A film made by Rachel Mayeri, associate professor of media studies, will be featured at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Jan. 17–27 in Utah.
Mayeri’s experimental film, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, was selected for the festival’s noncompetitive New Frontier Short Films category. The film is one of 65 works chosen from a record 8,102 submissions.
“The Short Film section is comprised of bold works by adventurous filmmakers who have mastered creative ways to embody their unique perspectives in the short form onscreen,” said Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming Trevor Groth. “The selections represent the immensely varied and dynamic approaches to storytelling that will inspire audiences with their huge accomplishments within a limited time frame.”
Primate Cinema: Apes as Family is an 11-minute film made for chimpanzees, shown to a chimpanzee audience. Mayeri created the drama portion of the project in Los Angeles with seven actors dressed as chimpanzees. It depicts the story of a young female chimp that befriends a group of outsiders. While the film features human settings such as a kitchen, it includes objects—such as fruit and vegetables—and behaviors familiar to apes.
She filmed the chimps’ reactions during a yearlong project at the Edinburgh Zoo, in which chimpanzees voluntarily watched the drama on a television screen placed in their enclosure. Mayeri worked with comparative psychologist Sarah-Jane Vick to observe the chimps’ responses and explore issues of cognition and communication in research primates.
Although giving chimps a television to watch is a common enrichment practice, Primate Cinema is the first effort to script a drama specifically for their viewing.
The project premiered as an art installation at the 2011 Abandon Normal Devices Festival in Liverpool, which celebrates new cinema, digital culture and art. It was later displayed at The Arts Catalyst in London, the Nottingham Center for Contemporary Art and the Arts Electronica in Linz, where it won a prize for a work in progress.
Commissioned by The Arts Catalyst, the project received financial support from the Arts Council England and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Aix-Marseille University, a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and a research grant from Harvey Mudd College.
A program of the nonprofit Sundance Institute, the Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past two decades. The institute promotes independent storytelling to unite, inform and inspire, regardless of geo-political, social, religious or cultural differences.
View a trailer for Mayeri’s film.