Free Space Q&A: NO EVIL EYE

Layla Muchnik, Film/Video Curatorial Assistant

Nov 03, 2020

black and white photo of curatorial team No Evil Eye, Rooney Elmi and Ingrid Raphael

On view through November 8 in the gallery-based community initiative Free SpaceSequence 01: Diasporic Reckoning is the latest project from NO EVIL EYE, the curatorial team of writer Rooney Elmi and artist Ingrid Raphael, featuring works by filmmakers including Sahal Hassan, Rosine Mbakam, and Claudia Owusu. Below, Wex Film/Video curatorial assistant Layla Muchnik-Benali asks the pair about the origins of their collaboration and what they've brought to Free Space.

You describe yourselves as a nomadic microcinema that “aims to ignite a radical imagination around the moving image.” Could you expand on the role of imagination in your pursuit of a radical future, and how you connect that to cinema & the moving image? 

Ingrid Raphael: Propelling our dreams, aspirations, our whole selves into a collective future that addresses the concerns of today and meets the needs of yesterday is a political perspective, an aim we ascribe to as organizers. And so the role of a curator is similar: to bring together multiple perspectives and visions that question and present what can be possible in the trajectory towards liberation. 

We know that cinema won’t solve oppression, but it certainly holds the lessons learned and imaginations of our history. 

The radical imagination of the future means working from a template that does not yet exist. And so for us, the form of cinema is one of the many conduits we can use as makers, artists, and changers to insert those radical imaginations and expressions of our past, current, and future selves. 

Every filmmaker that has participated in our program has addressed home, displacement, patriarchy, belonging, carceral systems, imperialism, in ways that experiment with the form of film while reclaiming who gets to tell those stories. We aren’t an end-goal but more of a means to an imagination.

One of my favorite parts of NO EVIL EYE (besides the excellent programming) is your manifesto. Why did NO EVIL EYE opt for a manifesto (as opposed to, say, a mission statement) and how does it impact your approach to programming? 

Rooney Elmi: When we first began to conceptualize exactly how this microcinema would operate, mapping out a manifesto felt like a natural progression in our ongoing brainstorming sessions. 

It doubles as a mission statement in some sorts, providing the guidelines for NO EVIL EYE not only to those who engage as attendees but also for us as co-founders. It lays out the rules of regulation whilst behaving as a public declaration of our ambitions as a microcinema. 

Ingrid Raphael: Like Rooney said, when we started to conceive of NO EVIL EYE, we started jotting down what we’d like to do with it and changed the verb tenses to present; this allows us to hold ourselves accountable to our goals. Are we achieving line item X, Y or Z in our manifesto? Are we moving further away from those goals? If so, let’s recalibrate and rethink our approach. 

In collective spaces, manifestos have historically been used as a guiding tool for defining collaborative work—and though we aren’t a collective, we adhere to the lessons of our precedents and so, why not a manifesto?

Making our goals known to the public also holds us accountable to our audience and the folks we collaborate with; we encourage and welcome feedback and center our filmmakers’ wants and needs for their films’ distribution goals. 

In Free Space, NO EVIL EYE has truly transformed the gallery by covering the three columns in the space with fliers and other printed materials from a range of local organizations. Can you share more about your thought process behind including these printed materials? 

RE: This is our first-ever gallery exhibition and something we didn’t expect to have an opportunity to do for at least another five years and especially not in the middle of a pandemic! When invited to dream up what our month-long duration at Free Space could look like, we had to heed all necessary COVID-19 related safety guidelines which includes limited people presence. 

NO EVIL EYE really strives off being a space that fosters physical interactions with all those who attend, from students to activists, artists, cinephiles, and all those in between. Early days of planning felt daunting at times but luckily we found a happy middle ground in being able to utilize the literal free space in the gallery to represent the diversity of political work happening on the ground here in Columbus and connecting that with the our manifesto’s creed of “the local is global.”

Plastering printed materials around the gallery was a way to offer a glimpse into the inspiring political movement work that’s spearheaded by fiercely brilliant people who've been committed long before this ‘moment’ we’re living in. We’re lucky enough to team up with some wonderful organizations and put up QR codes, infographic flyers, policy demands, and more all in an effort to disperse material in a safe and effective way.

Now folks who step into Free Space can take a look at what’s happening around them and possibly see it as an opportunity to donate, volunteer, or simply begin to engage in a political education that centers a revolutionary ideal. 

In a similar vein, many of the films that are included in Sequence 01: Diasporic Reckoning were part of your inaugural screening at the Wex in May of 2019. A lot has happened since then! What are some of the moments and/or lessons from the last year-and-a-half or so that you’d like to bring with you into 2021 and beyond?

IR: So many lessons learned in just a short year-and-a-half! We are incredibly humbled by our less-than-two-years stint; it is truly blossoming into a version we hadn’t envisioned when we drafted our manifesto, and it’s an exciting journey to be on.

In the first six months of our operation, we took the nomadic microcinema to Ohio, New York and Louisiana. We learned how intimate our relationships are to folks local to those spaces and to honor and respect the physical spaces we “take over.” Land acknowledgements are one thing; what are we going to do to give back to the land and the people coming to our events, living in these spaces? These questions came up for us during our tour and better equipped us with the goals to foster and honor our relationships and lean on the feedback and critiques of our supporters, audience, filmmakers, and organizers that we collaborate with.

Now that we’re experiencing a pandemic, we are thinking about digital accessibility for audiences and new distribution models for and with filmmakers. More than ever, the work of organizers needs to be supported, honored, listened to, and met—and so with our participation in Free Space, we are using our lessons learned about centering space and the work of people living in Cbus, Ohio to honor organizations like Black Queer Intersectional Collective (BQIC), CPD out of CCS, Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS), and Central Ohio Freedom Fund.


Top of page, Rooney Elmi and Ingrid Raphael; photo: Benjamin Willis

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