Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Director in Person
$12 Special Event Tickets
Directed by Matt Wolf.
US, 2019, DCP, color, 87 min.
DCP source: Zeitgeist Films

Matt Wolf’s engaging documentary tells two stories: one, the life story of a remarkably prescient and stubbornly individualistic radical librarian who refused to fit neatly into the role of wife or mother, and a second that traces the emergence and arguably disastrous effects of the twenty-four-hour American news cycle that she secretly recorded in her Philadelphia home from 1979-2012. Marion Stokes was a librarian, public access television producer, political activist and mother who amassed a 70,000-tape VHS archive by obsessively recording up to four news network feeds twenty-four hours a day, unbeknownst to anyone except the few family and staff she allowed into her home. As a producer and activist who attempted to bridge the divide between those on opposite sides of the political and cultural spectrum, Stokes observed and understood the negative influence of this news cycle, and how the shaping of a narrative by corporate interests was dividing society. As a librarian, she understood how vital the primary documents—the recordings themselves—would be to studying this cultural shift, and also recognized that the news agencies would not have the same presence of mind to save them. The film uncovers her quietly significant life—from being courted by both the Communist and Socialist parties as a prized African American party member to her self-imposed exile in Cuba after being tracked by the FBI—and the toll her choices took on her family. Footage from Stokes’ archive is used extensively to illustrate the incredible legacy she has left behind. – Amy Sloper

Presented in collaboration with the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard.

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