EXPERIMENTS IN CINEMA
Panel discussion with Jon Goff, Claire Diao, Greg DeCuir, Kisito Assangni, Kevin Jerome Everson and Cauleen Smith.
BLACK PORTRAITURES IV
THE LIVING ROOM: INTERROGATING AFRICAN AMERICAN HOME INTERIORS
Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Hutchins Center | Cambridge, MA
The Black living room is a gateway to the soul of the Black family in America and the diaspora. There are the walls curated with pictures and art reflecting values sustained and transmitted from generation. There was the trifecta of MLK, JFK, and Jesus (at times white) that grandma recently added the Obamas to adding a fourth leg to the table that has feed our aesthetic consciousness to no end. Our panel endeavors to explore the role of the Black Living room and the often-little celebrated role of Black artistic agency. The scholars, activists, and artists of our generation were shaped by creative traditions pioneered by progenitors who, despite limited access and agency, fashioned a way of life and living that was beautiful and inspired their offspring to dream and embrace the wonders of futurity. This panel is an exploration of how/what black people have chosen to curate in their homes, becoming “glitch curators,” privileging aesthetic in commonplace items used for utility.
Cinemafricas jurymedlem Jon S. Goff om vinnarfilmen
by Roger Wilson
[…] “When you see pictures from the turbulent 1960s, reports about the civil rights movement are often reported. There are polish dogs and fire hoses. If that’s the only thing you see of African Americans, you can think that life was just that. But with these home videos with people who are celebrating or on vacation, one sees that there is a whole spectrum of life.
At the moment, Jon S. Goff works on his own film project called “After Sherman”.From the outset, it was thought to be an experimental and meditative film that focused on the communities on the US southeastern coast. But the project has changed by a tragedy. […]
Swedish Film Institute |Stockholm, Sweden
Do you work with culture and the media? Want to know more about how to cure African cultural products? With this industry seminar, we aim to demystify and reproduce African and African diaspora films in Sweden and promote a newly launched program.
Freelance film director Katarina Hedrén and Jon S. Goff, film specialist and curator at The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will act as guides, exchange experiences, practices and practices from the African continent as well as the diaspora.
Archive and Collection of Pan-African Content
A conversation with Dr. Rhea L. Combs and Jon Goff from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC. Many museums and institutions with historical collections in Europe and the Americas are facing challenging questions about their place in modern society. How to tackle collections consisting of colonial, imperialist and racist objects and how to contextualise the power relations reflected by these objects?
Dr. Rhea L. Combs and Jon Goff will talk about their vision and strategy, focusing on incorporating the differing needs and views of visitors and making the collections relevant and accessible to future generations. Part of PACT (Pan-African Cinema Today), in which the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has curated the compilation programme The Color Line, consisting of a selection of works from their collection. In collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.
Sat 27 Jan, 12:00-13:30, Hilton Rotterdam, free admission
Prospect.4: Art Cannot Save The World
by Rainey Knudson
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention certain standouts, like Darryl Montana‘s astounding costumes for the Black masking Indians of Mardi Gras; or the photographer Genevieve Gaignard’s poignant, fusty-chic installation at the Ace Hotel; or Jeff Whetstone’s luscious, meditative video of Vietnamese fishermen along the Mississippi River, at UNO’s St. Claude gallery; or Jon-Sesrie Goff’s video of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, highlighted by Sweet Honey in the Rock’s cover of the Sonia Sanchez poem “Stay on the Battlefield,” with its powerful refrain, “Come to this battlefield called life.”
Art Review : Prospect.4 Rises to the Occasion in New Orleans
by Rebecca Lee Reynolds
It was the shock of encountering a work about the Emanuel AME church in Charleston that made me emotional — a place that I have written about before (you can read it here). In Jon-Sesrie Goff’s A Site of Reckoning: Battlefield (2016), spoken word narration by Sonia Sanchez and the gospel music of Sweet Honey in the Rock accompany a 5-minute long black-and-white video about the shootings at the church on June 17, 2015. The camera follows a car pulling into the parking lot behind the church, and I’m guessing that only a Charlestonian like me would catch that the car was pulling up to the side entrance that Roof used to enter the building. The camera takes us into the sanctuary and lingers on still tableaux: the organist’s mirror, the eagle finial on a flag, the objects on the altar. Then the camera zooms in on details of the offerings left behind: votive candles, handwritten messages of love and support, sweetgrass roses hanging from a tree, a plaster angel, coins left on top of the church sign. In the spoken word narration, Sanchez implores us to “come to this battlefield called life,” exclaiming “we need your hurricane voices.” Finally the camera pans out to show the front of the church—no people at all, just flowers and stillness as the music ends and the only sound is the sound of passing cars.
