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Bard College Hosts a Weekend in Honor of Internationally Renowned Filmmaker Robert Gardner, October 22–25

Robert Gardner to Receive Honorary Degree from Bard College

Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—From Thursday, October 22 to Sunday, October 25, Bard College will host a weekend honoring the life and work of internationally renowned filmmaker Robert Gardner. Gardner, who is best known for his extensive work in the field of nonfiction filmmaking, will receive an honorary degree from Bard College in recognition of his achievements. “Gardner’s camera scans with precision and feels with sympathy: the objectivity of an anthropologist, the fraternity of a poet,” says Octavio Paz. Bard College’s weekend celebration will include screenings of several Gardner films introduced by Bard faculty members, a photography exhibit, panel discussion, book signing and conversation with the filmmaker, film presentation, and the conferral of Gardner’s honorary degree.  All events are free and open to the public and take place in the Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Gardner was the director of the Film Study Center at Harvard University from 1957 to 1997. Some of his most prominent films include Dead Birds (1964), a lyric account of the Dugum Dani, a Stone Age society living an isolated existence in the highlands of West Papua (Gardner was the leader of the Peabody Museum–sponsored expedition to study the Dani in 1961–62); Rivers of Sand (1974), a social commentary on the Hamar people of southwestern Ethiopia; and Forest of Bliss (1985), a cinematic essay on the ancient city of Benares, India, which explores the ceremonies, rituals, and industries associated with death and regeneration. These three films will be presented during the weekend celebration at Bard.

A Weekend Honoring Robert Gardner
October 22–25, 2009
Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

All events are free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 22–25 
An Exhibition of Photographs 1960–1990
        Gallery, Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

Gallery hours:
Thursday, October 22 through Sunday, October 25
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Friday October 23

7:00 p.m.
Screening Forest of Bliss, 1985
        Introduced by Laura Kunreuther, assistant professor of anthropology
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

Saturday October 24

1:00 p.m.
Screening Dead Birds, 1964
Introduced by John Pruitt, associate professor of film and electronic arts
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

3:00 p.m.
Screening Rivers of Sand, 1974
        Introduced by Peggy Ahwesh, professor of film and electronic arts
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

5:00 p.m.
Reception for photography exhibition, book signing, and conversation with Robert Gardner and Susan Meiselas
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

Sunday, October 25

12:00 p.m.
Film presentation Fragments From Unfinished Films, Robert Gardner
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

2:00 p.m.
Panel discussion with Stanley Cavell, Susan Meiselas, Luc Sante, and Charles Warren; moderated by Ian Buruma
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center

4:00 p.m.
Presentation of the honorary degree of doctor of fine arts
        Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center


About Robert Gardner
Robert Gardner began his career as a filmmaker in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. In the mid Fifties, he moved back to Massachusetts for graduate work in anthropology. He presently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He made his first feature-length work, Dead Birds, considered a classic of its genre, in 1964. This narrative, nonfiction account of a Stone Age community of warrior farmers living in a remote valley in the Highlands of West Papua is a film about man’s capacity for violence and his efforts to bring it under ritual control. A decade ago, it was added to the Library of Congress Registry of Classic American Films. Gardner has made several other feature nonfiction films, including Rivers of Sand and Forest of Bliss. Together with two short films on the artist Mark Tobey, three on Sean Scully, and one each on Alexander Calder and Michael Mazur, Gardner has made a number of films on a number of artists. In early 1989, he returned to visit the places in which he had lived while making Dead Birds and did the camerawork for a new film about the way time transforms both individuals and culture.
Gardner established film at Harvard as a subject of university concern when he taught the first courses dealing with the subject while still a graduate student. For 40 years, he was director of the Film Study Center, which he founded in 1957. While working alone or with collaborators, he has encouraged innovation and experimentation in all aspects of film. For 10 years, Gardner was the director of Harvard’s Visual Arts Center and also served as chairman of the Visual and Environmental Studies Department.
Outside the university and apart from his own filmmaking, he undertook, in the early Seventies, a major commitment in television by producing and hosting nearly a hundred 90-minute programs for a commercial broadcasting station. Each program presented an interview with a significant figure in the arena of independent filmmaking. This series represents a concentrated history of important experimental and documentary filmmaking of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
Following his retirement from teaching and administration at Harvard, Gardner established a small cooperative called studio7arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, he collaborates in the production of films, videos, DVDs, and books with a number of prominent writers and artists such as Sharon Lockhart, Samina Quraeshi, Susan Meiselas, Alex Webb, and others.

Gardner is the author of A Human Document (1965) and Gardens of War (1968). His book, Making Forest of Bliss (2002), is the outcome of a close watching of the film with his collaborator, Ákos Östör. In 2006, Gardner published The Impulse to Preserve: Reflections of a Filmmaker; Making Dead Birds: Chronicle of a Film was published in November 2007. His latest book, Human Documents: Eight Photographers was published in 2009. He is also the subject of several books.

Gardner is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is also the recipient of numerous film awards and prizes including the Flaherty Award (twice). In 2005, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Anthropological Association.

For more information about Robert Gardner, please visit
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This event was last updated on 09-30-2009