Her Socialist Smile
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Streaming link available Mar 5–11
Q&A with John Gianvito
Beginning with her first public appearance in 1913 at age 32, Helen Keller spent her entire adult life advocating for progressive causes. Though very little moving image or audio recordings exist of Keller, this experimental documentary works around these perceptual restraints to foreground Keller’s words with recorded voiceover and onscreen text. In doing so, filmmaker John Gianvito grapples with an historical figure whose popular image has been frozen in childhood, conveniently ignoring a complex rhetorical legacy.
“It’s another highly idiosyncratic work of poetry, didactics, and agitprop at the service of a bottom-up view of history, at once an appreciation and analysis of Keller’s theses on capitalism. It’s no spoiler to say that they are just as valid 100 years on.” (Viennale)
“The film is a rousing reminder that Keller’s undaunted activism for labor rights, pacifism, and women’s suffrage was philosophically inseparable from her battles for the rights of the disabled.” (New York Film Festival)
“By any reckoning, Her Socialist Smile is a beautifully executed portrait of a major figure in American intellectual history, someone whose rougher edges have been sanded away, both by the general homogenizing tendencies of time, and the inherent sexism, ableism, and anti-leftism that defines the dominant discourse in this country.” (Michael Sicinski, Mubi Notebook)
Recipient of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award, the film was cited by several other prominent critics as one of the Top Ten Films of 2020.
About the filmmaker
John Gianvito is a director, teacher, and curator, based in Boston, Massachusetts. His films have screened widely and have been included in the Toronto International Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, FID Marseille, BAFICI, London Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art (NY), Centre Pompidou, Cinematheque Francaise, the Tate Modern, and Pacific Film Archives. Retrospectives of his work have been presented at the VIENNALE Film Festival, the I Mille Occhi Festival, Cinéma du Réel, and Seoul Independent Documentary Festival. Cornell Cinema has previously shown his films Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind and The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, and hosted him in person with the latter.