RADICAL & POLITICAL, AN IMPOSSIBLE-TO-IGNORE FILMIC BODY OF WORK: TRAVIS WILKERSON AT FICUNAM 8 | RETROSPECTIVE

Travis Wilkerson (Denver, Colorado, 1969) made his first feature film, Accelerated Under-Development: In the Idiom of Santiago Alvarez, in 1999. This documentary, which had its premiere in 2003, is a statement of principles which shows the life and work of Santiago Álvarez, a radical Cuban filmmaker who was one of the main exponents of the Third-Cinema movement. After meeting Álvarez during the second half of the 1990s, Wilkerson’s work began moving in a clearly defined direction—assuming filmic production as a political work and redefining the legacy of Third Cinema by taking it to the epicenter of American culture.

His film Machine Gun or Typewriter (2015) premiered at the Locarno Festival and received the Best International Feature Award at the DokuFest, in Kosovo. It was also recognized as one of the best films of the year in lists such as La Furia Umana and DesistFilm. His most recent film, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017), is a reprocessing of a family event which happened in 1946, when Wilkerson’s great grandfather killed a black man. This event, which remained hidden by his family, led to those tensions which are inherent to a subject which is not delved into—racism. This film, which premiered at Sundance and was part of the Locarno International Competition, mixes various sources—from folk music to filmic classics—to illustrate its political discourse.

Coming from an independent dimension (he is in charge of the cinematography and edition of his films), Travis Wilkerson makes works with a deep political sense. Incendiary, confrontative, with a foot firmly in the present while also looking for answers in an often-distorted past, Wilkerson uses music as a crucial element for his aesthetics; with it, he makes his frankness—and even the harsh way in which he portrays sensitive issues—smoother. The result is an impossible-to-ignore filmic body of work.

  1. He is the editor and founder of the digital magazine Now! A Journal of Urgent Praxis, which proposes an “eloquent engagement with the here and now of political and cultural life” through praxes which link the work of criticism with that of experimental cinema.
  2. Wilkerson follows on the tradition of Third Cinema. The main goal of this movement was to create a cinema which reflected and denounced injustice. It aimed to awake consciousnesses and to move viewers into action.
  3. His writings on cinema have been published in journals such as Cineaste, Kinol, and Senses of Cinema.
  4. He is a cofounder of Extreme Low Frequency, a distribution company which promotes classic and contemporary radical films which have not been broadly seen.
  5. He has taught Film at the Colorado University and Film Direction at the California Institute of the Arts.
  6. For Wilkerson, his encounter with Cuban filmmaker Santiago Álvarez, in Havana, changed his perspective on the power of films as a tool for enunciating reality: “Álvarez’s films were born from fury, irony, and an infinite spirit of solidarity […] They taught the world how to keep changing and, always, they were made for the here and now.”
  7. Distinguished Flying Cross (2011), a 61-minute film about a war veteran telling his stories to his children, won the Special Jury Prize at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.
  8. An Injury to One (2002), his second feature, deals with the 1917 lynching of an antiwar unionist, Wobbly Frank Little. This film was labeled at Film Comment as “one of the best avant-garde films of the decade.”

Select Filmography:

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017)
Machine Gun or Typewriter? (2015)
For the 150th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre (2014)
For Michael Brown (2014)
- Los Angeles Red Squad: The Communist Situation in California (2013)
Sand Creek Equation (2012)
Fragments of Disolution (segmento Far from Afghanistan) (2012)
Distinguished Flying Cross (2011)
Pluto Declaration (2011)
Who Killed Cock Robin? (2005)
Superior Elegy (2003)
An Injury to One (2002)
National Archive V.1 (2001)
Accelerated Under-Development: In the Idiom of Santiago Alvarez (1999)