Those of us who caught 306 Hollywood at Full Frame on Friday had a front-row seat to the evolution of the definition of “documentary.” An anthropological study of the filmmaking team’s grandmother after her death, it’s nonfiction only in the broadest sense.
Brother-and-sister duo Jonathan and Elan Bogarin excavate their grandmother’s home, organize her possessions by type or color, use magical-realist devices to visit the past, and reenact their process with stylistic flair. They use dance, theater, visual art, and straight-up library-style cataloging to get at the nature and meaning of their grandmother’s life. In interrogating their grief, they play with reality, challenging the notion that sober realism is even possible in bereavement.
Whether or not it works for you may depend largely on your tolerance for fabulism. I felt by turns a kinship with the filmmakers’ nostalgia and frustration with the twee artifice they use to narrate it. I also thought about other artistic projects that use similar strategies to look at how material culture and meaning are linked. Here are a few favorite connections:
Greensboro’s George Scheer also had a grandmother who passed away and left him a space. His just happened to run a thrift store, and instead of making a film, he made an arts residency program. Whereas 306 Hollywood is about knowing one woman through her possessions, Elsewhere is about allowing artists to use said possessions to invent new worlds.
Peter Menzel: Material World: A Global Family Portrait
Like the filmmakers of 306 Hollywood, Menzel documents household possessions. But he pointed his camera around the world instead of at one apartment, and his global “what’s in a house?” provides answers more surprising than you might imagine.
Open your bag. What’s inside may say more than you realize. Jason Travis proved as much with his years-long photo project that asks people to catalog what’s on their person day to day. Like 306 Hollywood, it lends credence to the idea that the familiar is where the truth lies.
Codirectors Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata adapt the eponymous poem by Ron Koertge, a look at a father-son relationship defined by packing a suitcase, in this 2018 Oscar-nominated animated short.
This exhibit at the Met last year assembled a collection of almost all-white personal items owned by Sara Berman, an immigrant who lived alone in Greenwich Village for decades. It was put together by her daughter and grandson, aka recent Duke Performances guest Maira Kalman and her son, artist Alex Kalman. The closet reflects a woman who took pride and found freedom in clothes, which reminds me of the fashion-designer grandmother in 306 Hollywood.
The filmmakers of 306 Hollywood are eager for organization, finding symmetry and pattern in what is otherwise an unruly environment. If that sort of harmony makes your heart flutter (as it does mine), look no further than this Tumblr dedicated to compulsive neatness.
Southern Cultures: Stuff, A Pop-Up Museum
On two occasions now, UNC’s Southern Cultures journal has presented pop-up museums of stuff with stories behind it. Like the film, these collected objects show how a universe of feeling can be stored in a single object. (Disclosure: the author is the multimedia editor of Southern Cultures.)