Goff’s video makes the church real for those who have never visited it, and the video offers an emotional sanctuary — a place to memorialize the loss of life. It refuses to show us the violence at all, and that was another theme of work in Prospect.4: the question of representation.
PHILANTHROPY NEWS DIGEST
National Museum of African American History and Culture: ‘The Story of America Through an African-American Lens’
by Kathryn Pyle
Jon S. Goff, CAAMA’s museum specialist in film, is excited about spotlighting unknown and under-appreciated media figures such as Anderson, the first African-American woman to produce and direct a televised documentary. “We were pleased to be able to interview her for the museum’s oral history project,” he tells me. “She had worked with well-known filmmakers such as Richard Leacock, David and Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennebaker, but she wasn’t adequately recognized. Fortunately, her films are being shown more widely now, and she’s an active participant in the screenings.”
Speaking with me during a break from recording another oral history, Goff says that, “‘Moving image’ is probably a more accurate description than ‘film’ for what we do, because our work includes animation, digital media artists, films, home movies, and audio interviews. And we engage with practitioners: the artists who are defining and redefining black visual culture. We’re especially looking for women and experimental artists to feature. There’s a precious history to mine.”
Goff, a filmmaker with degrees in sociology and fine arts, currently is working on After Sherman, a documentary film about race relations centered on the history of his family’s land in South Carolina’s Gullah region and the 2015 mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He joined the museum’s staff recently.
I ask him how CAAMA’s program is different from other media shown in the museum. “There’s a lot of blurred lines in the entire museum,” he says. “For instance, the exhibit space ‘Taking the Stage’ also features film, but it’s more historical and is one of the permanent exhibits that stay in place for a decade or so. The museum commissioned Ava DuVernay, who directed 13th and Selma, to create a film that introduces visitors to the museum’s themes; August 28th is shown in a small room near the museum’s entrance. But CAAMA is meant to be ever-changing, with a more contemporary and critical approach to black representation. Part of our program is curation, and we want to digitize the films in our collection and make them accessible through the CAAMA page.”
SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE
Jon-Sesrie Goff Wins 2016 Egerton Prize
The SFA awards the John Egerton Prize to artists, writers, scholars, and others, whose work addresses issues of race, class, gender, and social and environmental justice, through the lens of food. The award identifies Southerners whose work will benefit from greater support, freedom, and exposure.
The 2016 John Egerton Prize, awarded at the 19th Southern Foodways Symposium, goes to documentary filmmaker Jon-Sesrie Goff, for his documentary film After Sherman. Goff is an M.F.A. candidate at Duke University for Experimental and Documentary Arts. When he entered the program, Goff focused on documenting a 40-acre property in coastal South Carolina that has been passed down through the women of his family since the Civil War.
In the wake of the terrorist attack at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, Goff’s focus shifted. After Sherman now tells a story of resilience in the Gullah community and shares the stories of his ancestors as they have faced down adversity. It highlights efforts to preserve the Gullah culture, despite official and unofficial efforts to silence them. For Goff, the land of his ancestors serves as a site of reckoning, a space with close and complicated ties to current national conversations about race, place, and identity.
Established in 2009, the award, which carries a $5,000 cash stipend, is named for the late journalist and author John Egerton, who chronicled and championed the civil rights cause in America and framed our understanding of the power of the common table.
AFTER CHARLESTON, A CHANGE OF FOCUS FOR MFA STUDENT
by Kathryn Pyle
A 40-acre plot of land in coastal South Carolina is joining the national dialogue on race relations.
