Ben Russell


Ben Russell (France/USA) is a multi-disciplinary artist, filmmaker, and curator working in avant-garde cinema, live performance, installation, painting, photography, and other media. He received his BA in Semiotics from Brown University in 1998 before joining the Peace Corps. In 2003, he completed his MFA in Film and Video from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His formal investigations into the historical and conceptual relationships between early cinema, visual anthropology, and structuralist filmmaking have resulted in immersive experiences concerned at once with ritual, communal spectatorship, and the pursuit of a “psychedelic ethnography.” Russell has made more than 30 short and feature-length films, which have screened at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Sundance, Toronto, New York and Rotterdam Film Festivals, Wexner Center for the Arts, the Viennale, Museum of Modern Art, a 14th century Belgian monastery, a police station basement, and a 17th century East Indian Trading Company building. Russell won Media City Film Festival’s Grand Prize for his short film River Rites (2011). His third feature, Good Luck (2017) was voted the Best Experimental Film of 2017 by the National Society of Film Critics. It premiered at Locarno Film Festival and was exhibited as an installation at documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. Russell is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2008), and Princess Grace Awards and grants (2002, 2010, 2019). He is currently based in Marseille, France.


ONLINE SCREENING DATES: May 20 – June 10, 2021

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Portraits (Good Luck), 48 min, 2017; Trypps #7 (Badlands), 10 min, 2010; Atlantis, 23.5 min, 2014

Portraits (Good Luck), 48 min, 2017

A series of intimate black-and-white Super 16mm portraits of miners, as recorded between a state-owned large-scale underground copper mine in the war-torn state of Serbia and an illegal gold mining collective in the tropical heat of Suriname. Made in the style of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests and filmed on-site, these hand-processed portraits are accompanied by a visceral soundscape drawn from the chaotic working environment of the men pictured. In Good Luck (Portraits), the film’s subjects briefly pause in the infinite labor of mineral extraction to give us a subjective vision of their inner selves — a vision controlled by their own hand. Here is the human foundation of capital, revealed. – LightWork

Trypps #7 (Badlands), 10 min, 2010

Trypps #7 (Badlands) charts, through an intimate long-take, a young woman's LSD trip in the Badlands National Park before descending into a psychedelic, formal abstraction of the expansive desert landscape. Concerned with notions of the romantic sublime, phenomenological experience, and secular spiritualism, the work continues Russell's unique investigation into the possibilities of cinema as a site for transcendence. – Michael Green

Atlantis, 23.5 min, 2014

Loosely framed by Plato's invocation of the lost continent of Atlantis in 360 BC and its re-re-resurrection via a 1970s science fiction pulp novel, Atlantis is a documentary portrait of Utopia—an island that has never/forever existed beneath our too-mortal feet. Herein is folk song and pagan rite, religious march and reflected temple, the sea that surrounds us all. Even though we are slowly sinking, we are happy and content. Atlantis interrogates this space of fabulation without ever leaving the real island behind, finding itself caught between a portrait of place and the conjuring of a drowned paradise. – Erika Balsom


Srđan Jokanović: I know that you were exposed to Suriname through your previous films, but how did you end up choosing a Serbian mine?

Ben Russell: I mean we were looking for some kind of a corollary for quite a while, and initially we were looking in the north. We were looking in spaces that had a more industrialised governmental stem of working. My Croatian co-producer had connections to the Serbian mine in Bor. I believe it was maybe a bit easier to access because of political conditions of Serbia, and also because the mine was state-owned. It had been privatised previously, and had reverted back to the state, but it was on the cusp of being privatised again, so I think there was less at stake. Having the filmmaker come into that mine comes with a very rich history of media representations for it. It was where [Dušan] Makavejev shot A Man Is Not A Bird. In the ’60s — I think this was common in a lot of Communist and Socialist working spaces — the workers had their own newspaper, they had their own kind of political representation, in terms of media. So there’s a fairly good archive of films that were made in the mines, and these were workers who were already kind of aware of themselves as cinema subjects in some capacity.

Read Ben Russell’s full interview at 4:3 here. 

All materials, including still images, portraits, and moving image artworks courtesy of the artist ©Ben Russell.