There is a brilliant split screen moment in Matt Wolf’s Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project where the audience observes four different television stations on the morning of September 11, 2001. As the first of the four screens switches to footage of smoke billowing from one of the World Trade Center Towers, the viewer patiently waits for the other three screens to slowly follow suit. In showing the subjective reaction to the tragic event, Wolf’s film ponders who ultimately governs what and when something is deemed newsworthy?
This is one of the central questions that both consumed and motivated former TV producer Marion Stokes. Fascinated by the power of intellectual discourse, Marion’s ability to bring people with vastly different viewpoints together made her a valuable contributor to the local talk show she produced and routinely appeared on. This thirst for knowledge was fueled further when the reclusive activist discovered that there was a shifting narrative to the coverage of the infamous 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Embarking on an experiment that spanned over three decades and 70,000 VHS tapes, Stokes recorded multiple stations at a time to archive the way content was being presented.
What she uncovered, and what Wolf’s film does an excellent job conveying, is just how damaging the 24-hour new cycle is for society. As the viewer reflects on the various news stories that guide them through the decades; Wolf’s film effectively shows that, despite her eccentric traits and seemingly cold demeanor, Stokes was ahead of her time. She understood the power of media and how easily governments and corporations can use it manipulate us. Much like Stokes’ archives, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project is a cautionary reminder that, now more than ever, we need to be scrutinizing who is shaping the breaking news we consume.
Wednesday, May 1, 9:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Thursday, May 2, 7:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Sunday, May 5, 4:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2