Give, which won a Full Frame Jury Award for best short at the festival’s awards ceremony today, documents the indefatigable spirit of Reverend Roland Gordon. For twenty-five years, Gordon has managed to preserve the Ingleside church and community center, one of the last remnants of African-American culture in the gentrified area of Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. During all these years, Gordon has been creating an astonishing mural-collage of epic proportions, covering the interior walls of the building with cut-out pictures of prominent African-American figures and their achievements—an ongoing work he crafts with loving zeal.
With an experimental sensibility, director David de Rozas disrupts reified notions of memory and history by means of peculiar editing and sound. As its title indicates, Give is ultimately a celebration of generosity as a guiding principle for living and creating. At the festival, we spoke with de Rozas about his filmic aesthetics and the unique, life-affirming resistance of Reverend Gordon.
INDY: Does Reverend Gordon consider himself an artist? How does he frame his own work?
DAVID DE ROZAS: Now he does, but, for twenty years, he didn’t. He has created one of the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever seen, and yet he didn’t used to see himself as an artist. He conceived of his project as an educational one. His motivation was to offer an inspiration to the black young people in his community—a way of saying, “You can do it, too!” His work is very personal. He is not only documenting black history but presenting his understanding of it as well.
Give’s sense of temporality is unconventional in many ways. What is the relationship between those formal choices and the themes of the film?
Time in relationship to memory and history is not linear. I wanted to express a circular notion of time. The neighborhood was founded by survivors of the earthquake, and now that the African-American population in the area has decreased from 70 percent to less than 5 percent, they have become survivors again. There are scenes in which a picture of the old building is superimposed on the building of the present. I wanted to indicate that the building is not only what we see in the present, but the combination of its different moments in time. And this superposition echoes the multilayered aspect of Reverend Gordon’s work: When the pictures deteriorate with time, he puts new ones on top of them.
We hear rhythmical clapping and snapping throughout the film. Why did you integrate those sounds?
I wanted to work with sounds made by the body. There is a dialogue between the sound and Reverend Gordon’s art. Just as the body’s sounds are used to make music, Reverend Gordon uses black bodies’ images to make his art.