2018, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 58, winter, 2017-2018
documentary art, audiovisual scholarship, and public humanities
by Joshua Glick
Since its creation for the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair, the Unisphere has surfaced time and time again in the background of commercial film and television. The gigantic steel armillary located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens is used for establishing shots in works ranging from music videos (Cyndi Lauper’s Hey Now) to sitcoms (The King of Queens), Hollywood features (Men in Black), and advertisements for the U.S. Open. While the Unisphere has become synonymous with the borough, the way it has been depicted in popular culture habitually ignores its origins and symbolic identity. In filmmaker and audiovisual historian Seth Fein’s award-winning experimental documentary, Between Neighborhoods (2017), the Unisphere takes center stage, not simply as an aesthetic object to be admired for its impressive design and scale, but as a prism to explore the transnational history and contemporary social geography of Queens.  [open endnotes in new window]
I first met Fein as a graduate student at Yale University, where I audited his undergraduate seminar titled Film and History. We continued to keep in touch about our shared interests in media history and filmmaking, even as I later moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to teach Film & Media Studies courses at Hendrix College, and Fein began teaching in a Screen Studies program at Brooklyn College’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema and founded the studio Seven Local Film. What began as a post-screening talk back for Between Neighborhoods at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in June 2017, extended to a series of conversations about the documentary as well as his current projects. We chatted in many of the locales that appear throughout Between Neighborhoods: the cafes and restaurants in Elmhurst and Fein’s home neighborhood of Jackson Heights, the bustling sidewalks that line the path of the elevated 7 Train, and the plaza that surrounds the Unisphere itself. Mobilizing a rich archive of newsreels, television programs, photographs, and recorded speeches from politicians and civic figures, Fein examines the ways through which authoritarian planner (and World’s Fair architect) Robert Moses attempted to make Queens the center for the New York City metropolitan region consisting of city, outerboroughs, and suburbs interlinked through highways and bridges. As imagined by Moses, the Unisphere constituted the focal point of both the Fair and the expanded urban-suburban territory. At the same time, Between Neighborhoods investigates the Unisphere’s connection to the federal government’s neoimperial mission, following the modernization theory of W.W. Rostow, to selectively “develop” the industrial economies, urban infrastructures, and technocratic governments of Third World nations for the benefit of the United States. 
Between Neighborhoods' diptych design creatively excavates a little known aspect of the borough’s past. It also juxtaposes scenes of Queens from the 1960s with the borough today in a new global age and the presidency of Donald Trump. And yet, Between Neighborhoods offers no drive-by tourist’s gaze, no quick snapshots of the “sights and sounds” of the street. Fein’s nonfiction practice resonates with how filmmakers Thom Andersen, Agnès Varda, and Bill Morrison investigate the deep history of cultural landscapes, probing the multifold relationships that exist between the lived present and remembered past of a place. In Between Neighborhoods, contemporary observational video captures the flurry of activity around the Unisphere, showing minority residents of Queens (many of who are immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East) laying claim to the area.
Scholar Dolores Hayden notes that urban landscapes are “storehouses” for “social memories” that can be activated to cultivate a more inclusive public culture. Between Neighborhoods portrays parts of Queens’ geography in similar terms, helping viewers understand the fraught origins of the Unisphere and how it has been reinterpreted as a monument to contemporary Queens and the immigrants who call the borough home. In recent decades, the plaza surrounding the Unisphere has functioned as a skate park, date spot, playground, and performance stage. More broadly, Between Neighborhoods examines the residential enclaves and commercial districts of Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst, Corona, and Flushing as vibrant, mixed-class, multi-racial communities. They give individuals and families important structures of affiliation and belonging in the form of religious institutions, health care clinics, shopping centers, schools, and arts organizations. In the documentary, vernacular culture (parades in particular) and local demonstrations serve as forms of resistance against encroaching gentrification, the privatization of public space, and repressive immigration policies and discriminatory policing.
Between Neighborhoods has enjoyed a robust exhibition run. It has been screened at film festivals, such as the Queens World Film Festival where it won the Founders Choice award in 2017, as well as at universities in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Additionally, it was shown at community institutions such as the Latino immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York in Bushwick and has been installed for extended periods of time at CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan and at Queens College’s Art Center Gallery. College campuses have provided a fitting home for Between Neighborhoods as the project emerged out of Fein’s scholarship about audiovisual cultures in the Americas, especially film and television between Mexico and the U.S. between the Depression and the Cold War. As a professor of History, American Studies, Latin American Studies and Film at Yale his graduate and undergraduate teaching positioned audiovisual culture as central to the interdisciplinary analysis of transnationalism. As he wrote in his article “Culture Across Borders in the Americas” for History Compass (2003), “The cultural turn in international and transnational history has not abdicated the study of power but has intensified the scholar’s need to problematize and define what power and culture are.” In Fein’s Film and History seminar, we looked at both films made in the 1930s and how the decade has since been depicted on screen. Our case studies animated theoretical questions regarding historical representation as a process of selection and omission indelibly influenced by the sociopolitical forces of the present.
More recently, Fein’s move from interdisciplinary writing to documentary contributes to a larger movement in which cinema, communications, and media studies departments at universities around the U.S. are collapsing the boundaries between traditional scholarship and filmmaking. Special programs of various emphases and curricula at universities such as Duke, George Washington, and the University of California, Santa Cruz share an interest in critical studies, nonfiction production, and social engagement. They see documentary not simply as a means for creating “awareness” of a pressing issue, but as a form of artful analysis and advocacy. Fein talked about his documentary practice when he workshopped an early iteration of what became Between Neighborhoods (titled Outerspace Innerborough) with my Cinema and New York City summer seminar at Columbia University in 2014. Our conversation helped students to better understand the possibilities of documentary as an interpretive craft, in this case foregrounding the central role of audiovisual media in shaping Cold War New York, as well as the global identity of modern-day Queens.
Fein’s current project, Our Neighborhood, builds on, but is distinct from, Between Neighborhoods’ exploration of how the Cold War was waged through transnational culture. Our Neighborhood concentrates on the U.S. government’s TV propaganda in Latin America in the 1960s. Now in production, the documentary looks at the U.S. attempt to contain the Cuban Revolution by broadcasting liberal modernization as an alternative to socialist revolution. Towards this end, the government was invested in a wide spectrum of genres, ranging from telenovelas, dramatic series, news programs and educational talk shows. The film also includes original interviews with United States Information Agency and Latin American talent as well as dramatizations based on research drawn from documents obtained through Fein’s Freedom of Information Act request.
What follows is a composite interview drawn from our numerous conversations about Between Neighborhoods and Our Neighborhood as well as their connections to broader topics concerning place-making through film, the politics of historical representation, and the contested creation of public history.
Joshua Glick: Your recent documentary, Between Neighborhoods (81 mins., Seven Local Film, 2017) , has evolved into at least three distinct installments. The newest iteration was awarded the Founder’s Choice prize at the Queens World Film Festival. What is the origin of Between Neighborhoods?
Seth Fein: My initial response is that I live in Queens. I moved there as I was moving from writing about film to making film. And Between Neighborhoods is the culmination of my thinking about and doing history across my career, which compelled my move from print to video. My ambition has always been to juxtapose different temporalities, different primary sources, forms of media, and most of all to explore the ability of art not only to engage but to analyze. Working in video has allowed me to redeploy my archival research by creating directly on the screen rather than writing about it, to explore new ideas through evocative editing rather than narrative description. Between Neighborhoods’ development across iterations has increasingly moved in this direction—even as it has grown in duration from about 40 minutes to about 80—by jettisoning voiceover, moving from single-screen to split-screen, limiting titling to conceptually and visually evocative key words, direct quotation, and strategic exposition. Between Neighborhoods expresses transhistorically the intersections of immigration and imperialism, urban and international political economy, to provoke thoughts about what is history, where is it, how is it made, to show that it is not something uncovered from the past but created now in the present, by the filmmaker (as by the historian) and then again by the spectator. Unisphere, Between Neighborhoods' principal subject, presented an opportunity to relate multiple histories at once through documentary art.
Glick: In the film, the Unisphere is such a prominent symbol and subject of analysis. How did this colossal structure become so central to the project?
Fein: Between Neighborhoods developed from my own fascination with the Unisphere and my recognition that it could tell stories, histories, about which I had long studied. I understood it in terms of the ideologies that built it, the global as well as regional vision it propagated, and also the different-but-related world that surrounds it today, on the ground in Queens and globally as political economy. It offered a way to work between present and past and to consolidate my scholarly tools and my artistic ambitions around a single object, to visualize expansively historical fields that were otherwise invisible.
I had encountered Unisphere across my life, but saw it differently when I, a Brooklyn native, returned to live in NYC, in Queens, as I began to make documentaries. Robert Moses, president of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair Corporation commissioned US Steel to build the giant globe, the biggest in the world, as his Fair’s theme center and its only intended permanent structure in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (FMCP), where, of course, it still stands. While I was shooting another documentary, at Kissena Park’s Velodrome (also built by Moses) in Queens—about the mainly male but interethnic, interracial, and international subculture of radio-control car enthusiasts—I would stop on my way home on my bike to look at Unisphere during Summer sundowns. I became fascinated with two things: the beauty of the changing light on Unisphere as the day ended and the robust social life around it, which reminded me of Breughel paintings, both by the elder and the younger, their scenes of everyday social life and recreation across the seasons swirling through public space. The world around Moses's mammoth stainless-steel armillary effortlessly projected the diversity of Queens (kind of like the Velodrome but with even greater social breadth and topological splendor).
