Glimpses of Octavio Paz

by Robert Gardner

Over a number of years Robert Gardner found ways to film Octavio Paz as he went about Mexico City or traveled with Gardner to places such as Puebla and Monterrey. From these scattered and intermittent efforts to make a kind of open ended film about Paz, Gardner is producing a DVD (in collaboration with Michel Chalufour and Michael Hutcherson) that puts together all of the most interesting moments, or “vignettes,” regarding this remarkable man. One of the sequences is an English subtitled uninterrupted reading in Spanish by Paz of one of his most important poems: “Nocturno de San Ildefonso,” which was among several pieces from this project screened at DOCSDF 2008 in Mexico City and FICM 2009 in Moreilia.

A looping version of this project was screened at the San Ildefonso Museum March 31 (Paz’s birthday) through May 3, 2009. For more information about this event visit Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso.

Good to Pull


Robert Gardner, 2000

Runtime: 10 minutes

This short video is about a collaboration between the artist Michael Mazur and his master printer, Robert Townsend, as they work on a suite of etchings drawn from the celebrated monotypes Mazur made for Dante’s Inferno. The monotypes were published in an earlier collaboration between Mazur and Robert Pinsky, the poet and translator. The etchings will become part of a remarkable history of similar undertakings by such other illustrators as Botticelli, Blake, Dore, Lebrun and Phillips.

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources

The Great Sail



Robert Gardner, 1966

Runtime: 10 minutes

Alexander Calder’s La Grande Voile was erected on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in 1966 with the artist directing the work. As the spectacular steel forms of this monumental stabile rise, it is filmed with time lapse and verite photography. One can see that the structure owes its spare elegance to the precision of its design and construction. Calder remains absorbed in quiet concentration as skeptical students and bemused bystanders observe the somewhat improbable event.

Ika Hands



Robert Gardner, 1988

Runtime: 58 minutes

In the highlands of Northern Colombia the Ika live a strenuous and isolated life economically dependent on small gardens and a handful of domestic animals. They are thought to be descendents of the Maya who fled from the turmoil of Central American High Civilization’s warring states to the remote valleys of Colombia’s Sierra Nevadas. The Ika still inhabit a spectacular but demanding terrain extending between five and fifteen thousand feet, an almost vertical geography through which they move with prodigious ease.

Their lives are filled with a multitude of tasks which they perform with rare dexterity and purpose. Their labors, though they belong to two quite separate realms, the practical and the spiritual, contribute equally to the well being of everyone. Both days and nights are long and arduous. Indeed, the central figure in Ika Hands , Mama Marco, is a man whose priestly calling is simply another career undertaken in addition to that of farmer and householder.

Ika society is the result of quite distinct cultural choices, of what seem to have been decisions by generations of individuals to persevere with tradition and to resist the compelling alternatives offered by an ubiquitous modernity. There is something almost melancholy about these stubborn heroes of a doomed way of life.

“At one level the film shows the rounds of daily life while at the same time it tries to disclose the interior life of a leading figure in the community. What is seen is a man who is part mystic, part priest, and part ordinary householder who performs rituals and offers prayers in lonely and seemingly painful meditation.”

—Peter Allen
The American Anthropologist

The 2008 Special Edition DVD includes:

  • The film Ika Hands (58 minutes)
  • A conversation with Octavio Paz (27 minutes)
  • Photo gallery featuring still images and journal entries read by Robert Gardner (14 minutes)

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources



Jorge Preloran, 1968

Runtime: 54 minutes
Made in collaboration with Robert Gardner

“I am just a tool in the hands of God”, explains Hermogenes Cayo, a religious image maker living on the high Argentine plateau. Hermogenes sees his art and life not as self expression but as a way of honoring God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. In the thinly populated Altiplano where he lives, Hermogenes is famous for his cactuswood crucifixes, miniature shrines, religious paintings and church decorations. He began painting in his youth. Soon the religious aspect of his work affected other parts of his life. He performs all religious duties in the region when the priest is absent. He marries a woman he has lived with for decades. This is but another step into a life of service to God. He is a deeply spiritual man who lives with the supreme confidence the power of faith has given him. For his country he wants peace and tranquility, for his family the life God designed for them, and for himself to be of even greater use to his Maker.

