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ANNE CHARLOTTE ROBERTSON’S FIRST PERSON CINEMA
Anne Charlotte Robertson (1949-2012) was an independent filmmaker who gave new and melancholy meaning to that term. For to call Robertson's cinema "independent" is to recognize not only the minimum financial and institutional support given to her work, but also the ways her films speak with poignant directness to her own extreme independence as an artist and woman who lived and worked largely alone. Indeed, Robertson's struggles with loneliness and clinically diagnosed manic depression were integrally woven into the complex fabric of her films, most especially her magnum opus, her Five Year Diary, a thirty-six hour chronicle of her life begun in 1981 and completed seventeen years later.
Intended first as a means to carefully monitor and measure her changing self-image, and her fluctuating weight in particular, Robertson's Five Year Diary became an ambitious first-person epic comprised in total of eighty-two parts (or "reels", as Robertson preferred), most often centered around single major and minor events-a visit to a relative, a nervous breakdown, the traumatic death of a family member. By turning the camera upon her daily life, Robertson discovered a mode of vital self-therapy most directly expressed through the multiple layers of spoken dialogue she frequently layered over her imagery, frank commentary (some of it performed live during screenings of the Five Year Diary and added later) that revealed the deep, unstable emotions that defined Robertson's world, while also giving rich voice to her warm and self-depreciatory sense of humor.
The Five Year Diary also offers an important record of Robertson 's continuing creative evolution as an artist who restlessly experimented with various techniques and approaches throughout her career to create a complex oeuvre that spans from the confrontationally and emotionally raw to the lyrically quiet and understated. This three-part retrospective highlights the range of Robertson 's extraordinary cinema, including early films made before she enrolled in graduate school at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, as well as key student films, while also offering a major showcase for the Five Year Diary. Although she made most of her work during and after graduate school, Robertson's unique vision and approach to filmmaking was expressed immediately in her first works made before she was a film student. Robertson is perhaps best understood as an "outlier” to use Lynn Cooke's recently coined term, an artist who navigated that rich interstitial space between the vanguard center and that ambiguous periphery associated with the outsider artist. In this way Robertson's films engage in a rich and knowing dialogue with the avant-garde films and traditions embodied by touchstone directors such as Marie Menken, Ed Pincus and Jonas Mekas, while also maintaining a steadfast and vital fixity on her own singular life experience.
All works included in this retrospective come from the collection of the Harvard Film Archive to who Anne Robertson bequeathed her films and papers shortly before her death in 2012.
Director, Harvard Film Archive
Senior Lecturer, Department of Art, Film and Visual Studies, Harvard University