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A few years ago Jonathan gave one of his filmmaking classes the theme: On being human. The human, for Jonathan, is hardly exclusive. It embraces the animal in (and outside of) us. It includes the finite brilliance and inexorable passing of the earth's seasons, and the contingencies and turmoil of varied cultural and natural landscapes. As an artist and person, he is fascinated with childhood and old age and the perspectives and discoveries of each. In his films, he sometimes comments on the political or psychological follies of humanity through sound or animation, but more often explores emotional spaces through both domestic and far-flung gestures and topographies.

If Jonathan's films have an age, it is childhood. They embody his own child-like wonder at the world and the magic of celluloid – its rhythmic movements, its intellectual couplings, its paradoxical arresting and releasing of time. And one recurring focus of his cinematic attention is the childhood-becoming of his son Henry and friends. This becoming-a-child in the world is full of curiosity, but also laden with “a certain worry” (to quote the title of one of his miniatures) —the worries of the child but also of the loving father/artist who watches and revisits the time-being of his son from three and a half decades hence.

If Jonathan's films have a season, it is winter. It may be a winter just about to push away fall, or a winter of crisp sounds and hard white textures, or even a waning winter with the promise of spring emerging through superimpositions from under icy surfaces. His camera repeatedly converges with bodies skating, with the elevated elation of ski jumpers, with landscapes swaddled in snow and ice. But winter can also be hard, it freezes and halts and rages against the flows of emotion, it brings with it the cracks and crack-ups of later life as intimated in one of his last films.

Above all, Jonathan's films are encounters with life in its constant passing. In his travelogues, these are encounters with other places of dwelling that he knows he cannot grasp, only allude to. Here he finds or elicits gestures and glances that simultaneously reveal and conceal, but that are evidence of the exchange that is so crucial to his idea of what being human is all about. Indeed, the encounter of gazes, sometimes awkward, sometimes captivating, always tender on his part, is vital in all his work.  Several of his films are not only meetings in the film's diegesis, but missives after the fact, dedicated as gifts to his son, his wife, and to his late-life partner. And whatever their ostensible content, they are all explorations of human being and becoming — a being-with-others that must reconcile itself to its own transience, and a becoming that manifests, in part, as a process of appearance and disappearance.

Combining his radical spontaneity of gesture with his attention to cinematic form and montage, Jonathan's films actualize the passing of time through a devotion to the present, to presence. But this lyrical presence is simultaneously and constantly aware of the inexorable passage of time and the anxiety that inevitable mortality provokes. Jonathan's whimsy and infectious sense of wonder —both in his films and his life— mingle with bouts of anguish. It is "hard to land" as he says —as some things will disappear. And we must act "as if clinging could save us" to cite one his favorite poets, Galway Kinnell.

I, too, cling to my memories of his gentle and wry being, and to his films as gifts that embody, like him, appearances and disappearances.

Irina Leimbacher

(Irina Leimbacher is a film scholar and occasional curator who taught with Jonathan Schwartz at Keene State College for the last nine years)

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Gobierno de Navarra
Con la financiación del Gobierno de España. Instituto de la Cinematografía y las Artes AudiovisualesAcción Cultural Española
Ayuntamiento de PamplonaGoethe InstitutCentro de Arte Contemporáneo de HuarteTeatro GayarreLa Fábrica
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