Anthology Film Archives


January 7 – January 16

On the occasion of Anthology's week-long theatrical premiere run of Ernst Karel & Veronika Kusumaryati's EXPEDITION CONTENT, which concerns filmmaker Robert Gardner's 1961 Harvard Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea (current day West Papua), we present a short series expanding on the new film's source materials and formal strategy. This weekend-long program features screenings of Gardner's celebrated feature, DEAD BIRDS (1964), as well as his BALIEM VALLEY 1961 series of short films, which he left unfinished upon his death but which have now been completed (thanks to the efforts of Adele Pressman, Olivia Wyatt, Ernst Karel, and Documentary Educational Resources).

We will also present a handful of programs placing EXPEDITION CONTENT in the context of the tradition of entirely or mostly imageless films: in particular, films that have similarly placed an imageless visual track alongside field recordings or other “found” or spoken audio tracks (such as Derek Jarman’s BLUE, Jeff Perkins’s MOVIES FOR THE BLIND, and so on). These screenings will represent a sneak preview of a larger series coming later in the winter which will more deeply explore the various kinds of “imageless films.”

EXPEDITION CONTENT will be screening from Fri-Thurs, Jan 7-13 at 6:45 & 9:00 nightly. For more details, click here.

Special thanks to Alice Apley, Frank Aveni, and Leandra Sharron (Documentary Educational Resources); Gilad Baram; Ernst Karel; Adam Kaplan; Veronika Kusumaryati; Jeff Perkins; Adele Pressman; Emily Russo (Zeitgeist Films); Keith Sanborn; Tom Sveen (Cinema Guild); and Olivia Wyatt.


Robert Gardner’s Harvard Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea resulted in one of his most widely seen, discussed, and debated films, the feature-length DEAD BIRDS (1964). In the final years of his life, he also began editing together more than a dozen short pieces drawn from the hours of footage amassed during the expedition. Following his death, Gardner’s Estate, under the direction of Adele Pressman, embarked on a project to complete and present these short works, which will soon be released by Documentary Educational Resources (DER), an organization founded in 1968 by pioneering ethnographic filmmakers John Marshall and Timothy Asch, and which currently distributes many of Gardner’s films. Olivia Wyatt was commissioned to complete the editing on Gardner’s pieces, and Ernst Karel was brought on to construct soundtracks for the films, using the sound recordings taken by Michael Rockefeller during the expedition. It was this project that led Karel to spend hours studying Rockefeller’s recordings, a process that ultimately inspired the conception of Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati’s new documentary film, EXPEDITION CONTENT.

These short films stand in fascinating relation to DEAD BIRDS – ranging in length from 2-20 minutes, and mostly focusing on a specific facet of Hubula culture (from daily activities like hunting, cooking, grooming, or playing, to special ceremonies including funerals, war, ritual dances, and so on), they register more like brief sketches. However, in Gardner’s hands, these sketches are beautifully composed, at times almost transcendent in their visual clarity and the grace with which they depict both the Hubula people and their environment. Karel’s soundtracks skillfully and unobtrusively utilize Rockefeller’s tapes to bring into play the evocative sounds of Hubula life, while also referencing the people and processes of the expedition through which the visual and auditory elements were created.

In conjunction with the week-long run of EXPEDITION CONTENT, Anthology is thrilled to present these very special, work-in-progress screenings of Gardner’s BALIEM VALLEY 1961 short films (which will be fully completed in the coming months).


EXPEDITION CONTENT sets Michael Rockefeller’s Harvard Peabody Expedition sound recordings against a visual track consisting predominantly of black leader, interrupted only by title cards, captions, and occasional brief flashes of imagery. Though this formal technique is bold and unusual, it’s far from unprecedented. Infrequently but consistently throughout the history of the cinema, artists have challenged the conventional (and seemingly self-evident) conception of the medium as a predominantly visual one by creating works designed for the cinema auditorium that are – perversely – mostly or entirely imageless. These subversions of the idea of a medium of “moving images” have taken many forms: works that emphasize spoken dialogue or sound collages; films whose visual tracks consist primarily of written text; projector performances that showcase or manipulate light and darkness; flicker films; pure color studies; films that punctuate long stretches of darkness with near-subliminal bursts of imagery; and so on and so forth.

Later this year, Anthology will present a series surveying the various kinds of “imageless films”. In the meantime, in connection with EXPEDITION CONTENT, we offer a kind of sneak preview, highlighting a brief selection of works that – like Ernst Karel & Veronika Kusumaryati’s new film – anchor their “imagelessness” in a foundation of field recordings, spoken language, or found sound.

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