Baba Dana Talks to the Wolves (Ralitsa Doncheva, 2016, Canada/Bulgaria, 11 min, Digital)
The Illinois Parables (Deborah Stratman, 2016, USA, 60 min, 16mm)
Ralitsa Doncheva in attendance!
Deborah Statman’s The Illinois Parables is an impressionistic portrait of her home state, tracing a decidedly patchwork history from the 7th century to the 20th through 11 parables and their (non)legacies. Stratman’s history is one that actively questions the process of historicization, asking how we remember and on whose terms. Incorporating archival material alongside original 16mm footage Stratman brings the past into an at-times dissonant relationship with the present.Uncomfortable narratives that undergird ideals of nation-building and “progress” are rescued from dusty museums or microfilm archives, while the film gestures to other histories hidden in plain sight, assimilated into the quotidian (“Trail of Tears Rd.”) or official monuments and memorials - one-sided stories Stratman invites us to read anew
The film is preceded by Ralitsa Doncheva’s Baba Dana Talks to the Wolves, which offers a complementary examination of history told through people and places. Doncheva’s film follows the daily routine of the 85-year old Baba Dana in the mountains of Bulgaria, where she has lived and alone and protected the historic Zelenikovsky Monastery for 45 years
Tuesday 6 December
Doors and Coffee: 6:30pm
Screening and presentation 7:00pm
Image Arts Building (IMA 307), Ryerson University
Artist and filmmaker Deborah Stratman makes work that investigates issues of power, control and belief, exploring how places, ideas, and society are intertwined. Recent projects have addressed freedom, sinkholes, comets, orthoptera, surveillance, manifest destiny, infrastructure, levitation and faith. She has exhibited internationally at venues including MoMA NY, Centre Pompidou, Hammer Museum, Mercer Union, Witte de With, the Whitney Biennial and festivals including Sundance, Viennale, CPH/DOX, Berlinale, Oberhausen, Ann Arbor, Full Frame and Rotterdam. Stratman is the recipient of an Alpert Award, Fulbright, Guggenheim and USA Collins Fellowships and grants from Creative Capital, Graham Foundation and Wexner Center for the Arts. She teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ralitsa Doncheva is a Bulgarian filmmaker and artist, based in Montréal. She works between experimental and documentary cinema using analogue film techniques and photo-chemical processes. Her last film, Baba Dana Talks To The Wolves (2016) won The Eileen Maitland Film Award at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival and continues playing in festivals around the world. Ralitsa is currently completing an MFA in Film Production at Concordia University (Montréal).
Samuel La France is an arts administrator, film programmer and writer based in Toronto. He works as the Senior Coordinator of Film Programmes at TIFF Cinematheque, and has organized screenings and retrospectives for TIFF, Collectif Jeune Cinéma and Museum London. He served as a member of Pleasure Dome's curatorial board from 2013-2015, and currently sits on the board of the CFMDC. His writing on film has been published in Cinema Scope, cléo, and MICE.
by Samuel La France
Deborah Stratman’s The Illinois Parables opens high above the plains of the Prairie State, the filmmaker’s 16mm camera panning languidly across vast golden crops and humble hamlets that extend beyond the horizon and out of sight. Once again looking o’er the land, Stratman offers us a brief glimpse of divine omniscience, before touching back down to earth to harvest material from the eponymous state’s torrid history of mass discrimination and forced expulsion. These stories form the basis of Stratman’s eleven parables, through which she explores the ideological, spiritual, and technological “progress” that has (ironically) yielded an arrested, divisive, and ultimately destructive national identity.
These (im)moral tales begin long before that American identity had formalized, when indigenous people still lived on their ancestral lands without interference. From here Stratman looks to the landscape and to scant historical records to retell early episodes of encounter, violence, and forced expulsion, precedents for generations of discrimination brought about by racist legislation and religious persecution. Gone from these lands are the First Peoples who’d occupied them for centuries, if not millennia, as well as the communities of Latter Day-Saints who were driven out to the Great Salt Lake to the west; all that remains are commemorative plaques and road signs that do little to stop the erosion of memories of people (now ghosts) long silenced and gone.
Closing in on the recent past, Stratman produces a lengthy and impressively staged climactic sequence by re-staging archival footage of the investigation surrounding a controversial 1969 police raid in Chicago that left Black Panthers Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark dead. Stratman works from archival footage that is itself a recreation, an act of FBI storytelling. The agents of this raid gesture imprecisely as they struggle to reenact the fabricated testimonies of the survivors. Stratman then cuts to a portrait of Hampton, graffitied in modern-day effigy on the side of a building as his voice espouses the revolutionary ideals that led to his assassination. That image of “Chairman Fred” stands as a private citizen’s best effort to preserve Hampton’s service to the community, while at the same time refusing the sterility of memorialization that has so often wiped clean the state’s filthy slate.
Stratman’s film screens alongside Ralitsa Doncheva’s sublime 16mm portrait Baba Dana Talks to the Wolves, which offers a converse portrait of a woman who has spent decades in the same natural environment, taking note of its transformative patterns through the years. Never forcefully uprooted, Baba Dana has grown connected to a place across time, a self-determined privilege that the displaced and marginalized subjects of Stratman’s film were never afforded.