I still have nightmares of the pre-digital age. One is that I’m looking at a bin full of “trims” – unruly strands of 16mm film hanging from hooks, crying out to be organized – at the end of a fourteen-hour windowless day of editing in the basement of Sever Hall. The tiny edge numbers printed under the perforations of the film indicated precisely where the trims should be “reconstituted,” which required equal amounts patience and scotch tape. Another recurring dream is that I mistakenly open a 16mm magazine and the film springs out into the light and begins to uncoil, whereupon I too begin to unravel. As if in a slapstick movie, I throw my body on top of the mess of film in a hopeless attempt to block the light, sobbing over the precious, hard-won images I’ve just destroyed in an instant. It does seem like a miracle now that any of us survived making a film with Steenbeck and splicer – and yet I miss those days.
How lucky I am – if old – to have witnessed that time! And in a place as inspiring and supportive as Harvard’s Carpenter Center and Film Study Center (then led by Robert Gardner and Richard Rogers), circa 1990. This long-suffering and painstaking method of crafting a film – combined with the unusual pedagogy which required we learn camera, sound, editing, producing and directing – instilled in me a deep appreciation of all aspects of the art form. It has informed all of my work.
First Comes Love comes directly out of the Harvard tradition of autobiographical film. As a student of Robb Moss, and a Teaching Assistant and then Assistant Editor for Ross McElwee, I inevitably became acquainted with the genre. My first film, Hello Photo (1995), which had no dialogue or narrative, was a rebellion of sorts against my mentors. I circled back around with Always a Bridesmaid (2000), my autobiographical film about being a wedding videographer who wanted to get married but was dating a guy who couldn’t commit. I took to the genre so naturally that it almost seemed – but not quite! – I’d invented it. I had begun my artistic journey in still photography (with Jack Leuders-Booth and Christopher James), and I prized the intimacy that still photography allowed for between me and my subjects. The personal film permitted me to preserve that intimacy. I also found it compelling how the camera, and my presence, affected the scene. I liked connecting with and drawing out my subjects; I loved transforming home movies into cinema.
I imagine First Comes Love to be the second film, after Always a Bridesmaid, in a trilogy (or a tetralogy? or pentalogy?) about one woman’s life spanning the 20th and 21st centuries. I hope I have made a work that is timeless, and I hope that the films – someday viewed together – will speak to each other and in so doing, gain depth and meaning. – Nina Davenport
The Harvard Film Archive warmly welcomes Nina Davenport for the local premiere of her latest documentary First Comes Love, her personal voyage through raising a child within her own untraditional, modern village.
Directed by Nina Davenport
US 2012, digital video, color, 105 min