ANCESTORS: A Picture A Day - The Cinematic Diary of Anne Charlotte Robertson

Saturday, 7. June | 20 h | Lichtmeß

Anne Charlotte Robertson began recording her life in 1976. Her Super 8 camera was her constant companion. With it, she documented everyday life, nervous breakdowns, visions, illusions and her own death. Born in 1949 in Boston, Robertson’s hallmarks were a combination of essay, performance and stop motion animation. With these, she created a merciless self-analysis, which was barely interrupted by the changing diagnosed mental illnesses and frames of mind.

Her ›Five Year Diary‹ (1981 – 1987) is a fantastic journey through the life of a 20th century woman, which kept filling up with side notes and live commentary even after the eponymous five years were over. It was only presented to an audience long after its beginning. The encounter with a person fighting for her survival in an emotional inner dialogue between insanity and lust for life is both shocking and fascinating for the viewer.

Anne Charlotte’s films are characterized by static: Images, objects and colours buzz over the canvas; days, months and years of her life pass by within seconds. The overlapping sounds make it impossible for the ear to get rest. You try to focus on this and that and still all that remains is that static in your head: images like abstract art in front of your inner eye. Red, yellow, blue, flower, cat, window, voices, birds, street noise. And yet there are a number of clear and simple statements that make their way out of the noise. »I just want to be happy.« »I would like to be pretty.« »I would love to have children.« »Where is my true love?« Unfortunately, these existential joys aren’t granted to the filmmaker. When Anne Charlotte Robertson began sharing her life and her decay with the audience, she was thin, her features delicate and her hair long and dark. As she was getting more and more tired and swollen due to her medication, she struggled against the weight gain, her social isolation and against herself, her mental illness and her addiction. Among other things, the diarist principle is used in psychotherapy in order to document depressed patients’ mood swings. Anne Charlotte prescribed herself to record her everyday life, her routines, trying to salvage herself in the here and now. Her motto: »Stay in the now, don’t drift off into fantasy« allows the viewer to appreciate the melancholy beauty of supposedly unimportant things. Still, this beauty if often interrupted by the flaring up of anger and unavoidable excesses. Death, mourning and resignation become more and more central with the passing of time. The undertow of static is strong. In the end you will feel relieved to return to your own life, though you will rarely feel someone else’s pain like this again.

We first encountered the work of Anne Charlotte Robertson in 1994 at the 10th Hamburg International ShortFilmFestival. Afterwards, parts of her filmic diary were frequently screened in the NoBudget competition. For these, Robertson received awards and prizes. Though initially the majority of the audiences were shocked and even hostile, she eventually became the ›Queen of NoBudget‹. When we invited her to a special screening at the 2012 Hamburg International ShortFilmFestival, she unfortunately wasn’t able to come. Once again she had to be treated at a hospital after a mental break down.

Anne Charlotte Robertson died of cancer in 2012. She bequeathed her life’s work to the Harvard Film Archive in Boston. We will show a selection of her work.

Curators: Vida Kaluza, Giuseppe Gagliano, Jan Peters


1. SPIRIT OF ’76 USA 1976 | 10:00 min | Colour | No dialogue

»Self-portrait allegories to doll, porch, garden, smoke, fire, compost pile. cat, etc.«

2. Five Year Diary, Reel 1, Nov 3 - Dec 13, 1981: The Beginning – Thanksgiving USA 1981 | 25:00 min | Colour | English

3. Five Year Diary, Reel 71, Feb 3 - May 6, 1990: On Probation USA 1990/1995 | 27:00 min | Colour | English

»February 3 to May 6, 1990: Video version of a live performance of my film diary. Ecerpts from Doctor Who show, family, editing film, swimming, alcohol, trouble with the social worker, birdsongs vs cities.«

4. Five Year Diary, Reel 81: Mourning Emily USA 1997 | 25:03 min | Colour | English

»This is Reel 81 of my Super 8/video personal documentary Five Year Diary. The time period covered is September 27, 1994 to January 29, 1995. Topics covered are:

mourning for my 3 year old niece Emily; worrying about losing my beauty; struggles with alcoholism, weight, and poverty; family; love crushes on two actors.«

5. MY CAT , MY GARDEN, AND 9/11(2001) USA 2001 | 6.00 min | Colour | English

»My adored cat Zouina died a week before the tragedy; a week after, my garden died.«


For more information about the collection, please contact the Harvard Film Archive’s film conservator, Liz Coffey: