Courtney Stephens and Kate Wolf present: Milestones (1975)
Robert Kramer and John Douglas’s novel-like epic of the American Left is a trailblazing hybrid of documentary and fiction.
Apr 19, 2023, 7:30 PM
2220 Arts + Archives, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057, USA
directed by Robert Kramer and John Douglas
1975, 195m, U.S., DCP
Introduced by Courtney Stephens and Kate Wolf
Robert Kramer and John Douglas’s novel-like epic is one of the great films about the American Left, a trailblazing hybrid of documentary and fiction that captures the seismic changes experienced by radical young men and women who came of age with the Vietnam War. Wandering from Vermont to Utah, shot in verité-style 16mm with dozens of speaking roles, the film follows the filmmakers’ friends—mostly white, middle-class activists, militants, nomads and commune-dwellers—all of whom either play versions of themselves or craft separate personas (including the writer Grace Paley, co-director Douglas and producer David C. Stone) in scenes that are either clearly staged or all too real. Writing in Cahiers du Cinéma, critic Serge Daney called it the “anti-Nashville”; released the same year as Altman’s satire, the film is both less prescriptive and more introspective, capturing how the fervor of political ideas gives way to the unwieldy vagaries of language and personal experience.
Official Selection: Directors Fortnight, Cannes Film Festival, 1975
“It gave me memories I never had.” -Benny Safdie
“Each time I’m depleted and moved…Emotional, Sloppy, Manic, Cinema.” -Josh Safdie
“Chronicles the painful process through which the New Left’s collective action and utopian hopes gave way to the Me Decade’s enraged narcissism.” -Melissa Anderson, Artforum
“The special, staggering thing about Kramer and Douglas’ film is that they know no more than their characters; but out of what they do know, they want to put together a defensive wall and mark out a future.” -Serge Daney
“As its characters variously experiment in communal living, wonder how to be good parents, and try to readjust after returning from prison or war, the film stays firmly on their side. This is not to say that it positions them as examples to be followed, only that the world of the film is the world of the filmmakers, as lacking in righteous surety as it is full of generosity. Fictionalizing their own experiences provides the group an opportunity for reflection, figuring almost as a therapeutic exercise, a working through of the problems they faced in actuality.” -Erika Balsom, 4Columns
“Mr. Kramer seems incapable of shooting a scene, framing a shot or catching a line of dialogue that isn't loaded with information one usually finds only in the best, the most spare poetry.” -Vincent Canby, The New York Times
Special thanks to Bob Hunter (Icarus Films).
Courtney Stephens is a writer/director of non-fiction and experimental films. The American Sector, her documentary (co-directed with Pacho Velez) about fragments of the Berlin Wall transplanted to the U.S., was named one of the best films of 2021 in The New Yorker. Her essay film, Terra Femme, comprised of amateur travel footage shot by women in the early 20th century, premiered at MoMA and has toured widely as a live performance. Her work has been exhibited at The National Gallery of Art, The Barbican, Walker Art Center, The Royal Geographical Society, BAMPFA, and in film festivals including the Berlinale, the Viennale, SXSW, IDFA, and the Hong Kong, Mumbai, and New York Film Festivals. Stephens is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and a Fulbright Scholarship to India.
Kate Wolf is an editor at large for the Los Angeles Review of Books as well as a host and producer of its podcast, The LARB Radio Hour. Her short fiction, criticism, interviews, and essays have appeared in exhibition catalogues and publications including Bidoun, Bookforum, Art in America, The Nation, East of Borneo, Public Fiction, X-TRA, Night Papers — an artists’ newspaper she co-founded and edited with the Night Gallery in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2016 — and on KCRW and McSweeney’s program, The Organist.