Conversation with Fiscally Sponsored Artist Benita Raphan

Conversation with Fiscally Sponsored Artist Benita Raphan

“I have always been deeply inspired by geniuses, especially artists and mathematicians.”

Filmmaker and NYFA fiscally sponsored artist Benita Raphan has recently created a podcast series about fellow filmmaker and media artist Alan Berliner (Fellow in Film ‘85, ‘91, ‘99) The Gift of Time: Alan Berliner and his Process

NYFA has spoken with her about her own upcoming projects, her relationship with Alan Berliner and her inspirations. 

NYFA: You are a NYFA Fiscally Sponsored artist, could you tell us a little bit about the project that was sponsored through the program?

Benita Raphan: As a filmmaker, I have always been deeply inspired by geniuses, especially artists and mathematicians. I feel compelled to explore and unpack their rich imaginative worlds.

I am currently enmeshed in making a film about Emily Dickinson, the extensive oeuvre she created during her lifetime and its posthumous impact upon modern poetry. Dickinson wrote close to eighteen hundred poems during her lifetime. Her vibrant inner life was clearly not bound by her actual circumstances.

I have shot approximately 30 percent of this film, and interviewed philosopher and essayist Avital Ronell, and poets Susan Howe and Cole Swensen for this project.

NYFA: In 2013 you also received a NYFA Opportunity Grant, what did you use it for?

BR: After adopting a dog, I found myself deeply mired in the world of animal science and contradictory attitudes towards treating serious canine behavioral issues. Feeling this subject to be pressing, I took a hiatus from the Emily project to make Pete the Dog, a short film allowing me to share my story and the outcome of five years of intensive research, with the hope of connecting with others in similar situations. I used the grant to work with Alan as my film mentor. With assistance from collaborators/educators at the forefront of the digital/interactivity field, who are colleagues of mine at SVA’s BFA Design Department, I also created a media-rich website as an additional resource.  

NYFA: How did the relationship come about with NYFA Fellow and filmmaker Alan Berliner as your mentor?

BR: Years ago, I was on the Bronx Science debate team with Shari Spiegel, now an economist for the United Nations. Shari is Alan Berliner’s wife and a co-producer of First Cousin Once Removed. In 2011, she introduced me to Alan’s installation work and films. Shortly afterwards, I entered a prestigious Art Practice MFA program to create a film and media-rich literacy project about Emily Dickinson. Asked to select a filmmaker as a mentor, I immediately approached Alan. Though I didn’t complete that second MFA, Alan has continued to guide my professional journey and to significantly influence my work.


NYFA: What has fascinated you most about the way Alan Berliner works?

BR: Thought-provoking, dense and richly cinematic, Alan’s gorgeous films are deeply penetrating meditations upon universal themes of family, connection memory and human frailty. With each film, Alan truly struggles to be able to create a significant, authentic statement about, as he puts it, “everything that it means to be human.” Inevitably at the end of each of his screenings, viewers approach Alan with great emotion, embracing and thanking him for the generosity of his vision. While Alan’s films relate to his own family and familial connections, audiences from cultures around the world see their lives reflected in his profoundly moving work. This is a rare gift.

NYFA: Which projects are you excited to be working on in the new year?

BR: The Emily Dickinson project is now at the edit stage, which is to say, in the first third of the process, since I edit my films as I make them. Working with the commentary and the shots created thus far, the film has expanded to include the subject of Immanuel Kant, another genius, who lived similarly within the realm of his own mind and work. Today, we can connect technologically and visually almost instantaneously, all over the world, a condition impacting the creative impulse in dynamic and exciting ways. This is a theme I am deeply immersed in right now.

Working in a digital format over the past twenty years, Benita Raphan has focused her energy on creating non-linear films about new ideas. Her research into scientists who have contributed to the understanding of physiology, temperament, and personality – both human and animal – form a large core of her work, and, in the end, helps us to better understand our world and ourselves. Benita received her BFA at SVA, and an MA (RCA) from the Royal College of Art. She subsequently lived and worked in London and Paris for eight years before returning to the United States.

NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship allows individual artists and emerging arts organizations in all disciplines the ability to raise funds using NYFA’s tax-exempt status as a 501©(3)-classified organization. Find out more about Fiscal Sponsorship here. 

– Mara Vlatkovic, Digital Communications Officer

Images, from above: Still from Pete the Dog, credit: Benita Raphan. Benita Raphan, courtesy of the artist.

Amy Aronoff
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