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Mills Folly Microcinema: Ephraim Asili: Three Films

  • Arts + Literature Laboratory 2021 Winnebago Street Madison, WI, 53704 United States (map)

Documentary and contemplative essay forms combine in Ephraim Asili's experimental short films. Info

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The Mills Folly Microcinema series celebrates Black History Month with a triptych of filmmaker Ephraim Asili's most recent experimental shorts, which blend documentary approaches with poetic essays. American Hunger (2013), Kindah (2016), and Fluid Frontiers (2017) collectively characterize a cinematically underrepresented black beauty, erudition, and expression through moving portraiture but also the sonorous language and African-American music that has boldly enriched the American landscape.

Asili's methods are most evocatively harnessed in the contemplative warmth of American Hunger, elicited through the lovingly observational camera, softly washed-out cinematography, and thought-provoking speeches that blur the boundary between the spiritual and political. Immediately, the aesthetic evokes ethnographic filmmakers Ben Russell and Khalik Allah, whose work has recently screened in Madison as part of WUD Film's Starlight and Micro-Wave Cinema Series, respectively. Still, Asili's intimate but panoramic framing here allows his generally concise scenes to take on a more profound sensibility. It's as if he's capturing a unique verisimilitude and ephemeral beauty on the modern streets of Philadelphia and shorelines of Ocean City, with contextual juxtapositions against harsher histories both in the US and abroad in Accra, Ghana.

Fluid Frontiers further complements and explores the lyrical elements of American Hunger within the specificity of location, on the border of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, for its literal and metaphorical connections to the Underground Railroad. In 23 minutes, the short film oscillates between local denizens/activists standing and facing the camera resolutely while reading black literature/memoirs and a 1975 analogue recording of Margaret Walker giving unwavering clarity to her own "Harriet Tubman." Asili's distinctive and cumulative emphasis on the black experience and the visceral effects of our language are perfectly suited to the inclusivity of the ALL space. —Grant Phipps