the name on the original Flaherty charter]. In 1976 I prompted IFS to collaborate with the Educational Film Library Association (EFLA), headed by longtime Flahertyite Nadine Covert, and the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF), of which I was a founding board member. Drawing on our pioneering experiences with New Day Films, we organized the first conference on independent film distribution. Afterwards, through AIVF, we published the first self-distribution guide.

For me, the Flaherty’s greatest achievement is being a forum for filmmakers and professional film users to come together. It makes room for the debate and ferment that ignite critical thinking. At Flaherty, I met lifelong friends and mentors. Without it, I never would have entered the orbits of Nadine Covert, John Katz, Austin Lamont, Grant Munro, William Sloan, Willard Van Dyke, Barbara Van Dyke, and Sol Worth.

Without the affirmation and intellectual support from the people I met at the seminars, I’m not sure I would have continued on a social issue filmmaking path.  

Thanks to the seminar, New Day Films, a cooperative of 160+ social issue filmmakers, has flourished, now distributing nearly 400 titles. 


Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 11:43AM   |  Add a comment

1995 was a year of change. After living in New York for six years, where I’d found my niche, I was moving to Bangalore. I was in my twenties and still finding myself as an artist.

The small artists’ collectives in New York had been a strong influence. Originally I’d been a painter, but film, installation, video art, conceptual art, and critical theory had begun to influence me. I’d become comfortable in New York; Bangalore loomed as an unknown.

I had just exhibited a photographic installation, …Looks the Other Way [1993], which used my family’s nineteenth century photographs. Found images had seduced me. My family had lived in Bangalore; they had converted to Christianity. What role did photography and film play in the British Colonies?

Before I left for Bangalore, I applied to the Flaherty Seminar. The theme that year was “The Camera Reframed: Technology and Interpretation.” Marlina Gonzalez Tamrong and Bruce Jenkins programmed.

I arrived at Wells College in Aurora, NY, and ventured into the first event. Outside the auditorium perched a few computers, early versions of the Mac SE. They were running CD ROMs with films from Rick Prelinger’s archive. 

Rick had hired a pick-up truck to collect neglected industrial and advertising reels in small film formats. He invested his own money and time for numerous road trips across America (what a way to see your country!). He rented storage, digitized hundreds of hours of footage with primitive technology, and established an open source digital library. The images he made available spoke like oracles of personal and public pasts, the disintegrating histories of a media-dependent capitalist society, its workplaces and industries.

I was stunned. As I swam in the lake near the college, these reels played in my mind.    

Twenty-four years later, Rick’s work still profoundly reverberates. At the time it resonated with my American friends’ pioneering, spirited thinking about culture, and their confident creation of media paradigms outside universities, museums, galleries, and established exhibition venues. 

My own film work evolved from home movie reels I collected in Bangalore and other Indian cities between 2000-2008—inspired by Rick. My grandmother had lived in Bangalore, so it was a place of my childhood. My new neighborhood and the city beyond became a landscape to mine for films. Clutching my newborn son on my hip, I walked the streets and talked to aging Anglo Indians of the British Cantonment of Bangalore East. Their meandering, enchanting memories of the twentieth century unfolded like an opera.

The excitement of discovery filled my walks. I was a flâneur, a scavenger, and an archaeologist. It was a happy time where voices beckoned to me. Today, I quietly retreat into my own work, teaching, reading, living with animals and plants, and recycling home movies. But I remain thankful for those restless days of searching and discovery. 

My first film was Straight 8 [2005], a compilation of home movies by Tom D’aguiar, an Anglo Indian whose family had been in India since the early 19th century. He spoke with a clipped British accent, yet had never traveled outside India. Living among the British in the Cantonment deeply influenced his work for the newly instituted telegraph system and his amateur activities. By the 1930s he was making films. I replayed Tom’s deteriorating 8mm reels on my new Eumig projector, my best friend during long nights in my studio where I projected the films and re-shot them on MiniDv tape.

I’ve now made ten found footage films, and have material for more.

By the early 21st century, international information technology (IT) companies were favoring Bangalore. The city dissolved from a retirees’ haven with quiet evening walks and amateur passions in nature, film, cars, and books into an un-heavenly maze of flyovers, ring roads, and countless vehicles rushing to meet the demands of IT.

