Allensworth -web
Allensworth -web

Presented by MIFF


James Benning | USA | 2023 | Unclassified (15+)

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Landscape cinema titan James Benning invites us to contemplate Black history as he turns his structuralist lens on the first African American municipality in California.

Founded in 1908, the town of Allensworth was the first in California to be established and governed exclusively by African Americans. It’s now largely abandoned, and its ghostly facades and surrounding rural landscape form the subjects of the latest formal meditation by Benning, who – almost as a coda to last year’s sprawling interrogation of his homeland, The United States of America (MIFF 2022) – surveys the locale through 12 static five-minute shots, covering a year from January to December.

Rendered in the master filmmaker’s singular, contemplative style, Allensworth lingers on trees in empty fields, unmarked graves and buildings that seem unstuck in time, each resonating with echoes of the past. As it does, Benning teases historical details – Nina Simone’s ‘Blackbird’, Lead Belly’s ‘In the Pines’, a young girl reading Lucille Clifton poems – that draw out the town’s wider social context while gradually revealing the film’s artifice in his trademark fashion. Awarded a Feature Film Jury Special Mention at this year’s Cinéma du Réel, Allensworth draws the audience into its reflective trance as it invites us to observe with both temporal distance and proximity.

Powerfully unveils Benning’s underlying intention to convey a forgotten microhistory and its deeper connections to a larger – and ongoing – struggle.

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65 mins


Unclassified (15+)


Cinema 1, Level 2
ACMI, Fed Square

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