San Francisco Cinematheque presents
The World is the Medium: Courtney Stephens’ Terra Femme

Filmmaker Courtney Stephens appears in person to present Terra Femme, an introspective and reflective protocinematic travel lecture set to an exquisitely curated compilation of mid-century amateur travel footage (all shot by women), set to a sublime score by Sarah Davachi.

San Francisco Cinematheque presents
The World is the Medium: Courtney Stephens’ Terra Femme

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

7PM Doors
7:30PM Screening

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The personal cinema of Courtney Stephens is a space of introspective feminism, poetic rumination and the tentative habitation of liminal spaces. A subtle tour-de-force of archival research and vernacular exoticism, Stephen’s Terra Femme is compiled entirely from non-professional/amateur footage travel shot by women in the early–mid twentieth century, fleeting fragments of private lives.

Resisting an urge to classify and canonize, Stephens’ drifting montage manifests as an exquisitely curated evocation of hidden histories and stories untold. Presented with live narration by Stephens (and set to a sublime score by Sarah Davachi), the experience of Terra Femme is that of a protocinematic travel lecture and a live cinema essay, in which the artist’s reflections on personal mortality and creative interiority interweave with considerations of the freedoms found in isolation, the privileges of travel and as well the relationship of travel (and amateur filmmaking) to legacies of colonialism and empire. (Steve Polta)

"One thing these films [used in Terra Femme] encode is a profound absence: the general absence of women in the film archive and the larger absence of female figures in the historical record. They also explore the attempt to concretize one’s own experience through the act of making cinema, while also acknowledging the other forms of power that gave these women access to film cameras in the first place. At once a film about longing for past worlds through cinematic excavation, this force flows in both directions: as women from the past convey themselves into the present through the power of their gaze."
Courtney Stephens

"Terra Femme is about the labor and love involved in creating and collecting images, both expanding the boundaries of women’s cinema to include the fragment and the lost reel and modeling a mode of reading that analyses the rush of world-making and hints of self-inscription at stake in women’s filmmaking."
Shilyh Warren: Another Gaze


Courtney Stephens

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, Garage Museum and in film festivals including the Berlinale, Hong Kong International Film Festival, South by Southwest, and the New York Film Festival. Stephens is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship to India.


San Francisco Cinematheque

Founded in 1961, San Francisco Cinematheque cultivates the international field of non-commercial artist-made cinema through curated exhibitions, through the creation of publications and by maintaining a publicly accessible research archive. Cinematheque’s work inspires aesthetic dialog between artists, stimulates critical discourse, and encourages appreciation of artist-made cinema across the broader cultural landscape. With a grounding in non-commercial, non-narrative and non-documentary filmmaking traditions, Cinematheque’s programs broaden the public’s understanding of non-mainstream artistic filmmaking practice while expanding and challenging established art- and film historical traditions.

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