To Pick a Flower (2021)

Shireen Seno

To Pick a Flower Shireen Seno Philippines/Japan digital17 min2021

Shireen Seno’s video essay explores the transformation and commodification of nature through archival photographs from the American colonial occupation of the Philippines in the first half of the 20th century. These images testify to what the voiceover calls “the sticky relationship between humans and nature and their entanglements with empire”—an ambivalent dependence on natural resources that drives the colonial project and implicates photography, with its concurrent processes of preservation, transmutation, and destruction. – NYFF

Trees and other plants during the period of American colonial rule in the Philippines, photographed from the perspective of those in power. The images not only document the rich flora—they categorize and classify the resources of the colony. The forest becomes inventory. From potted plants to sawmills, from logging to reforestation: in her essay, Shireen Seno takes us to the essence of photography itself—and to its relationship with colonialism. – Marie Kloos

Streaming Details

This film is available to stream globally.

Program Partners

This film is co-presented with Los Otros.

Image credits: all artworks, stills, and portraits courtesy of the artist © Shireen Seno.

about the artist

Shireen Seno (Philippines/Japan) is a visual artist, filmmaker, and curator born in Tokyo, Japan in 1983 to Filipino parents. Her work addresses memory, history, and image-making, often in relation to the idea of home. She received a BA in Architecture and Cinema Studies, with a minor in Semiotics and Communication Theory from the University of Toronto (2005). Her films have screened at hundreds of festivals, museums, and galleries internationally, including the Louvre Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, Taiwan National Centre for Photography and Images, New York Film Festival, Tate Modern, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, NTU Center for Contemporary Art Singapore, Museum of the Moving Image, Yebisu International Festival of Art & Alternative Visions, DOK Leipzig, Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival, Manila Contemporary, Hanoi International Film Festival, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Viennale, Thessaloniki International Film Festival, Festival International du Film de Marrakech, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Jeonju International Film Festival, German Historical Museum, and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including Special Jury Citation, Pacific Meridian International Film Festival; the Silver Hanoman Award, Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival; Asian New Talent Award, Shanghai International Film Festival; NETPAC Award for Best Asian Film, International Film Festival Rotterdam; and Critics’ Prize, Curitiba International Film Festival (2018). She is the recipient of the Thirteen Artists Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (2018). Writing about her films has appeared in The New Yorker, Sight & Sound, The Guardian, Cinema Scope, and Screen Anarchy. Seno is co-founder and operator of Los Otros, a film and video studio, laboratory and artists’ platform in Manila. She was a still photographer for acclaimed filmmaker Lav Diaz before completing her own debut feature Big Boy (2012). She is a recipient of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship (2022). She lives and works in Manila.