Oscar-Nominated Director Hosts ‘Live Cinema’ Event on Campus

September 30, 2022

On Sat., Oct. 15, UArts welcomed Oscar-nominated director Sam Green for a screening of his 2022 Sundance Film Festival hit documentary, 32 Sounds. The film, which asks audiences to reconsider their relationship to sound, was presented as a “live cinema” event at Lightbox Film Center, and Green provided live narration.

Green designed 32 Sounds to be a participatory documentary that can be experienced in several different ways, though his ultimate intention is an intimate live show. Each audience member is provided with a pair of noise-canceling headphones that help shape the direction of the film’s sound and eliminate rustling, whispering and other typical movie theater distractions. The film also includes an original score by artist and composer JD Sampson, best known for her work with the electronic bands Le Tigre and MEN.

Throughout the film, Green explores 32 discrete sound explorations to, as Green ponders, “understand time and time passing and loss and the ephemeral beauty of the present moment,” consistent themes that appear in his work. In one segment, Green speaks with the curator of natural sounds at the British Library Sound Archive and asks which of the more than 7 million sounds in the collection is her favorite. The audience joins the curator in listening to a heartbreaking recording of the mating call of the last remaining Moho braccatus, a Hawaiian bird species that went extinct in 1987 because of human development.

Later, Green accompanies composer Annea Lockwood, who has recorded the sound of rivers with a submersible microphone for more than 50 years. Her recordings offer a glimpse into the rich sounds of underwater environments, where currents, insects and fish intersect to create what the artist calls “delicious, beautiful sounds” that deepen our connections with the environment.

Lockwood emerges as the film’s central figure, and Green returns to her as she examines her grief at the loss of her longtime partner and fellow composer, Ruth Anderson, through recordings they made of their laughter and the sounds of nature that surround their Hudson Valley home.

As a whole, the segments come together to form a meditative tapestry on the power of sound to cross borders and reshape the perception of the world around us. When it debuted at Sundance this year, 32 Sounds was heralded as a “relentlessly curious documentary” with “lingering gravitas” by The New York Times. Green’s past work includes 2004’s The Weather Underground, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and 2012’s The Love Song of Buckminster Fuller, which features music by indie rock band Yo La Tengo.

In advance of the screening, Green spent much of Friday, Oct. 14, with students in UArts’ School of Film. He visited a sound design class for a conversation moderated by Program Director Mike Attie and shared insights on his process and career. Green also had lunch with a small group of students and hosted one-on-one meetings with him.

“I’ve personally been a fan of Sam Green since the release of The Weather Underground, a film with a unique creative approach that made the past both present and personal,” Attie said. “Green is a relentlessly curious and innovative artist whose work defies categorization, much like the very best of what we do at UArts.”

Green's visit was also covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY.