dyad gaze, An evening of films by Heather M. O’Brien


With a face of golden pleasure, elegantly destroy (film still), Heather M. O’Brien, 2020

This past weekend, Heather O’Brien, Professor of Cinema at Southern Illinois University (SIU) presented 5 experimental essay short films, often including images of landscapes and nature, accompanied with a voiceover or interview. The shorts touched on subjects such as parenthood, trauma, grief, and politics. One of the many goals was to discuss the politics of femininity and its importance, during Women’s History Month. 


My films aim to build encounters with constructs of nationhood and the illusion of accurate memory. I work with experimental and essay film techniques to offer a nuanced perspective about the place from which one speaks,” O’Brien said. “Each film came about in a different context, but at the crux of all my work is a desire to uncover issues related to gender, spirituality, grief, longing and belonging.”



On Saturday, March 19, 2022, from 6-8 pm the film screening event was held at Art Space 304 here in Carbondale. The event was hosted by ArtSpace 304.


The event space showcased work froWith a face of golden pleasure, elegantly destroy (film still), Heather M. O’Brien, 2020m many other artists in the lobby. The screening itself was held in a separate room with a projector and audio system, which displayed the films. Every seat was filled, which created a lively but welcoming environment to view the films in.


The first half of the event consisted of two shorts. The first titled “Our machines are made of pure sunlight” created by O’Brien. This short consisted of shots with different nature settings. Which juxtaposed with videos taking place after the 2016 UCLA shooting. We then see an interview with a woman who left the Twelve Tribes Christian compound, with the audio also playing behind the nature settings. The short focuses on the concepts of motherhood as well as mass violence in America. With the interview subject speaking about taking on the role of mother for her 7 siblings and the corruption within the compound she was living in. The film’s experimental editing structure at times made it hard to follow, with the images and audio not clearly being correlated. Although it served as a harsh critique on the role of motherhood that is not often interrogated. 



The interview section was the most poignant and disturbing, but eye-opening. The story of her experience with the Twelve Tribes was quite disturbing at times and gave a detailed look into the experience and its treatment of women. 


The second short was titled “Dead Flowers for Bev” from SIU Media Arts MFA candidate, Cody Tracy. This film was largely concerned with the filmmaker dealing with the loss of his grandmother during the pandemic. 

I decided to include Cody Tracy’s work in the context of my films to bring in the locality of Illinois as well as recent events of loss in the pandemic.” O’Brien said. 


The film is composed of shots of nature as well as footage of the town his grandmother was from and spaces that she lived in before her passing. Tracy provides an intimate look into dealing with grief during the pandemic and the inability to visit a loved one before their passing because of the restrictions COVID-19 presents.


The film is full of shots of Illinois scenery, some traditionally and some untraditionally beautiful. It also has a voiceover from Tracy describing his feelings and battles with this grief, as well as some poetry. 


The piece was particularly effective because it presented something deeply personal and specific, but still portrayed it to the audience in a way where you completely understood. Part of the film’s purpose was also to tell the story of his grandmother and I found it successful in that way, by the end I felt like I knew her story, at least in a small way.


After these two films there was a short Q&A where the audience was able to ask questions and make comments about the films. Following that, the audience broke for intermission and moved back into the lobby for snacks and refreshments. It also allowed everyone to discuss the films amongst themselves and converse with the filmmakers. After the intermission we moved back into the screening room.


The next film that was shown was “dyad gaze,” another film from O’Brien. This piece also is filled with shots of landscapes and nature in Beirut, Lebanon. These images are shown against an interview with a young writer and philosophy student and her memories of growing up in Beirut.


The interview touches upon many complex subjects, such as belonging, community, the future, as well as the past. The film is full of shots that characterize the city in both grandiose shots of buildings as well as smaller things like wildlife and trees in the rain. The shots and interview paired together give a unique look into the experience of living and growing up in Beirut, especially for most audiences that are not familiar with the scenery and lifestyle there.


The following short was titled “With a face of golden pleasure, elegantly destroy” from O’ Brien and filmmaker Jonathan Takahashi. This film covers the privatization of water in Beirut, and how it affects the people living there.


It has many shots of water sources in the city, and shows the complex systems that carry this water throughout the buildings. The film critiques the unethical nature of privatizing water, and its role in a hyper-capitalist landscape. O’Brien described how expensive of a commodity water is in the city.


It also critiques  rich residents’ excess of water, compared to its lack among a large chunk of the poorer population. This film also features a voiceover with a firsthand description of the phenomenon.


The final film of the night from O’Brien was titled “let everything happen to you, beauty and terror”. The film is focused on the Beirut explosion that occurred in 2020, the same day in which O’Brien gave birth to her first child. It explores the complex duality of emotions that something like this creates.


The film features a voiceover from O’Brien describing the event. It gives a deep look into this deeply traumatic event. As well as how it affected her on a larger scale in a post 9/11 world. “August 4, 2020, was a day of terror and beauty, given the Beirut explosion and the birth of my first child; it felt productive look back on this moment within a collective gaze in the intimate media gallery of ArtSpace 304.” said O’Brien. 


Following these films there was another more extensive Q&A where the audience was able to continue discussing the films with the filmmaker. This provided a lot of thought-provoking comments and questions that probed a lot of good discussion of the themes and goals of each film. 


I was grateful for the opportunity to share my film work with the Southern Illinois community and for the insightful questions from the audience. The conversations around caretaking, loss, and longing had me reflecting in a new way.” O’Brien said following the event. When asked about the possibility of more of these events in the future she also stated “- I hope to offer more filmic events of this nature in the future.”


Overall, this screening left the audience considering different perspectives of art and filmmaking as a medium, especially if they’re unaware of smaller experimental works such as these. They could be viewed as quite challenging because of one’s preconceptions of other films going in, but while the films are not something one would traditionally see in a larger mainstream landscape, the experience was very informative. Both in the content of the films themselves and the perspective of independent filmmakers work in southern Illinois and beyond.


Staff Reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected]

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