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The Intersection of Film and Live Music: Jem Cohen’s We Have an Anchor

Jem Cohen is back at BAM with the New York premiere of We Have an Anchor — a hybrid documentary that blends projections of landscapes in a variety of formats (Super 8, 16mm, HD), poetry and newspaper clippings to the sounds of a live score by an indie rock supergroup featuring members of Fugazi, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and more.

A spiritual sequel to 2008’s Evening’s Civil Twilight in Empires of Tin, We Have an Anchor is an exploration of place (specifically Nova Scotia, more specifically Cape Breton) utilizing footage Cohen has shot over the last 10 years. Cohen departs from images of urban decay and fixes his lens on the natural world instead.

The project was commissioned by Experimental Media & Performance Arts Center (EMPAC), a center “dedicated to building bridges between our human senses, to modes of perception and experience, to creating meaning in a physical environment, and to the intangible world of digital technology.”

The show is being presented by Wordless Music (who were most recently involved in the live-scored Beasts of the Southern Wild that screened at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park this summer).

Projects like this point toward an avenue of exhibition underutilized by independent filmmakers — one that explores the intersection between music and film to create a one-of-a-kind experience. With theatrical distribution becoming harder to come by for independent filmmakers, what can be done to bring people to watch a film at a venue and leave the comforts of VOD and Internet streaming? By creating an experience. Like theater, this form of exhibition creates a unique space for an audience to experience something dynamic that can change from night to night. And it doesn’t always have to be a live score, either. Rooftop Films employs an approach that kicks off its screenings with an opening band. In my own work, I’ve utilized a similar approach and booked a tour of my short film with bands, poets, and visual artists.

Have you ever utilized a similar approach for your own projects? How else can this model be applied to independent distribution and exhibition? Leave your responses in the comments section below!

We Have an Anchor is showing from Sep 26-28 as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Tickets are on sale here.

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