Ekrem Serdar

Buffalo is full of people helping to cultivate cinema and we want to celebrate those involved. The Cultivators is a new monthly feature in which we highlight individuals who are integral to the presentation, promotion and production of film here in the queen city.



Media Arts Curator – Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center


What got you interested in movies?

I travelled around a lot as a kid, so moving images were generally a kind of solace, from Super Mario Bros. 3 to Star Wars or Rossellini films. There were naturally junctions where someone’s influence mattered greatly and which led me on paths I wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

I don’t care much for the word “movies.” It’s a fine shorthand, but I don’t find it a useful word to talk about the scope of the art. “The pictures” or “flicks” are both a bit more encompassing actually, though obviously goofy.

What is your favorite movie related memory?

The time I saw Jeanne Liotta’s Observando El Cielo (2007) at the New York Film Festival was one of the most hypnotic experiences I had in a theater. I try to show it with some regularity, I love that film.

The time I screened Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone (1973) in Istanbul was also pretty special. The film is supposed to be projected in a foggy/hazy room, while the audience is invited to walk around the room—there are no chairs. If it was projected without fog, we would literally just see a thin white circle slowly being drawn on a black backdrop. With the fog however, there’s this gorgeous cone formed by the beams of light, and you get this wonderfully instructive and inspiring work on the possibilities of the very machinery of cinema.

So I was really excited to show it in Istanbul, where it had never been shown before as far as I know. I lugged a 16mm projector over to Turkey, found the proper electrical converters for it, and a fog machine. We had a packed audience. We got the fog machine running, but kept it on just a little too long. It became so thick that no one could see each other! The main door opened to the outside world and there were huge pillows of fog coming out every time it opened to this residential neighborhood; I was worried the neighbors were going to call on us or that we would get busted by the Fire Department.

Someone also said, while “touching” the beams of light, that it was like petting a kitten, which is probably one of the cutest things I ever heard.

How did you end up in Buffalo?

I ended up in Buffalo twice: first in 2001 to study at UB and then when I started my current position. I love this gnarly town.

What do you want to see more of in Buffalo?

More resistance and proper recognition of what a Buffalo “renaissance” actually means, who it leaves out, and what we can do about it. There’s a lot of great people fighting to make sure it’s right and I think there’s still time to make it a bit less violent and a bit more equitable than what has happened to other towns that boomed. Putting together the words “boom” and “Buffalo” might seem hilarious to some, but I do believe that any and every city is doomed to have $10 hot dogs with feta cheese on top. But we can still do some things about it.

Other than that, Buffalo should do what it wants. One of my main goals being at Squeaky is to be here for any artists in the region that want to work together. We have gear, we can teach you how to use that gear, you can show what you make with that gear, and perhaps even take it beyond Buffalo. If I can help that’s great. We’re a community center, so I am interested in challenging the idea of curator as gatekeeper and really earning the word community.

What are your essential film books?

Film as a Subversive Art by Amos Vogel is currently the main film guide that I’m trying to watch everything mentioned within. There’s still quite a bit to go.

Hollis Frampton’s collection of writings, most recently released under the title On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters, remains the most foundational.

My next three purchases that I’m excited about are:

  • On the Eve of the Future: Selected Writings on Film by Annette Michelson
  • After Uniqueness: A History of Film and Video Art in Circulation by Erika Balsom
  • Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema by Giovanna Fossati, Tom Gunning, Jonathon Rosen, Joshua Yumibe.

I find limited value in top tens, finding them to be more political exercises than anything else. Vertigo doesn’t need me talking about it and I don’t need to talk about how Vertigo is great. So perhaps in addition to [my first two slots], a better list might be what films I buy—which aren’t many (maybe 2 or 3 a year)—and which I determine based on if I will watch them at least once a year. Thus, not including Kung Fu:

  1. The Internet [2011-2014]
    • These are somewhat arbitrary dates, however they correspond with a number of significant state-sanctioned murders, unrest, and protests around the world from Trayvon Martin to the Gezi Protests, the Arab Spring, Brazil, Ferguson, and on and on. This also came along with an absolutely vital discourse that was spread online through memes, gifs, and videos that I think has shaped a lot of our thinking.

      Consider that Super 8mm home movies were mostly available to the middle class in the Western world and the ability to make home movies was even more limited in poorer countries. Now we are at this exciting moment where large swaths of the world populace have more access to certain technologies and are able to represent themselves (in very specific contexts and ways) instead of relying on a third party. While there are many arguments and aspects to the ubiquity of video and technology and its implications, this shift of power is tremendously important and powerful.

  2. The films of Yuen Woo-ping
    • I’m a huge Yuen Woo-ping fan and I’ve been going through his filmography—not only his directorial efforts, but also films on which he was the action choreographer on. In the US, he’s mostly known as the choreographer of films like The Matrix (1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and the Kill Bill films.

      But he’s also the guy who discovered Jackie Chan with Drunken Master (1978), Donnie Yen with Shaolin Drunkard (1983) and gave folks like Sammo Hung and Michelle Yeoh some of their earliest and best roles. Both Yuen and Jackie Chan were huge fans of Buster Keaton and their work is really the beginning of the kind of physical kung-fu comedy that I watch whenever I just need a break.

      Woo-ping’s amazing choreography is not only limited to how the actors move, but also how the camera moves. Consider that the 60s and 70s saw the wide-spread adoption, and sometimes abuse, of the zoom lens. It’s considered goofy and used mostly as a stylistic marker nowadays in Wes Anderson movies, etc, but also something that’s influenced newer iterations of fighting games like Street Fighter. I find it to be a terrific technology to document dance. You can follow a movement without cutting while emphasizing and focusing on smaller movements and moving to larger gestures, which requires precision from the actors on the screen, but also choreography from the cinematographer and the production crew as well. Those zooms, when done well, evoke a dance both in front and off the screen that can be very visceral and pleasurable. I understand why it elicits laughter, but I find it much more elegant than the shaky-cam cutting of The Raid: Redemption, etc. While Woo-ping’s style has moved with the times, it’s terrific too to see elements of his choreography through his body of work—a certain combination of moves from say Magnificent Butcher (1979) popping up in Iron Monkey (1993) and so on.

      Woo-ping comes from a family of Kung Fu cinema artists. In his early films, his father, Yuen Siu-Tien, acted as the mythical/historical character Beggar So (who inspired Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s name.) Once Siu-Tien died in 1979, Woo-ping filmed a very charming scene honoring his father in The Miracle Fighters (1982). Remember too that Woo-ping is one of eleven children, six of whom are in the Kung Fu industry, known as the Yuen clan. There’s a fascinating lineage there and once I’m done going through Woo-ping’s films I’ll be watching the work of his siblings too.

      My favorite film of Woo-ping’s is probably Dreadnaught (1981). I also watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at least three times a year.

  3. The Thing [1982], directed by John Carpenter
  4. Zui hao de shi guang [Three Times] [2005], directed by Hsiao-Hsien Hou
  5. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles [1976], directed by Chantal Akerman
  6. Born in Flames [1983], directed by Lizzie Borden
  7. Yol [1982], directed by Serif Gören & Yilmaz Güney
  8. Sud sanaeha [Blissfully Yours] [2002], directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  9. Kumonosu-jô [Throne of Blood] [1957], directed by Akira Kurosawa
  10. 69 [1968], directed by Robert Breer
    • This one is aspirational. One day I will buy a 16mm print of this.

Film stills from left to right, top to bottom are Super Mario Bros. 3, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Observando El Cielo, Line Describing a Cone, and the interior of Squeak Wheel.

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