Tom’s films, and the interview I did with him, triggered my fascination with rewinding the past. His amateur moving images of lakes, forests, and agricultural land spreading throughout the city fascinated me. They delivered a sense of the calm that had preceded the wreckage of demolished old buildings and the new construction sites.

Out of this rubble, a new art scene was emerging in Bangalore. Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata were considered the “real cities.” Bangalore had been considered dull, a place for amateur activity, rather than professional life. After the 1990s, creative people outside the market culture and established institutions of the “real cities” began to move away from these urban centers. In their search for cheaper real estate, space, and community, they found Bangalore, still known for its liberal sensibilities, greenery, and gentleness.

Tom D’aguiar introduced me to Ram Gopal, a gay dancer born in Bangalore. Ram had contacted Tom years before because Tom had a movie camera and color film: “I’ve never seen myself in color—please film me.” Exquisite despite the crackled emulsion, the amateur footage shows a dancer performing on the rooftop of an old house in the cantonment in the late 1930’s. A serendipitous find.

One evening during the 1995 seminar, the Flaherty served dinner on the lawn. I met Monica Flaherty, who had screened a new print of Moana [1926]. Later I talked to her nephew, an interesting young filmmaker named Sami. When he learned I was moving to Bangalore, he shared that his father lived close by, in Mysore.

Sami told me that Robert and Frances Flaherty’s oldest daughter Barbara had married Botha van Ingen, whose family had emigrated from Holland to Ceylon to India. He owned a tea and coffee estate, and was a well-known taxidermist [the van Ingen brothers, Dewet, Kruger, Botha and Joubert and their company, van Ingen & van Ingen, were known throughout the world for their tiger and leopard head mounts and rugs]. Sami’s grandfather, Botha, a difficult personality, had a collection of glass negatives Sami had tried to procure.

Years later, when I had extended my search for amateur footage to Mysore and beyond, I finally met Sami’s father, Michael van Ingen, living in his rambling old home. Although at the time he had only a very few photographs and films, he shared that photography and filmmaking had been important activities for this family of taxidermists and for Barbara and Botha.

I was amazed that Robert Flaherty’s daughter had married a van Ingen decades earlier in Mysore. Barbara van Ingen was prominent in the elite circles of Mysore and Bangalore. As I hunted for small format films and their hidden histories, I discovered that many remembered her.


Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 11:05AM   |  Add a comment
John bruce

Strong opposition to and support for including Dominic Gagnon’s film of the North [2015] at the 2017 Flaherty seminar were voiced from outside and inside the organization. This caused questions to surface around the organization’s clarity about and stewardship of the core values that support its mission. The members of Board of Trustees had found themselves in the position to either censor of the North at the seminar or to allow the screening, as per the desire of guest programmer Nuno Lisboa.

Arguments against inclusion focused on the film’s content and its author’s relationship to the source material. Arguments to include the film centered on the Flaherty’s unique context as a space for critical discourse, thus perhaps the best setting to debate the issues surrounding the film. North American indigenous communities, along with some academics, were said to have rejected the work as enforcing negative stereotypes and protested its exhibition. Gagnon defended the work, citing the fact that everything in the film had been culled from online sites where the publicly posted, self-authored videos were found.

How the Flaherty organization came to find itself, during the seminar, with the decision to censor or exhibit of the North involves a complex narrative over time. But this moment is reflective of so many heated stalemates of recent years. The “he said, she said” accounts of events too often serve as an unproductive shell game for diverting our attention from the heart of the matter. Context and complexity are imperative to recognize while exploring possible logics, perspectives, poetics, provocations, proposals that do not rely on simple didactic agendas.

It is easy to become seduced into promoting bandwagon-esque postures (on any side of any argument), for in noisily convoluted and infuriating times such places seem like the only available platforms. I’d like to believe that alternatives, such as the Flaherty, are possible and preferable, especially when the going gets tough. Where else might we hash issues out with rigor, respect, and the benefit of reflective space over substantive time?

The actual value of the Flaherty is not clearly understood unless experienced first-hand. The six days of the Flaherty’s durational impact can seem merely a summer-camp drive-by. However, these six days, combined with a carefully designed atmosphere and experience of engagement, can deliver an exceptionally rich opportunity for reflection and exchange. This is the fundamental role of the Flaherty.

Having had a great number of very influential and celebrated figures of cinema participate as featured artists or attendees, the Flaherty might look like a hit factory for experimental nonfiction film. But the fundamental goal of the Flaherty is not to promote, support, or celebrate films and filmmakers. The organization relies on a co-creative, open-ended scatter-shot of risky speculation and the spurring of an immersive exchange of ideas by participants at the event.

Through an active embrace of methods for elevating concepts of non-preconception and non-hierarchy, the Flaherty experience asks people to show up and come together—to collaborate, from a place of their humanity first, regardless of titles, roles, or expertise. The attempt, as Tony Fry expresses in his book Design as Politics, is to allow for “difference in common.” The Flaherty organization serves as the designer for a carefully choreographed gathering, with nonfiction cinema as accelerant for more expansive discourse around culture.

Can we productively talk about a film without having witnessed it ourselves?  Perhaps. The danger arises when we believe we are certain and empower this certainty by a refusal to be uncomfortable. After all, being comfortable is not always the point. The value of the polis, as Hannah Arendt describes in The Human Condition, arises from the spaces where people act and speak together.

These spaces can be vulnerable and fragile at times. Genuine pain and crisis might be present and can motivate decisions to dismantle the polis. Indeed, conflict can be conflated with abuse. Sarah Schulman's book Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair, speaks to this idea:

“Shunning . . . is designed to maintain a unilateral position of unmovable superiority by asserting one’s status as Abused and the implied consequential right to punish without terms. This concept . . . is predicated on a need to enforce that one party is entirely righteous and without mistake, while the other is the Specter, the residual holder of all evil. If conflicted people were expected and encouraged to produce complex understandings of their relationships, then people could be expected to negotiate . . . And it is in the best interest of us all to try to consciously move to that place.”

As stewards of the Flaherty, the Board of Trustees could not take a position of censorship and deny the screening of of the North. At the same time, all involved were able to recognize that conflict and pain were present in the surrounding issues. Personally, the experience caused me some sadness. Not because my job as president of the Board of Trustees was hard in those moments, but because I had thought we had become better than we are. By “we” I mean those of us dedicated to the hard work it takes to build bridges, not burn them, for approaching discourse.

I remain optimistic, yet reminded that ways forward require the courage to face stretches of groundlessness. Ideally, the Flaherty will continue to rise to its mission, and not devolve into a reductive academic conference or a self-congratulatory platform for politically correct cineastes. Now, more than ever, the world needs models for active, collaborative progress. As my colleague Lisa Norton, Professor of Design Leadership at The New School, likes to say: Brave space needs to be safe, and safe space needs to be brave. Certainly, this is what Frances Flaherty had in mind when she founded the seminar.

Of the North was screened during the 2017 Flaherty seminar. What did this mean? Ask someone who was there. Or, listen to the audio file of the post-screening discussion.  For the Flaherty, this event prompted many discussions over many months, and thus informed insights and subsequent actions addressing our role and responsibility for confronting systems of power and privilege. 


Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 10:58AM   |  Add a comment

A few months after I had completed my four-year-long project, Le malentendu colonial [The Colonial Misunderstanding, 2004], I travelled the world to present the film at the Ouagadougou Pan-African Festival of Film and Television (FESPACO), International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), in Germany and elsewhere.

To further awareness of African situations and issues, I had accompanied my films at their screenings: an opportunity to enjoy life and discover a wider world. For a couple of decades from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, going to festivals gave me a chance to relax and have as much fun as possible, until I finally grew tired of it.

Festivals and screenings in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, San Francisco, Toronto, and Yamagata followed a standard pattern: the travel to the festival, the screening, followed by extended conversations with audiences who were more or less aware of the history and geography of Cameroon where my films were set.

The Flaherty Seminar was the final stop on my 2005 one-month tour of the USA. The seminar’s theme was “Cinema and History: Piling Wreckage Upon Wreckage.” It was programmed by Jesse Lerner and Michael Renov, two film professors who taught at universities in southern California.

When I mentioned to friends that I was going to the Flaherty, the look on their faces bemused me. Some warned me that it was very expensive, while others said it was great. When I wanted to know more, no one could really offer much beyond the mysterious phrase: “You will see for yourself.”

Of course, I knew about Robert Flaherty. I had watched his films at the Cinematheque Française and in venues such as the Cinema du Réel festival in Paris, accompanied by passionate debates attempting to define documentary. Nanook of the North [1922] always occupied the center of these arguments about reality and its representations in cinema.

