Pioneering filmmakers and restless experimenters, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor are closely associated with Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab—founded by Castaing-Taylor in 2006—and support of the research and innovation-based practice defined by their three feature films to date. Each of Paravel and Castaing-Taylor’s films find novel ways to dive to the very depths of the intrinsically difficult and unwieldy subjects they so boldly explore—beginning, quite literally, with their first co-directed project Leviathan, a form-shattering study of the oceanic sublime and the modern fishing industry shot largely on, and in the churning waters around, a fishing vessel off the Massachusetts coast. The subsequent films, somniloquies and Caniba, both commissioned by Documenta 14, have each raised the bar only higher as they search for appropriate cinematographic and ethical forms to portray two troubling subjects: the frighteningly performative recorded nightmares of Dion McGregor and the dark obsessions recounted by the notorious and unrepentant Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa. Together, all three films embrace a radically fluid camerawork and structure that meld together different perspectives and voices—be they human, animal or machine—into multifaceted portraits and fully cinematic experiences that render richly ambiguous their exact focal point but not their overall position. While Paravel and Castaing-Taylor remain firmly grounded in the academic and anthropological traditions upon which SEL and their work clearly rests, they also reach far beyond the Academy by igniting an exciting dialogue with avant-garde currents in contemporary narrative and experimental cinema. Leviathan, somniloquies and Caniba also exist in dialogue with gallery installation versions, which give new dimension to the all-too-overlooked tradition of rigorously lyrical art films made at Harvard. Often described with the now officially overused adjective “immersive,” Paravel and Castaing-Taylor’s films are meant to be experienced in real and sustained time upon the big screen and surrounded by sound, for only there can the viewer (and listener) appreciate the powerful impact of the liquid images and often unsettling “voices” that shape the larger philosophical themes and problematics unfolded by these almost unclassifiable films. – Haden Guest
The screening of Leviathan will feature a poetry reading by Harvard’s own Jorie Graham and a conversation afterwards with Graham, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, Haden Guest and Robin Kelsey, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Harvard. The screening of Caniba will feature a conversation with the filmmakers and film critic/curator Dennis Lim, and the screening of somniloquies will feature a conversation with artist/poet Steve Venright.