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“This Is a Safe Space for People Who Are Against Genocide, And Who Want to See a Liberated Future for All”: Inney Prakash Previews Prismatic Ground 2024

Fertile Life

Returning for its fourth edition, the experimentally-focused Prismatic Ground film festival will once again host a series of screenings across several NYC theaters and via a free streaming platform. Running from May 8 through 12, the program kicks off with an appropriately urgent Opening Night screening at the Museum of the Moving Image of Palestinian filmmaker Michel Khleifi’s Fertile Memory (1981), preceded by a reading from poet Hala Alyan and concluding with a post-film discussion between Bidoun magazine’s Tiffany Malakooti and researcher, writer and curator Adam HajYahia. 

“Most of my energy and attention in the last several months has been focused on resisting institutional complicity with the genocide in Gaza,” Prismatic Ground founder and programmer Inney Prakash tells Filmmaker. “For a while, I doubted whether I should put on a festival this year. I ultimately decided that to not do so would be at least as useless as doing so, and that if I was going to do it I needed to meet the moment in the most sincere way possible. There are Palestinian films old and new throughout the lineup. I invited the poet Hala Alyan to do a short reading before [Fertile Memory], because to me poetry has always somehow been part of the essence of the festival and it’s what’s spoken to me more deeply even than cinema alone at this time.” 

Aside from MoMI hosting the Opening Night selection, other New York theaters hosting screenings include Chinatown’s DCTV Firehouse, Brooklyn’s Light Industry and, most prominently, Anthology Film Archives on the Lower East Side. (“I love all these venues and the people who make them run. Anthology is best suited to handle long schedules and a high volume of films—we’re in both of their theaters simultaneously this year.”) 

For the 2024 edition of Prismatic Ground, offerings have been organized in “waves,” which are essentially program blocks composed of multiple or stand-alone shorts, features, readings and post-screening discussions or Q&As. 

“The waves are a holdover from the festival’s first, all-virtual edition,” explains Prakash. “They were originally an attempt to create thematic cohesion but also to minimize the level of discrimination between shorts and features, which is harder to do in-person. The way I organize them is very intuitive. I like to keep the themes loose, and perhaps not even identifiable to anyone but myself.” 

For those based in the New York metropolitan area and beyond who want to catch as much as they can of this year’s lineup, find brief descriptions of some stand-out gems below, alongside more insight from Prakash on the programming and ethos that went into crafting Prismatic Ground Year Four. 

Wave 1: Program 4 

On May 9, the film and performance art collective known as arc (also credited with designing the poster for Prismatic Ground 2024) will present single-channel films alongside double-projector performance pieces (both on 16mm), appropriately dubbed “An Evening with arc.” The five films range from three to 14 minutes long—totalling 42 minutes overall—and will surely make for a riveting encapsulation of arc’s artistic practice, which is set to kick off at Light Industry at 7 p.m. 

Wave 1: Program 5 

Featured on our 25 New Faces of Film list back in 2018, Ho-Chunk artist and filmmaker Sky Hopinka’s latest, Just a Soul Responding, will screen at Light Industry immediately after arc’s presentation. Described by Hopinka as “a travelogue of sorts,” the 16-minute film will be supplemented with a reading by the filmmaker that will bring the total runtime of the program to 60 minutes. Considering that Hopinka was one of at least 18 artists to withdraw their films from IDFA back in November due to the festival’s poor response to pro-Palestinian protests, it’s appropriate that his work is set to screen at a festival that vehemently opposes the ongoing genocide in Gaza. 

Yet Prakash is quick to suggest that everyone must look for ways to fight for Palestinian lives outside of their own artistic practices. “Prismatic Ground is also just one part of my life,” he says. “People need to be demanding an end to genocide, apartheid and occupation on every front they can.”

Wave 2: Program 6 

A truly exciting restoration not to miss at this year’s festival is the Salvadore Allende-focused El Realismo Socialista, which was originally filmed by Raúl Ruiz in September of 1973 before Pinochet’s military coup plunged Chile into a brutal dictatorship. In 2019, much of this original footage was uncovered at Duke University and at the Royal Film Archives of Belgium, which prompted Ruiz’s longtime collaborator and widow (also a talented filmmaker and editor in her own right) Valeria Sarmiento to restore and complete a film that otherwise would have been lost to time. 

As students and educators face fascist crackdowns in the wake of peaceful pro-Palestinian protest across the country, the inclusion of Ruiz and Sarmiento’s nearly-suppressed film is all the more vital, particularly considering Prakash’s first-hand experience with institutional pushback. “I’m a part-time teacher at the New School and have just pledged support for a strike led by the brave and principled students who were arrested for peacefully demonstrating at a school that’s evidently reduced its radical leftist history to a marketing ploy,” he says. “The work I do at The New School is actually connected to Prismatic Ground. I teach a class called ‘Counter Curating: Alternative Film Festivals,’ and the students helped evaluate submissions to the festival. Discussing the work with them opened up new pathways of thought and conversation, and they were a tremendously helpful part of the process.” 

Wave 2: Program 7 

This robust short film lineup largely screening on celluloid features work from Japanese experimentalist Tomonari Nishikawa, Ste. Anne director Rhayne Vermette and transnational video artist Federica Foglia, among several others. Showing at Anthology Film Archives on Friday, May 10 at 9:15 p.m., the 66-minute 16 and 35mm program wonderfully represents Prakash’s programming inclinations. “I like to organize the films in a way that rewards marathon viewing,” he notes. “They’re paced and ordered to create a certain amount of flow.” 

