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Sensory Ethnography Lab: Experiments with Cinema

Courtesy of The Cinema Guild.


Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street
Cambridge MA

This series highlights contemporary work produced at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) exploring the intersection of cinema and anthropology. Directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and managed by Ernst Karel, the lab provides an academic context for the development of creative works that test and respond to the traditions of documentary film. Anthropologists and artists who conduct research at the SEL investigate processes of realism and representation, expanding the potential of visual and acoustic media to represent indigeneity and alterity, lived experience and cultural difference, around the world.
The depictions of landscape and time presented in this series resonate with those found in the Harvard Art Museums’ special exhibition Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia (February 5–September 18, 2016) and in Ben Rivers’s nine-channel installation The Shape of Things (July 1–October 25, 2016), commissioned as a project for the museums’ Lightbox Gallery, on Level 5. Each of these projects challenges our relationship to the past, revealing new strategies for encountering ancestral and natural worlds.

Join us for weekly Sunday programs during the run of the series.

About today’s film:
Leviathan (2012)
87 min.; color; English

A groundbreaking, immersive portrait of the contemporary commercial fishing industry, Leviathan was filmed off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts. At one time the whaling capital of the world as well as Melville’s inspiration for Moby Dick, New Bedford is the country’s largest fishing port, with more than 500 ships sailing from its harbor every month.

Leviathan follows a hulking ground fish trawler into the surrounding murky black waters on a fishing expedition. Instead of romanticizing the labor or partaking in the longstanding tradition of turning fisherfolk into images, filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel (Foreign Parts) present a vivid, almost-kaleidoscopic representation of the work, the sea, the machinery, and the players, both human and marine.

Employing an arsenal of cameras that passed freely from film crew to ship crew, swooping from below sea level to bird’s-eye views, the film that emerges is unlike anything that has been seen before. Entirely dialogue-free, it is a mesmerizing and gripping portrayal of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors (

Directors, photographers, editors, and producers: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
Sound composition, editor, and mixer: Ernst Karel
Sound design and re-recording mixer: Jacob Ribicoff
Color Monkey: Joe Gawler
Color Monkey Wrench: Roman Hankewycz
Color Monkey Manager: Zak Tucker

The screening will be held in Menschel Hall, Lower Level.

Leo Goldsmith, doctoral candidate in cinema studies at New York University and film editor at The Brooklyn Rail, and Rachael Rakes, programmer at large at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and film editor at The Brooklyn Rail, will offer introductory remarks and will participate in a conversation with the audience after the film.

Free admission

Support for this program is provided by the Richard L. Menschel Endowment Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.

Lead support for Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia and related research has been provided by the Harvard Committee on Australian Studies. The exhibition is supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Consulate-General, New York.