Accordingly, I ran a camera without moving it and then when logging the footage at Barnard, where I was teaching then, I was struck both by its beauty and how it affected other filmmakers working nearby. I started to use this footage in the course that I created at Barnard, Projecting American Empire on Film. I thought with my students about the imperial ideologies that surrounded Unisphere’s construction. By intercutting my Unisphere footage with clips from my archival research (especially from propaganda films produced transnationally by Washington for the Third World in the 1960s), we explored how the world in New York City had through the other side of imperialism, immigration, remade the city. Queens, more than Manhattan where my course met, had become its most cosmopolitan borough. In working with my footage of Unisphere and my archival video research, I was able to fulfill another mission of the class: to explore how film could do history, innovatively, artfully and provocatively, transgressing disciplines, genres, historiographies, and temporalities. I was working out without realizing it the ideas that would become Between Neighborhoods. It also led to new archival research about Unisphere, which I thought I would use to write but that became primary materials for my film, whether or not they display directly in it, as many do.
The more psychoanalytic answer is that Unisphere had been dancing around my unconscious for decades, maybe. It and I are the same age. My parents told me that they took me to the NYWF when I was a baby. I looked at Unisphere again, as a Brooklyn immigrant to Queens, as I reconnected my life and work, from film historian to filmmaker. I told a story about this at the Moth (the video is linked to my own webpage on sevenlocalfilm.com). It is notable that unlike me Unisphere has not visibly aged, over the last fifty years, but as Between Neighborhoods shows, its meanings have changed; the dissonance between that geophysical sameness and geosocial differences only more profoundly illuminates historical contrasts across time. Perhaps as I was in a moment of personal and professional transition, I related to those transitions around Unisphere, that orbit the armillary’s own orbits, and that I connected both to the work I had been doing for years and the work I wanted to do, which Unisphere allowed me to do, or better said, compelled me to do.
Glick: What inspired the diptych approach for Between Neighborhoods?
Fein: It emerged from my interest in transhistorical analysis and expression: bringing different temporalities together in my writing about crossborder film cultures, viewing historymaking as a creative opportunity to connect authoritatively and provocatively (only) seemingly disparate research to explain things about present and past that could not otherwise be seen. As often is the case, others can convincingly connect the dots better than artists themselves can. Accordingly, when Between Neighborhoods screened in Cambridge University, Julia Guarneri, a professor of history there, introduced it by recalling how I taught with multimedia when she was a teaching fellow in my International History of the United States in the Twentieth Century lecture course at Yale. In fact, Between Neighborhoods grew in form from what I began there, especially playing different film clips simultaneously alongside and intercut with each other. It's a way of viewing how texts cohabitate and travel between varied cultural fields across different temporalities, to contrast the meaning of the same text in different contexts, which is really the work of both the historian and the documentary artist in the here and now. For me, this was the beginning of making history through video art. But it also was the beginning of my awareness of how I could achieve better in audiovisual practice what my research inspired methodologically but that my writing could not well enough effect: putting different cultural fields into conversation with one another to make better history by producing documentary art. It was not simply a matter of illustrating lectures or quoting directly my film and TV research by showing it rather than describing it, as I did in my scholarship but transcending via video to express what print historiography could neither adequately analyze nor explain.
My interest was in multichannel visual expression. Pragmatism produced the single-channel, split-screen diptych. I had an initial idea to make Between Neighborhoods as a triptych, since I liked the idea of transcending binaries as well as referencing the theme of threes, on which Between Neighborhoods meditates: three orbits around Unisphere, the era's geopolitical notion of three worlds, and its echo among city, outerborough, and suburb in Moses's tripartite empire.
But it would have been very difficult to edit and almost impossible to exhibit large enough, without a prior commitment from an exhibition space dedicated to the project’s scale. Since Between Neighborhoods intends to be immersive, and having a split screen already reduces the size of each frame, it needs significant space to project properly. I should add that some of my close and very skilled professional filmmaker friends, protectively discouraged not just the triptych but the diptych as too complex conceptually and technically for this project, as I ventured into its production alone and especially as it grew in duration. Their good sense both tempered my technical ambition but also reinforced my conceptual dedication to multiframe representation. A lack of expertise nurtured experimentation (a nice word for it) and enforced limits. The outcome satisfied me (as well as them).
As with any writing or filmmaking or other compositional endeavor, deciding on limits, in this case two frames, allows for greater creativity within those boundaries. Also, as one of my filmmaking friends said about the dual-screen format: we are bioptic animals, watching two frames at once is more graspable than three (or more). I think that's true, not only for comprehension but contemplation. However, I imagine another iteration with a constant third frame or channel of Unisphere in real time across the length of the artdoc as well as other forms of multiscreen installation that would not presume fixed frontal viewing.
A key “rule” for the diptych's composition derived from combined concern about conceptual commitments and formal limits. In its juxtapositional, split-screen editing of observational and archival footage, the present (observational footage) always projects on the left and the past (archival footage) always on the right, to destabilize a conventional causality, a linear left-right reading from past to present. This de-ordering foregrounds the work of the filmmaker, of the historian, in creating the past presently by positioning the viewer in resistance to diachronic documentary and historiographic conventions. Such positioning undermines not simply linearity but also the analysis of single events, individuals, discourses, or structures, to focus instead on the synchronic friction the diptych creates between them.
One of the places this happens in Between Neighborhoods is its pairing of my footage of the 2016 iteration of the annual Bolivian Independence Day Parade each October through Jackson Heights with archival footage of the parade through La Paz celebrating Vice President Richard Nixon's state visit to Bolivia in 1958. It connects my observational filming of the transnational present just around the corner from my home with research about the international past of U.S. empire, represented by and through this Bolivian newsreel secretly subsidized by Washington.
The parallel parades expressing Between Neighborhoods' transhistorical equation between immigration and imperialism culminate by segueing to a sequence that operates between Corona, Unisphere's neighborhood, a center of Mexican immigration to NYC today, and Mexico City, site of an Alliance for Progress-era state visit by Jack and Jackie Kennedy in 1962. The transnational present and the international past interact across cinematic and interamerican neighborhoods. JFK endorsed the modernizing mission of Mexico's authoritarian state-party (the PRI) headed by President López Portillo, as an exemplar of liberal modernization, a United States in the making. In doing so, Washington's counter-Castro invoked the Good Neighborhood—the twentieth-century rhetoric that expressed the interamerican imperial discourse that created Washington's Western Hemisphere for two centuries—but does not extend between neighborhoods, to Latin Americans in the United States. The international and the transnational, neoliberal reality and liberal imperialism transhistorically confront each other, across borders, between neighborhoods.
In bringing together the international and the transnational history of Jackson Heights and La Paz, Corona and Mexico City, of imperialism and immigration, these sequences also unite the present and past of my own career, now as a filmmaker and in the past as a film historian. Evoking the history generated between neighborhoods, if you will, temporalities converse across time and place within an imagined space that transcends each, not to tell the story of either the Jackson Heights or La Paz parade, nor of Corona or Mexico City as imperial destinations but to suggest another journey back and forth between them, one which also charts my travels from writing about audiovisual culture to producing it.
Glick: The two New York-based mid-century World's Fairs served as showcases for moving image innovation. The RCA Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939 introduced television to a mass audience. And the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964–5 featured a variety of elaborate small and large screen displays. Were you using the audio-visual grammar of the World's Fair to critique or interrogate it?
Fein: That’s a very interesting observation. And I’m gratified that Between Neighborhoods prompts this association, because the work considers audiovisual communications, Unisphere's key theme, as central instrument as well as sign of U.S. empire’s ideology of progress through technological modernization. Between Neighborhoods' archival research includes examples of small-screen as well as large-screen propaganda sponsored by Washington to sell U.S. progress across the Third World and by the NYWF Corp. and US Steel to promote the Fair as part of that outerborough/Third World mission. That I cannot say that I was intentionally citing the prior Fair's small-screen exhibits (of which I am very aware) does not diminish the power of your association, since the spectator ultimately produces art, just as I think the artist works on different levels of consciousness. In that regard, your insight prompts my memory of a multiscreen, multimedia presentation about the 1939 Fair, by Bill Stott, great scholar of Depression-era visual culture, when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Stott was definitely using the form to mediate between his talk and the past it considered. So, who knows?
Glick: How do you research, locate, assess, and assemble so many different kinds of media? Is your process of creating a documentary similar to writing an academic article or book?
Fein: Let me take the second part first. It’s less like academic writing than creative writing. It’s more like an essay, not an academic article but an essay that uses tone, form, and evocation to examine, explain, and instigate. A documentary is different too from academic writing, but really what drives this project is using audiovisual art to make points about all sorts of things that an academic work could not do because of the limits of that type of writing as well as the limits of writing, period. Or to put it differently, it attempts what I wanted my writing to do.
The artdoc freed me from the social and expressive confines of the professional expectations about what “scholarship” should look like in order to better pursue scholarly objectives. Correspondingly, its differences from a more conventional history documentary are as notable as how it diverges from conventional, single-story historiography. Though, I should add that Between Neighborhoods involves onscreen writing, which demands composing and editing prose—its key-word transitions and its epigraphic meditations as well as direct quotations—in rhythm with documentary sounds and images, mindful of the graphic look of words and their sounds' poetics and phonetics. I love doing this writing (some of which projects in the clips I've linked).
