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

Tagged as “Kathy Geritz”

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 11:58AM   |  Add a comment


Yes! I programmed the Flaherty Seminar, in 2012. We were young and wild. Well, more wild than young.

[From here on, you can read the whole text in a linear way, paragraph after paragraph, or choose your own way. I’ll try to help you with some indications. If you’re just interested in my Open Wounds seminar, you can read #3, #5, #10 & #12, and skip the rest]


Since then, I’ve been wanting to return. I didn’t try to come back in 2013—I needed a rest after 3 seminars in a row, and being in the center of the storm during the last one. Anyway for one reason or another, I haven’t been back. And yes, I miss you, Flaherty Seminar.

[More about the earlier seminars I attended in #4, #5]


I think 2012 was a good year for the seminar. At least, people looked happy at the end and most of the anonymous surveys confirmed this. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the nice comments I received; I read them to myself when I’m feeling down.

[If you think this is too corny you can find some wilder anecdotes in #5, but if you’re really enjoying it, you might want to jump to #10]


I participated in my first seminar in 2010. I’d arrived in New York that year on a grant from NYU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese Literature. The year before, I had agreed to be artistic director of the Punto de Vista film festival. Former executive director of the Flaherty, Margarita de la Vega Hurtado, was my contact in America for Punto de Vista, so, being in New York and given my new programming position, there was no excuse: I had to go.

[If you would like to program the Flaherty, you’ll find more about how I was selected to program in #6 & #7]


The 2010 seminar, WORK, was programmed by Denis Lim. I remember meeting Dennis the day before the seminar. He looked extremely nervous. I have great memories of that year. Carlos Gutiérrez has also shared this in his “Flaherty Story”: 2010 was the year of World Cup in South Africa (yes, the one won by Spain!). Most of the Latinos at the Flaherty, including Lisandro Alonso, Pedro González Rubio and Eugenio Polgovsky, were soccer fans, so when there was a match (and there were matches all the time) we skipped screenings. I remember Lisandro saying to us in low voice, “Hey guys, the next film is one of mine; let’s watch the game!” The problem was that Lisandro’s films are short and we couldn’t see the whole match before the discussion.

In 2012 there was no World Cup, but someone knew about a lake near Colgate University where people could swim. At the end of the seminar there were two kinds of participants: those who had gone to the lake and those who hadn’t.

[Is this too frivolous? Maybe you can find something more transcendental in #7 or #11.]


If Margarita de la Vega Hurtado was the one to bring me to my first seminar, Lucila Moctezuma, then a Flaherty Trustee, first made me think about the possibility of programming a Flaherty. I have a clear memory of her innocent smile when she asked me, during the 2010 seminar, “Would you like to program a seminar?” During my holidays I drew up a proposal, and at the end of 2011, when my Flaherty experience was a distant midsummer night’s dream, I received a call from Mary Kerr.

[You’ll learn about the curatorial process in #7 and #9.]


I learned a lot working on my Flaherty for almost a year and a half. I remember a crisis with Mary Kerr. It happened eight or ten weeks before the seminar. I sent Mary a first draft of the program, and then, after a long, sleepless night, changed everything. She was really mad, and Lucila needed to mediate. Finally Mary accepted my changes, and I agreed not to work during sleepless nights. My seminar was the last one for Mary as executive producer—no connection I hope! By the end of the seminar Mary and I were like two old pals after a dangerous mission. The title for my seminar (“Open Wounds”) was Mary’s idea. I wanted it to be “Bleeding Wounds.” Dennis suggested “There Will Be Blood.” I liked them all.

[Now I need to summarize; if you feel you didn’t read anything remarkable in the previous paragraphs, maybe you’d better stop reading, because you won’t in the next five either!]


Steve Holmgren was, at least for me, another key person during those years: he ran the bar my year and was the one who introduced me to the Flaherty Skull Ceremony. If you haven’t heard about this, either you know little about the Flaherty, or you’re not interested in nightlife!

 [A lot of partying goes on during the Flaherty. There are some other words about sleepless nights in #12]


I do have bittersweet memories too. Debating my ideas with the Advisory Board on the phone was sometimes painful. I thought I was the programmer, but everybody had something to critique or something to propose.

On the good side, I remember the conversation with Kathy Geritz about Sun Xun, and how she opened my mind—and Sun became part of the program. I have a special memory of a couple of conversations about seminar dynamics with John Gianvito at the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival. And Maria Campaña, a Flaherty Fellow my year, helped me after the seminar: she made possible our having Eduardo Coutinho at Punto de Vista in 2013. I also remember Mar Cabra, a young Spanish woman who didn’t enjoy the experimental part of my program. Now she’s a well-known investigative journalist in Spain.

