“Who gets to describe the world?”: Director Courtney Stephens in Conversation

“Terra Femme is Stephens’s magnum opus. It is also a meditation on the unresolved matter of women’s relationship to earthly places. What kind of home is earth, family, society? Where does the body go to live and to die? What does it mean to move through the world with this particular body, raced and gendered, disabled and vulnerable? And perhaps most pressing of all, who gets to describe the world?”

– Pooja Rangan, 
To Describe The World: A Conversation With Courtney Stephens About ‘Terra Femme’Another Gaze (July 2021)

In February 2022, the Block Museum of Art hosted a two-evening event with filmmaker Courtney Stephens.

On Wednesday, February 11 the museum hosted a presentation of Terra Femme, a live documentary-performance hybrid investigating the history of women as travel filmmakers from the 1920s through the 1950s. Drawing entirely on archival materials, Stephens scrutinizes the traces left by these women with a movie camera, asking questions about gender and genre: what common subjects drew their eye? What social roles did they challenge, reproduce, or inhabit? What do these films say about the place of women in the economies of cinema and colonialism? Hearkening to the illustrated lectures of travel societies and 20th-century home movie projections, Stephens uses the live performance mode to reflect on the personal stakes of her inquiry as a traveler and filmmaker. The result is a film essay as moving as it is transporting.

On Thursday, February 12, Stephens returned for a screening and discussion of The American Sector (2020). Dozens of sections of the iconic wall that separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989 are now scattered throughout the United States, at government buildings, college campuses, private collections, and roadside diners. For The American Sector, directors Courtney Stephens and Pacho Velez spent 18 months traveling the country, filming these fragments and gathering impressions from the custodians, collectors, and tourists they encountered. At once a landscape essay, history lesson, and collective psychological portrait of the post-Cold War United States, The American Sector asks troubling and timely questions about the shifting relationship between monuments and ideology.

The director participated in a rich post-event discussion on both evenings of her residency

Listen to the discussion

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