During this period of global public health-sanctioned isolation, Millennium Film Workshop, like many other organizations has sadly had to postpone many of our planned events for the Spring season. We’ve decided to continue to showcase in the meantime, great work from great artists here on our own website, in a new weekly series we’re calling “Isolated Experiments,” accompanied by comments from the artists themselves. Sign up for our mailing list via our contact page to get email updates about new films as we post them weekly.
This week, we are featuring America is Exhausted, a five minute video piece made by artist Álvaro Franco.
MFW: America is Exhausted (rare that I’ve seen a more apt title). Our news media bombardment, encroaching authoritarianism and seemingly endless climb of chaos has left us so, certainly, but was there a particular nadir moment that moved you to make this statement? (I notice the video is dated pre-pandemic.)
ÁF: It’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly I was moved, or what motivated me, but for some time I had wanted to produce a short piece in response to my unease about the current administration creeping closer and closer to fascism, coupled with concern for my black friends in this climate of white supremacy, so that when I saw the phrase “America is exhausted” in an article by The Nation, it all just clicked. So, I guess you could say that the storm was brewing in me ever since our Disaster-Capitalist-in-Chief was elected.
MFW: The video is constructed like a dialogue, a shot/reverse shot between two realities, noise and solitude, with an uncertain conclusion. Can you reflect a little on how you mirror and play on the idea of what they call our “National Conversation” in this way?
ÁF: I wanted to juxtapose polar opposites to reflect the reality that it is really one demographic of the country that is fighting for dominance over the airwaves, knowing that in a few decades it will become a minority, while the other demographic is literally just trying to live rather than survive day-by-day, weary of persecution that can manifest at any moment by the state apparatus. As a matter of fact, I was aiming for the conclusion of the piece to be hopeful, with the lone black artist escaping violence by retreating to solitude, away from the hysteria of the “national conversation.”
MFW: How, in view of that hopefulness, do you view the connection between the enforced solitude that many in this country experienced for the first time due to the pandemic, and the popular uprising of protests and demonstrations in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor (and others, no less significant, whose names are less famous)?
ÁF: I believe that the enforced solitude you’re referring to caused a great many people to confront certain hard truths about the society that we live in, truths that normally would have been ignored out of convenience or luxury. For some of us, the reasons to protest were always there, and we knew that as long as the police faced no real consequences for their actions, these state-sanctioned murders would continue to unfold. However, I would like to think that the downtime during quarantine really opened the eyes of a lot of people to the contradictions of our current system, and gave potential allies the time and energy to participate in these protests…once they took the proper health precautions, of course.
MFW: Would you still characterize America as being in a state of exhaustion, or do you think we’re shifting to something different?
ÁF: I think that the concept of America itself is exhausted. We can mobilize the popular discontent and shift to a different system that serves the marginalized and the neglected, but unless we have a long-term vision in mind, we risk running around in circles. It’s not enough to be angry anymore, otherwise we’ll be stuck in a perpetual state of exhaustion. In organizing circles, we call that “burnout”. My role as an artist is to provoke discussion by holding up that proverbial mirror to society, and by extension, dare people to imagine a radically restructured future.
MFW: With that in mind, for the closing question(s) I’d like to steer it back to you; do you have new projects in development we can look forward to, building on that work? What kind of place are you in personally, in terms of art-practice, in the face of these extraordinary circumstances?
ÁF: Sometimes I feel pressured to create something in order to keep up with the rapid pace of events that are occurring week-by-week, but I have learned not to set imaginary deadlines for myself. At the same time, I do wish I had more time to balance my work obligations with the time I set aside for my creative output.
I’m taking a break from abstract filmmaking to focus on something more conventional in my free time, a light short comedy to be exact, but it’s just as relevant to me as a mini-doc. Escapism in film matters, but when not when it treats the audience with contempt. And I’ve been itching to return to the category of narrative film after my college years. If all goes well, the project should be hitting the festival circuit by autumn this year.
A native New Yorker, Álvaro Franco’s passion for film led him to participate in the Ghetto Film School, and enroll in the Film/Video program at the City College of New York, where he earned his B.F.A. degree. His interest in a specific incident between Malcolm X and the FBI resulted in a short screenplay that won the Best Pitch Award at the Latino Film Market in 2018.
Aside from traditional cinema, Álvaro continues to practice his skills as a multidisciplinary artist, and in 2019, his visual art premiered as part of the group exhibition Women’s Narratives: Brick City Blues.