Fern Silva


Fern Silva (Portugal/USA) is a Portuguese-American filmmaker who studied film at the Massachusetts College of Art and Bard College. He began working as an editor and camera operator in NYC in the early 2000s. Silva’s first films revolved around his relationship to Portugal and have since expanded, underlining the influence of industry on culture and the environment. For over a decade his work has screened widely in festivals, museums, and cinematheques internationally, including at six previous editions of Media City FIlm Festival; the Toronto, Berlin, Locarno, Rotterdam, New York, London, Melbourne, and Hong Kong Film Festivals; MOMA PS1; New Museum; Anthology Film Archive; Harvard Film Archive; and the Gene Siskel Film Center. He is the recipient of an Ann Arbor Film Festival Gus Van Sant Award, the Grand Prix from 25FPS Festival (Zagreb), and most recently, the Agora Post-Production Award from the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. Silva’s work has been featured in publications including Cinema Scope, Filmmaker Magazine, and Film Comment. He has taught filmmaking at institutions, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bard, and Bennington College and has received support from the Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, MacDowell, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He was an MCFF Mobile Frames Filmmaker in Residence in 2015. His first feature Rock Bottom Riser had its World Premiere at the Berlinale (2021), and received a jury citation. Concurrent with his MCFF Chrysalis Fellowship, Silva is a fellow at the Film Study Center at Harvard University. He lives and works in Greece and the USA. 


ONLINE SCREENING DATES: May 20 – June 10, 2021

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder, 8.5 min, 2017; Wayward Fronds, 13 mins, 2014; The Watchmen, 10 mins, 2017

Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder, 8.5 min, 2017

Framed within the vision of the Hudson River School and the legend of Rip Van Winkle, Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder unfolds as a storm approaches on the horizon. An uncertain future is in store as the creeping hand of history disrupts nature and civility in the Hudson River regions of Upstate New York.

Wayward Fronds, Fern Silva, 13 min, 2014

Mermaids flip a tale of twin detriments, domiciles cradle morph invaders, crocodile trails swallow two-legged twigs in a fecund mash of nature's outlaws... down in the Everglades. Wayward Fronds references a series of historical events that helped shape the Florida Everglades today, while fictionalizing its geological future and its effects on both native and exotic inhabitants. Guided by recent talks in the Florida legislature to finally disburse billions of dollars in restoration funds, events in this film unfold by giving way to a future eco-flourished Everglades. Nature begins to take over, engulfs and tames civilization after centuries of attack, and even guides it into its mysterious aqueous depths, forcing humans to adapt and evolve to its surroundings.

The Watchmen, 10 min, 2017

In The Watchmen, pulsating orbs, panopticons, roadside rest stops, and subterranean labyrinths confront themselves to the scope of human consequences and to the entanglement of our seeking bodies. Regressions in missing time, caught in the act of captivity, confined to the carceral and perpetuated in movie sets, television sets, and alien encounters. The corporeal cycle of control revolves as steadily as the sight of those who watch from above.


Rooted in histories of experimental film and ethnography, Fern Silva’s works are sensuous, polyvocal montages of people and places, the natural and unnatural worlds. Silva uses his own field recordings, clips from widely viewed films, and footage from obscure or pedestrian broadcast sources to upend the progressive linearity of conventional storytelling in a move toward narrative disorder; he does this by surfacing various historical moments within more contemporary ones and venturing into narratives of darkness, destruction, and the paranormal. Some of Silva’s films render specific geographical locations as speculative realities, blending fictitious and real aspects of their social and cultural histories, while others are atmospheric and surreal, foregrounding the playfulness and rigor of Silva’s associative strategies. – Alicia Ritson

Read a recent article about Fern Silva’s practice in Cinema Scope here.

All stills, photographs and artwork courtesy ©Fern Silva.