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Few artists or thinkers have created bodies of work as challenging, intellectually stimulating, or conceptually rich as Trinh T. Minh-ha, the renowned filmmaker and theorist. Trinh’s career has encompassed multimedia installations, eight extraordinary films, and numerous written works that stand as pioneering examples of cultural, literary, and film theory. Her moving-image works – which are as different from each other as they are unified by her unmistakable sensibility and intellectual rigor – intersect with the traditions of ethnography, personal documentary, essay film, and narrative drama, even as they critique each of those modes from within.

Running until 22 December 2019, in conjunction with Anthology Film Archives’ on-going series, “The Cinema of Gender Transgression,” and in celebration of Women Make Movies’ new digital restorations of Trinh’s film works Reassemblage (1982) and Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989), Anthology welcomes Trinh to New York for a complete retrospective of her films.

Born in Vietnam in 1952, Trinh was raised in Saigon, where she studied the piano, during the American occupation. She left for the United States in 1970, and studied music, ethnomusicology and French, which would spur her to travel. Shortly after her arrival in the United States she discovered the world of cinema, which had been relatively inaccessible in Vietnam at the time. From 1977 to 1980, she relocated to Dakar, where she taught music at the National Art Institute. There, she observed the country, its customs and the position of women, while also examining the Western world’s view of this culture.

She revisited Senegal in 1981 to make her first film Reassemblage in 16mm, which was released in 1982. When it comes to ethnological filmmaking, Trinh’s objective is to film in an indeterminate style, allowing a view of Senegalese society to emerge that is unfettered by Western opinion and philosophy. While there was no intention on her part to be embraced by experimental cinema, the structure, editing and framing, which evade conventional representational methods, naturally became integrated within this cinematic sphere.   

Expanding on her research of one culture’s view of another, the film Viet Given Name Nam (1989), also newly digitally restored for screening, interrogates notions of translation and interpretation. A group of Vietnamese women were interviewed and their replies are intermingled with archive images and photos. Over the course of the film, these women, who seem to be evoking their own past, reveal themselves to be Vietnamese immigrant actors. In this complex structure, the voices of these women question exile, traditional society and the break with the past since the war.

Trinh has gone onto teach at Harvard, Smith, Cornell, San Francisco State University, the University of Illinois, and Ochanomizu University in Japan. She is currently Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Both her films and her teaching embody her deep devotion and contribution to contemporary thinking around feminism, gender, post-colonialism, cultural politics, and literary and film studies.

Trinh T. Minh-ha at Anthology Film Archives, New York runs until 22 December 2019 – book tickets here.

Feature image: Trinh T. Minh-ha (via Pinterest

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