Binghamton University

05/24/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/24/2024 10:46

Binghamton cinema professor explores time, place and belonging in experimental work

Sofia Theodore-Pierce is an experimental filmmaker - but her work isn't so easy to define.

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"There's a lot of intention behind editing experimental cinema. It's not random at all; that word sometimes comes up with students, but every decision is actually hyper-intentional," said the assistant professor of cinema. "There's this openness to interpretation that this kind of montage-based work provokes, and that's important to me."

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Her newest film - Desire Path, premiering at the 11th annual Winnipeg Underground Film Festival in Canada, on Saturday, June 1, 2024 - is one of her most relevant examples. She describes the film as "emotional" and "loaded." Many audiences may not realize this at first glance.

Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
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At Bard College, where she earned her bachelor's degree, Theodore-Pierce was initially interested in photography. But like many of her students, she eventually broke out of the restricted and siloed environment and emerged into a more interdisciplinary medium - through her own admission, by "stumbling" into the film department.

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"Experimental films have a DIY ethos and I make things in a very collage-y, improvisational way. My process is very responsive to my environment and to other people," she said. "And because I work in a nonlinear manner, I ended up making things that don't fall into traditional modes. And I think it's amazing that there's a home for that kind of work."

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Her other short films have been exhibited at festivals and venues worldwide, including the Irish Film Institute, Maysles Documentary Center, WORM Rotterdam, Athens Film & Video Festival and FRACTO Berlin. She also holds a master's in cinematic arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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Each image and sound is lovingly prepared - a singing Irishman in a bar she visited with friends blends into a spinning shot of their local (and now closing) Milwaukee bar; one of her collaborators packing boxes is an ode to the studio that Theodore-Pierce worked in (and later passed down to that same friend). Even the images of horses, while maintaining their own legacy in experimental cinema, are a callback to her last film, Exterior Turbulence.

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"I started having seizures about four years ago that were not under control, and I suddenly had this powerful desire to start riding horses at the same time," Theodore-Pierce said. "My last film, Exterior Turbulence, is about that on one level, and why that desire for controlled risk overlapped with this lack of control in my life and the idea of falling in and out of time."

Debuting during a section of the festival depicting "intimate dynamics at play," Desire Path celebrates the vulnerability she has captured with the film's sound, images and motifs. On its surface, the three-minute short incorporates personal archival footage, shot the month before her move to New York state, during which she was also recovering from surgery. She describes the film as allowing her to look to the future while engaging with Milwaukee, which she had previously called home.

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"The piece became this space of fantasy and a way to look backward and forward at the same time," she said. "What I like about Desire Path is the freedom of it. It came together in a very specific moment, because of the circumstances of that moment."

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Initially a silent commission, Theodore-Pierce decided the piece should have a second life and re-edited it while including sound. Her first released movie on Super 8mm film, it is also reminiscent of a travelogue home movie - a reminder that the places and people that surround us are interconnected and important.

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In the same sense, Theodore-Pierce believes that the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival was the right place for the short. In addition to being the first place she submitted, Winnipeg has an important connection to both Milwaukee and Theodore-Pierce.

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"Artists from Winnipeg have come and shown work in Milwaukee, and there is a very strong symbiotic relationship between these two small cities in the middle of the continent," she said. "It felt perfect to me that this is where the work would land."

Lake Michigan was a frequent backdrop for the films Theodore-Pierce made in Milwaukee from 2018-2023. Image Credit: Sofia Theodore-Pierce.
Lake Michigan was a frequent backdrop for the films Theodore-Pierce made in Milwaukee from 2018-2023. Image Credit: Sofia Theodore-Pierce.
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Already, Theodore-Pierce is working on her next project. Her process tends to result in multiple pieces at once, usually picking at threads from the content she's already created that she feels is unfinished or could go deeper in some way. She's progressing through a 12-minute piece and hopes to finish it by the summer; meanwhile, she is also looking to the future, hoping one day to make a longer narrative feature.

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As a professor, she especially looks forward to a graduate seminar and introducing experimental film to the next generation.

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"I hope that students keep checking out courses in the Cinema Department and submitting their work," Theodore-Pierce said. "There are a lot of experimental festivals out there, even locally, like the Ithaca Experimental Film Festival, which was just launched last year by Ithaca College grads, and Transient Visions, which was started by my colleagues Tomonari Nishikawa and Brian Murphy. We have a really exciting moment here in the arts!"