Chick Strand

Chick Strand, ca. 1970
Photo by Neon Park

Mildred "Chick" Strand (December 3, 1931 – July 11, 2009) was an experimental filmmaker, "a pioneer in blending avant-garde techniques with documentary".[1] Chick Strand contributed to the movement of women's experimental cinema in the early 1960s–1970's.[2] Strand's film making and directing approach incorporates personal elements from her own life experiences and societal forces and realities. The film Elasticity (1976) is an example of Strand's attempts at autobiographical work that also incorporates Strand's specific standpoint on certain social issues.[3] Feminist issues and anthropological inquiries about the human condition are frequent themes in Strand's films. However, because Strand's films and work were often deeply personal and subjective, they were often rejected from male-dominated academic circles of anthropologists and critiqued for being non-academic works.[4]


Born Mildred D. Totman in Northern California she was given the nickname "Chick" by her father.[5] She married her first husband, Paul Anderson Strand, in 1957, and they had one son, film editor Eric Strand,[6] best known for his work on Donnie Darko.[7] Chick Strand studied anthropology at Berkeley, and in the early 1960s organized film happenings with Bruce Baillie. Bruce Baillie taught Chick Strand basic film technique before launching film projects together.[8] Before becoming involved with film making, Strand was interested in photography and collages due to taking a photography course early on in life.[2] In 1961, Strand established the Canyon CinemaNews, a monthly filmmakers' journal which became a focal point for the West Coast independent film movement.[5] Baillie, among others, founded a filmmakers' collective called Canyon Cinema in 1967.[5][9] Chick Strand made her first film at age 34.[10]

Strand met her second husband Neon Park, an artist, in the early 1960s in Berkeley. They were collaborators in art and life for over 30 years, dividing their time between Los Angeles and San Miguel de Allende, a small town in Mexico. Neon Park died from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) in 1993.[2] In 1966 she enrolled in the ethnography program at UCLA, and after graduating in 1971 taught for 24 years at Occidental College. While in Mexico, Strand made documentary films about the people she met there. In later years she became a painter.[5][11]

Though Chick Strand often incorporated female characters and narratives in her film, she denies being a part of the Women's Movement.[10] Instead, she posits that her work is more about human experience in general, and not necessarily explicitly about female experience.


Chick Strand's work during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s influenced the subsequent era of subjectivity and ethnographic film in the 1990s.[2] The films that she produced during the 1960s and 1970s reflected the cultural and political atmosphere of the United States during that time, resulting in the films expressing liberal and radical overtones evidenced in the exploratory nature of her films. Strand used images in film to project her belief of cultural relativity and the importance of context.[2]

Mosori Monika (1969) is a documentary about colonialism in Venezuela, told from the points of view of an elderly Warao woman, a Franciscan nun and the filmmaker herself. Other films on Latin America include Cosas de mi Vida (1976), Guacamole (1976) and Mujer de Milfuegos (Woman of a Thousand Fires) (1976).[1] Strand's ethnographic films are distinctive for their complex layering of sound and image, and the juxtaposition of found footage and sound with original images.[5] Later works include Cartoon le Mousse (1979), Fever Dream (1979) and Kristallnacht (1979).[11] Fake Fruit Factory (1986) is included on the National Film Preservation Foundation's 2009 DVD Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986.[12]

Soft Fiction (1979) is a short film that includes various personal narratives, told from the points of view of 5 women, mostly about their sexual and sensual experiences.[10]

Her films have been screened at the Museum of Modern Art[13] and the Tate.[14] An early promotional film for Sears, made with Pat O'Neill and Neon Park, is held along with her complete body of work in the collection of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[15] The Academy Film Archive has preserved a number of Strand's films, including Cartoon Le Mousse, Eric and the Monsters, and Fever Dream.[16] In 2011, Fake Fruit Factory was selected to the U.S. National Film Registry.[17]


Chick Strand is best known for her unique use of camera and film editing techniques to portray metaphorical meaning through image. Strand often used camera techniques such as image overlapping and superimposed images in her films. Sound and image are relied upon to convey meaning through Strand's films.[3]

Strand used film as an ethnographic method for investigating the lived experiences of various communities. She believed that traditional anthropological research methods of ethnography could be fused with art through film making.[2] Her work explored notions of objective reality, philosophical questions of theory of mind, and the barrier between theories of mind and scientific reality.[4] Themes of gender and sexuality are frequent topics of her work. Strand released the film Soft Fiction (1979) during the Second Wave of Feminism which included narratives and histories of women who experienced rape, incest, drug addiction and vulnerability.[4] Strand used her position as filmmaker to explore notions of femininity and the male gaze that often dominates popular cinema and films. She attempted to deconstruct unequal power relations and structures through her work with experimental film.[2]

Chick Strand's aesthetic style and editing techniques is of interest to film scholars. Her work has been reappraised by film scholars and continues to be studied for its influence in women's experimental cinema.[2]


Year Title
1964 Eric and the Monsters
1966 Angel Blue Sweet Wings
1967 Anselmo
1967 Waterfall
1970 Mosori Monika
1976 Cosas de mi Vida
1976 Elasticity
1976 Guacamole
1976 Mujer de Milfuegos (Woman of a Thousand Fires)
1979 Cartoon le Mousse
1979 Fever Dream
1979 Kristallnacht
1979 Loose Ends
1979 Soft Fiction
1986 Anselmo and the Women
1986 Artificial Paradise
1986 By the Lake
1986 Coming up for Air
1986 Fake Fruit Factory
1995/2011 Señora con Flores / Woman with Flowers


  1. ^ a b Diana Burgess Fuller, Daniela Salvioni, Art/Women/California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections, University of California Press, 2002, p262. ISBN 0-520-23066-3
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Blaetz, Robin, ed. (2007). Women's Experimental Cinema Critical Frameworks. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 189.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Peterson, V. Z. (1978). "Two Films by Chick Strand". Millennium Film Journal. 2: 110–113.
  4. ^ a b c Brunner-Sung, V. (2015). "Sensuous Ethnography". Sight and Sound: 53 – via FIAF.
  5. ^ a b c d e Blaetz, Robin, editor; Pramaggiore, Maria (2007). "Chick Strand's Experimental Ethnography". Women's Experimental Cinema: critical frameworks. Duke University Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-8223-4044-7.
  6. ^ Chick Strand-REDCAT
  7. ^ It’s not just the direction that makes Donnie Darko creepy-AV Club
  8. ^ O'Neil, P. (2009). "Chick Strand 1931-2009: A Memoir by Pat O'Neil". Millennium Film Journal. 52: 88–89.
  9. ^ "History and Today". Canyon Cinema. Archived from the original on December 15, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Strand, C. & Haug, K. (1998). "An Interview with Chick Strand". Wide Angle. 20: 106–137 – via Project MUSE.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ a b Willis, Holly (November 23, 2006). "Canyon Lady". LA Weekly. p. 1.
  12. ^ Dave Kehr, Marching Backward Into the Avant-Garde, The New York Times, February 27, 2009.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Archived April 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Archived July 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  17. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved January 2, 2017.

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