Jon-Sesrie Goff, 32, a second-year student in the Master of Fine Arts of Experimental and Documentary Arts program, has been exploring the history of his family’s small land holding in South Carolina’s Low Country – or ‘Gullah’ region — in a documentary project titled After Sherman since he came to Duke last year. But the murders of nine churchgoers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17 forced Goff to reexamine the significance of his family’s land and Gullah heritage.
“The way events unfolded this summer completely changed my approach to (documenting the land),” Goff said. “After the shooting, I had to reorient my entire project. I was (in Charleston) for most of the aftermath of the shooting and continue to go back a few times every month.”
Goff, who is African-American, also has a personal connection to the massacre at Emanuel AME: his father Norvel Goff Sr., became the interim pastor of the church immediately following Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s murder. (He was not in the church when the shooting occurred)
After Sherman has since evolved into Goff’s thesis and become his primary focus. It received a $30,000 filmmaking grant from the Princess Grace Foundation, the first time a Duke MFA student has received the prestigious Princess Grace Award, one of six awarded to young filmmakers from around the United States.
Tom Rankin, the MFA/EDA director, said Goff’s accomplishment is an “affirmation” of the talent within Duke’s program, which enrolled its first class of students in 2012.
“We’re a very young program and this tells other programs and foundations that there are extremely talented people with distinctive ideas in our MFA program,” Rankin said.
Goff will use the grant money to turn After Sherman, which he had conceived as a short film, into a feature-length documentary film.
“With the Princess Grace grant, I will be able to hire a crew and more editors,” Goff said. “I also want to do fictional recreations of local folklore, and these funds will contribute to that as well.”
Born and raised in the Northeast, Goff’s path to Duke included everything from shooting marketing videos to documenting Atlanta pop star Janelle Monae’s national tour to contributing camera work on documentary and feature films such as Out in the Night (2015) and Evolution of a Criminal (2014). But after a decade of taking on freelance work around the country, Goff wanted a change of pace.
“I wanted to know if my intuition around filmmaking was correct or incorrect,” Goff said. “I also found myself over-committing to freelance work right before I applied to MFA programs, and I thought taking the time to harness and develop my own ideas and practice would be the right next step.”
Goff said Duke’s program stood out because of its close ties with departments outside the visual arts, adding that his research for After Sherman has been supplemented with conversations across various academic disciplines, including economics, anthropology and the Divinity School.
“This institution really supports arts in a non-traditional way, and they recognize that an art student might be interested in other disciplines,” Goff said. “That’s really what stood out to me as I was considering different programs.”
With the academic resources of the university and his MFA professors’ artistic expertise supporting him, Goff set out to explore his family history through the prism o a 40-acre piece of land passed down by his father’s female ancestors since the end of the Civil War. He spent much of his first year in the MFA program visiting the land and researching the deeds connected to it in Charleston and other parts of coastal South Carolina. One of the first people to offer Goff assistance was the late Clementa Pinckney, the state senator and senior pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston who was killed in the church shooting.
“Reverend Pinckney was a champion of Gullah cultural preservation, and he was instrumental in passing legislation that protected (inherited African American) property, so he was making initial introductions to me within the community,” Goff said. “I never thought there was any reason for me to rush interviewing him. Then June 17 happened, and I had to reorient my entire project and storytelling to what had taken place.”
While Goff said that he had entered the MFA program with little interest in producing work based on race in American society, he now hopes to examine race relations through his family history in the Low Country. Alex Harris, a photographer and one of the founders of the Center for Documentary Studies, said witnessing the shift in Goff’s focus over the course of the past few months has been “fascinating.”
“Jon is working in a moment where his life and his family’s life intersects history in a powerful way,” Harris said. “He started out making a quiet film about a piece of land that remained in his family following the Civil War. Now Jon finds himself trying to tell a bigger story, one that strikes at the heart of our nation’s consciousness about race.
“Jon is following the impulse that many documentarians have: to tell their own story through the lives of other people. Certain themes, ideas, or events in their own lives have propelled them to look at other people’s lives to learn something fundamental about themselves,” Harris added.
Goff said After Sherman takes its name and style from the 1986 feature film Sherman’s March, in which documentarian Ross McElwee tells a personal narrative instead of creating a historical documentary about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea in Georgia after the Civil War.
