Among the twenty-two films of varying lengths, ranging from two minutes to eight hours of projection, the festival Cinéma du réel has chosen to show in Paris to introduce us to the filmography, much larger, the American artist Kevin Jerome Everson is a short film entitled FE26 (2014) which could serve as a key, pass or crowbar, providing us with a surreptitious entry into his work. The title of the film borrows from the periodic table of elements the symbol and the atomic number of the iron, one of the materials that its two characters, denominated Streets and I-Pleeza, recover to resell them in the streets of Cleveland (Ohio). Appearing both as a small documentary fragment on this survival process, and as the capture of a kind of artistic performance born of the collaboration between a 16 mm camera and two illegal scrap dealers playing their own role, FE26 also seems to stage the artist's own gesture: to take, in the urban environment that surrounds it, a series of materials to move them to another place and divert them from their first use. Taking a situation composed of several elements – Streets and I-Pleeza, the streets of the declining industrial city of Cleveland, the metals that it contains, the act of picking them up, and the presence of a person who films – Everson captures the material, directs it, choreographs and mounts (sorting the elements) and projects it to us on the screen of a movie theater (transportation, resale and circulation of materials ).
"Fe26" (2014), by Kevin Jerome Everson. Photo K. J. Everson
Anger and fantasy
This series of operations reveals and describes a whole material process, which is not only the external one, of the situation filmed and the work of the two friends, but which includes filming this situation, emphasizing the work of the film, on the materiality (also chemical and elemental) of the film 16 mm, or on the position of the spectator watching FE26. This model – which constantly reveals the interrelationships between the subjects filmed, the form taken by the filmmaker's point of view and the potential audience – is valid for all of Kevin Jerome Everson's films, even if it is not enough for to describe. And if it is also the general model of all that is called "experimental" cinema, "documentary", even "cinema" or even "art" (although the experience offered by these films does not seem to be reduced to none of these categories taken alone), it is perhaps because Everson's films are concerned above all to make this model clear, to make us perceive it above all else, and to make us partake in adventures of the materiality of things while showing us the way in which it is constantly produced: by the work of the one who films as much as, all around him, by the work of those he films, the black workers Americans from Ohio, Mississippi or Virginia.
Born in 1965 in Mansfield, a small town in Ohio that is the playground of much of his work, Everson built since the early 2000s a diverse filmography and varied but regular and systematic, listing a multitude of gestures in all areas of work, leisure and daily life, somewhat like the periodic table of FE26 borrows its title – if one adds to this classificatory aspect a dose of disorder, anger and fantasy. Everson is certainly not a chemist but a sculptor, before becoming a photographer and filmmaker. Taking his films as sculptures, which would incorporate the fourth dimension of time, as he claims, remains the best way to hear them. These are forms – where materials are caught in processes – before they become "documentary" forms.
We can say, however, without lying that Cinnamon (2006) is a movie about the love of car racing in Virginia, Erie (2010) a portrait of the inhabitants of the shores of the lake of the same name, Tonsler Park (2017) a document on the activity of a Virginia polling station on the day of the fatal presidential election of 2016, Round Seven (2018) the reenactment of an illustrious local boxing match, The Island of Saint Matthews (2013) a recording of the oral memory of a historic flood that flooded the city of Columbus (Mississippi) in 1973, or I FO (2017) a chronicle on UFO sighting in the Mansfield sky.
"IFO" (2017), by Kevin Jerome Everson. Photo K. J. Everson
These are the simplest ways to summarize these films, to announce their immediate and immediate interest, to point out their greatness and beauty, but they are not sufficient descriptions of the experience they offer to their viewers: their How to deliver us something like knowledge or content appears more distant and more direct at the same time, more elementary. What we perceive above all in these films is the gesture or the attempt to find the right experimental distance, the best position (at first physical) to describe all the conditions determining a given situation, within the limits of this that a body can perceive. Tonsler Park does not show Trump's election day in Charlottesville, but a sequence of backs hiding the faces of the municipal employees who are voting: from that long blink sometimes emerges a smile.
Sculptures of time
Island of Saint Matthews does not tell the flood of 1973, but invents a sensitive relationship between the present of the memory of the event, in the quavering voices of those who lived it, and the current practice of water skiing on the same river. Erie does not make us the economic geography of a deindustrialising region, but reinvents a kind of mythical time, we install in blocks of duration that present us actions one by one: a man opens his car with a hanger, a little girl staring at a candle, a woman telling a conflict at the factory, young people playing music, etc. Because the rest is to discover, always exceeding the limits of his "subject", always quick to imperceptibly transform it into something else. Similarly, Everson's films as a whole do not "talk" about the lives of black American women and men to film them only as such, to make them representative of anything in our time. , in some states of the United States. They only talk about these lives, detailing them in an oblique way, in their most material and daily aspects, temporarily transforming into characters or heroes workers, students, dancers, laundresses, scrap-dealers, car racers, boxers who cross them. Everson's radical, or artistically radical, policy is the opposite of a protest, an interpellation of his audience, or a request for external recognition. "For me, the films I do are almost abstract painting, they are self-referential. The people inside my movies do not need to be watched, they do what they usually do, they do not need us to participate in their actions to exist. My films do not need an audience to be valid, " Everson tells us – by phone, from Charlottesville where he lives and teaches. Indifferent to their audience, like sculptures of time that would stand alone, his films are not addressed to us, but they do better: they let us take in their bosom and around them, at our discretion, a place in permanent movement, constantly redefined as the gaze of the one who makes them.
Kevin Jerome Everson Retrospective As part of the 41e edition of the Cinéma du réel festival, at the Pompidou Center, 75004. From March 15th to 24th. Rens. : www.cinemadureel.org