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Following a passionate engagement with the heady milieu of the 1960s New York underground film scene, Sally Dixon (1932–2019) dedicated her life to cultivating avant-garde film community through friendship, advocacy and visionary curatorial work. As founder, curator and administrator (1970–1975) of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Film Section series, Dixon presented, commissioned and supported ground-breaking works by a huge array of filmmakers—including Carolee Schneemann, Gunvor Nelson, Stan Brakhage, Roger Jacoby, George & Mike Kuchar, Hollis Frampton, Storm De Hirsch and many others—while setting an exemplary model for the presentation of artist films in a fine arts context and for providing financial compensation to artists. Her establishment of the famed Pittsburgh Travel Sheet (in 1973) and role in founding the Filmmakers Preview Network and of Pittsburgh Filmmakers helped solidify a national touring network of alternative exhibition spaces and film artists. In her later career, Dixon programmed films at the Walker Art Center—where she published the famed Filmmakers Filming series of artist monographs—and worked for various philanthropic foundations, providing thousands of dollars in support of filmmaker projects.
Long under-recognized as a figure in the field, Dixon’s tale is told in Brigid Maher’s Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story, a loving portrait featuring extensive archival footage, interviews and photographs documenting Dixon’s life and work and interviews with members of Dixon’s extensive circle including Jonas Mekas, Jane Brakhage Wodening, Carolee Schneemann, Ken Jacobs and more. The screening of Experimental Curator is preceded by three works featured in the film—James Broughton’s Erogeny (1976), filmed on Dixon’s dining room table; Roger Jacoby’s Dream Sphinx (1974), “starring” Dixon and Warhol superstar Ondine; and Storm De Hirsh’s double-projected Third Eye Butterfly (1968), all screened in vibrant 16mm. (Steve Polta)
SCREENING: Dream Sphinx (1974) by Roger Jacoby; 16mm, color, sound, 8 minutes, print from Canyon Cinema. Erogeny (1976) by James Broughton; 16mm, color, sound, 6 minutes, print from Canyon Cinema. Third Eye Butterfly (1968) by Storm De Hirsch; double-projected 16mm, color, sound, 10 minutes, print from the Film-Maker’s Cooperative. Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story (2022) by Brigid Maher; digital video, color, sound, 57 minutes, exhibition file from the maker. TRT: 81 minutes
Dream Sphinx (1974) by Roger Jacoby
Ondine (left) and Sally Dixon (right) "star" as ecstatic 19th century lovers in Jacoby's first home-processed film. Nickelodeon imagery, school children of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Botanical Conservatory. "As the strains of an aria rise, the grainy specks of Jacoby's self-processed film begin to darken and swim like fruit flies, lighting on the flowers in the garden, sticking to the lips of the lovers as they kiss." (Victoria Dalkey)
Erogeny (1976) by James Broughton
The film travels in close-up over the mysterious terrains of nude human bodies as they touch and explore one another. It is like an expedition into human geography, an intimate sculpture, an erogenous healing ceremony and an ode to the pleasures of touch. Also it is an homage to old friends, Willard Maas and Marie Menken, who made the first body poem in cinema history, Geography of the Body, in 1943. (James Broughton)
Third Eye Butterfly (1968) by Storm De Hirsch
For dual-projection. Where is the light coming from? The flavor of the colors are succulent to the long vision in the soul. How can dust cover the arrows of light? How can darkness favor oblivion in the face of light? The variations of soul-touch exist in the auras of illumination. The Great Eye dominates. (Storm De Hirsch)
Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story (2022) by Brigid Maher
Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story is a documentary that delves into the life of experimental film curator Sally Dixon. Her story began in the 1960's when she received a small hand-held movie camera from her father-in-law and started making films, which she later called "Film Poems." Sally is known as a trailblazer in the "film as art" movement and created the film program at The Carnegie Museum of Art in 1970. She founded the program with the purpose of "promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of film as an art form and the filmmaker as an artist." It was one of the first museum-based film programs in the country. This one hour biographic documentary reflects Sally’s life as a woman in a man’s art world. The film beautifully weaves in archival footage of Sally as her love of film first emerged as she captured her first images on Super 8 as well as archival footage of her collaborations with artists in Pittsburgh, and finally St. Paul. The documentary threads in contemporary footage of Sally, her family and her friends as they reflect on her enormous impact. www.sallydixonfilm.com