Wave 3: Program 1 

Two particularly exciting names in contemporary experimental cinema are highlighted during this programming block. First to screen is Calum Walter’s 18-minute short Entrance Wounds, described as “a meditation on the image and the bullet,” followed by Isiah Medina’s most recent feature He Thought He Died, which premiered at TIFF back in September as part of the festival’s Wavelengths program. Invited to film in the archives of Ontario’s Agnes Etherington Arts Centre, Medina’s resulting film centers on an artist (played by himself) who steals his own painting from the museum’s collection. Catch this stacked double-bill at 11 a.m. on May 11 at Anthology (and prep by reading our 2015 interview with Medina on his excellent debut feature 88:88.)

Wave 3: Program 3 

Legendary slow cinema director Tsai Ming-liang returns to Prismatic Ground with another entry in his Walker series, which once again shows frequent collaborator Lee Kang-sheng slowly traversing across several fixed frames in a distinct metropolitan locale (previous cities have included Hong Kong, Marseille and Tokyo). Titled Abiding Nowhere, this 79-minute chapter finds Kang-sheng’s saffron-robed monk character inching his way across Washington, D.C., navigating the National Museum of Asian Art (which commissioned this particular project) and other DMV-specific settings. Social Circles, a 16-minute short by Japanese visual artist Eri Saito that “explores the unique dynamics and communication that arise from the inability to fully connect and understand each other,” will screen before Abiding Nowhere. Watch both titles at 1 p.m. on May 11 at Anthology. 

Wave 4: Program 4 

Carol Mansour’s intimate yet starkly relevant documentary Aida Returns chronicles the director’s quest to bring her mother’s ashes from Beirut to her native Palestine nearly four years after she died as a result of Alzheimer’s complications. A portrait of both her relationship with her mother and the occupation that makes Palestinians returning to their homeland nearly impossible—even in death—Mansour’s film is a poignant distillation of Israel’s cruelty and commitment to settler colonialism. 

While the inclusion of Mansour and other Palestinian filmmakers at this year’s Prismatic Ground provokes necessary and urgent dialogue around the ongoing genocide, Prakash believes that programming is only a small facet of what arts organizations can do to support Gaza.

“Significantly, I don’t think it’s enough for arts institutions to show Palestinian films,” he says. “That’s the bare minimum, and at worst it’s a way of accruing a certain kind of cultural capital without committing to structural, material change. For this reason it was important for me to commit Prismatic Ground to PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. We know BDS works, and the time has come to exert maximum pressure, just like was done to end apartheid in South Africa. Students are leading the way and proving that the powers of state & capital feel seriously threatened by pressure to divest.”

Wave 4: Program 6 

The recipient of the festival’s 2024 Ground Glass Award—which recognizes an “exceptional body of work” during each edition of the festival—Greek filmmaker Antoinetta Angelidi is the subject of Obsessive Hours at the Topos of Reality, a monologue of sorts filmed by her daughter and “life-long creative collaborator” Rea Walldén, which had its international premiere earlier this year at International Film Festival Rotterdam. (Read Forrest Cardamenis’s excellent interview with Angelidi and Walldén for the site out of IFFR here.) Intimately shot in their Athens apartment during lockdown, Angelidi is predominantly filmed while cloaked in near-darkness, her hands and face often the only identifying features occasionally captured in the frame. As the title is a direct reference to three of Angelidi’s previous features, Walldén’s film tandemly cements her mother as an indelible fixture of the feminist avant-garde film scene as well as an aspirational figure whose work transcends the confines of their mother-daughter relationship. 

“I learned about her from my friend and filmmaker Christina Phoebe while attending The Temenos a couple summers ago,” Prakash says of the decision to bestow Angelidi with the award this year. “When I tracked down the work I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it, and that very few people I asked seemed to know about Antoinetta Angelidi. Surreal, symbolist, modernist, feminist genius, densely layered with subversive reorientations of myth and religion and personal history. For the most part, these films haven’t played in North America. The award and retrospective then, are an attempt to correct a great injustice.”

Wave ∞

Finally, if you’re not able to make it to any of Prismatic Grounds’s in-person offerings, many films from the lineup—including a few streaming exclusives—are available to watch for free via the festival’s online viewing platform. Of the films that will only screen virtually as part of Wave ∞ are Opening Night filmmaker Michel Khleifi’s 30-minute short Ma’loul Celebrates Its Destruction, Sundance’s Indigenous Program Director Adam Piron’s 15-minute short Dau:añcut (Moving Along Image) and Liz Robert’s 12-minute film Even God. This attention to virtual programming is part of Prakash’s dedication to democratizing the burgeoning experimental fare that the festival continues to champion. 

“I heard from so many people around the world when the festival began online that I couldn’t completely forgo that component,” elaborates Prakash. “All the talk about access kind of went out the window with festivals after the lockdown era, which is a shame. Each year I ask filmmakers if they’d like their work to play online in addition to in person and if they say yes, it does. I hope that part of the festival continues to be a low-stakes way for people to be introduced to and keep up with experimental film, and to be part of the conversations that move the form forward without having to live in or be able to travel to a metropolis.”

Films that will screen both in-person and virtually include those by Charlie Shackleton, Bentley Brown, Tamer Hassan, Antoinetta Angelidi and Rea Walldén. While the concurrent online component of Prismatic Ground is essential to the festival’s commitment to inclusivity, those that can attend physical screenings will bolster the tangible presence of an artistic community that bands together against increasing institutional threats to those who advocate for Palestinian lives and an immediate ceasefire. 

“In New York I hope people plan to see as much as they can, because I think the program rewards that,” concludes Prakash. “I also hope they take the opportunity to be in community with people who share a certain sense of humanity. This is a safe space for people who are against genocide, and who want to see a liberated future for all. I hope people draw energy from these films and the conversations around them, and that they take that energy back into the fight for a Free Palestine.” 

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