Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 7:30pm
Jesse Lerner's Ruins

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Ruins, Jesse Lerner, 1999, 16mm, in Spanish and English with English and Spanish subtitles, 78 mins

Integrating archival sources with pseudo-documentary fabrications, Jesse Lerner’s Ruins delves into the tangled legacies of Mesoamerican antiquarianism, revealing how archaeologists, art historians, and museum curators have, for centuries, fashioned various theories about pre-Columbian civilizations from the stuff of colonialist fantasies and ingenious forgeries. Structured around five key vignettes in this history, Lerner’s film combines travelogues, newsreels, and educational films to examine the claims of various experts like early-20th century “dean of the Mayanists” Sylvanus G. Morley and archaeologist Michael Coe, longtime curator of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Ruins culminates in a visit with Brigído Lara, a self-taught master counterfeiter of pre-Columbian artifacts who claims to have crafted thousands of essentially undetectable reproductions. Many of these fakes, Lara says, have become part of major museum collections around the world, fooling even top specialists. Yet this dramatic revelation comes under scrutiny as well. “The film does not mean to celebrate the forger as a heroic or unproblematic figure,” Lerner notes. “Nor is the forger’s practice equated with those of the archaeologist charged with reconstructing the ruins or the artisan who manufactures the plethora of commodities for the tourist trade for sale at the site: paperweights in the shape of a miniature rendition of Chichén Itzá, for example...As is the case with so much of what takes place in the shady world of forgers, it’s difficult to know how to evaluate the statements that Lara makes.”

Lerner’s film retains an aggressively hybrid nature, shuttling between collage animations, talking-head interviews with both real and imaginary experts, and hand-processed images. Bits of found footage, Lerner has explained, “have been taken from their original context and used to create a new narrative. About half of the images and audio are mine. Like the forger, I have attempted to artificially induce the illusion of age onto the surface of some of these original materials to match the visual quality of the archival materials.” Lerner thereby comments on the nature of documentary itself, and our desire to believe the inventions of an artist as historical fact. Indeed, Ruins calls to mind a statement on filmmaking made by Orson Welles in F for Fake, which undoubtedly lurks behind Lerner’s own film: “What we professional liars hope to serve is truth.”

Jesse Lerner is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. His short films Natives (1991, with Scott Sterling), T.S.H. (2004), and Magnavoz (2006) and the feature-length experimental documentaries Frontierland/Fronterilandia (1995, with Rubén Ortiz-Torres), Ruins (1999), The American Egypt (2001), Atomic Sublime (2010), and The Absent Stone (2013, with Sandra Rozental) have won numerous prizes at film festivals in the United States, Latin America and Japan, and have screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Washington’s National Gallery, and the Sundance, Rotterdam and Los Angeles Film Festivals. His films were featured in mid-career surveys at New York’s Anthology Film Archives and Mexico’s Cineteca Nacional. He has curated projects for Mexico’s Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, and the Robert Flaherty Seminar. His books include F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing (with Alexandra Juhasz, 2000), The Shock of Modernity: Crime Photography in Mexico City (2007), The Maya of Modernism (2011), and The Catherwood Project (with Leandro Katz, forthcoming).

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.