Robert Gardner, November 5, 1925 – June 21, 2014.
Excerpt from article by Darrell Hartman:
“Gardner’s fine balance of reverence and roughness, manipulation and restraint, allows the small things of Benares to be seen for what they really are—things big enough to contain the world.”
Excerpt from the review by Ryan Wells:
“What makes Gardner’s work so particularly fascinating is this symmetry of honest ethnography and poetic license that delivers traditions from vastly different societies—Niger (“Deep Hearts”), Ethiopia (“Rivers of Sand,” “The Nuer”), New Guinea (“Dead Birds), Benares (“Forest of Bliss”)—as almost a variation on something of our own. The exoticism is not exotic per se; it feels domestic. And in doing so, Gardner captures more of an credulous audience and removes the barriers of sterile field study that otherwise lacks rhythm and power to the images.”
“Bringing Faraway Worlds Closer, And Questioning Western Intrusions” by MANOHLA DARGIS in the NY Times Critic’s Notebook.
Excerpt from the feature:
“In an interview about ‘Rivers of Sand,’ Mr. Gardner said that while he was editing it, ‘I kept being reminded that I especially disliked Hamer men, and I don’t think I would have felt differently had there been no women’s movement.’ In other words, his humanity, not politics, made the women’s situation clear. It was, he added, ‘a painful life for both sexes’ and so the question became, Why not just say as much in the film? Because he made a choice: rather than employ a false objectivity, he embraced what he calls larger truths.
‘I don’t think anthropology is doing its job by being value free,’ he said in the same interview. And, truly, partly what makes these great films galvanizing is that they’re not value free.”
Excerpt from the Village Voice feature on Robert Gardner:
“A man of many worlds, Robert Gardner is a descendent of Boston aristocrat Isabella Stewart Gardner (as in the Museum), the founder (and funder) of Harvard’s Film Study Center, and mainly the globetrotting ethno-aesthete of American cinema—a filmmaker whose documentaries have been hailed by the avant-garde’s godfather Stan Brakhage and anthropology’s grand dame Margaret Meade.”
“FORESTS OF UNCERTAINTY: The Contentious Nonfiction of Robert Gardner” by Rachael Rakes in The Brooklyn Rail.
Excerpt from the feature previewing Gardner’s work prior to his retrospective at New York’s Film Forum in November 2011:
“Gardner was sensitive to the inevitability of change and desperate to capture a before image, which to a large extent is what makes the film seem problematic in its portrayal of otherness. Close-ups of chapped hands weaving or tending crops last for minutes on end, sweeping views of nature amplify distance. Yet these images are vital; the Dani are changing, in most cases have changed. The Dani people, considered “Neolithic” only 40 years ago, are now being ungracefully integrated into modernity, and as Gardner persistently feared, will emerge as superficially the same as people everywhere else, and judged upon their approximation of sameness. Dead Birds does depict a white man—or what Jay Ruby calls in a famous (in visual anthropology academia) critique “Yanqui Brahmin” —going to the land of strangeness and past and bringing back an explanation of different ways. But, importantly, Gardner has never claimed that his pictures bear any authority of interpretation, and he is clear in demonstrating his awareness of this as he documents his own strangeness to his subjects.”
From the event page:
Robert Gardner’s vision — situated in a sometimes uneasy place between ethnographic and artistic traditions — has made him one of the most original, as well as controversial, filmmakers of the last half century. Deeply admired by many filmmakers, Gardner has been equally challenged by anthropologists, who have criticized some of his work for lack of both socially scientific documentation and context. Gardner refuses to hold the viewers hand, trusting his audience to find their own way into his films and make their own conclusions. In the 21st century, what endures is the distinctly lyrical style and arresting cinematography Gardner brought to his enigmatic portrayals of disappearing cultures. These are powerful poetic reflections on human experience which warrant new and renewed consideration.
Excerpt from the Cineaste review by Tom Cooper:
“To the satisfaction of the reader, Gardner has told much but not all. We are left wanting more. Not telling all is also the tradition of the film or book reviewer who may reveal all save the surprises and the ending. Hence only Gardner and the readers of Making Dead Birds will know which questions he has fully answered and which ones we must answer for ourselves.”