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Robert Gardner began his career as a filmmaker in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. In the mid fifties, he moved back to Massachusetts for graduate work in anthropology. He presently lives in Cambridge MA.
He made his first feature length work, Dead Birds, considered a classic of its genre, in 1964. It is a narrative, nonfiction account of a Stone Age community of warrior farmers living in a remote valley in the Highlands of West Papua. It is a film about man's capacity for violence and his efforts to bring it under ritual control. A decade ago it was added to the Library of Congress Registry of Classic American Films.
Gardner has made several other feature non fiction films including: Rivers of Sand and Forest of Bliss. Together with two short films on the artist Mark Tobey, three on Sean Scully, one each on Alexander Calder and Michael Mazur, Gardner has made a number of films on a number of artists. In early 1989, he returned to visit the places in which he had lived while making Dead Birds and did the camerawork for a new film about the way time transforms both individuals and culture.
Gardner established film at Harvard as a subject of university concern when he taught the first courses dealing with the subject while still a graduate student. For forty years he was Director of the Film Study Center which he founded in 1957. While working alone or with collaborators, he has encouraged innovation and experimentation in all aspects of film. Gardner was, for ten years, the Director of Harvard's Visual Arts Center and also served as Chairman of the Visual and Environmental Studies Department.
Outside the University and apart from his own filmmaking, he undertook in the early seventies a major commitment in television by producing and hosting nearly one hundred, ninety-minute programs for a commercial broadcasting station. Each program presented an interview with a significant figure in the arena of independent filmmaking. This series represents a concentrated history of important experimental and documentary filmmaking of the 1960's, 70's and '80's.
Following his retirement from teaching and administration at Harvard, Gardner established a small cooperative called studio7arts in Cambridge Massachusetts. There he collaborates in the production of films, videos, DVDs and books with a number of prominent writers and artists such as, Sharon Lockhart, Samina Quraeshi, Susan Meiselas, Alex Webb and others. Two new books are in progress including one of photographs made by Gardner and 7 photographer friends. Both will be published in 2009 by the Peabody Press at Harvard. Two new films are in preparation and expected to be ready for screening by the beginning of 2009.
Gardner is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is also the recipient of numerous film awards and prizes including the Flaherty Award twice. In 2005 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Anthropological Association.
2007 "Group Show," Nelson Hancock Gallery, Brooklyn, N.Y.
2006 "Still Photographs and Filmed Images," Nelson Hancock Gallery, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Film Retrospectives and Exhibitions
There have been many retrospectives including ones in Vienna, Munich, the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Beeld fur Beeld, Latvia, Mexico among many others. Film screenings have been held in innumerable festivals and other institutions throughout the world.
Books by Robert Gardner
Gardner, Robert and Karl Heider. Gardens of War (New York: Random, 1969)
Gardner, Robert and Ŕkos Östör. Making Forest of Bliss (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Film Archive, 2001)
Gardner, Robert. The Impulse to Preserve: Reflections of a Filmmaker (NY, NY: Other Press, 2006)
Gardner, Robert. Making Dead Birds: Chronicle of a Film (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum Press, 2007)
Books about Robert Gardner
Barabash, Ilisa and Lucien Taylor, ed. The Cinema of Robert Gardner (Oxford, New York: Berg, 2007)
Cooper, Thomas W. Natural Rhythms: The Indigenous World of Robert Gardner (New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1995)
Kapfer (editor). Rituale Von Leben und Tod (Vertag: MunichTrickster, 1969)
Tomicek, Harry. Gardner (Wien: Oesterreichisches FilmMuseum, 1991)