November 13, 2012

Anne Charlotte Robertson

It is with mixed emotions the Harvard Film Archive announces an exciting new acquisition – the Anne Charlotte Robertson Collection.  Anne died this September in hospice after a battle with cancer, and left her extensive work to the HFA.  [obituary]

Anne Charlotte Robertson was a Super 8 filmmaker and diarist who lived in Framingham, MA.  She began making films in the mid-1970s as an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and earned her MFA at the Massachusetts College of Art.  Her main work is the 38-hour opus, FIVE YEAR DIARY, which she began in 1981 and kept far longer than five years.  Each episode of the diary, spanning varying numbers of days, is 27 minutes (approximately 8 camera rolls) and the diary is 84 reels long.  In addition to the FIVE YEAR DIARY, Anne made over 30 other (mostly diaristic) short films, including APOLOGIES (1990), TALKING TO MYSELF (1985), MAGAZINE MOUTH (1983), and MELON PATCHES, OR REASONS TO GO ON LIVING (1994).

Spirit of ’76

Ms. Robertson used a sound super 8 camera, and the films have many layers of soundtrack.  The original screenings were performances if Anne was in attendance.  There is the original sound on film, recorded at the same time as the picture, there are often also audio cassettes she would play with the film, and she spoke over the film as well.

Anne took the written diary form and extended it to include documentary, experimental and animated filmmaking techniques. She did not shy away from exposing any parts of her physical situation or emotional life.  She became a pioneer of personal documentary and bravely shared experiences and observations on being a vegetarian, her cats, organic gardening, food, and her struggles with weight, her smoking and alcohol addictions, and depression (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder).   Romance (or lack thereof) and obsession are long-running themes in the DIARY films, as is the cycle of life.  In the films, Anne sows seeds, reaps vegetables, cooks and pickles them, composts the scraps.  She buries family members and beloved cats, notes the changing seasons, contemplates suicide, has nervous breakdowns, creates films, pines for her celebrity crush (Tom Baker of Doctor Who), finds religion, and obsessively documents her own life in film, paper, and audio tape.

Anne didn’t shy away from documenting her own weaknesses.  Weight and diets are addressed throughout the work.  Her struggle with mental illness is investigated again and again.  She made a film while undergoing a nervous breakdown.  She talks about being hospitalized, taking prescription drugs, and fearing the next breakdown.  In the layered audio of the DIARY film, she explains what was going through her head when she shot certain things – here she is looking for signs in the everyday; here she is obsessively visually cataloging her garbage; here she is worrying she is causing pain to the root vegetables she means to eat – a problem solved by re-planting them.

LOCOMOTION (1981)

Ms. Robertson’s films were shown all over the world, often at super 8 – specific festivals.  Her work touched many people, and inspired a number of women filmmakers.  In 2001, she was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in Filmmaking.

The material given to the Harvard Film Archive includes the original films, film prints, video copies of the films, as well as the intellectual and distribution rights.  The collection also includes scores of hours of audio tape, papers (including diaries and letters), and photographs.

The HFA is working with the award –winning small gauge film lab Brodsky and Treadway to preserve these unique films by creating new digital masters, incorporating the disparate soundtracks, and will make them available for rental.  Anne had recorded her usually performed audio for some of the DIARY films, and masters have been created using both sound elements (the recordings and the sound-on-film).  She left scripts with some of her DIARY films, and requested that someone record the performed audio for future preservation work.

The following titles, as a condition of the will, remain unavailable until 2023:

SUICIDE (1979)

HOMEBIRTH (1980)

FRUIT (1985)

THE NUDE (1987)

WITH CLOTHES (1987)

TALKING TO MYSELF #2 (1988)

WEIGHT (1988)

DIET (1988)

Some of the DIARY films will also be unavailable (titles forthcoming).

The HFA will be presenting a weekend of the works of Anne Robertson in September 2013 on the anniversary of her death.

For information regarding showing Anne Robertson’s films, please contact the Harvard Film Archive’s print trafficker, Mark Johnson at: mhjohns[at]fas[dot]harvard[dot]edu.

For more information about the collection, please contact the HFA’s film conservator, Liz Coffey: coffey[at]fas[dot]harvard[dot]edu

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