My own work reflected on these very same questions. Because European ethnographers, anthropologists, journalists, and filmmakers gathered stories from around the planet, there was little space for alternative discourses from all the other Nanooks living in the world. Following in the wake of the first generation of African filmmakers, such as Youssef Chanine [Egypt], Souleymane Cisse [Mali], Med Hondo [Mauritania], Djibril Diop Mambety [Senegal], and Ousmane Sembene [Senegal], I embraced a filmmaking process dedicated to deconstructing colonial representations that continue, unconsciously, to perpetuate a distorted image of Africans. My film Afrique, je te plumerai [Africa I Will Fleece You, 1992] was screened at the 2005 seminar.

The Flaherty was totally different from my festival experiences. Rather than film industry types or everyday festival-goers, the “public” was comprised of academics who enjoyed gathering together to engage with the films from their different perspectives.

When I arrived at Claremont College in southern California, I realized that this was the first time I had ever set foot on an American campus. The size of the campus amazed me. The dorms, the canteen, and above all the beautiful screening facilities made a lasting impression on me.

I enjoyed the long walks between the different venues. These walks offered the time to meet other participants and to engage in interesting conversations. I was glad to converse with the American filmmaker William Greaves, whom I had met ten years earlier in 1995 in Paris, and the Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán, whom I had occasionally met in France after his screenings. I bonded with the incredible Mexican filmmaker Juan Carlos Rulfo, director of Del olvido al no me acuerdo [From Oblivion I do not Remember, 1999].

It seemed as if everyone I talked to in-between films either taught at a university or was doing research for a film.

Breathtakingly packed with films, the program started early in the morning. Films screened all day long. Passionate debates unfurled. People seemed to know so much about these subjects. Their comments went North, South, East, and West before concluding with brilliant statements that the next speaker then picked apart!

The Flaherty Seminar served as the space where longtime friends or enemies settled old scores. For me, it was a fascinating circus where filmmakers performed as peacemakers, especially when not defending themselves and their work from strange interpretations or misinterpretations.

But I also remember the fun part when the lights went down, after screenings and debates concluded at around 11 p.m. Some Flaherty insiders organized an informal bar with music, where you could talk and drink and dance until 4 or 5 a.m. After only a few hours’ sleep, you had to be ready for the next day’s screenings again. The program always surprised because the films were not announced ahead of time.

After three days at this pace, we were all exhausted. However, the regular shouting and yelling of passionate film critics disagreeing on a theory sparked by a film kept us all alert!

Frankly, I was not prepared for this experience. I did not come from academia. I was more concerned about the fight for the visibility of African cinema. As a result, I was an outcast. However, in all fairness, the Flaherty was a tremendous experience.

Two years later, in 2007, Mahen Bonetti and Carlos Gutierrez curated another edition of the seminar entitled “South of the Other.” As Mahen was preparing the seminar, we talked frequently. Alas, due to Flaherty rules and my own calendar, I was unable to attend. I felt that going to the Flaherty a second time would have allowed me to take better advantage of the opportunities that such a gathering of intellects creates, beyond the obvious networking opportunities.

African cinema needs a Flaherty seminar-like venue held on the continent to address its ongoing urgent issues. Thirty years ago, I represented the next generation of African filmmakers. Today, I am among the oldest. Yet the visibility of African cinema and the discourses surrounding it have gone almost nowhere.











Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 10:30AM   |  Add a comment

A good friend of mine who had once gone to the Flaherty seminar assured me the participants went skinny-dipping, a ritual at the event.

I’m a bad swimmer. I almost drowned twice. The first time was in a swimming pool when I was a child. The second was in the Baltic Sea at the age of eighteen. Both took place in Palanga, a popular holiday resort in my native Lithuania.

Water also reminds me of precious moments with my chosen family, such as camping in the Adirondacks with my wife and our dog or summer picnics on lakeshores with past lovers. In spite of my almost-drowning history, water intrigues me. It makes me think of a break from routine and inspires a sense of kinship.  

After the fall of communism, Palanga became too expensive for my family’s annual holidays. My parents never owned a car and so, despite my close calls, the ability to go for a swim remains ingrained in my memory as a special occasion.

Although I greatly anticipated the skinny-dipping at the Flaherty, I also looked forward to everything the seminar seemed, at least by rumor, to be famous for: dozens of films, conversations with filmmakers, and camaraderie with scholars obsessed by documentary. In 2016, I was almost done with my doctoral studies in the Visual and Cultural Studies program at the University of Rochester. My dissertation focused on the ways queer migrants shaped transatlantic visual culture in the years between the World Wars. I secured a Flaherty fellowship to attend the seminar, and that June, off I went.