There are, however, a couple of ways in which making the artdoc is exactly like writing from research. First, once I start editing, the ideas begin to take off, no matter what the outline is, putting it together generates unanticipated insights and objectives. The other is that I had better get those ideas down, into a sequence, or they will disappear. I can make a list of things I need to tweak but the big ideas about what to represent and how to do it, need to be done right away, when it's fresh. Logging my own footage, especially the dozens of hours I shot of Unisphere, presented many challenges, because it was not explicitly evident where it would fit in the work. I tagged it for things it made me think of conceptually, like modernization or immigration or imperialism or fascism or religion, and also for connections to archival footage or prior footage shot by me that I realize as I look at it I want to connect. This is not different than for any other filmmaker, but the diptych generates a highly dynamic and sometimes beyond-mind-boggling set of creative criteria. So the opportunity and challenge is to identify both what is there in the footage but also imagine how I intend to use it, not necessarily narratively, more like an abstract collage.
One of the most important archival finds for me—audio tapes of NYWF meetings and press conferences and events at which Moses and others said things not said anywhere else—presented particular challenges for organization and for editing. I had to keyword the digital files I obtained of these voices very carefully because I could not scrub through them to see what I might have missed (visual cues are easier to locate than audio ones). At the same time, it created creative opportunities to juxtapose sounds and sights.
For my shooting of Unisphere across recent years, at different times in different seasons, it became really complicated to organize what I shot, to indicate rationally how it could connect with other archival or original footage (I shot of other things). Then there was the dilemma of how to use so much of this observational footage of a single object. For example, because I wanted to capture a sunrise at Unisphere I went out there before dawn in the dead of winter and ran the camera from a fixed spot for hours facing west, catching the sun coming up behind me, in front of Unisphere, and the light changing around and on it. I would have loved to project this in realtime, kind of like Warhol's Empire, and as a constant channel in a multichannel installation. (In fact, in outerspace innerborough, Between Neighborhoods' single-frame precursor, I played a scene intermittently in realtime, intercut with the other original and archival footage to suggest the different temporalities in which history happens.) I wound up using the several hours of the sunrise sped up within a couple of minutes in Between Neighborhoods' opening sequence.
Something unexpected happened that changed everything. As I wrapped the shoot, jumping around to keep warm, watching how the area has a specific life on a weekday morning, mainly Asian women and elderly couples speed walking around Unisphere for exercise, men crossing by it in groups, on bikes and by foot, on their way to work across the city, I noticed behind me, a woman doing Tai Chi in the dry fountain that runs east from Unisphere and that has one of the neoclassical-cum-modernist sculptures Moses commissioned for the Fair. I spun the camera around and observed her elegant moves and thought of archival photos and footage I had of that statue and that fountain and began to imagine how I would combine things, the now and the then, the resonant forms and themes, the art; it became the beginning of Between Neighborhoods' concluding sequence, which included new footage I subsequently shot to make it work.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there is, for me (a least), one big difference between composing a film and writing a manuscript; I can stay at the editing of video for a very, very long time, once I'm into it—much longer than for writing. The diptych form is very exhausting but also satisfying, because I created a grammar and a method so there would be both aesthetic and thematic unity for the viewer. For example, as I mentioned (and show) above, when I relate original to archival material, the original (my footage of now) goes on the left and the archival material (my footage of the then) goes on the right to disrupt the usual left-to-right, past-to-present sequencing of events. And in the many segments where there is a synchronic dialogue between the then and the now, I connected my own footage only after I had the archival material more-or-less in place, establishing a structure within which to maneuver. While Between Neighborhoods does not have chapters, I did conceive of it as a series of (musical) movements, discrete conceptual sections with their own themes and rhythms, comprised of shorter sequences that I isolated to work out the diptych's dyadic compositions.
Glick: The World's Fair in general and the Unisphere in particular constitute multi-dimensional symbols in Between Neighborhoods. As represented in the documentary, the Fair is a place where politicians, urban planners, and everyday people imagined the future of Queens, America, as well as the geopolitical position of the country in the world. How did Moses’s visions circa the mid-1960s differ from present-day understandings of globalization and the on-the-ground social reality of Queens?
Fein: Well, that’s really what Between Neighborhoods is about: how the Fair used Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to enact in practice as well as represent as ideology (embodied by Unisphere) the idea that modernization could be imposed by planners. Between Neighborhoods juxtaposes that idealized vision of globalization imperially imposed from above with the unintended benefit of so-called modernization’s global failure to deliver its promised progress: Queens' globalization from below, by those from all over the world who live here and redefine Unisphere as an icon of crossborder socialization today.
But that is not the end of a story; it's the site of a new global struggle in Queens. Between Neighborhoods links the legacies of Robert Moses, metropolitan New York's master regional planner, and W.W. Rostow, imperial Washington's master international planner, promulgator of Modernization Theory that guided U.S. foreign policy across the Third World, across the Sixties, imposing infrastructure projects, including roads derived from Moses's highway building.
Between Neighborhoods shows that Moses's and Rostow's congruent imperial missions in the names of global modernization continues, constructing walls along borders rather than bring them down. This is true between the United States and the world, as Trump tries to wall off Latin American and Muslim immigration, each of which have renewed Queens. This international enclosure reproduces itself around Unisphere, where the United States Tennis Association (USTA) continues to wall off FMCP from Queens' global citizenry who use the park all year for a once-a-year, two-week corporate event, the U.S. Open (frequently attended by the publicity-mad Trump). It privatizes public land in the false names of globalization and public works.
Glick: Between Neighborhoods has had a rich exhibition life at festivals and university venues. Describe your ideal viewing context for the documentary. Are there different takeaways if Between Neighborhoods is projected in a public place, installed in a museum, or analyzed in a classroom?
Fein: It’s best viewed as an installation. It has been up as an installation. Because I could not design in collaboration with a permanent exhibition space, it became more of a film as it grew in duration. But even though I made it assuming it would mainly be viewed in an auditorium, that is split-screen on one channel; it would best be viewed now in an art space. Expectation shapes reception; there is value added to viewing Between Neighborhoods in a space that does not suggest a conventional doc and allows viewers to position and reposition themselves in the exhibition space, like, for example, how Bruce Conner's Crossroads (1976) exhibited over the last couple of years at both MoMA's retro of his career and then at the Whitney's great Dreamlands show on immersive video, where it was better installed because it was larger and the space was bigger, allowing for deeper immersion and concentration.
I do have a fantasy exhibition: projecting Between Neighborhoods large outdoors, opposite Unisphere, on the exterior of the Queens Museum, the former NYC Building built for 1939 Fair (which was the 1964-1965 NYWF Corp.'s headquarters where Moses revealed his model of Unisphere and where the Power Broker built his NYC Panorama built for that Fair, which includes a model of Unisphere. The building’s inside and outside appear in my own footage (including of the Panorama, which I shot surreptitiously indoors until stopped by a guard) as well as in much of Between Neighborhoods' archival material.
Doing such an exhibition as a pop-up, guerilla-like happening would emphasize both the Unisphere as art and Between Neighborhoods as art. The doc is different than the Unisphere, it reveals things about it otherwise unseen, and that changes how one experiences the sculpture itself, which is a point that can be uniquely made by projecting Between Neighborhoods opposite Unisphere. I do think Between Neighborhoods is an event more than a straight doc for theater viewing, as it has generally been exhibited.
Glick: Do you see your project as overtly pedagogical?
Fein: No, not overtly pedagogical, and I hope not didactic! If it has a “pedagogical” dimension it’s implicit and is not for me, at least, the sociological theme your question highlights but the methodological one that drove me to make Between Neighborhoods: how to project present and past at once, to provoke new ideas about what history is and how and where it's made. For me it’s the project’s design, its transhistorical form, that by demonstrating its approach encourages artist-scholars to pursue their own formal experiments to produce new history. I’d like to think that if Between Neighborhoods generates new ideas about U.S. empire and about Queens, they derive as much from its approach to documentary art and about the telling of history generally as from its original research.
Glick: Between Neighborhoods does not have one central claim, but emphasizes a number of related claims by way of rhetorically charged juxtapositions. Is there an overall framing argument that you want to convey to the viewer? Or, is there a dominant impression that you would like the viewer to come away with?
Fein: History is never one thing. It can’t be best understood as a single authoritative story. It’s not simply two things either, but the diptych I hope clarifies this by offering at least two things at once and also, again, hopefully, the interaction of two produces many more, and more valuable, ideas and questions (neo-Eisensteinian perhaps). The idea is neither synthesis nor chaos but dynamism and the value of considering multiple temporalities at once, to see connections otherwise invisible. Maybe the project can underline that the power of history is not (mainly) in research (which I love) but in working creatively, expansively with research, rather than reductively, showing how evocative expression is analytically powerful for the producer as well as empowerin, for the viewer who ultimately produces meaning. History is always made in the present, first by its teller, its historian or artist or filmmaker, but ultimately by whomever views it. This is true of Between Neighborhoods as it is also of Unisphere.
