Martine Syms is a Los Angeles-based artist whose interdisciplinary pieces magnify our culture’s subliminal messages. Across installations and performance-oriented works like Boon, Lessons, and Mythiccbeing, Syms refracts mass media to confront its representations of Blackness and selfhood. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA, the Hammer Museum, ICA London, and more. She also runs the Dominica Publishing imprint, hosts a monthly radio show called CCARTALKLA, and co-curated the 2020 Princeton symposium “William Greaves: Psychodrama, Interruption, and Circulation.”


When we asked Syms to share a handful of films she loves, she reflected, “I love films about the way that routine experiences of spectacular and mundane violence create insanity and despair. How shit happens, and then you live, because I’m curious how people continue to find a way.”

TONI ERDMANN, Maren Ade, 2016

Beautifully written film about the sticky, uncomfortable, messy reality of patriarchy, family, work. How distorted masculinity is, how comical, how disgusting.

OS MUTANTES, Teresa Villaverde, 1998

Most mind-blowing film I watched during quar. Rec'd by my dear friend Nicole Otero, by way of Quarantine Cinema (the severe feminist film club I'm in). "Ahhhh! I feel sucker punched. God, that was breathtaking," I texted her. Then I just wrote “dude” like ten times, and "that fucked me up." And "Soo sad. The wandering scenes were so beautiful and felt light and fun. The cinematography was cooool. I was takin’ notes."

SAFE, Todd Haynes, 1995

I rewatched this last night and it's still so incredible. It's so meticulous, gorgeously composed, with the slowest, eeriest contra zooms. I've been watching a lot of films that play with genre tropes but are decidedly not [genre films]. Lucretia Martel's Headless Woman fits in this category too. As well as Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess.

LA TOMBOLA, Ximena Cuevas, 2001

Summer 2003 I went to this summer film program and was shown this film and Raúl Ruiz's Dog's Dialog. Both permanently changed me. I revisit La Tombola often because it's a beautiful example of refusing to kowtow to stereotype or expectation, and how to use whatever means are available to you. It's also punk as fuck.

HAIL THE NEW PURITAN, Charles Atlas, 1987

Charlie, my king! I had the honor of driving Charlie around during grad school. We also did shrooms. I love all of his work but this is a perennial fave because it is so fun, the dancing is genius, and I will never get over the scene where they're getting ready to go out, the scene where Michael enters the club. It's one of my favorite sequences of all time. Charlie is a master of the embodied camera.

THE WAYWARD CLOUD, Tsai Ming-liang, 2005

I feel crazy for leaving this out! Sex, musical numbers, alienation, strange intimacies, water. Someone was trying to hit on me by telling me about this film. Then they came over around 2 a.m. under the auspices of watching it. AND WE DID. Hahaha.