black strangers, 2022
8 minutes 13 seconds

After seeing him mentioned on a Bishop’s Transcript held in Gloucestershire Archives, Dan goes for a walk in the woods in search of Daniel, a man buried in Nympsfield on the 31st of December 1719 and described on the document as ‘a black stranger’. Whilst walking, Dan talks directly to Daniel, speculating about the parallels between him and his namesake and wrestling aloud with the problems that come with trying to read the archive at face value and fill in its gaps.

black strangers is part of Right of Way, a new feature-length programme that mixes stunning new artists’ commissions with historical archive films that give a bigger picture of questions of access and inclusion in the UK countryside.

black strangers is distributed by LUX and arsenal, contact them for more info.

Selected screenings and exhibitions

Texts / Reviews
“The new commissions interrupt and challenge the enduring perception of the rural idyll as an untouched and unchanging space where time stands still. What happens when Black, Asian and other ethnically diverse people enter these landscapes? How can our natural spaces be homes to protest, trespassing, activism and raves? Paired with archive films that show that the life of the countryside contains multitudes and disrupt simple narratives, this programme is a terrific platform for debate on historical and contemporary discussions about who has a right to the great outdoors and who is excluded from it.” — Right of Way press release

“In only one of the archive films do you see a person of colour, which sets up the conversation for at least one of the three new artists’ films in the second half. They’ve clearly been commissioned to give a kick up the backside to the postcard image of sleepy white rural England. Artist Dan Guthrie from Stroud directs a film called black strangers, inspired by an entry in old parish records from 1719 – the burial of a “black stranger” also called Daniel. In his tender, emotional film Guthrie walks through the countryside talking aloud to 18th-century Daniel. Did he experience the same feelings of being judged and excluded in the countryside. Did he get the same microaggressions: the looks and “not from round here” comments?” — Cath Clarke, The Guardian

“The films and installations that make up this year’s Forum Expanded programme revolve around – in fluctuating proximities – political and personal legacies which often lie in shambles. Diverse in their forms and subjects, the works share an emotional bond, which serves to keep them on the atypical orbits they move along. With their makers keen on artistic experimentation, they inspect, probe and scrutinise – their findings propelling them forward on ever-changing and surprising trajectories.” — 18th Berlinale Forum Expanded curatorial statement

“Throughout the film, we do not see Guthrie’s face. The facelessness of these two Daniels speaks to a feeling of anonymity that spans the generations, in a landscape as fixed as its prejudices. Guthrie wishes he could have been there for Daniel, with Daniel, and so his reaching out to a dead person seems the ultimate act of loneliness. There are shots of vegetation, the leaf-strewn soil, a piece of cloth snagged on barbed wire. Particularly evocative is the image of a black hooded coat suspended from a tree branch, appearing ghostly, faceless, dangling like ‘strange fruit’. The ending takes a sudden, upbeat turn, however, with Guthrie saluting his namesake and comrade in arms with a congratulatory firework display, a visual coda that is a deliberate contrast to the mood of the film.” — Noo Saro-Wiwa, ArtReview  

“In staging an impossible dialogue in the British countryside between present-day Dan, and his purported 18th century namesake in the Gloucester Archives, artist Dan Guthrie stretches the contours of what can be done with archival traces. The cinematography of black strangers revels in close visual framings — a hand in the archives, a back in the woods, or a wallpaper — thus gesturing at the trappings and dissimulations embedded in proximity. Dan’s wanderings in the woods offer a rumination on the incommensurability between the speculative, whimsical, feverish weight of his questions, and the silence of the person reduced to the label “black stranger” in the archives.” — Chrystel Oloukoi, Prismatic Ground

“Daniel ‘a Black a stranger’ buried. These six words, seen in the Gloucestershire Archives, are enough to inspire artist-filmmaker Dan Guthrie to reach out to Daniel in spirit. The film acts as a letter of care and understanding, a sense of validation and self-reflection, an embodied connection. As for Guthrie, these aren’t just six words, these are the encapsulation of the white gaze on the Black body, the oppressive, judgemental, racist viewpoint that seems to be ever-present through archives and history, through the present-day looks he gets while taking out his dog and being percieved as a potential threat. But black strangers is much more than that. It is a letter or compassion, kinship, and solidarity. An emotional pillar to loneliness and isolation, to feeling like an outsider, like a different body. It’s a letter to mutual care against the constant threat of white supremacy.” — Theo Panagopoulos, Encounters Film Festival

“Georges Bataille once said that the terror humans felt upon seeing a body similar to their own, deprived of life and thus rendered to the status of an object, struck them with such fear that humanity collectively agreed to taboo the killing of humans in general. Dan Guthrie’s short film, an intimate, almost epistolary confession to a deceased man who shares the artist’s name as much as his wounds, reminds us that in times of acute awareness the alterity of others surpasses the challenging boundaries of the selves, thus permeating our spirit. That within our desire to improve human and structural relationships, a deep, dark spark of terror is hidden. The terror of perishing.” — Emil Vasilache, Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival

“black strangers, for example, is punctuated by doubt, both from the artist and from us. The work hinges on the figure found in the archive being Black and yet Guthrie calls this idea into question within the work, wondering if the words ‘black stranger’ really mean what he may wish them to or if they are just an eerie coincidence. As the camera moves out in the final moments of the video, we too begin to question, this time the form of the work itself. The tale we have been told, it becomes clear, is anything but documentary - it is formed through a collection of traces, historical fragments refracted through unlikely sites, that could lead one to think what we have been watching is the tale of two Black men, separated by a few centuries, living in Gloucestershire with some degree of alienation. It could also be nothing, a trick of the light or a whisper of the wind passing through the trees.” - Siavash Minoudakeh, Acting in Whisphers

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