For me, cinema is sorcery, a creative way to interact with the world in order to rearrange perception and expand consciousness, both the viewers and my own.”
Hailed as “One of the greatest figures in new wave feminist cinema” at her recent retrospective at the Viennale, and “Brilliant, one of the most provocative artists in film today” by the Los Angeles Times, Nina Menkes synthesizes inner dream-worlds with harsh, outer realities. Sight and Sound has described her body of work as “Controversial, intense and visually stunning.”
Menkes typically controls all aspects of her movies, including directing, writing, operating camera, as well as editing picture and sound on her own productions. She has worked in various media including Super-8, 16mm, 35mm and lately HD. Her films have often met with hostility, as she confronts and expresses violence in an unusual way, creating and following her own rules. Menkes has referred to herself as a witch, and Dennis Lim, writing in The New York Times, called her a “cinematic sorceress of the self.”
According to film critic and historian Berenice Reynaud:
[Menkes] does not inscribe herself in a recognizable avant-garde tradition, she has no master and no disciples, which forces her to reinvent the history of cinema in her own terms, to struggle alone with formal and conceptual issues. This loneliness — both aesthetic and economic — is also embedded in the texture of the work. Yet, it is not the cliché loneliness of the romantic victim — it is more akin to the ‘night of the soul’ evoked by the mystics, Dante’s travel though a dark wood — or the heroic solitude of the knight-errant.”
For many years, Menkes worked closely with her sister Tinka Menkes, who was both her actress and creative collaborator. Their films were featured in major international film festivals including Sundance, Rotterdam, Locarno, London, Viennale, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Cairo and Toronto as well as at La Cinematheque Francaise, The British Film Institute, the ICA in London, the Beijing Film Academy in China, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, LACMA and MOCA in Los Angeles. Menkes was one of the first women to present a feature film at the Sundance Film Festival (Queen of Diamonds 1990 in dramatic competition). She has received a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for her first feature MAGDALENA VIRAGA, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Annenberg Foundation Independent Media Grant, an American Film Institute Independent Filmmaker Award, three Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships and two Senior Fulbright Research Awards. In 2012, The Menkes sisters’ radical film THE BLOODY CHILD was selected as one of the best five films of the past fifty years by the Viennale International Film Festival, in Vienna, Austria.
Menkes has received two DAAD Artist in Residence in Berlin Awards (1996, 2009). During her residencies in Berlin she tried to face the brutal truth of her family history. Her mother’s family were German Jews who fled Hitler’s genocide, settling in Jerusalem in 1933; her father’s Austrian Jewish family were gassed to death: trauma, alienation and murderous violence are central to her work. In 2002 Menkes shot and co-created a feature length, experimental documentary in Beirut, Lebanon, Massaker, about the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which premiered at the Berlinale in 2005 and received a FIPRESCI Award.
Menkes’s first fiction film without Tinka’s participation, PHANTOM LOVE (2007) premiered at Sundance to rave reviews. The film features Marina Shoif and Juliette Marquis in an unsettling examination of an enmeshed family in crisis. Shot on 35mm black and white film, DP Christopher Soos controlled the lighting with Menkes on camera. Produced by Kevin Ragsdale at KNR Productions, this film became Menkes’s most widely seen work.
Her most recent feature Dissolution (2010), shot in Tel Aviv in Hebrew (with some Arabic) marked her first collaboration with the Israeli David Fire, who played the lead role as well as collaborated with Menkes on writing and editing. The film received the “Anat Pirchi Award for Best Israeli Drama” at the Jerusalem International Film festival in 2010, and was hailed by The New York Times as “exquisite and remarkable”.
Nina Menkes has an MFA with high honors from the UCLA Film School. She has taught film directing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), California Institute of the Arts, and Tel Aviv University’s Department of Cinema, Israel. Menkes holds citizenship in Israel, the United States, and Germany.
- Dissolution (2010) 88 min/B&W/16:9 HD PAL
- Phantom Love (2007) 35mm film/87 minutes
- Massaker (2005) (co-director/director of photography) DV to 35mm/98 minutes
- The Crazy Bloody Female Center (2000) D-ROM/180 minutes
- The Bloody Child (1996) 35mm film/86 minutes
- Queen of Diamonds (1991) 35mm film/77 minutes
- Magdalena Viraga (1986) 16mm film/90 minutes
- The Great Sadness of Zohara (1983) 16mm film/40 minutes
- A Soft Warrior (1981) S-8 film/11 minutes