The films of French-Colombian Laura Huertas Millán (b. 1983) challenge and expand traditions of ethnographic and anthropological cinema as they explore a range of subjects both grounded in a particular time and place and floating in a kind of imaginary. From the vainglorious Dynasty (the US TV series) inspired dreams of a vanquished drug lord in El Laberinto to the patient work of Mexican weavers in La Libertad and the crippling depression suffered by her own aunt in Sol Negro, Millán’s films search for ways to contextualize and critique while also empathetically evoking the texture, grit and strange magic of these subjects’ lived experience. Drawing inspiration from such filmmakers as Chick Strand and Trinh T. Minh-ha, Millán carefully asserts her own perspective and voice as an artist, as if to subvert any claim to objectivity still lingering around documentary cinema as a pursuit and mythos. And like both Strand and Minh-ha, Millán’s films steadily offer pointed yet poetically shaped critiques of the imperialist and colonialist gaze and its legacy. Also grounding Millán’s cinema is her interest in a kind of “ethnofiction” that follows the threads of stories—be they narrative fiction, songs or myths—as they intertwine and shape the reality of the different truths. During her time at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard, Millán created some of her most arresting work—films such as La Libertad and her powerful Sol Negro that seize the charge of the SEL to embrace the sensorium, and even emotions themselves, as vital forms of knowledge and experience.
On the occasion of her first screening at the Harvard Film Archive, Laura Huertas Millán has curated a program of ethnofiction including classic films by Chick Strand and Tracey Moffat plus newer works by artists Cauleen Smith and filmmakers Malena Slzam and Lina Rodriguez. The HFA is pleased to welcome Millán, who will also be joined in a conversation about her own work with Cecilia Barrionuevo, director of the Mar Del Plata Film Festival. – Haden Guest