Q&A: Adam Sekuler

Film fiend Adam Sekuler brings an inquisitive eye to viral videos.

Late last year, Adam Sekuler left his position as creative director of Northwest Film Forum to pursue a slew of cinema-centric projects, such as curating film for the Henry Art Gallery and making his own feature-length documentary. He hasn’t severed his Forum ties completely, however—this month he and artist/City Arts contributor Amanda Manitach host a new event called Pandemic. The night dwells in the dubious netherworld of Internet meme culture, particularly those odd videos that tend to circulate and stick around with astounding tenacity.

What’s the idea behind Pandemic?
The idea is to create something that’s entertaining and also investigating and exploratory at the same time.
I find myself watching things that people put up on their Facebook page or Twitter or Tumblr, these little videos that you see at the beginning of the week on one page and at the end of the week 100 people you know have posted it. We’re having this collective experience of this video-based media which isn’t super artistic, not the sort of thing you’d typically see at Film Forum, but it’s the moving-picture media that’s shaping our experience around what visual media is.

I was suggesting to Courtney [Sheehan, Sekuler’s successor at Film Forum] that we do something on it and we came up with the title Pandemic, suggesting that it’s out of control, like a virus that’s infected us all. Something we maybe need to bring under control. Or maybe we don’t, or maybe it’s too late.

Nevertheless I want to investigate it, interrogate it in a public space. The movie theatre is a space where you’re able to gather people and experience many forms of visual culture. This being a dominant thing, let’s bring it into a community space to engage with it.

How did you select the content?
Amanda and I have been going back and forth. Our hope is to bring to light certain pieces that haven’t been widely circulated but that we think could be getting out there. It’s a mix of the parody pieces and the ambiently intimate pieces.

I sent Amanda one that’s of a woman going through her diet and she says she eats a lot of fruit and vegetables and is showing what they are. She thinks she picks up a cherry and it’s actually a super-hot pepper and she takes a bite and then another bite and then she can’t speak, so she calls over her friend to bring water and it gets out of control.

There’s an absurdity to it, an element of public exhibitionism where you’re saying, “I’m putting my life on the line and showing people my experience of the world.” It’s one thing when that experience is like, “I’m doing something good for myself,” and it’s another thing when it goes horribly wrong and yet that piece ends up on the web. That baffles me.

Another thing—I don’t wanna give too much away, but it’s about a docent at the Whitney Museum who recently passed away and the Whitney created a tribute video to him. It’s really touching and talks about the invisibility of the docent in the museum context and touches on race and some pretty emotional stuff. I probably won’t see it on many of my friends’ Facebook pages but maybe I should.

There are pieces we’ll show that are people with artistic projects, too, all these things that happen in this viral place that aren’t simply, “Here’s documentation of my life.” It’s its own art form at this point.

Between the ubiquity of social media and camera-phone technology, there’s a crazy boom of production and distribution of video of all sorts.
These kinds of acts have been around a long time, but the documenting of them hasn’t been as prevalent. And that’s what we’re experiencing. Maybe viral videos are a documentary endeavor on a certain level. Documentation has relied on experts. Now suddenly that’s no longer the case, everyone’s documenting so many aspects of their life.

There are no things that are new, but it’s the pandemic element of it, the viral element, that’s so vast. And not just dissemination but our interest in consuming. These two things are happening at once. We wanna tell the world about every aspect of our lives and we wanna consume everyone else’s lives at the exact same moment.

Pandemic erupts at Northwest Film Forum at 8 p.m. March 4. Illustration by Shannon Perry.