Britton, South Dakota
2003, 9 minutes, 16mm to SD video  

Ivan Besse managed the Strand movie theater manager in Britton, South Dakota during the Depression. Besse owned a 16mm camera and used it to shoot people at their various activities around town during the day. He screened the local footage before feature films and newsreels as a lure to entice paying customers into the theater. Of the 2 1/2 hours of footage, most of it depicts townspeople walking down the street; there are also scenes of a barn being moved, a cornhusking contest and kids running out of a school. What really stands out is 8 minutes of children’s portraits. The subjects–dressed in what appears to be their Sunday best–clearly had no notion of a movie camera. The lack of an overt narrative creates a sort of cinematic paper doll environment–the film invites viewers to drape these images with futures, which have long since become histories. The drone of Johnne Eschleman’s accompanying melancholy organ composition casts a tragic shadow over these bright faces, one that may or may not have come to pass.

score by Johnne Eschleman
cinematographer: Ivan Besse (shot in 1938)
edit: Vanessa Renwick
footage obtained from The Prelinger Archives / Rick Prelinger
for the DeComposer Film and Music series programmed by Bill Daniel and Vanessa Renwick in Portland, Oregon

2005 Gus Van Sant Award Best Experimental Film, Ann Arbor Film Festival
2004 Gecko Prize, Cinematexa
2003 Northwest Film Festival Best Experimental Film, James Benning, judge

“Not only found footage, but a found film made 60-some years ago directly addressing contemporary structural concerns. I wish I had made this film today. Oh, it was made today.” 
-James Benning

"Britton, SD is of course the greatest of films, one of the few to get to the core of human matters and then stay there for a bit without turning away." 
-Jem Cohen