Speaker leads audience through ‘Night Passage’

The College continued its celebration of Women’s History Month this past Friday with a film presentation from Trinh Minh-ha, a writer, filmmaker and composer who is professor of women’s studies and rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley.

“She is a major feminist of today, of transnational feminism,” Ellen Friedmen, director of the College’s women’s and gender studies program, said.

The presentation, which took place in the Music Building, included a screening of her seventh and most recent film, “Night Passage,” and was followed by a question and answer session.

Friedman introduced Minh-ha to an audience full of students and faculty members. Trinh spoke briefly about her philosophy of filmmaking before showing “Night Passage.” She told the audience that there is a guiding spirit that cuts across genre and categories in all art, and that this guiding spirit is witness. She maintained that a body of work should remain self-aware.

Minh-ha elaborated on the idea by saying that the best documentaries for her are aware of their fictional qualities as images, and that the best fictions are aware of their documentary qualities. She described the film as fictional but said it is a vehicle by which to tackle philosophical concerns like the impossibility of intercepting death and the importance of bearing witness to one’s transitional experiences.

“Night Passage” is a digitally-made film. It follows a young girl named Kyra on her journey one night, in the company of two friends. The film has a narrative framework, but the journey taken by the characters is distinctly surreal and at parts experimental. The artist employs multiple styles of imagery to suggest metaphorical meaning from very literal representational contexts.

When the film ended, Minh-ha explained that she wanted to show that transition is more than a temporary line between states, that something occupies its own space as well. She used the image of the train in the film to underline this idea. Kyra and her friends are shown inside a train as they take their personal journeys from life to death, childhood to adulthood. The film was punctuated by enigmatic dialogue between Kyra and her friends and the various “wise men” they meet on their journey, who tell her not to hide her wound, but “witness it.”

The film is full of imagery suggesting transition and vivid colors. It is swathed in a wonderful score of haunting music. The project itself is largely the result of the collaboration of many artists: musicians, artists, dancers and poets.

Minh-ha explained that she suggested specific ideas to the artists who participated in the project and arranged their creations for the film in a way that best told the story she wanted.

“Night Passage” was loosely inspired by Kenji Miyazawa’s novel “Milky Way Railroad.” In Minh-ha’s words, it is meant to show “where traveling is the very place of dwelling.”

Minh-ha thinks that film is particularly suited for this idea because it is based on communicating ideas via constantly moving images. But she shies away from using the word “express” in describing her art.

“I don’t use the word ‘express’ in my context because it belongs to an old context of art,” she said. “When you say art is to express yourself, you limit yourself because you receive a lot in the process of making it.”

Minh-ha mentioned that the film might be a little difficult for mainstream audiences to accept because it doesn’t follow traditional narrative conventions. Chris Perez, sophomore psychology and women’s and gender studies major, said that although it will take a while for the film to sink in, he enjoyed it.

“The insight she provided at the end was my favorite part of it,” he said. Minh-ha is currently working on two new film projects and a book.