Regarding Between Neighborhoods’ interpretation, I hope it suggests that planners, even master ones like Rostow or Moses, do not control the future, people do. Unisphere has great power and, even beauty, intensified by its redefinition by those who orbit it today, who come from all over the world that Modernization Theory did not improve to improve Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, New York City, the United States, in ways that Moses did not imagine and would not have favored. Between Neighborhoods shows that Unisphere is the magnetic icon of a global town square, in Queens, not an outer but an innerborough.
Glick: When we talked about doing this interview, I asked you what books you recommend reading. Why did you suggest Marshall Berman’s, All That is Solid Melts Into Air (1982)?
Fein: All That is Solid Melts Into Air made a profound impact on me a long time ago, long before I thought of making Between Neighborhoods but in ways that fundamentally shaped my thinking about Unisphere, once I focused on it. Its section on New York City places Moses’s work, mainly in the Bronx (Berman's boyhood borough), in the context of modernization and modernity transatlantically as part of the history of capitalism, intellectually and materially. I think all should read the part on New York City in conjunction with the fine-grained tour de force that is Caro's more-known Power Broker (1974). Berman is a great thinker across continental and scholarly boundaries. His work relates ideas about the processes of modernization and progress to society and also expresses those connections in a way that I consider unconventional and artful. Both Berman's framing of Moses’s works as part of a transatlantic, I would say, imperial tradition as well as his critical rather than simply muckraking analysis are very significant for mapping Moses’s projects within world history rather than only NYC history.
Glick: What other writings have influenced Between Neighborhoods?
Fein: Two key figures for my early thinking about film as history, its mission, form, and method are the historian Robert Rosenstone, whose essays addressed it directly, and the late anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, whose writings developed the transhistorical study of public culture. Rosenstone was one of the first scholarly voices in the United States to advocate, in a number of closely connected essays, for the historical potential of film, both to transcend conventional narrative history writing as well as conventional history films. Working within the then-regnant rubric of postmodernity, he collected many of his important short writings in Visions of the Past (1995), which advocated film as a medium that could contribute to historical representation and analysis profoundly, not through pretended realism but through purposeful experimentalism that could profoundly critique historiography as well as relate present and past vividly. Meanwhile Trouillot's elegant essays in Silencing the Past (1997) show how the present always makes history, which is always a story, and how contemporary power relies on stories about the past, what is told and what is not. Between Neighborhoods, like Trouillot’s work about various places and individuals, shows how Unisphere’s meanings are not fixed in the past but produced in various presents. The other thing about Trouillot is the challenge he posed to historians to make public culture, not to cloister themselves in university walls and simply complain about the failed efforts of those who do.
The work of the philologist/cultural theorist Walter Mignolo, best synthesized in his The Idea of Latin America (2005)—about the historical relationship between imperial geocultures and geopolitics in naming space—definitely resonates in Between Neighborhoods. I see my project as connecting a geographical monument, Unisphere, to United States empire in the Americas and across the world in the 1960s as well as to the practices of earlier empires. Moses did this himself, as Between Neighborhoods shows, by linking his creation to the Eiffel Tower at the very moment when Washington's cold war imperialism followed Paris’s nineteenth-century colonialism into Vietnam.
The progressive rhetoric of imperialism was not sui generis to the era of Modernization Theory and Unisphere, it was a secular variant on the place of salvation in the ideology of empire across the last 500 years, the era of globalization, as Mignolo shows. Another theme of Mignolo’s, summarized by his earlier collection of essays, Local Histories/Global Designs (2000), can summarize Between Neighborhoods. The global designs of Robert Moses and W.W. Rostow have been undone by local histories in Queens and across the once-called Third World. Also, Mignolo’s early call for scholarly transdisciplinarity, to deny rather than to simply work across border walls imposed by professional academic cultures, has inspired my scholarship as well as its expression as documentary art.
History written by anthropologists has been very influential on my thinking. In addition to Trouillot's essays, Arturo Escobar's study of Modernization Theory as imperial discourse in Encountering Development (1995) was foundational for historicizing the emergence of a Third World, and above all else the work of the Columbia anthropologist-historian Claudio Lomnitz, who deployed Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope in his conceptualization of the Mexico-U.S. border, directly contributed to how Between Neighborhoods conceives and represents Unisphere as a structure that marks place and time at once.
On this score, from a completely different direction, Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence (2006), about creating still images that convey information and interpretation effectively, engagingly, and artfully encouraged my conviction that my film research needed to be expressed audiovisually. I assigned the data-design theorist's work in my graduate research seminar in Culture in International and Transnational Histories at Yale to encourage Ph.D. students writing papers on their way to dissertations to think not just about using visual research but creating visual analysis.
Finally, on the subject of form, it's not a book or a film, but the Historian's Eye online documentary project, developed by my friend and former Yale colleague Matthew Frye Jacobson was a source of inspiration as multimedia history and art and as professional and personal example of the scholar-artist as practitioner of public humanities. The multimedia gallery includes his own photography documenting the Great Recession; the entire endeavor is an exemplary artdoc. [open endnotes in new window]
Glick: Which films have influenced you as you created Between Neighborhoods?
Fein: One work that has had a giant influence on my own thinking about Between Neighborhoods, about documentary art, is, the already mentioned, Crossroads (1976) by Bruce Conner. The epochmaking video installation uses archival footage, about a literally earth-shaping event—Washington’s Crossroads H-bomb explosion that destroyed Bikini atoll—to make art; and Crossroads’ art makes history. It explicates the power of the United States to destroy imperially in the name of “testing,” but also how the filmmaker makes history, through formal intervention and juxtaposition. Crossroads’ first half shows us the explosion from various angles with sound recorded at the event; in its second half, the event plays with minimalist modernist music by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. Conner’s Bicentennial work is an implicit critique of the atomic age, but the film is not determinative and unnerves the viewer by demonstrating its awesome beauty and its repositioning as art. Accordingly it does not reduce but expands as it inspires interpretation rather than directs it. Like Crossroads, Between Neighborhoods is both critical of the ideology and the geopolitics that constructed Unisphere as it also admires its beauty and, its redefinition today, from an icon of U.S. imperial globalization from above to a sign of transnational socialization from below.
Because Between Neighborhoods continues to evolve, but even more because, as its own analysis suggests, historical interpretation is made in the present not the past, I think it's important to note works that did not influence my artdoc's production but do engage its reception, its production of meaning, its future history, now. Maybe that's the culture scholar in me speaking, but I want to mention an exemplary artdoc, I only saw after completing my project's last edition. Bill Morrison's Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016) is a model of historical documentary that originally and powerfully marries content and form, mobilizing original archival research to contribute to a number of fields—the histories of silent film, North America, U.S. empire, to name a few—as well as, and most importantly, film as history. Editing of archival footage, not narration, directs beautifully formed analysis that operates on multiple levels at once, all derived from the authoritative command of historiography and audiovisual research by the filmmaker/artmaker himself. Another recent work that spoke to me was T.J. Wilcox's In the Air video installation about New York history, which I saw at the (old) Whitney, when it was up in 2014. A multiscreen panorama of contemporary NYC, filmed from the artist's studio high above Union Square, hung above the gallery floor, where viewers watch from below within its ringed screens: intermittently a different panel within the panorama would project an NYC biographical/historical sketch. Its form more than its content impressed me as a multidimensional approach to present and past, place and people.
Going back to my project's origins as a study of Unisphere itself, I thought about it in relation to Warhol's Empire (1964), which also closely observes an iconic NYC structure in situ in realtime. Of course, there is also uncanny synchronicity between Warhol's study of the Empire State Building and Moses's inauguration of Unisphere, also in 1964, as a symbol of empire, his in metropolitan New York and Rostow's in Washington's Third World, at a Fair commemorating NYC's tricentennial, which marked Manhattan's absorption by the British empire. Thinking about Warhol's film, brings to mind another artist's (nonvideo) work David Salle's split-screen canvases, which long have fascinated me by doing what Between Neighborhoods attempts, to put different times, places, and people in (audio)visual juxtaposition.
Finally, first among theatrically released films, that definitely shaped my thinking about film, art, and history, before I thought of Between Neighborhoods, is Terrence Davies’s Of Time and the City (2008). Its originality of vision, its understanding of present and past, personal memory and visually archived history combine through artful editing to produce a hypnotically meditative memoir as essay about postwar Liverpool, the filmmaker’s hometown. I have been thinking about this film so often for so long that I made sure to spend a day in Liverpool when I was in Manchester last Fall to screen Between Neighborhoods. The excursion was an unforgettable experience, walking with Of Time and the City in my head, Davies's voice and the old footage guided my thoughts there.
Glick: I think about Davies’s documentary as transforming private memories into public history. But in your film, your own life does not seem to surface, or at least it is not directly addressed.
Fein: That's a good point. Of Time and the City takes its own, explicitly autobiographical, approach to examine things Between Neighborhood cares about: urban history and archival footage as a source of art. What inspires me most about Of Time and the City is Davies's originality and creativity: using art to confront present and past at once, his memories and archival footage, his poetic narration and his film's evocative composition, its enigmatically moving editing. That is, it's less his specific approach than the example of his personal vision that I find generative and, frankly, encouraging in pursuing my own approach to documentary art about a particular place.
In that regard, I must mention Chantal Akerman's News from Home (1976), which, like Davies's Of Time and the City, but two decades earlier, mixes the personal and the social, doing art as documentary. I'm teaching both films this semester, and as I've thought about News from Home, I recognize notable synergies with Between Neighborhoods. Akerman's juxtaposition of her mother's letters, read in voiceover, from Brussels with the filmmaker's meditative footage of bicentennial Manhattan epitomizes evocative exposition, what my diptych attempts through intercuts and crosscuts between epigraphs, key words, archival and original footage. Too, if Davies's editing of found footage connects with Between Neighborhoods' archival art then Akerman's unrelentingly hypnotic urban cinematography converses with my artdoc's sustained audiovisual contemplation of Unisphere and other city sites, across the river, in Queens (including a shared fixation on the subway). News from Home is an unintentional time-capsule that viscerally documents a particular moment in NYC, one that I lived as a kid, and with which I connect deeply now. There's a personal poignancy News from Home expresses synchronically across space, between Brussels and New York, as family history between Akerman and her mother (Natalia), which triggers nostalgia, not unlike Davies's plangent evocation, across time and between boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens) between me and my late father (Albert), which Between Neighborhoods sublimates.
It occurs to me that many historical documentaries I did not like trenchantly influenced Between Neighborhoods, including ones about film history I consulted on and even one in which I appeared as a talking head. Such experiences made me aware of three things: how much producers depended on the work of scholars, both on paper and as performers; how because of that dependence they claimed both too much and did too little with their archival video; and that limits institutionally imposed by broadcasters and funding organizations stunted historical documentaries' form and therefore content, too often resulting in audiovisual books rather than innovative films producing new histories.
That said, I think Between Neighborhoods is very personal, but the personal is more sublimated than narrated, visualized more than described. Davies’s archival work presents the visual as illustration of his memory, an older man recalling a younger man's life in Liverpool, as counterpoint to his words. In Between Neighborhoods my memories are the original footage I shot, often presented as counterpoint to the archival. Between Neighborhoods expresses its poetics in editing, between images and found sounds in dialogic split-screen. And once the artdoc took its dyadic turn, it jettisoned voiceover, opting instead for editing to do its analytic work, which was not explicitly autobiographical (unlike in Of Time and the City, the archival materials do not reference personal memories but historical research). Davies's work is selfanalysis, the voiceover is sonic evidence itself in form and tone as much as content. Between Neighborhoods needs space for spectators to work however they want with its image-driven analysis with neither the direction nor distraction of my spoken words.
But there is an autobiographical backstory to Between Neighborhoods, one the film prompts, though, more than it represents. As I’ve mentioned, my parents took me to the Unisphere when I was very young and I’ve encountered its key creator, Moses, so many different ways in my life. Growing up in Brooklyn, I was aware of how Moses affected our lives there. Visiting my grandparents in Williamsburg, I wondered why there existed a road right by the back of their building on Hooper Street, cars whizzing by below the kitchen window, as my grandma cooked. It was the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. As a kid, I asked my mom, who grew up in that apartment, “What’s going on here?” and she said, "well, there was this guy called Robert Moses and he built this road while we were living here.” She described the dust and the noise of that massive construction blowing into their apartment and forever changing their lives, living with an expressway right there all day and all night all year (really surreal, like Alvie Singer growing up under a rollercoaster in Coney Island, but this was real). His caprice, not to tear their building down, put them in purgatory rather than hell. I understood Moses's pharaonic power, before I read about it, as family history.
It gets even more personal. My father was a historian of landscape architecture, specializing in New York City. He wrote about Frederick Law Olmsted, who is really Moses’s predecessor as the city’s most comprehensive and enduring planner, one whose work and reputation must have vexed Moses. My father also met Moses, whom he interviewed once, as well as knew Robert Caro, Moses's great biographer, when they both were working at the same time on books in the New York Public Library’s Frederick Lewis Allen Room, what we called at home the “typing room,” when I was a kid. Decades later (and decades after my father passed), I was a resident writer in the Allen Room, where I undertook much of the research that went into Between Neighborhoods, which brought me closer to my father, how he connected urban and personal history in New York City. He lived his entire life in Brooklyn.
Glick: It's a kind of lived or felt understanding of Robert Moses, even before you encountered him through reading and writing about him?
Fein: Yes, but he's not the key to Between Neighborhoods' development, even if he is its costar, opposite Unisphere. I came to Queens and saw the borough in dialogue with the scholarship I had done—research, writing, and teaching about the geographies of U.S. empire and transnationalism—and as inspiration for the transhistorical filmwork I aspired to do. So, yes, the personal is important, but in the present more than the past. That is, Between Neighborhoods begins with my contemporary life in Queens, expressed in the footage I've shot there. Those experiences directed the research I have done about Moses, the NYWF, and Unisphere. Moses as singular, biographical figure does not interest me, but putting Moses in dialogue with Rostow or with Trump or most of all with the people of Queens today does drive me.
What I know most deeply about Moses, comes neither from my childhood in Brooklyn nor my research about him and his works but from my contemporary life in New York, centered in Queens, the borough upon which I believe he left his most profound impact (even more than the Bronx) for the reasons that Between Neighborhoods explains. He viewed it at the geodemographic center of his metropolitan empire created by his roads, bridges, and parks, which he celebrated at two World's Fairs in FMCP, where he built Unisphere and where he constructed his Panorama showing all that he built across the city. Riding my bike over and under and through his highways, the concrete rivers he made, makes me think everyday about his legacy. That is where Between Neighborhoods begins, I believe, not with the backstory we now piece together for this interview.
Glick: Between Neighborhoods captures two murals that frame a lot of the characteristics of the urban cultural landscape that that film explores. How did you discover these murals? In what ways is Between Neighborhoods itself a kind of mural-in-motion?
Fein: I have a long interest in murals. They have been interwoven in my scholarship on the transnational history of Mexican film and my broader writing and teaching about the crossborder history of the Americas. Like so many elements of Between Neighborhoods, their use was not planned, though perhaps predestined by my predisposition to work with murals as history texts, as artworks that make history as well as subjects, material evidence, for transhistory, for relating their production and reception across time (which is how the film uses Unisphere). And each of the ones featured in Between Neighborhoods, the two indoor ones your question keys on and the equally important outdoor ones the diptych also contemplates, is an important text as well as intertext for my artdoc, which, is a mural itself: a large format, immersive work of socially engaged public art. The murals are then, as you suggest, onscreen interlocutors with Between Neighborhoods, comparative representations about the geocultures of Queens, about the visual representation of history and politics, as well as visual evidence for the artdoc.
All of the murals in Between Neighborhoods are ones that I encountered in my neighborhood, Jackson Heights. The two indoor ones by named artists are just a few blocks but several decades away from each other as Between Neighborhoods explains. Each interprets Queens’ place in world history. Inside Jackson Heights' main Post Office on 37th Avenue, around the corner from where I live, is Development of Jackson Heights (1937), a bit dirty but still very striking-if-too-unnoticed, high up on a wall at one end of the main service area. Painted by Peppino Mangravite, an Italian-born artist who taught in Columbia University and also in the Art Institute of Chicago, it is a modernization narrative, depicting the linear development of society across space and time led by technology, by the arrival of the elevated subway to Jackson Heights in the previous decade, in the mid-1920s, linking Queens with Manhattan, the so-called outerborough with so-called civilization. It is a West-East story that moves from past to present, left to right, from settlers cultivating the land to middle-class families inhabiting the neighborhood's then-new progressive private housing, modern apartment buildings designed around gardens, like the one I live in today—all catalyzed by the clearing of the land and the construction of elevated subway rails surging out of the painting's central plane. Mangravite's depiction of the 7 train’s arrival in Jackson Heights links the New Deal, which produced it and the Cold War, which produced Unisphere, two and-a-half decades later, a couple of miles away in FMCP at Moses's second NYWF. Both public artworks relate liberalism's modernization mythology, technologically derived social progress, respectively by terrestrial and extraterrestrial, subway and outerspace transportation.
The 7 train figures prominently across Between Neighborhoods before the murals show up. If Unisphere represents Rostow's Space Age promise to modernize the Third World, the 7 train represents the Third World's actual international immigration as interborough modernization today, Mangravite's West-East past is Queens’s South-North future. This is the message of Renzo Ortega’s The Eagle Meets the Condor (2014), Between Neighborhoods’ other Jackson Heights indoor mural, which I encountered inside a Peruvian restaurant on Northern Boulevard, and that the artdoc places in split-screen conversation with Mangravite’s work. The Peruvian-born Ortega’s work is a transhistorical, transnational revision of the Italian-born Mangravite’s linear interborough story; it too features the 7 train, transmogrified as Incan-inflected art, not bringing West-East civilization from Manhattan to Queens but facilitating crosscultural South-North exchange between the Andes and Jackson Heights. The Eagle Meets the Condor is the work of a transnational artist; Ortega lives in and paints about two countries at once.
Development of Jackson Heights is the work of an immigrant artist, Mangravite, who came and stayed in the United States, the liberal, frontier, modernization mythopoeia of which his work represents. And as Mangravite’s work offers a linear interborough prologue to Unisphere's global story imposed imperially from above, by Moses on Queens and by Rostow on the world, Ortega's mural offers a contemporary epilogue to that earlier epoch's official story. His countermyth repositions imperial ideology about the future in the past. Drawing from the world that surrounds Unisphere today, The Eagle Meets the Condor challenges the notion of stages of modernization moving from a premodern southern past to a modern northern future, from Third World to First, from Peru to the United States, with a two-way story of interamerican history where civilizations travel transhistorically and transnationally, shaped by people more than technology.
