Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
Matt Wolf, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project Trailer, still, 1:54 minutes, color, sound. Courtesy the artist.
Matt Wolf. Courtesy of the artist.
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project. Followed by a conversation with director Matt Wolf. Presented in collaboration with the Harvard Film Archive.
Matt Wolf’s engaging documentary tells two stories: one, the life story of a remarkably prescient and stubbornly individualistic radical librarian who refused to fit neatly into the role of wife or mother, and a second that traces the emergence and arguably disastrous effects of the twenty-four-hour American news cycle that she secretly recorded in her Philadelphia home from 1979-2012. Marion Stokes was a librarian, public access television producer, political activist and mother who amassed a 70,000-tape VHS archive by obsessively recording up to four news network feeds twenty-four hours a day, unbeknownst to anyone except the few family and staff she allowed into her home. As a producer and activist who attempted to bridge the divide between those on opposite sides of the political and cultural spectrum, Stokes observed and understood the negative influence of this news cycle, and how the shaping of a narrative by corporate interests was dividing society. As a librarian, she understood how vital the primary documents—the recordings themselves—would be to studying this cultural shift, and also recognized that the news agencies would not have the same presence of mind to save them. The film uncovers her quietly significant life—from being courted by both the Communist and Socialist parties as a prized African American party member to her self-imposed exile in Cuba after being tracked by the FBI—and the toll her choices took on her family. Footage from Stokes’ archive is used extensively to illustrate the incredible legacy she has left behind.
Amy Sloper, Collections Archivist, Harvard Film Archive.
Matt Wolf is a filmmaker in New York. His critically acclaimed and award-winning films have played widely in festivals and have been distributed internationally in theaters and on television. Matt’s feature documentaries include Wild Combination about the cult cellist and disco producer Arthur Russell, and Teenage about early youth culture and the birth of teenagers. His latest film Recorder is about the activist Marion Stokes, who secretly recorded television 24 hours a day for 30 years. Matt’s forthcoming film Spaceship Earth is about Biosphere 2, a controversial experiment where 8 people lived inside a replica of the planet. The film is premiering in competition at Sundance.
Matt’s work in television includes the HBO Documentary It’s Me, Hilary about the Eloise Illustrator Hilary Knight, executive produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. He was also Executive Producer, Showrunner, and Writer on a National Geographic miniseries I Am Rebel alongside Doug Liman. The series features 1930s crime scene photographer Weegee, the 1970s police brutality activist turned hijacker Louis Moore, psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin, and the hacker Kevin Mitnick.
Matt's recent short film Bayard & Me is about the civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who adopted his younger boyfriend in the early 1980s to obtain equal rights. His other shorts include I Remember about the artist Joe Brainard, and The Face of AIDS for Time Magazine about a notorious 1992 Benetton advertisement. Matt has made a number of short series about the arts for organizations like The Whitney Museum and the New York Times, and commercials and content for numerous brands.
In addition to filmmaking Matt organizes film screenings and public events, and he was the Co-Curator of Film for the 2019 Whitney Biennial. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Generous support for Carpenter Center programing is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.