Rankin said that Goff’s “unique position” of having a large budget for his thesis project forced him and other faculty members on the MFA thesis committee to reconsider the scope of Goff’s project. While After Sherman will not be completed before Goff graduates in May 2016, his thesis will consist of an edited segment that will later be incorporated into the finished film.
Goff hopes to use documentary filmmaking as a medium to explore the history and culture of the Atlantic coastal corridor from North Carolina to Florida.
Rankin and Harris agree that Goff’s outstanding tenure in the MFA program has had a positive impact on both the faculty and other students.
“Jon knows the importance of what he’s doing,” Rankin said. “Just by his presence, he makes his [fellow students] take things even more seriously. But he’s also very playful and fun to be around. We’re just lucky that he landed here.”
Below: From “After Sherman”
Jon-Sesrie Goff Hits the Ground Running in Duke’s MFAEDA
by Rainey Knudson
This past fall, Jon-Sesrie Goffmoved from Philadelphia to Durham to enroll in Duke’s Master of Fine Arts In Experimental and Documentary Arts (MFAEDA) program. In the ten years since he graduated from The New School, his work ranged broadly through both marketing and media production. Most recently, he was a camera operator for two feature documentaries—“Evolution of a Criminal,” a double award winner at the 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and “Out in the Night.” Both will be shown on PBS this year. He also taught filmmaking classes at Villanova and Westchester University.
When he decided to return to school for graduate work, the focus on non-traditional storytelling in Duke’s MFAEDA caught his attention. The fact that computational media was built into the core curriculum—something he didn’t see in a lot of other programs—was a big draw. Another plus was something he did not find in the core curriculum at Duke but did find in other programs—courses like Introduction to Production, which, given his experience, didn’t seem like the best use of his time. The program at Duke allowed him to hit the ground running, so, as he says, “I’m making work now and not in my second year.”
One semester in, he has a major project underway, an exploration of the ways African American families in the North “have maintained relationships to communities and land in the Gullah-Geechee coastal region, from Hampstead, NC to St. Augustine, FL and the rituals and traditions that have been preserved there.” The ties date back to the twentieth century’s Great Migration northward of six million African Americans.
The idea emerged from the course Documenting Personal Narrative, taught by visiting professor Marco Williams. It’s rooted in Goff’s own history. His family owns land in South Carolina that has been passed down since Reconstruction.
“It’s just barren land, nothing’s on there,” he says, “so I’m using that to see what stake I personally have in South Carolina considering that I was raised in the Northeast.”
Initially, Goff has taken a traditional documentary approach. “I conducted a couple of interviews of family members and did a visual treatment of the land as it exists now. And I spent some time researching old deeds and things like that.”
Those are just the first steps towards a “more experimental or non-traditional way of telling the story.” One possibility he’s considering is to drive down the coast, documenting it at fixed increments. The idea was an outgrowth of Bill Noland’s course, The Ongoing Moment.
“That course and David Gatten’s Experiments in the Moving Image are helping me identify experimental treatments of this documentary work,” Goff says.
His subject is much larger than his family’s story. The U.S. is in the midst of a reverse migration. As “the concentrations of black communities shift from North to South for the first time in decades,” Goff writes, “I am interrogating what stake millennials have in this region’s preservation.”
Goff was also attracted to Duke’s MFAEDA because it’s based at a major research university instead of a specialized art school.
“Having a curriculum that’s open enough to allow you to take classes in any department or any school on campus is really enriching if you’re trying to tell a good solid story,” he says. “To be able to talk to anthropologists or scientists and get their perspective to inform your work is just as useful as talking to cinematographers and editors on how to technically complete it.”
Those resources, it turns out, extend beyond Duke’s campus. Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies coordinates the Lehman Brady Chair, a joint professorship hosted by Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Marco Williams, this year’s occupant, played a key role in setting Goff’s project in motion. And MFAEDA program director Tom Rankin has helped Goff connect with other documentarians and researchers familiar with the Gullah-Geechee region. One is an American Studies graduate student Rankin is advising at UNC, whose more theoretical perspective complements Goff’s aesthetic, narrative approach.
Goff has found that the program’s broad intellectual resources attract a fascinating collection of students, and they’re doing work that’s “amazing and out of the box.”
“Our interests are widespread and diverse,” he says, “but we’re able to connect through this medium that we all share in common.”