The late David Pendleton curated the program that year, called “Play.” I was familiar with David’s writing on homoexoticism in the films of  F. W. Murnau, Sergei Eisenstein, and Pier Paolo Pasolini through my dissertation research. David’s curatorial statement for the 2016 Flaherty seminar spoke about “a cinema of curiosity,” “alternative histories,” and “the tug of history.” As a queer immigrant, I read between the lines and was certain David’s program promised films rich with multiple creative interpretations of queerness and its possibilities for worldmaking, kinships, speculations about the future, and memory’s afterlives.  

During the week at Colgate University, I grew increasingly disenchanted with the seminar. My trouble began on opening night, which kicked off with a screening of Saul Levine’s flicker film Light Licks: By the Waters of Babylon: In the Hour of Angels [2004]. The film starts with a handheld camera focusing on the moon in night sky, followed by over ten minutes of rapidly flashing lights. Then the film focuses on the New York skyline. Instead of looking at the world, Levine’s camera blinks and squints. Watching the screen, I caught my eyes doing the same.

I wondered if this film foreshadowed the kind of cinema to come during the rest of the seminar. Why does a week on experimental documentary need to start with New York and the work of a white American filmmaker? This was the first of a series of questions I returned to throughout the week. Why did my Flaherty fellows cohort seem to be the youngest people at the seminar? Why do the post-screening discussions so poorly confront the generational and racial divides among the Flaherty attendees? What is the income of the many participants who struggle to remember the number of seminars they have attended (the registration fee is close to $1,500 USD). These questions linger as my most vivid memories.

I did see a number of memorable films and filmmakers during that week. Kidlat Tahimik’s uncompromising decolonizing wit both on and off camera. The Mojave Desert in Brigid McCaffrey’s footage and the Azores in Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel’s Fish Tail [2015] reminded me about the ways queerness can be encountered in remote locations. In scholarly accounts, the focus is mostly on what city life has historically offered queer people—in bars, parks, night clubs, and abandoned areas such as the piers along the Hudson River in New York. I frequently struggle to connect to Western urban centers and their iconic status in queer imagination. Today, many young queer people can hardly afford to live in larger cities. So in a peculiar way, I am grateful to that Flaherty experience for ultimately turning me toward water, rocks, and grass.  

As the week progressed, the dissidents I found myself drawn to moved to the back rows of the screening and discussion rooms for stretching and gossip. Here emerged sotto voce comments confronting the seminar’s issues head on, especially the questionable selection of works by women filmmakers. Here Ute Aurand faced criticism for colonial sentiments in her diary film on India and Ana Vaz was confronted for unacknowledged privilege in her works on Brazil.  

Contrary to the 2016 seminar’s theme, the Flaherty did not at all feel like an environment dedicated to play, especially the post-screening sessions. In spite of a number of non-American seminar participants, questions and comments posed in accented English were rarely the first ones to be heard. Again and again, entitled white men raised their hands first to vocalize their thoughts. I sometimes envied their confidence.

I’d envisioned the Flaherty as an inspiring educational experience, but on many occasions the seminar instigated flashbacks to the grad school trauma I carry as a first generation student. At Flaherty, as in grad school, I kept experiencing the feelings of lagging behind, of struggling without a sense of progress, of not being seen. My memories of drowning are haunted by the same sensations.

I am writing this story after two historical events, one macro and one micro: a year of the #metoo movement across the globe and a number of changes in the Flaherty organization such as the push to abandon the logo that included a silhouetted still from Nanook of the North [1922].

Back at the seminar I attended, most of my disenchantments with the Flaherty had less to do with curatorial decisions or logos than with the seminar’s climate, which seemed to have been cultivated for decades to promote rigid higher education frameworks and to empower the regulars accustomed to these frameworks.

If I could change one part of the Flaherty so future iterations would be less traumatising to new participants like myself, I would dispose of these frameworks. The seminar could aspire to have more participants of lesser financial means, rather than those with the resources to pay the full fee year after year. The seminar could actively commit to moderating those voices that dominate. The seminar could have more early career professionals.

And the seminar could have rituals like swimming in nearby lakes—because collective experience of nature can be be as memorable and formative as collective experience of culture.


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