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April 21 – April 29, 2019

Visions of Richard P. Rogers

Richard P. Rogers (1944 - 2001) maintained two full-time careers: he was a celebrated director and producer of nonfiction films as well as an inspired teacher of still photography and filmmaking at Harvard. Rogers’ appetite for knowledge was omnivorous, taking him from the jungles of Nicaragua to the fountains of Rome, from the bedrooms of colonial New England homes to the streets of working-class Albany, and throughout these travels his unsparing artist’s eye often turned back onto himself. With topics that ranged across art and architecture, history and literature, his films spoke in many voices—politically engaged, personal, experimental. Though perhaps best known for the long form independent documentaries Living at Risk and Pictures from a Revolution (both collaborations with Susan Meiselas and Alfred Guzzetti) at Harvard he was also a mentor to new generations of committed filmmakers, and under his directorship the Film Study Center became an important catalyst for nonfiction production. Rogers’ films share an experimental bent, a search for the adequate form to create revealing portraits whether of artists like William Carlos Williams, historic figures such as the midwife and healer Martha Ballard, or communities like the Quincy, Massachusetts captured in Rogers’ celebrated short film, Quarry.

The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to collaborate with Susan Meiselas on this retrospective while she is a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study working on a research and book project about the photographs of Richard P. Rogers. Susan Meiselas will be joined in conversation with filmmaker and former student of Rogers, Alexander Olch about The Windmill Movie, Olch's touching and insightful portrait of Rogers and his unfinished eponymous film.

Film descriptions by Haden Guest, Amy Sloper and Brittany Gravely.

Sunday April 21 at 7pm

A Midwife’s Tale

Directed by Richard P. Rogers
US 1998, 16mm, color, 89 min

In one of his last films, Rogers worked with writer Laurie Kahn to adapt Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale, into a feature-length film for PBS’ American Experience. Ulrich’s book was already a radical text, one that used the life of an ordinary woman, Martha Ballard—as told in her own voice through the detailed diary she kept from 1785-1812—to tell a socioeconomic history of rural life in New England and to interpret the everyday struggle, violence and mundanity of women’s lives in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Combining elements of documentary and fiction, the filmmakers not only bring Martha Ballard to life on screen, but also illustrate the often hidden labor of historical research by showing Ulrich herself performing the detailed and expansive detective work of interpreting Ballard’s life through the document she has left behind.

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Introduction by Jill Janows
Sunday April 28 at 5pm

Moving Pictures: The Art of Jan Lenica

Directed by Richard P. Rogers
US 1975, 16mm, color, 20 min

While Jan Lenica was a visiting artist at Harvard’s Film Study Center, Richard Rogers wanted to make a portrait of the master graphic designer and animator in action. Rogers structures his film much like his subject might, in funny fits and starts, with slightly ominous, minimalist shots interrupted by artfully composed, off-kilter perspectives and an underlying mystery and irreverent humor. When a solemn Lenica admits to having “no working method” and trusting visual information over language, Rogers responds with a close examination of Lenica calmly engaged at the animation stand and, later, with an experimental cut-up audio track of Lenica’s terse aphorisms. After witnessing Lenica drawing, painting and shooting segments of his film Landscape in his Carpenter Center studio, Rogers brings that work to life so the audience can immediately witness the magical results of Lenica’s understated undertaking.

 

William Carlos Williams

Directed by Richard P. Rogers. Written and Produced by Jill Janows
US 1988, digital video, color, 56 min

In this installment for the PBS series Voices and Visions, Rogers worked with writer and producer Jill Janows to offer a touching portrait of the poet and doctor that seeks to understand the origins of Williams’ uniquely grounded poetry and its connection to his daily life and beloved New Jersey.

 

 

 

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Introduction by Susan Meiselas
Sunday April 28 at 7pm

Quarry

Directed by Richard P. Rogers
US 1970, 16mm, b/w, 13 min

This portrait of an abandoned quarry in Quincy, Massachusetts captures the striking natural beauty of the site as it explores the social rites of the young people who gather along its rugged shores to enjoy leisure in what was once a place of toil.

 

 

 

 

Elephants: Fragments in an Argument

Directed by Richard P. Rogers
US 1973, 16mm, color, 25 min

A self-portrait of the filmmaker at twenty-nine, this provocative collage of photographs, street scenes, and interviews with family and friends seeks to prove that "one’s consciousness is the result of one’s relationship to power and not, as many believe, vice-versa."

 

 

226-1690

Directed by Richard P. Rogers
US 1984, 16mm, color, 23 min

Rogers created this "minimalist soap opera" out of messages left on his telephone answering machine over the course of an entire year. Together with the accompanying visuals of scenes shot from the windows of the filmmaker’s New York loft, the recordings provide an amusing account of life caught between the public and the private; we see weddings take place in the church across the street, passersby struggling through the snow on the sidewalk, gradually becoming submerged in the meditative rhythms of Rogers’ interior world.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Alexander Olch and Susan Meiselas in Person

Monday April 29 at 7pm

The Windmill Movie

Directed by Alexander Olch. With Wallace Shawn, Bob Balaban, Susan Meiselas
US 2009, 35mm, color, 82 min

What if someone wrote your autobiography? 200 hours of footage, dusty boxes of film, a broken editing computer: these were the pieces of filmmaker Richard P. Rogers’ daring attempt to make his own autobiography. He died in 2001, leaving behind a lifetime of filmed memories, until his student and protégé, Alexander Olch began making a movie out of the pieces. Writing in his teacher’s voice, working with Wallace Shawn, Bob Balaban and Richard’s wife—acclaimed photographer Susan Meiselas—Olch steps into his mentor’s shoes and his past to make a film impossible to make. An autobiography that isn’t. A documentary of fiction. A lifetime of questions, finally answered. Print courtesy filmmaker.

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