Lee Anne Schmitt
Purge This Land with Blood
*Feature, 70 minutes
*To be completed Fall of 2015

The John Brown Project consists of a 70-minute 16mm landscape film and a sequence of still photographs, both based on the journey undertaken by the radical abolitionist John Brown in the moments just before the Civil War. Like all of my work, this project examines a contemporary space against the process of erasure that dominates American political discourse.

I do not intend to recount a narrative of Brown’s life; the film will be an essay on the construction of race and class in America, seen through the lens of one historical instance and a variety of related contemporary manifestations that explore ideas of paternalism, social engagement, and the history of violent political action.

Much of the texture of the film will result from revisiting the landscapes Brown and his family passed through, set against a sound collage of radical and reactionary texts, ambient sound, field recordings, radio, and anecdotal moments in history.

The project was filmed in 16mm as I traveled through these spaces—a process derived from an interest in the pace of the explorer, drawing from the sense of slow time it once took to traverse the landscape of the United States.

I intend this project to have great kinship with my first feature, California Company Town, which used landscape photography in combination with historical archive and personal anecdote. In discussing that film, I often discussed the idea of the historical archive; the way image is often presented as fact, while actually telling us more about the fictions of historical narrative.

I intend to create an archive of my experience in the contemporary landscape, mediated by historical traces of John Brown's life. In the last three years the work has become increasingly autobiographical and personally motivated; my own experience as a mother of a biracial child has altered some of my voice within the film, making the piece more and more intimate and meditative.

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