State of Cinema Address
Sunday, May 3
1:00 PM Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
1881 Post Street (at Fillmore)
Each year, the Film Society invites a well-known public figure to talk about the intersecting worlds of contemporary cinema and visual arts, culture and society, images and ideas. This year, acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark will take the audience on a private tour of her film-set images, discussing the legendary figures in the frame as well as what was going on around them, and how what she experienced has informed her photographic and film work. She will also show and discuss her photo-essay Twins and discuss photography and film with the audience.
Presented with support from Lynn Kirshbaum.
Photograph of Mary Ellen Mark by Cliff Hausner.
On Set with Mary Ellen Mark
By Michael Read
For 40 years Mary Ellen Mark has been publishing photographs of uncommon immediacy and insight. Her signature imagery and particular genius belong in the realm of the long-form photo essay. With an uncanny ability to forge deep, extemporaneous connections with her subjects, she has proven to be a consummate storyteller, be it among Bombay prostitutes, Seattle street kids or residents of an Oregon mental hospital. Through several seminal exhibitions and books her body of work—inspired as much by Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand as by the hallowed traditions of the Magnum photo agency—has long been recognized as an inimitable touchstone in the photo documentary canon.
The sensibilities that anchor Mark’s personal work—strength, compassion, and fearlessness—have also brought her great success on assignment for many of the world’s best magazines. In this capacity she has been much sought-after by legendary directors as a “special stills photographer” on more than 100 movie sets. Beginning with Arthur Penn’s Alice’s Restaurant and a Look magazine assignment documenting Federico Fellini directing Satyricon in Rome, she quickly has established herself as a photographer unusually suited to capturing actors and directors at work on what she knowingly calls the surreal atmosphere of the film set.
Her newest book, Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set (Phaidon, 2008), collects scores of illuminating portraits of consummate actors—Brando, Nicholson, Deneuve, Blanchett and Depp—and superlative directors, including Coppola, Forman, Allen, Forman, Buñuel and Truffaut. Many of these images—a bloodstained Marlon Brando contemplating a dragonfly perched on his fingertip on the set of Apocalypse Now, for instance, or Benicio Del Toro, shrouded in cigar smoke, channeling Che Guevara—transcend the photographic to become objects of beauty and contemplation in themselves.
Mark’s experience as a producer on documentaries Streetwise, Twins and Alexander, as well as on the feature American Heart—inspired by her own photographs of homeless Seattle teens, and directed by her husband, Martin Bell—further adds to her insight into the state of cinema. “I’ve seen amazing people work,” she acknowledges modestly, “and I’ve learned some things.”
In this year’s State of Cinema Address, Mark will take the audience on a private tour of her film-set images, discussing the legendary figures in the frame, as well as what was going on around them, and how what she experienced has informed her photographic and film work. She will also show and discuss her photo essay Twins and screen its companion short film, made with Martin Bell; and discuss photography and film with the audience.
Michael Read was the editor of Film Arts magazine and is now the SFFS publications manager.
Previous State of Cinema Addresses
2008 Kevin Kelly
2007 Peter Sellars
2006 Tilda Swinton
2005 Brad Bird
2004 B. Ruby Rich
2003 Michael Ciment