The other murals that Between Neighborhoods considers are outdoor wall paintings by unnamed artists that are also in my neighborhood, in I.S. 145’s schoolyard, just a couple of blocks down 80th street from where I live. One, part of a two-work set, on either side of a handball wall, proclaims “Queens is the Future,” repositioning the outerborough not as a place awaiting development but a place that has arrived, globally, not determined by technology but by people. But the subway plays a vital role in this Queens-centered visual story, as it does in Mangravite's and Ortega's murals. The tableau features an aboveground subway car lunging from Manhattan into Queens, and out of the wall into those playing handball (and in my case filming). The position of the mural facing East reinforces the train’s direction screaming into the future, into Queens, past a rendering of Lady Liberty. The composition highlights the place of immigration in this story but also diminishing its official iconography before its social reality, depicted by the diverse youth traveling on the train, an African-American kid leans out of the front car his arm aloft echoing, replacing, updating the Statue of Liberty myth. Past him the Empire State Building is left behind as well (in sight of the actual skyscraper visible in the distance through Northern Boulevard, which runs by the schoolyard). Several other murals in the playground celebrate Queens’ contemporary cosmopolitanism, its globalization from below, examined in Between Neighborhoods. Notably, too, on either side of the handball wall, there are depictions of Spiderman, who hails from Queens (and makes an appearance in Between Neighborhoods, in a frame from an early issue in which the mutated Forest Hills high school student lands in sight of Unisphere during the NYWF).
Yes, as you suggest, the sequence is self-referential; the mural-like diptych places these works into audiovisual conversation with one another as well as with itself.
Glick: Your own neighborhood has recently surfaced on the big screen, with Frederick Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights (2015). You and he take a very different approach to depicting Queens. What's your view of his project?
Fein: I taught it as the culminating work in my World Cinema since 1960 course at Feirstein last spring in conjunction with Between Neighborhoods and a class visit to Jackson Heights, my neighborhood and Wiseman's subject. Without In Jackson Heights, I’m sure Between Neighborhoods would not work the way it does; it would be less dedicated to transhistory in form and content.
The two films are intertexts. And Wiseman makes a cameo towards Between Neighborhood’s end, in a photo I shot of him filming In Jackson Heights, just around the block from where I live. In the summer of 2014, I had seen him and his DP, John Davey, around my neighborhood over a week or so. There had been no word he was making this film. I took my photo and when he crossed to my side of the street I said hello and we briefly spoke; they asked for advice about where to shoot. Frankly, it was at first unnerving to see Wiseman, one of the greats, greatly admired by me, making a film about Jackson Heights. But once ego receded, it turned out to be a transformative moment in Between Neighborhoods' development, because it compelled (and allowed) me, to sharpen my analytic and artistic commitments, which are distinct from his. Though I had not yet transformed the project into a diptych, I knew my film was not simply about Queens today or even about how it became this way. My theme was not only historical, but transhistorical, the dynamic between present and past. Seeing Wiseman work on In Jackson Heights, before I saw the actual film more than a year later, at the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria—where, about a year after that Between Neighborhoods screened at the Queens World Film Festival—I realized that my purpose was different and both more expansive and specific than observing present-day Queens.
As both film scholar and (especially) filmmaker, it was fascinating to observe Wiseman at work in Jackson Heights. One of several instances: When I went to watch a World Cup match in a favorite Uruguayan cafe, I only noted after being there for a few minutes that Wiseman and his small crew were quietly filming in a corner. They really were flies on the wall and had somehow received permission to do this from the owners if not the actors (i.e., we customers). I watched him indicate to Davey to focus on this or that reaction or individual, he got excited but kept his movements minimal. I could relate to the challenges but also to how it can work. His overall approach, moving in for a short but saturated survey, of only a few weeks, made sense, given his prolific output; it has the benefits and the deficits of a fast look. If he stayed longer, he would have to stay much longer because there would be more questions to ask, I think.
Jackson Heights was not the last time I saw Wiseman at work in a place I work. I ran into him and Davey again over a year ago in the lobby of the New York Public Library, shooting Ex Libris (2017). I took out my phone and filmed Wiseman wearing his headphones, monitoring the sound, directing Davey's camerawork from over his DP's shoulder. I observed them without their noticing me as they observed library patrons without warning (I’ve used this in class). When they stopped shooting, I said hello and we chatted about In Jackson Heights.
While Wiseman resists political interpretations of his works (I've seen him speak on several occasions) they are of course political. The last shot of In Jackson Heights—of 4th of July Fireworks over Manhattan viewed from the heart of multicultural Queens—sums up the central place of immigration in making the United States. Just as his earlier, undernoted Canal Zone (1977) sums up the central place of imperialism in the making of the United States. His works though are not historical, individually. I think Between Neighborhoods’ place was to show both of these things—immigration and imperialism—at once, transhistorically, orbiting Unisphere.
Glick: I was thinking about Between Neighborhoods’ connection to Third Cinema, both because there is some shared subject matter as well as the fact that Third Cinema filmmakers saw themselves as theorists of moving images as well as practitioners. How do you see your work resonating with the militant leftist cinemas of Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba?
Fein: This semester I taught Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas's Third Cinema manifesto-in-motion, La hora de los hornos (1968). There are lots of thematic and topical connections between it and Between Neighborhoods, as their story works between the colonial and neocolonial epochs from the 1960s backwards to the 16th Century and mine works between today's imperial neoliberalism and the imperial liberalism of the era in which they made La hora. The links are also in film form; their use of intercuts and overlays of still and moving images shows the dynamic relationship between present and past that Between Neighborhoods effects through its split-screen synchronicity. Synergies are also palpable in the formal work undertaken by each video essay, such as the theoretical interventions of original and quoted epigraphs, and the transhistorical objectives in the editing. It's interesting to think how they would have done La hora in the digital age, which would serve their doc's objectives so well. With regard to the 1960s, there are a number of resonances between their work and mine: La hora's direct confrontation with Modernization Theory as well as with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s social and military interventions in the Americas; the connections between U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam and against the Cuban Revolution; the tracing of the continuities between European and U.S. imperialism. Like La hora, Between Neighborhoods appears at a critical moment in interamerican and global relations with the once-called Third World, now provoked by Trump's immigration policies.
Glick: Between Neighborhoods itself is a work of culture, but it also seeks to represent cultural practices directly through its stitching together of World’s Fair footage. One of the most striking contrasts in the film is the sequence of national pavilions where attendees can “consume” a country’s food, music, folk customs, or architecture juxtaposed with contemporary observational footage that depicts street life around the Unisphere and ethnic enclaves of Queens. What is the difference between these two forms of culture?
Fein: The Fair’s international exhibits were forms of vicarious tourism for spectators as well as international boosterism for those countries that sent exhibits to Moses’s 1964-1965 NYWF (which was not officially sanctioned as a “World’s Fair” and led many governments to skip Flushing Meadows). My archival research offered opportunities to juxtapose footage about those international exhibits, news programs as well as NYWF film and TV propaganda, with my footage of transnational communities from those same areas of the world that thrive in Queens today, because of immigration since the 1960s. The crossediting contemplates the difference between a moment when official culture assumed strict boundaries between the United States and the then-called Third World, expressed by imperial display in proto-Epcot pavilions for consumption by visitors to the Fair, and one in which daily life today, in the same place, FMCP and nearby Queens neighborhoods, show the transnationalization of New York City by immigrants from across the world.
In one sequence, Between Neighborhoods essays religion in Queens, internationally at the NYWF—circumscribed by Western Christianity and transnationally in Queens today, beyond Christianity. It culminates in one of Moses's most notable attractions, the Vatican's exhibit, featuring Michelangelo’s Pieta; and an intraborough sequence featuring Our Lady of Sorrows, a Corona congregation (comprised overwhelmingly of first and second-generation Latino parishioners, notably, but not only, immigrants from Ecuador and Mexico) very near Unisphere, and St. Sebastian, a couple of miles away, beneath the 7 train, in Woodside, a parish forged by Irish immigrants and now notably home to Filipino-American worshipers.
Glick: Towards the end of the documentary, you "foreground" the connection between Robert Moses and Donald Trump, suggesting similarities in terms of points of NY origin, their personas, and their attempts to reshape infrastructure. How did you come to make this connection?
Fein: It was staring me in the face. Trump’s rise politically took place as I worked on Between Neighborhoods. His rhetorical war on both Muslim and Latin American immigration provoked my thinking about this Queens-born developer’s connections to his boyhood borough today and to New York’s other notorious developer. Moses held similarly ethnocentric, racist views that guided his also similarly antidemocratic vision of building and politics that reinforced social divisions, created alternately by walls today and highways then. But there were more parallels and connections not just between the two figures but the ideological and political forces surrounding them, surrounding the development of NYC across the last half century, between liberal and neoliberal political economies and ideologies. In this regard, Between Neighborhoods’ connection between Trump and Moses exemplifies both how the project evolved and also how working audiovisually generates transhistorical insights as well as documentary art. Historical research offered material to make art that says more about history than either a straight scholarly article or a straight American-experience-type documentary that in different idioms, monographic academic writing or public-television-style biography, reduce and distend more than distill and disrupt.
