Deborah Stratman's O'er the Land
April 15, 2010 (Thu) - 7:30pm, Carpenter Center Room B04
$5 suggested donation

Deborah Stratman ( is a Chicago-based artist and filmmaker interested in landscapes and systems. Her films, rather than telling stories, pose a series of problems - and through their at times ambiguous nature, allow for a complicated reading of the questions being asked. Many of her films point to the relationships between physical environments and the very human struggles for power, ownership, mastery and control that are played out on the land. Most recently, they have questioned elemental historical narratives about freedom, expansion, security, and the regulation of space. Stratman works in multiple mediums, including photography, sound, drawing and sculpture. She has exhibited internationally at venues including the Whitney Biennial, MoMA, the Pompidou, Hammer Museum and many international film festivals including Sundance, the Viennale, Ann Arbor and Rotterdam. She is the recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships and she currently teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago.



O'er The Land (52min, 16mm, 2009) is a meditation on the milieu of elevated threat addressing national identity, gun culture, wilderness, consumption, patriotism and the possibility of personal transcendence. Of particular interest are the ways Americans have come to understand freedom and the increasingly technological reiterations of manifest destiny. While channeling our national psyche, the film is interrupted by the story of Col. William Rankin who in 1959, was forced to eject from his F8U fighter jet at 48,000 feet without a pressure suit, only to get trapped for 45 minutes in the up and down drafts of a massive thunderstorm. Remarkably, he survived. Rankin's story represents a non-material, metaphysical kind of freedom. He was vomited up by his own jet, that American icon of progress and strength, but violent purging does not necessarily lead to reassessment or redirection.

This film is concerned with the sudden, simple, thorough ways that events can separate us from the system of things, and place us in a kind of limbo. Like when we fall. Or cross a border. Or get shot. Or saved. The film forces together culturally acceptable icons of heroic national tradition with the suggestion of unacceptable historical consequences, so that seemingly benign locations become zones of moral angst.

World Premiere: Sundance Film Festival, 2009
Awards: LíAlternativa International Film Festival, Barcelona: Best Documentary Feature; CPH:DOX International Documentary Film Festival, Copenhagen: New Vision Award; Cinema Eye Honors: Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Nominee; Ann Arbor Film Festival: Ken Burns Award for Best of Festival; Iowa City International Documentary Film Festival: Best in Festival; Images Festival, Toronto: Best International Film

Review from ArtForum:
"DEBORAH STRATMANíS FILMS feature multiple explosions and a jarring mix of noises and near-silent drones, so it is curious to also discover that an endearing innocence often prevails, a longing for some kind of miracleóa flying saucer or a goblinójust around the bend.

This sense of wonder remains at the heart of Stratmanís Oíer the Land (2009), featuring the true story of a man who fell through the sky and lived to tell about it. William H. Rankinís 1960 book The Man Who Rode the Thunder chronicles his survival following a harrowing plane crash, when he tumbled through the frozen atmosphere and a live thunderstorm before hitting the ground, with only a tree to break his forty-minute fall. Near the start of Stratmanís film, a polite recorded phone message from Rankin reflexively informs viewers that we will not be hearing directly from the lieutenant colonel as he is ìeighty-seven years old and no longer [does] interviews.î

Stratman uses an actor to read Rankinís account midway through the film, pairing it with dramatic footage of stormy skies and a sound track fraught with high-pitched whines and rumbling murmurs, the aural dissonance emphasizing experiential and emotional depth, if stepping on the voice-over at times. Bookending this unnerving scene are wavering shots of Americana, veering near the beginning toward clichÈ (in the form of marching bands, football games, trailer parks, and firefighters). These quietly unfold into another Americaóthe border patrol scanning the desert, a theme park for gun enthusiasts, an animal-testing lab. A yellow sign reporting the current threat-level propels us squarely into post-9/11 America, the primary subject of Stratmanís wary gaze. It is fitting in this context that, by the close of the film, doubt has been cast on magic, too, heralded by a bright yellow mockingbird flitting wildly about in its laboratory cage, dazed by recorded birdcalls." - Annie Buckley