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Barry Jenkins Films the Gaze of His Ancestors

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

While he was filming the TV adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, director Barry Jenkins was also working on this piece, entitled The Gaze. It’s a 50-minute, non-narrative video portrait of several of the show’s actors dressed in their period clothes, wordlessly looking into the camera.

I don’t remember when we began making the piece you see here. Which is not and should not be considered an episode of The Underground Railroad. It exists apart from that, outside it. Early in production, there was a moment where I looked across the set and what I saw settled me: our background actors, in working with folks like Ms. Wendy and Mr. and Mrs. King — styled and dressed and made up by Caroline, by Lawrence and Donnie — I looked across the set and realized I was looking at my ancestors, a group of people whose images have been largely lost to the historical record. Without thinking, we paused production on the The Underground Railroad and instead harnessed our tools to capture portraits of… them.

What flows here is non-narrative. There is no story told. Throughout production, we halted our filming many times for moments like these. Moments where… standing in the spaces our ancestors stood, we had the feeling of seeing them, truly seeing them and thus, we sought to capture and share that seeing with you.

(via the morning news)