Project Space: Keith Wilson

by Katie Geha

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       To watch the first five minutes of The Shrimp, click "02" in the slide show above. It's Flash. It will take a moment to load. The sound is subtle, so turn your volume up, too.

      Keith Wilson’s new short film tells the life story of shrimp in Savannah, Georgia. The film, The Shrimp which just had a screening at the SXSW film festival, begins innocently enough. There are long luscious static shots of the Savannah landscape at sun-rise, the rustle of reeds as the camera peeks through the grass, images of marshes that billow out and then create a flat horizon line—a diagonal strip of green between two blue blocks of water and sky. Just as the viewer adjusts to the slow rhythm of the quaint landscapes, a loud clunking fishing boat slides into the frame and the narrative begins. The camera dunks under the calm trickling water and we are met with the subject of the film: a translucent shrimp floats back and forth through the murky water before a net suddenly snatches it up and away to its fate.

      The fate of the shrimp of Savannah is perhaps the basic theme of the film. However, the journey in which they travel—moving from a fishing boat, to a packing plant, to a restaurant, to the plate garnished with lemon, to the mouth of a bawdy lounge singer—creates a larger subtext, that of the fishing history and landscape of the south. Understanding a site both through its industry and its culinary delights (unlike other recent food documentaries, The Shrimp made me hungry for its subject), allows for a slower, more complex rendering of a place. And the film is slow. There is no narration; rather, Wilson allows the camera work and natural sounds of the sites to tell his story. Finally, the shrimp make their way through the sewage system, seen as a pan of the streets of this pretty town. And just when you thought the film would end at human waste, the cycle starts anew. The smart, slyly funny camera focuses once again on the southern land, where the film began. Instead of critically examining the fishing industry, The Shrimp celebrates the life-cycle of these tasty sea creatures by situating them within a cultural heritage, the appetites of the people of Savannah, Georgia. 

      Keith Wilson is a filmmaker, photographer and performance artist based in Austin, Texas and San Francisco. His films have aired on public and cable television and have been exhibited in galleries, community spaces and film festivals including the Berlinale, the London Film Festival, South by Southwest and the National Gallery of Art. He is currently working on a film about sea cucumbers, a self-eviscerating marine animal prized in Japan for their viagra-like properties. In April 2009, he will remount his performance-based Cave & Mountain Tours in Austin and the Bay Area. He has an MFA in film production from the Radio-TV-Film Department at UT-Austin. For more on his work visit wall-eye.com and caveandmountaintour.com.

      Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

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