Let me offer a couple of examples of how Between Neighborhoods attempts to do this between Trump and Moses. It brings them together through their works: a split-screen tone poem joins Moses's Unisphere in FMCP and the miniature version Trump copied at Columbus Circle, which he erected in front of his eponymous International Hotel and Tower, the former Paramount Building. When Trump bought it in the early 1990s, Moses's grotesque New York Coliseum still stood 90 degrees to the west; now it's the site of the Time-Warner Center. The commercial mall is a fitting neoliberal successor to Moses's earlier "publicly" built exhibition space and an analogue to the neoliberal suburbanization of Manhattan by the likes of Trump. I do not narrate that, no expository titles even; I simply let the two Unispheres talk to each other at this latter point in the film by when many key ideas have already been expressed. It's a culmination and an introduction before Between Neighborhoods crosscuts between Trump's presidential declarations about building new infrastructure including his borderwall and Moses's declarations about the NYWF's potential to transform the world. María, an Ecuadorean immigrant in Corona, offers a measured condemnation of the then-presidential candidate's cynical character, which Between Neighborhoods makes Trump hear.
It's logical that Trump admires Moses as his minisphere indicates. Both disdained democracy and fixated on public promotion through mass media as a source of personal power. As Between Neighbors shows in archival footage of a TV interview Moses gave at the end of the Fair’s first season, the Power Broker affirmed his admiration for both "dictators and businessmen" because in his view "they could get things done." I could hear Trump’s own autocratic, egocentric rhetoric as well as imagine this son of Queens as Moses’s successor, the unintended offspring of the planner's final act, his New York World’s Fair in Queens.
However, the links between Trump and Moses were not interesting to me as biography but as personae that could effect, through their audiovisual juxtaposition, the transhistoricity between the two regimes Between Neighborhoods works between. It was that second World’s Fair that captured the transition between liberalism and neoliberalism in which Trump rose to prominence in the TV Age that Unisphere, massive monument to global communications, commemorated. Constructed as a public work in a public park but with corporate funds by U.S. Steel in return for naming rights: the plaques that remain in place as contractually dictated by Moses’s NYWF Corp. In the coming Seventies, when both New York City and U.S. empire declined in economic power, each turned to deregulation, the use of state power in the name of private enterprise, to do what government could not do in global or urban planning. Donald Trump rose as neoliberalism dominated U.S. political economy. His brand relied on patronage by the state, tax breaks and deregulation. Long before he ran for president he had competed with politicians in the public imagination in New York City as the personification of development and culture. He had replaced Moses, whom liberalism had empowered, as the city’s leading developer. Moreover, as Between Neighborhoods' explores, Trump's work as a developer, despite its Manhattan location was as antiurban as Moses's suburbanizing public works, exemplified by his vertical subdivisions' disregard for the life of the streets they occupied, for the people who walked by his buildings, which were social, inward-focused enclaves for occupants not civic structures.
This led to the second site Between Neighborhoods visits to evoke its Trump-Moses connection. I went out to the so-called “public” golf course, Trump Links, that Trump claims to have built but that actually he only operates under a contract that the neoliberal Bloomberg administration granted him. An enclave of bourgeois privilege, enclosing irreplaceable shoreline on the East River, at Ferry Point, the Bronx, amidst one of NYC's poorest, park-deprived neighborhoods is a perfect example of neoliberal development, privatization marketed falsely as public works. Its location—just beneath Moses’s Bronx-Whitestone Bridge to Queens, completed for the Power Broker’s first World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows and alongside the Whitestone Expressway, widened with federal funds secured for his second World’s Fair there—captured the present and past between Trump's neoliberal and Moses's liberal empires. I use the documentary mise-en-scène to transhistoricize Trump and Moses, between today and the 1960s. Trump Links is the descendant of Moses’s World’s Fair, an analogue for the U.S. Open’s privatization of so much of FMCP into a gated community that, in the false name of globalization, fences the park off from Queens’s global residents for a two-week fair built on the foundations of the 1964-1965 NYWF's Singer Bowl stadium. The U.S. Open is Moses’s corporately sponsored legacy that has been a platform for the celebrity of Trump who, Between Neighborhoods shows, made cameos in the stands to stoke his prepresidential brand on TV. The artdoc used the large “Trump Links” sign, which I filmed from a public bus crossing the Whitestone Bridge as well as on the golf course's grounds (until I was gently asked to leave by security guards last Winter). The branding serves as visual link between its namesake and Moses, between today and yesterday, between neoliberalism and liberalism in the sequence's series of parallels between the two regimes. It helped me tie Between Neighborhoods together transhistorically as it concluded.
Glick: You were an early adopter of new technologies in the classroom. You frequently incorporated sounds, clips, graphics, photographs, and texts into your lectures in the early days of PowerPoint. But Between Neighborhoods doesn’t seem like its necessarily in the tradition of the illustrated lecture. Would you say it connects with a tradition of social documentary? Or the essay film? Or perhaps an alternative form of historiographic installation art?
Fein: Let me take the last part first. To choose among the terms you offer, it's an essay film and an experimental documentary. Those are not discrete things, just different established boxes that can be checked. What I call it is an artdoc, period. In any case, it doesn't matter what I call it; it's whatever you, the viewer, the critic, says it is for them. I don't own its interpretation, just as Moses does not own that of Unisphere. That is a grandiose comparison but it's a relevant one given what we're talking about, I'm in control of Unisphere in Between Neighborhoods, which I think of as an artdoc.
I do agree that my filmmaking emerged out of my multimedia teaching. I taught across the digital turn at Yale, where there were resources to help me create a database that crossed my audiovisual assets with my paper documents. Teaching allowed me the freedom to express transhistorical ideas and to present research in ways that I would have loved to do in my scholarship but, as we have discussed, neither the professional boundaries of academic history nor the expressive limits of writing encouraged or even allowed. Teaching became where I could begin to perform my public humanities, analytically and expressively as audiovisual art made from research. When I wanted to apply for a fellowship that would have allowed postdoctoral training in filmmaking, I was blocked by a well-meaning department chair who insisted that I prioritize publishing even though I believed my original research about interamerican film and TV could best be expressed in video, and that doing that would be a considerable scholarly contribution to history.
Like others, I'm sure, I used PowerPoint in ways that it wasn’t designed to be used. I ignored its aestheticizing features while straining its capacity as a delivery device by projecting several videos at once, which could cause it to crash. I would never use PowerPoint to establish the “five points of my lecture”; I used it to show five different films at once, and then rapidly shift to another slide and display three of the same clips and then something new, and so on. In class I was working in realtime with my planned presentation, continuing the analysis that had produced and generated the "lecture," which was generating ideas for documentary art and scholarship. I found the limits of PowerPoint generative by compelling me to figure out how to analyze nonlinearly within its sequential structure. Maybe I wouldn’t have eventually made films if not for PowerPoint's linearity, because even if I was looking to move around times and places experimentally, within slides and between them, I did have an idea about the overall sequence of the presentation. I wanted spectators to interact with that path, across my multimedia presentations as I still want them to do across my documentaries.
My own interest in filmmaking as scholarly practice advanced further in my Film and History research seminar at Yale, where I required a compilation documentary as well as a paper for final undergraduate projects. All students, whether they had a background in production or not, did this (well). It was incredible to see how filmmaking transformed their analysis of film, evident in their papers' form and content as well as in their digital documentaries. Students understood the films they studied more deeply after having taken them apart and then edited their own films about them. Correspondingly, their writing became more evocative and their editing of video affected, I am sure, the composition of prose, which invoked juxtaposition more than exposition, compared to earlier iterations of this course that I taught before adding the filmmaking component.
Glick: Has Between Neighborhoods been changing the way you teach your classes at Brooklyn College's Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema?
Fein: Not at all and in every way. In my grad seminar on Latin American cinema this semester, one of the key questions we considered was whether “Latin America” or regional geopolitical designations generally are useful categories for the study of film. I found myself frequently referring to Between Neighborhoods for examples of how film culture has been transnational since its inception but how that transnationality has changed across time around us, across the last century between imperialism and immigration. After repeatedly, reflexively referring to the project, sometimes showing clips of things in it, I finally screened it all in this class, primarily comprised of Screen Studies students, to see what film scholars think of it not only for what it says about some of the theoretical and historical issues we have covered, but also as an example of documentary as scholarship. I had done this as well last Spring in my World Cinema since 1960 grad course, primarily comprised of filmmakers (MFAs), who were very, very frank and insightful in their assessment of it as a documentary.
Between Neighborhoods combines so much of what I had been striving to do in scholarship as well as in instruction it has proven to be the best statement, better than anything I could say or write, about what I think about audiovisual history. I guess it’s like teaching one’s own writing (which I have qualms about). But given that I am teaching as a film historian, not a filmmaker, it’s also saying, both to my film-scholar and filmmaker grad students that filmmaking is (or can be) scholarship; that audiovisual art is a high form of analysis and expression in the humanities, not just a subject of scholarship and that I attempt it, not just advocate for it. Accordingly, following what I began at Yale, I allow, in fact, encourage my film-scholar as well as filmmaker students to make audiovisual essays, about film history, as an alternative to writing papers. This has produced stunning work from the filmmakers, who are the ones who have so far taken me up on this offer.
Glick: What’s next for Between Neighborhoods? What can you say about your upcoming projects and how they draw on, but separate from, Between Neighborhoods?
