Strange Truth Film Series Highlights Performance and Identity

The films in the eighth year of this series engage with the politics of place, race, history, performance, and cinema itself.

It is 2012, and North Philadelphia record producer and family man Christopher “Quest” Rainey has been the subject of director Jonathan Olshefski’s Quest: A Portrait of an American Family for nearly five years.

“CBS projects Obama reelected… I wish my mom would have seen this, she’d have been tripping.”

Flash forward another five years, and the documentary is finished. A vivid illumination of race and class in America, and a testament to love, healing, and hope, Quest is hailed by The New York Times as “quietly eloquent” and The Wall Street Journal calls it “a beautiful film.” Focused on a family’s growth and journey in North Philadelphia, the film explores themes of art, resistance, power, and place, which makes it the perfect opening for the 2019 Strange Truth Film Series.

Created by Vicky Funari, and now in its eighth year, the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and HumanitiesStrange Truth Film Series features screenings, installations, and conversations with film and media artists around themes of identity and belonging. Organized by the Visual Studies Program faculty Funari, Sally Berger, and John Muse, the 2019 series kicked off on March 20, with a screening of Quest at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, followed by a panel discussion with Olshefski, Rainey, and producer Sabrina Schmidt Gordon. The next evening the series continued with a screening of BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, a portrait of the titular poet and activist, in the VCAM building.

This year we focus on performance, whether of song, poetry, or human specimen as an archive of transmittable history,” said Muse, Berger adding, “The films present a palette of vastly different formal strategies: observational cinema, poetry and performance, mixing nonfiction and fiction methodologies, and experimental film and video installation.”

Upcoming events in the series include screenings of Tour Without End, which follows artist Laura Parnes on her journey to break into the 1990’s indie music scene, and “Willing Suspensions: An Installation Project and Three Films by Christopher Harris.”

Harris’ installation marks a first for the series, and will run April 14–19, in the downstairs Create Space of the VCAM building.

“This year and for the first time, we will include multi-channel video installation work, which will be in one of the VCAM Create Spaces,” said Muse. “Also, real film! Two 16mm films will be projected in the VCAM Cinema. A first for VCAM. Students will also have the opportunity to see important contemporary films and meet the filmmakers and artists who will be in person to speak about their work, which is always a special experience. For example, the film Tour Without End is packed with 1960s filmic references, musicians, and theater performers. We look forward to getting the inside scoop on these connections from filmmaker Laura Parnes!”

A full schedule of events and details about the films and installation can be found here, alongside artist biographies. For Muse and the other organizers, the 2019 edition of the Strange Truth Film Series promises to bring together community and consciousness through art.

“Strange Truth a now venerable part of the Haverford experience for students interested not only in film but in what it means to be a contemporary filmmaker and to participate in the larger conversation about film, film culture, and new technologies,” he said. “And now with the Visual Studies Minor, the contact students have with these makers has a curricular home and an arc.”

Photo by Cole Sansom ’19.