Nina Menkes’ films—eight between 1981 and 2012 (+ a CD-ROM) and a new film in progress—are absolutely unclassifiable. They are achronological narratives that go to the limits of fragmentation, with deep roots in the avant garde, in psychodrama, in improvisation, in documentary, in political art, in immersive art, and in raw trauma. The films are entrancing and constantly jarring, mesmerizing the viewer and constantly throwing everything off kilter, prompting us to wake up and re-orient ourselves to another detail, another layer, another reiteration in film time and an echo in poetic time.

Her 1996 film The Bloody Child, recently restored by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation with funding from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation, began life in 1982 when Nina traveled to Africa and shot footage of her sister and one-time key collaborator Tinka. Over a decade later, she came across a news item that stunned her: MPs at the Twenty Nine Palms Marine Base, on a routine patrol, happened to find a soldier digging a hole in the Mojave Desert in which he planned to dump the body of his wife, who he’d savagely murdered. Nina cast her sister as one of the MPs, worked closely with real Marines, and created what might be called a series of environments or organisms—the discovery of the grave, the wait by the highway for the authorities to arrive (during which the largely unseen murderer is pummeled and pushed at his wife’s corpse by one of the arresting officers), Marines aggressively picking up women at local bars, the afore-mentioned African footage—held in centrifugal force by the unseen murder itself. These events are matters of light and shadow, posture and behavior, and visual and sonic density. “The film doesn't offer a normal narrative,” said Nina to writer Sara Gilson. “If you go into the film expecting a story about a marine, you're not going to get it. It's like a swirling meditation, structurally… The film is structured so that if you get into it, you actually identify with all of the participants. You identify with the constellation rather than identify with one character or one actor within a constellation.”

The restored version of The Bloody Child will be screening at this year’s New York Film Festival and at different venues and festivals round the country. The term “independent film” now stands for a vague, hazy sort of affective quality or feeling, several hundred miles away from a truly independent film, on every level, like The Bloody Child.

- Kent Jones

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THE BLOODY CHILD (1996, d. Nina Menkes)
Restored by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. 

The Film Foundation

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