ROUGHLY TWO YEARS after her passing, the first of filmmaker Chick Strand’s unfinished films, Señora con flores (Woman with Flowers, 1995/2011), will come to light on Monday at REDCAT (copresented with Los Angeles Filmforum), anchoring a program of classic Strand shorts that have been newly restored by the Pacific Film Archive and the Academy Film Archive. Technically the screening is a “precursor” to Los Angeles Filmforum’s yearlong series tracking midcentury Southern California experimental film for Pacific Standard Time, and it’s fitting that the cinema arm of the chronophilic behemoth should dawn with Strand. For one, she was a cofounder of the vital Bay Area distributor Canyon Cinema. For another, she was an artist who clung enduringly to the present—an inclination that fills her work with halcyon poignance.
Commenting in 2006 on her approach to ethnography, Strand said that “to leave out the spirit of the people presents a thin tapestry of the culture, easy to rent, lacking in strength and depth. I want to know really what it is like to be a breathing, talking, moving, emotional, relating individual in the society.” Her brand of documentary maintains an intense closeness to its subjects, photographically and psychologically, as in Señora con flores, shot in 1995 on one of Strand’s several summerlong sojourns to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The camera follows a woman over the course of day that she spends playing with her children next to a river. Simultaneously, she chronicles her long marriage to a brutal alcoholic in a narration that runs over the footage. The composite of her personal story and glimpses of her quotidian joys creates a truthful portrait of her life. Of all the moods that Strand strikes in her films—some of which depict the more buoyant likes of synchronized swimmers, golden retrievers, and lovers tumbling outdoors to Aretha Franklin—the most palpable one is caused by the quiet that suddenly discloses itself after the credits roll. In Señora con flores, there is no decisive end to the woman’s tale, no epiphany or tragedy. She seems at terms with her life, and in the silence after the film ends, the audience is left with an imperfect sense of peace, which, as Strand’s diligent lyricism conveys, is always, on some level, present.
Señora con Flores (Woman with Flowers) has its world premiere on Monday, September 26, at REDCAT in Los Angeles.