According to the Library of Congress, around 70 percent of all feature-length films made in the US between 1912 and 1929 no longer exist. In America (2019), artist and filmmaker Garrett Bradley imagines Black figures from the early decades of the 20th century whose lives have been lost to history. A multichannel video installation, it is organized around 12 short black-and-white films shot by Bradley and set to a score by artist Trevor Mathison and composer Udit Duseja. Bradley intersperses her films with footage from the unreleased Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1914), believed to be the oldest surviving feature-length film with an all-Black cast. “I see America as a model for how…the assembly of images can serve as an archive of the past as well as a document of the present,” Bradley has said. Her installation cites historical events, ranging from African American composer and singer Harry T. Burleigh’s publication of the spiritual “Deep River” in 1917, to the murder of popular jazz bandleader James Reese Europe in 1919, to the founding of baseball’s Negro National League in 1920. By including borrowed footage from Lime Kiln Club Field Day, she also shines a light on a film that was radically progressive for its time by celebrating Black vernacular culture.
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Garrett Bradley (b. NYC, 1986) works across narrative, documentary, and experimental modes of filmmaking to address themes such as race, class, familial relationships, social justice, southern culture, and the history of film in the United States. Bradley has received numerous prizes which include the 2019 Prix de Rome, and the 2017 Sundance Jury Prize for the short film “Alone,” which was released by The New York Times OpDocs And became an Oscar Contender for short nonfiction filmmaking, included in Academy Shortlist.
Bradleys work can be seen across a variety of spaces including her Second Unit Directing work on Ava DuVernays “When They See Us” and the 2019 Whitney Biennial. In December of this 2019, Bradley’s first solo exhibition opened at The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), curated by Rebecca Matalon. In January of 2020, Bradley became the first Black American woman to receive Best Director at the 2020 Sundance Film festival for her first feature length documentary, “Time.”
There is so much to unpack here! I first came to know the works of Garrett Bradley when we sat in our darkened living room and began watching the mesmerizing film “Time.” It was not just about the content of the film but everything about it. So it seems fitting that I would further delve into the career of such a prolific film maker. What Garrett is doing with this MoMA project is profound. It is revealing and important at this time in our discordant society. With this new found direction in America and it’s tumultuous past, Garrett Bradley has put the spotlight on both and what it means at this particular and present state of awareness.
Karen Gibson Roc — Nevahblackdown