Fein: Between Neighborhoods continues to change in dialogue with new ideas, politics in the world and in Queens, as well as my new shooting and new research. Notably, and happily, I recently gained permission to use previously unused archival audio of NYWF Corp. events and an extraordinarily candid TV interview with Moses I had discovered in my investigations but had only transcribed on screen. In addition to providing unique evidence the audio especially presents new opportunities and obligations for editing this new sound with new moving images, as in the "crossroads" clip (above).
Between Neighborhoods' staggered screenings have also provided opportunities that I cannot resist to work on it. Discussing Between Neighborhoods with new viewers generate new ambitions. This Fall, within one week I had two screenings that were each homecomings before specially informed (and intimidating) audiences that spanned the artdoc's commitments. First, I returned to my boyhood borough, Brooklyn, to screen Between Neighborhoods at Make the Road New York, the Latino immigrant-rights organization’s Bushwick branch. The audience was overwhelmingly working-class immigrants from Ecuador, a community that appears prominently in Between Neighborhoods. I was more nervous at this event than at any other screening. It was very gratifying and surprising to experience the reception of the film, which prompted a spontaneous chant of "bajo con capitalismo," and to engage in the postscreening conversation with these citizen-activists who organize against restrictions to immigration and also the privatization of public space. Their campaigns have included the successful effort to stop construction of a professional soccer stadium in FMCP that would have further enclosed parkland vital to immigrant New Yorkers. There was, in fact, a big poster of Make the Road members in front of Unisphere, to my surprised delight, up in the room where we screened.
I learned a lot about my film here as I did from a different direction, the following week, when I screened it at Harvard, where I had been a fellow in multimedia history in the Charles Warren Center a couple of years before. It was a tremendous experience to share and discuss Between Neighborhoods with scholars dedicated to interdisciplinary history, including the pioneering multimedia historian, Vincent Brown, himself a documentarian, who moderated the session. Both events stimulated new ideas. And I will continue to exhibit and talk about Between Neighborhoods as it evolves. I am also considering streaming it for individual and institutional use. Ideally, because the project is immersive and split-screen it should be viewed large, so I have some concerns about this, but I want to share it more widely; people who have seen it have asked me about access to show to others, especially students. Ultimately, I would like to exhibit a new two-channel iteration as a museum/gallery installation. In any case, I'm ready to let it go, even as I continue to change it, because it might always change, and I am at work now on two new projects, a documentary and a collection of essays, which also makes it less likely to change much.
The new documentary is Our Neighborhood, which examines Washington’s small-screen cold war against the Cuban Revolution across Latin America across the 1960s. It developed out of my long-term research and writing on the subject, which I developed into a documentary during my year at Harvard's Warren Center. Some of its archival footage makes a cameo in Between Neighborhoods with which it shares some themes about the history of modernization and communication. A friend once noted that many of my published essays had similar titles, despite being about discrete things. The same seems to be true of my films. Maybe that is because they do inevitably affect each other’s development or perhaps it is my conceit to enjoy the significant contrasts between works that have similar titles. Or, maybe I have a thing for the word "neighborhood"? Who knows? In this case, the film's title is the translation of one of the programs, the telenovela Nuestro Barrio, it examines, which inadvertently enunciates a key trope of Washington's interamerican imperialism, its so-called Good Neighborhood. One thing both projects share is engagement with today. (I wrote an op-ed about the connections between Washington’s TV initiatives in Latin America in the 1960s and in the Middle East after Bush II invaded Iraq). At Our Neighborhood's heart is my archival video research about the programs themselves as well as paper documents that I obtained through my successful Freedom of Information Act case about the propaganda's production, distribution, and reception (about which I have written). More recently, working with my collaborators Dewey Thompson and Christopher Torella of Pickerel Pie Entertainment, here in Long Island City, Queens, we have shot interviews with key behind-the-camera producers and on-camera performers involved in this work.
My other present project is Writing for Unisphere, a collection of essays that is an unanticipated and organic byproduct of Between Neighborhoods. Just as audiovisual art provided me a way to transcend writing to do history, making the diptych triggered writing that in content and form, analysis and presentation, would not exist without having done the film. These essays revolve around Unisphere. They think about public space in New York City to develop themes raised by Unisphere. These essays are not the artdoc 's scholarly supplement. They are its creative-writing offspring, experimental historical writing inspired by experimental artdoc video (a connection they explore) as they also develop original research that informed Between Neighborhoods but that did not fit the film's form. These essays have spilled out of me, I could never have conceived them without having made my film the way I have, here in Queens. Information about all of this can be found at sevenlocalfilm.com.
Notes to the introduction
2. While Moses’s “urban renewal” projects involved the expansion of parks, pools, and cultural institutions, they also led to sweeping displacement of long-rooted communities, the inequitable building of public facilities, and the segregation of low-income minorities in poorly managed housing blocks. For more about Robert Moses and the politics of displacement, strategic neglect, and autocratic design, see Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974) as well as Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), 287–348. For an account of urban renewal in New York City and its relationship to Cold War era city planning, see Samuel Zipp, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). The recent exhibition and book catalog, Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York, casts Moses in a more sympathetic light, looking at his public works projects in relation to post-WWII trends in urbanism. Hilary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson, eds., Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007).
3. Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
4. Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (MIT Press: Cambridge, 1995), 1–13.
5. For more on the history of post-WWII Queens, see, for example, Robert A.M. Stern et. al., New York 1960: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1995), 986–1025; Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, Neighborhoods of Queens (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan, Crossing the Boulevard: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).
6. Seth Fein, “Culture across Borders in the Americas,” History Compass 1:1 (2003). For more articles by Fein, see Seth Fein, “Myths of Cultural Imperialism and Nationalism in Golden Age Mexican Cinema,” in Fragments of a Golden Age: The Politics of Culture in Mexico Since 1940, eds. Gilbert Joseph, Anne Rubenstein, and Eric Zolov (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 159-98; Seth Fein, “Everyday Forms of Transnational Collaboration: U.S. Film Propaganda in Cold War Mexico,” in Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations, eds. Gilbert Joseph, Catherine LeGrand, Ricardo Salvatore (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 400–50; Seth Fein, “Producing the Cold War in Mexico: The Public Limits of Covert Communications,” in In From the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War, eds. Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniela Spenser (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 171–213; Seth Fein, “From Collaboration to Containment: Hollywood and the International Political Economy of Mexican Cinema after the Second World War,” in Mexico’s Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers, eds. Joanne Hershfield and David Maciel (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1999), 123–64; Seth Fein, “Transcultured Anticommunism: Cold War Hollywood in Postwar Mexico,” in Visible Nations: Latin American Cinema and Video, ed. Chon A. Noriega (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 82–111; Seth Fein, Review of The Fog of War (Errol Morris, dir., Sony Pictures Classics, 2003), American Historical Review 109.5 (October 2004): 1260–61; Seth Fein, Review of Frida (Julie Taymor, dir., Miramax, 2002) and Frida: Naturaleza Viva (Paul Leduc, dir., Clasa, 1984), American Historical Review 108.5 (October 2003): 1261–63.
7. See, for example, the program for Social Documentation at UC Santa Cruz; the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke; The Documentary Center at George Washington University; the Open Documentary Lab at MIT; the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri; the Documentary/Public Humanities program at Yale. Also, the Media Arts + Practice Division at USC and the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard embrace new forms of socially engaged nonfiction.
Notes to the conversation
1. The generous intellectual and institutional interventions of Matt Jacobson and other scholar/artists have contributed invaluably to Between Neighborhoods' development. Matt brought his own expertise about U.S. imperialism and immigration as well as the practice of documentary art to a Queens College symposium about Between Neighborhoods that opened its gallery installation there sponsored by the Kupferberg Center for the Arts and moderated by Julia del Palacio, a historian of Mexico who is also a performing NYC artist, leader of Radio Jarocho, which has supported my work with its own. Matt also brought me and Between Neighborhoods to Yale, for its exhibition in Public Humanities there. My former Yale colleague Gil Joseph arranged for Between Neighborhoods' early installation and exhibition in conjunction with the semicentennial meeting of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), over which Gil presided, in NYC in May 2016. That collaboration directly emerged from our long-term association in making the transnational and cultural turns in interamerican history, expressed in print.
LASA’s symposium at CUNY's Graduate Center—moderated by the event’s co-organizer, historian Amy Chazkel (CUNY)—proved vitally encouraging for the project’s ongoing evolution. The panel included: Laura Wexler (Yale) whose comments historicized Between Neighborhoods’ visual poetics in ways vitally encouraging andthat I would not have otherwise seen; Peter L'Official (Bard), theorized Between Neighborhoods’ connections to NYC literature and politics; Mary Louise Pratt, whose scholarship about empire has long influenced my own, positioned Unisphere in the global history of imperial iconography; and Freddy Castiblanco (Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance), a Colombian-US transnational immigrant-rights-and-neighborhood-sovereignty activist as well as Queens cultural entrepreneur, commented on Between Neighborhoods' links to immigrant rights in NYC at both its Queens College and CUNY Grad Center symposia; he also hosted my artdoc’s earliest iteration, Outerspace Innerborough, at Terraza 7, the incomparable transamerican music venue he owns and operates on the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst border marked by the Seven train in the heart of global Queens. [return to text]