Amir George is a Chicago-based filmmaker who deals in imaginative black joy, using surreal, seductive, and joyous imagery juxtaposed with sound to create spiritual stories in fragmented vignettes. Valérie Déus, a Twin Cities artist and co-curator of the Walker’s Imagination is Power series, asks George about his practice and the film Black Chains, which he’ll address in a post-screening discussion as part of Imagination Is Power: We Shall Overcome on April 19.
This Q&A is part of an ongoing publishing series designed to spark a deeper exploration of the ideas, inspiration, and creative expressions featured in Imagination is Power. Look for contributions from these scholars and artists who’ll share their thoughts, stories, and research on the legacy of the late 1960s and activism today: Ayo Akingbade, Bidayyat, Nadie Cloete, Valérie Déus, and Alice Lovejoy.
Valérie Déus: Tell us about creating Black Chains?
Amir George: I’ve made music videos for a few musician friends here and there, but one of my favorite collaborators has been Cornell Sanaa a.k.a Supertoy a.k.a Surfboard C. Cornell has reinvented himself through his music multiple times with different monikers and sounds. He put out a project called Late Bloomer last spring. Black Chains was featured on it. I had been listening to the song when he first put it out, and I wanted to create something but wasn’t sure what. I had shot some footage in Montreal and put it to the song, but it didn’t really fit. I was on a plane watching this Adam Curtis documentary, and I saw this image that really struck me. So I pulled that clip out and put it to the music. For me it’s always the vibe of the edit; if I can place something on a timeline randomly to a piece of music and it fits, that’s where the magic begins.
Déus: Where did the footage come from?
George: I pulled two clips from the Adam Curtis documentary, and I had archival footage left over from a project I did with the Chicago Film Archives. The two films I sourced from the archives are Lord Thing by Dewitt Beall (about the genesis and transformation of the Conservative Vice Lords in Chicago) and Dancing Prophet by Bruce Baker. Prophet is a film about a dancer named Doug Crutchfield, the son of a minister who wants him to go into the church; instead, Doug opens up a school of dance in Denmark for the elderly and disabled. The images of Doug dancing are so poetic and beautiful, and Lord Thing is just a nostalgic look at Chicago youth and upbringing, which is where Cornell and I come from.
Déus: Hade you ever seen it before? How did you choose the music for it?
George: It just manifested over time from having no idea where to start, to filming in Canada, to being struck by the images, then processing, then starting an edit. Once I start building a project, I share my progress with some close friends whose opinions I value. They were like: you got to keep going, something’s happening with this. Cornell didn’t know I was making a video until I finished it.
Déus: I’m interested in where you see intersections in your work and what they are.
George: My work contains black cultural gestures through movement and sound. I’ve been thinking about the Arthur Jafa theories of Black Visual Intonation. How can we create Black cinema like Black music? I think about cuts to a video like a drum or a chord on a song. Everything I make I’m focusing on a visual rhythm before sound comes in, a flow of images before the beat drops and when it actually does the images become like a guitar solo. When I’m watching something I make I want to feel like Timbaland in the Fade to Black documentary with the juice jug.
Déus: How has technology changed your work?
George: I like filming on phones for some of the things I make. I want to make something VR but still figuring that out.
Déus: Which artists influence your work?
George: Arthur Jafa, Martine Syms, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Kerry James Marshall. Recently I presented some works in conversation with a Lauren Halsey exhibition at LA MOCA. I love everything she does, too.
Déus: What role does history (oral and written) have in your work?
George: I enjoy recontextualizing historical images. The archive is such a treasure. It so much too unpack.
Déus: How does everyday life reflect in your work?
George: I love capturing the natural beauty of black people, it’s so much we haven’t seen of ourselves in cinema, including the mundane. I look at my work as responding to my everyday life experience.