Josep Lluís Sert

The first completed portion of Josep Lluís Sert: Architect to the Arts, the film 2 SONS OF CATALONIA had its beginnings in 1966, when Robert Gardner visited Spain to begin film work on inseparable Catalonian friends Joan Miró and Josep Lluís Sert. A decade later, he accompanied Sert in Barcelona as he toured The Joan Miró Foundation, which he had designed; in France, at his Maeght Foundation; and in Mallorca, where Miró was being filmed for a BBC documentary in the studio Sert had designed. The 16mm film gathered over this period was edited into 2 SONS OF CATALONIA Josep Lluís Sert & Joan Miró, a 30-minute documentary finished in 2013. In the film, Sert walks the ramp in The Miró Foundation sculpture gallery, explaining how its design provides the viewer with an optimal experience of the artwork; in Mallorca he discusses how the island’s “primitive forms” inspired him; in Barcelona he admires the Santa María del Mar and laments the “steady destruction of urban space” in New York City.

Josep Lluís Sert: Architect to the Arts will be a DVD featuring 2 SONS OF CATALONIA with multi-format material including a gallery of conversations with and reflections on Sert; contemporaneous journal entries and photographs; and Polavision film vignettes from Sert’s time in Cambridge. In 1978, on the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to Sert at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Gardner utilized Polavision, a newly launched instant movie camera system whose properties provided an intimate rendering of architectural form, showing Sert’s work to its best advantage; He filmed with Polavision at Sert’s Cambridge home (which he designed and built in 1957) and at Harvard buildings he designed, and the exhibit incorporated seventeen Polavision players, each featuring short studies of different aspects of Sert’s architecture. These films, and forty-three others unused in the show, have not been seen since the exhibition.

Little motion picture documentation of Sert or his home exists. The unique material gathered four decades ago presents a rare, essential historical record of a prominent modernist designer whose career was distinguished in part by his friendships with leading Modernist artists. Josep Lluís Sert: Architect to the Arts will be of particular value to students and scholars of modern architecture, providing the opportunity to see the architect in situ, discussing his designs from within them, addressing the work in the atmosphere and history of Catalonia. Also significant is the footage of Miró and Roland Penrose (who appears in the Mallorca studio footage), and the Polavision material itself–an important artifact for film archivists and scholars of a bold innovation that was discontinued nearly a year after its release, and examples of which are rarely screened.

Land-Divers of Melanesia


Kal Muller, 1972

Runtime: 34 minutes
Made in collaboration with Robert Gardner
To ensure a good yam crop, men of Pentecost Island in Melanesia attach vines to their ankles and dive headlong from a wooden tower over 100 feet tall. Those who dive say the fall clears their mind. The vines are relatively elastic and the ground is softened so injury is rare. For Pentecost Islanders the annual dive takes an appropriate place among other rituals and ceremonies such as blessing the taro crop, circumcising young boys and feasting with relatives, all of which keep them in touch with the forces that control the world in which they live.

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources




Robert Gardner & Joyce Chopra, 1965

Runtime: 28 minutes

The Marathon, run every year in Boston Massachusetts, is one of the oldest races in the United States. In 1964 the documentary film class taught by Robert Gardner undertook to make a film about the race as a cultural institution. The race in this film is a physical and emotional test or ordeal for certain participants including the author of Love Story who at the time was a young instructor in Classics at Harvard. It is an early example of the use of Cinema Verite filmmaking.

Mark Tobey


Robert Gardner, 1952

Runtime: 19 minutes

Mark Tobey was made while the painter lived in Seattle Washington early in the 1950′s. It is the second film made by Robert Gardner and it shows in cinematic language how this man looked at the world. It is a document in which Tobey himself both performs and is observed. The style is related to certain experimental tendencies of the period especially those of Maya Deren.

A unique film in the Gardner ouvre, the film not only presents an experimental portrait of Tobey but serves as a window into the American art, avant garde film, and poetic movements of this period.

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources

Mark Tobey Abroad


Robert Gardner, 1973

Runtime: 28 minutes
The great American painter Mark Tobey is visited Robert Gardner in Basel Switzerland where he lived for the last years of his life. He discusses his work and that of fellow artists and does so with remarkable candor and objectivity. Throughout, his keen wit lends humor and bite to his critiques of painting and painters. Mark Tobey’s own vitality and spirit make an important statement on his work and on Art itself.

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources