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Avant-garde icon Chick Strand's masterful documentary triptych, spanning twenty years in the life of Mexican Native tuba enthusiast Anselmo Aguascalientes, is a lyrical ode to the beauty, strength and endurance of ordinary people.
Co-founder of the San Francisco Cinematheque and Canyon Cinema, ethnographer, teacher, filmmaker, photographer and painter, Chick Strand has been an icon of the American avant-garde since the 1960s. While her filmmaking took many forms, from lyrical portraits to collage films, perhaps her most profound contribution was her unique documentary work. Her empathetic ethnography is characterized by a refusal to take a distanced objective stance, favouring an intense, lyrical style that pairs the voice of her subjects with intimate close-ups of them and their surroundings. Employing the space between sound and image to explore the contradictions between what is said and what is seen, between expectation and fact, the ideal and the real, Strand underlines the complexities of human existence. "To leave out the spirit of the people presents a thin tapestry of the culture, easy to rend, lacking in strength and depth," wrote Strand. "I want to know really what it is like to be a breathing, talking, moving, emotional, relating individual in society."
One of her signature achievements, Strand's Anselmo Trilogy focuses on Anselmo Aguascalientes, a Mexican Native man who was orphaned at the age of seven, watched his baby sister starve to death in his arms, and later taught himself to play the horn, eventually forming his own band. First meeting Anselmo in 1965 and frequently returning to film him over a twenty-year period, Strand created a masterful triptych that underlines the strength, endurance and beauty of her subjects, restoring to them a grace and dignity that often eludes them day to day.
— Kate MacKay