- Of the Ludic, the Blues, and the Counterfeit:An Interview with Kevin Jerome Everson, Experimental Filmmaker
This conversation with Kevin Jerome Everson combines two Skype interviews. The first one took place on January 17, 2013, as Kevin headed to Sundance.1 When I phoned him that Thursday morning, he told me he was burning DVDs to send to folks who had made costumes, acted, or otherwise participated in a recent film he’d completed in Mississippi. I got involved in his tasks, looking up zip codes and guessing at the correct spelling of surnames while we set up our Skype call. So the fact that Kevin said there were actors and costumes in films I had assumed to be nonfiction slipped by me. But as our conversations progressed, Kevin’s experiments with actuality, archive, and making things up assumed greater importance and they pointed to the blues at the core of Afrosurrealism.
Our second conversation took place on May 3, 2013, and we spoke from our respective campus offices at Yale University and the University of Virginia, where Kevin is an art professor. Unmarked student papers surrounded me and my desk was covered in notes and manuscripts for Black Camera’s Close-Up on experimental film. As Kevin went through his mail, we talked about his preparations to shoot a film in Cleveland this summer. He showed me two of the props he had made for the project: a crowbar and a hammer. I interrupted the conversation to attend a meeting then returned to pick up with Kevin only to find that the recorder hadn’t worked properly and our earlier exchange was lost.
We started over, trying to recall what we had said about the blues and experimental film, before moving on to new topics, including books we’d read or at least purchased during the semester. That’s two professors at the end of [End Page 184] term: spacey yet full of ideas and anticipating summer’s retreat to the studio, the study, the film set.
Among the garbled and lost pieces of tape was our discussion of Kevin Young’s collection of essays, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, and what Young’s notion of the counterfeit offered to experimental film and all it suggested so provocatively, even threateningly about filmmaking, historiography, and identity—our own work, basically. Young writes of “lying—the artful dodge, faking it till you make it—the forging of black lives and selves in all their forms. Of what … we called storying. … [He says] [s]torying is both a tradition and a form … the fabric of black life has often meant its fabrication, making a way out of no way, and making it up as you go along.” Locating the origins of storying in Alice Walker’s “womanism” and Henry Louis Gates’s “signifyin(g),” Young underscores the concept’s status as “a folk term from black culture.” He goes on to critique our denial of our glorious counterfeit tradition and our clinging to “‘realness’ in all its forms.” To be clear, he writes, “by storying … I don’t mean falsehood or some kind of fake blackness; nor do I mean to champion the recently prevalent bending of truth to make money or avoid trouble … the storying artist’s job is to dance on and in the breaks. … I am interested in the way in which black folks use fiction in its various forms to free themselves from the bounds of fact.” While Kevin’s films feel so real and many of them are documentary, in Young’s framework, Kevin’s engagement with history and memory can be considered a form of fiction, of storytelling, of storying. Where black reality is “constantly contested” Kevin’s work does mark an escape route “in the imagination—not as mere distraction from oppression but as a derailing of it.” How this concept limits or catalyzes Afrosurrealism is not entirely clear yet but the notion of storying, of taking the counterfeit as a genuine article because it emblematizes our desires—what is more real than our wants—is itself freeing from the norms of black film’s narrative-based criticism...