[In #11 I try to develop some controversial thoughts on the seminar dynamics.]


I loved having Lourdes Portillo and Su Friedrich heading my filmmaker team. Now, almost six years later, I think even the collisions between filmmakers during the discussions allowed us to go further into how we think about film, history, and humanity.

[Do not read the next one if you haven’t read #3, #5 & #9.]


There is always something repetitive about the Flaherty. Not because of the regular structure of the event, but because of the dynamics of the discussions. It doesn’t matter what the topic of the seminar is; at a certain point, particular issues will arise again and again. I was astonished during the WORK seminar that there was no discussion about class struggle at all. At some point the discussion went back to gender issues right away.

And in between discussions, there is always an underground battle going between two groups: the academics on one hand (too pretentious and theoretical for the others) and the filmmakers and people from the industry (often identified as the old timers). Of course, neither group believes in the principle of “non-preconception,” and part of the programmer’s work is to deal with the preconceptions of both groups. I faced it in a confrontational way, by playing a song before every screening to create a particular mood.

[Last paragraph: I hope your journey through my text has been worthy of your time.]


The morning after my seminar, I remember a small group of sleepless people crossing the campus, heading down into the town of Hamilton to have breakfast. I was walking with a Flaherty newcomer, David Pendleton, the programmer at the Harvard Film Archive. He was completely enthusiastic about the seminar. Later, he had his own (PLAY, 2016). David was one of the three now-dead friends I’ve mentioned in my text, along with Eugenio and Eduardo. If documentary is about something, it’s human beings, and the passing of these loved ones has left us all with bleeding wounds.




Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 1:02PM   |  Add a comment

I was honored to be invited to program the 2000 Flaherty Seminar. I had attended a seminar in 1994, which featured an eye- and mind-opening array of works selected by Somi Roy and, as part of a 40th anniversary series, by Erik Barnouw and Patty Zimmermann. That was enough to intimidate me.

Like others before me, I decided that my programming for the seminar would not focus just on “documentary” but explore “non-fiction” films.

In addition to documentary, this strategy allowed me to consider animation—including documentary animation—and avant-garde work. I wanted to feature artists working within these different realms whose films looked at the world, history, or social and political issues in radical or innovative ways, or explored ideas, even cinema itself, in an experimental or essay form.

The title of my seminar, "Essays, Experiments, and Excavations," reflected this conceptualization.

I began by thinking about artists whose work pushed these boundaries, such as Peggy Ahwesh, Travis Wilkerson, Harun Farocki, Zoe Beloff, Abraham Ravett, Tran Kim-Trang, and Chris Sullivan.

Once I had confirmed five or six filmmakers, I started to look at relationships between their works. As I did, other filmmakers came to mind, as did earlier, historical films, sometimes suggested directly by a particular film of one of these artists.

I allowed myself the freedom to interweave films from the past—the Lumière Brothers, Jean Painlevé, Santiago Alvarez—with contemporary films. I wanted to create a provocative array of resonances, a challenging dialog between the films themselves as well as between participants.

It was natural for me to bring my experience programming experimental films at Pacific Film Archive (now BAMPFA) to the Flaherty. There is a lot of creativity in curating programs of experimental shorts, but also a lot of pleasure for the audience. They come to understand filmic and intellectual ideas imbedded in a work through seeing it in relation to other films. The programming itself can help bring out ideas that an artist is exploring.

Unusual for the Flaherty, the majority of my seminar programs consisted of short films and videos.  I relished mixing together works with different stylistic approaches that linked on multiple levels of theme, idea, or mood.  

Such juxtapositions create sparks between works, allowing further readings to arise. Today the term "curating" is in common use, but back in 2000, I think it was surprising and stimulating for participants at that Flaherty to see programs of shorts and to understand that somebody carefully curated not only each program but also the overall flow throughout the week of the seminar.

I wanted those attending the seminar to see several pieces by each filmmaker in order to better understand the artist's concerns and aesthetic approach. My goal was to generate a deeper audience engagement. Setting this up over a week-long seminar can be challenging; even the best laid plans can go awry.

After a screening that included one of Tran T. Kim-Trang’s early videos, someone stood up and attacked her work. The person asserted that Tran's video was little more than an intellectual exercise. She would never show Tran’s videos to her students.

As the days went by, as they do at the Flaherty, several of Tran’s other videos were screened. Toward the end of the seminar, this same woman, now having viewed many of Tran’s works, spoke out again. As I recall, she said, “I have an apology to make,” then offered a beautiful tribute to Tran's Blindness Series [1992-2006].

These moments of revelation are very particular to the Flaherty Seminar, where viewers can immerse themselves in an artist's work over a period of days, hear the invited filmmakers and others speak about cinema, and have time to reflect and reconsider.









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