Still from “America” (2019) by Garrett Bradley


ARTIST AND FILMMAKER Garrett Bradley makes lyrical films that explore the challenges of contemporary life and surface lost histories. A pair of revelations about the legacy of silent film inspired one of her latest projects.

In 2013, the Library of Congress (LOC) released a report declaring America’s silent film heritage is endangered. Nearly 11,000 silent films were made between 1912 and 1929, but the majority of them—75 percent—are lost.

A year later, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced seven reels of unedited and unreleased footage shot in 1913 had been languishing in its archives. Featuring an integrated crew and all-black cast led by Bert Williams (1874–1922), “Lime Kiln Club Field Day” (1914/2014) was filmed in New York and New Jersey. The romantic comedy is believed to be the earliest surviving feature film with a black cast.

These landmark developments moved Bradley to make a film of her own. She titled it “America” (2019) and wove footage from “Lime Kiln Club Field Day” throughout the project, which is scored by Trevor Mathison and Udit Duseja.

The short film was screened during the New Directors/New Films festival co-presented by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center (April 2019), and was recently on view at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston. Showcasing new and recent single and multi-channel films and videos, “Garrett Bradley: American Rhapsody” (Dec. 19, 2019-March 22, 2020) is her first solo museum exhibition

“This project is very much about making assumptions and connecting dots,” Bradley has said about the film. “I was interested in starting in 1915 and going through a series of 12 years, each of which go into a moment or individual in history that I thought was significant, that’s been buried or hidden. Sometimes we’re seeing these things illustrated in a really straightforward manner and sometimes they’re more abstract.”

“‘America’ is sort of a grandiose title, but I didn’t want to shy away from what it would mean to title the film after my country, because the impetus for this was to visually illustrate inclusivity and make a case for the beauty of what that could mean.” ” — Garrett Bradley

Visitors in the Brown Foundation Gallery at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston view “America” (2019) by Garrett Bradley. | Photo by Will Michels, Courtesy Contemporary Art Museum Houston


BORN IN NEW YORK CITY, Bradley is based in New Orleans, where she is a professor at Loyola University. She earned an MFA from UCLA (2012). In 2019, she won the inaugural Philip Guston Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome and was featured in the Whitney Biennial, where she presented “AKA” (2019), a short film about relationships between mothers and daughters.

Bradley has an impressive track record at Sundance. In 2017, she won the Short Film Jury Award (nonfiction) for “Alone.” The film explores what it means to marry someone who is incarcerated, from the perspective of a young woman who is weighing the decision. In 2019, “America” was screened in the U.S. Narrative Shorts Competition.

Earlier this year, Bradley won the directing award in the U.S. Documentary category for “Time,” a feature-length film that answers the question posed in her earlier work. This film examines the life of a mother of six who has spent two decades trying to gain her husband’s release. Incarcerated for an offense they both committed, he is serving a 60-year sentence. Shortly after Sundance, Amazon Studios acquired “Time” for $5 million.

In October, Bradley was scheduled to return to MoMA for her first solo museum exhibition in New York. Organized by Thelma Golden and Legacy Russell from the Studio Museum in Harlem, the show is part of a multiyear initiative among MoMA, MoMA PS1, and the Studio Museum. Currently, the dates for “Projects: Garrett Bradley” are to be announced, due to the museum’s temporary closure in the wake of COVID-19.

“‘America’ is sort of a grandiose title, but I didn’t want to shy away from what it would mean to title the film after my country, because the impetus for this was to visually illustrate inclusivity and make a case for the beauty of what that could mean,” Bradley says in a Sundance Institute video about the film.

“The heart and soul of the project asks us to evaluate the role of pleasure particularly within communities still in some ways barred from that fundamental experience or right. So ‘America’is both a meditation and recognition of the beauty that exists in the past, a resurfacing of that beauty, and also a proposal for the future.” CT


TOP IMAGE: GARRETT BRADLEY, “America,” 2019 (film still, multi-channel video installation; 35mm film transferred to video: black and white, sound, 23:55 minutes). | Courtesy the filmmaker


FIND MORE about Garrett Bradley on her website


Garrett Bradley discusses the origins of her short film “America” (2019). | Video by Contemporary Art Museum Houston


For the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Garrett Bradley provides an introduction to her short film “America.” | Video by Sundance Institute


Garrett Bradley’s film “Alone” (2017) won the Short Film Jury Award in non-fiction at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and was also a New York Times Op-Docs feature. | Video by CinemarX


Trailer: “Cover Me” (2015, 58 minutes), about a young vocalist in New Orleans stars Tameka Norris, who co-wrote the film with Garrett Bradley. | Video by International Film Festival Rotterdam


Trailer: “Below Dreams” (2014, 74 minutes) was debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows three people in their 20s, separately navigating their way through life in New Orleans in search of their dreams, despite formidable challenges. | Festival du nouveau cinéma


The Contemporary Art Museum Houston is publishing a fully illustrated volume to accompany Garrett Bradley’s exhibition “American Rhapsody.” The publication will include an essay by exhibition curator Rebecca Matalon and a conversation between Bradley and art historian Huey Copeland.


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