John Gianvito: Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind

  • Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind

    John Gianvito, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

Past Event

This event was on Thu 26 Oct, 7pm

“Best Experimental Film of the Year” National Society of Film Critics

US film essayist John Gianvito’s 2007 work is a profound visual meditation on the progressive history of the United States as seen through cemeteries, historic plaques and markers.

Showing on the occasion of his London appearance and screenings at Queen Mary, University of London.


In just under one hour, Profit motive takes us on a tour of the United States via its cemeteries, minor monuments, and out-of-the-way historical markers. There is no voiceover narration, virtually no explanatory on-screen text, and very little camera movement. Instead, Gianvito has created an unconventional landscape film, one that recalls the strategies of certain avant-gardists (James Benning in particular, and perhaps Peter Hutton to a somewhat lesser degree) while at the same delivering a bracingly unique experience, one that leaves viewers awestruck by its rigorous simplicity. Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that we and the film are tracing a chronological path through the American Left, paying near-silent homage to our comrades, those who fell in battle (slain by police or Pinkertons during strikes; felled by assassins) or those whose lives had simply run their natural course.

Inspired by Howard Zinn’s magisterial People’s History of the United States, Gianvito’s leftist vision is righteously ecumenical, encompassing Eugene V. Debs and Frank Little, Sojourner Truth and Malcolm X, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cesar Chavez, and many, many others whom mainstream historical accounts have buried far more comprehensively than their undertakers. In addition to forging a radical remapping of the American terrain, Gianvito’s film provides its audience with the rare opportunity to pay our respects by proxy. Between these sequences, Gianvito provides a continual filmic refrain. He aims his camera upwards, capturing the rustling of trees in the wind, light usually peering through the branches. In addition to providing a sombre objective-correlative to the film’s consideration of the transience of both human life and populist politics, these sequences offer a vague inkling of a force that may still remain afoot in our world, a voice or a spirit or an idea alight on the wind.

The concluding minutes of Profit motive make this restlessness explicit, in a manner that practically recodes the entire film, shifting its terms from the elegiac to the cyclotronic, a conscious harnessing of available energies. At a time when most attempts at political cinema result in the equivalent of hastily xeroxed leaflets, Gianvito has produced a document, one we will no doubt be examining for years to come.

– Michael Sicinski, Cinema Scope

About John Gianvito

Professor Gianvito is a filmmaker, curator, and critic. His films include the feature films The Flower of Pain, Address Unknown, and The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, and is the winner of multiple awards including having been cited as one of the top ten films of the year by critics in The Chicago Reader, The Boston Phoenix, and Film Comment magazine.

His 2007 documentary, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, received considerable acclaim and multiple awards including “Best Experimental Film of the Year” by the National Society of Film Critics and Grand Prize for Documentary Feature at the Belfort EntreVues Film Festival. In 2010, the magazine Time Out (New York) voted Profit Motive #45 in a critics’ poll of the 50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time.

John Gianvito has had retrospectives of his work at the VIENNALE Film Festival in Austria, I Mille Occhi Festival in Trieste, Italy and the Cinema du Reel Festival in Paris, France. He is the editor of the book Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi). In 2012, Gianvito’s film, the collectively-made Far From Afghanistan, received its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Gianvito’s most recent work is the documentary Wake (Subic) which premiered in late 2015 at the VIENNALE Film Festival and was cited as one of the top ten films of 2015 in Artforum, Sight & Sound, and Senses of Cinema. Wake (Subic) will have its US premiere in February 2016 at the Museum of Modern Art.

He has taught film production and film history at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Rhode Island School of Design, and Boston University, and was film curator for five years at the Harvard Film Archive. In 2001, he was made a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture.