James Benning Presents Readers at the 2017 Viennale

Simone Forti in ‘Readers’ by James Benning | Photo: Courtesy of the filmmaker

On Oct. 26-27, respected filmmaker and CalArts Program in Film/Video faculty James Benning screened his latest film, Readers, at the 2017 Viennale in Vienna, Austria. Known for challenging viewers’ expectations of the cinematic experience, Benning’s film focuses on the often unobserved human act of reading.

Readers presents a series of four, 27-minute portraits of CalArts student Clara McHale-Ribot (Film/Video BFA 19), author Rachel Kushner, writer and educator Richard Hebdige and dancer-choreographer Simone Forti, who were left alone to read in front of Benning’s camera. An insert at the end of each shot offers the viewer a quotation from the respective reader’s book.

The Brooklyn Rail, a journal on arts, politics and culture, recently published Watching Readers, a review by filmmaker and educator Madison Brookshire (Film/Video MFA 07). In his final reflection of the film, Brookshire writes:

…Once more I think of these as portraits and performances. Who writes the rules of the film we watch so carefully? Who is the author of this image, these sounds? How many authors? How many readers? The point is not whatever conclusions we arrive at, but rather what we learn in the process: we learn what it is like to watch a movie, to sit together in stillness and quiet, our bodies at rest and in action, observing. Again, I think, this is not a movie about readers or reading; it is about us.

Readers had its world premiere at MOCA in Los Angeles on Oct. 12. The screening was introduced by Kushner, and was followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker. In a discussion about his filmmaking process, Benning said, “Reading is a personal activity. It was most gracious of each of those who shared their reading with me and my camera.”

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