Anne Charlotte Robertson (1949-2012) was an independent filmmaker who gave new and melancholy meaning to the term. For to call Robertson's cinema "independent" is to recognize not only the minimum financial or institutional support given to her work, but also the ways her films speak with poignant directness to her own extreme independence as an artist and woman who lived and worked largely alone. Indeed, Robertson's struggles with loneliness and clinically diagnosed manic depression were integrally woven into the complex fabric of her films, most especially her magnum opus, Five Year Diary, a thirty-six hour chronicle of her life begun in 1981 and completed sixteen years later.
Intended first as a means to carefully monitor and measure her changing self-image, and her fluctuating weight in particular, Robertson's Five Year Diary became an ambitious first-person epic comprised in total of eighty-three completed parts (or "reels", as Robertson preferred), most often centered around single major and minor events: a visit to a relative, a nervous breakdown, the traumatic death of a family member. By turning the camera upon her daily life, Robertson discovered a mode of vital self-therapy most directly expressed through the multiple layers of spoken dialogue she frequently layered over her imagery—frank commentary (some of it performed live during screenings of the Five Year Diary and added later) that revealed the deep, unstable emotions that defined Robertson's world, while also giving rich voice to her warm and self-depreciatory sense of humor.
The Five Year Diary also offers an important record of Robertson's continuing creative evolution as an artist who restlessly experimented with various techniques and approaches throughout her career to create a complex oeuvre that spans from the confrontationally and emotionally raw to the lyrically quiet and understated.
Although she made most of her work during and after graduate school at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Robertson's unique vision and approach to filmmaking was expressed immediately in her first works made before she was a film student—for instance, Pixelation, Spirit of '76 and Subways [all 1976]). Robertson is perhaps best understood as an "outlier" to use Lynn Cooke's term, an artist who navigated that rich interstitial space between the vanguard center and that ambiguous periphery associated with the outsider artist. In this way Robertson's films engage in a rich and knowing dialogue with the avant-garde films and traditions embodied by touchstone directors such as Marie Menken and Jonas Mekas, while also maintaining a steadfast and vital fixity on her own singular life experience. – Haden Guest
Bequeathed to the Harvard Film Archive in 2012 by the filmmaker, the Anne Charlotte Robertson Collection contains approximately thirty-five finished short films, a few video works and the Five Year Diary, as well as photographs, audio tapes, diaries, letters, artwork and other ephemera, some of which is not directly associated with the films. The Harvard Film Archive also holds the intellectual and distribution rights to Robertson’s work.
The HFA is presently undertaking a project to preserve the work to 16mm film and digital formats. Some of the material, as a condition of the will, remains unavailable until 2022.
Haden Guest's text adapted from the program notes for the 2018 retrospective at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul. Full catalogue below.
Pixillation (Anne Charlotte Robertson, 1976). HFA Item #32730
Original silent 18 fps Super 8 film digitized at Colorlab in 2017.