The Surreality of Daily Life


Composed with the lurking logic of horror movie establishing shots, Chicago filmmaker Deborah Stratman’s 16mm short In Order Not to Be Here (2002) firmly anchors this trilogy of experimental documentaries. Filmed at night, the environs of an American gated community and its outlying roadside businesses become foreboding Jacques Tourneur–esque invitations to a violence that never arrives, building into an unspoken dissertation on the architecture of fear. Otherwise harmless ephemera transform into brooding symbols: an overturned shopping cart, a buzzing ATM, a yipping car alarm, the bleeding-red logo of an appropriately named Target Greatland superstore. An earlier film, From Hetty to Nancy (1997), exhibits Stratman’s James Benning influences: Like many of his works, From Hetty joins beautifully composed, mostly static landscape shots to a narration scripted from historical documents. Stratman portrays the country as one of, literally, fire and ice: A sequence of a burning building punctuates the film’s otherwise quiet vistas. Close to feature length, her DV documentary Kings of the Sky follows a Turkistani tightrope-walking troupe through a tour of China’s Xinjiang region, where ethnic Uighurs struggle for an autonomous state of East Turkistan. Never overstating its case, Kings allows the viewer to visit as a fellow outsider, inspecting the indefatigable but not infallible troupe’s collection of scars and injuries as metaphor for political circumstance.