The Task (2017, Leigh Ledare)

A movie which started life as a gallery exhibit, and was brought to True/False as a cruel prank to torment Katy, The Task consists of forty people in a room, speaking one at a time, at a conference with unknown rules or goals, with an unknown number of plants, spies or actors, speaking in frustrating circles for two hours. The camera crew is visible and the director engages the group towards the end, to their annoyance since this breaks the rules. We seek people in the film to relate to, but find only paranoid enemies focused on their own tiny social obsessions, so instead we try to figure out the big picture – what in the world is going on here?

Sam Adams in Slate:

The Task’s setup is a modified version of the Tavistock method, a process of studying group dynamics that is often used to train psychotherapists, and many of the movie’s participants are veterans of previous conferences. But even they seem wrong-footed by the changes Ledare, a multimedia artist making his feature-film debut, has made to the usual process. The movie doesn’t reveal what those modifications are, and it further wrong-foots the audience by dropping us into the conference on Day 2, when the group has already begun to turn inward and dissect its own evolving dynamics — or, as one participant puts it, the group’s penchant for “absolving itself of its own atrocities.” The sections that follow, each set off by a title card — including successive segments called “Inmates” and “Intimates” — proceed in chronological order … but they’ve been radically pared down, stripped of context so the group’s interpersonal dynamics are made abstract. Sometimes, as when questions of race and gender privilege come to the fore, what remains is familiar. Other dynamics are more particular to the group, as when a speaker admonishes interruptions with a curt “Crosstalk!” … It’s often said that movies aren’t complete until they’re watched, but The Task still doesn’t feel like it’s over. The task is to discover what The Task is, and I’m still figuring it out.

Ledare, interviewed in Art in America:

A Tavistock conference isn’t therapy but rather an intense feedback process. It functions by gathering a group of people, often unknown to one another, and bringing them together with several psychologists in a controlled environment, where, over the course of three days, they begin to enact a temporary institution or community. At its start, each three-day conference is an empty container that soon fills with everything its participants import: identities, roles, projections. The result is a social organism whose complexity and development can be traced, giving participants the opportunity to study their own and others’ experiences, and the group as a system.

The Task … is subdivided into titled chapterlike segments … a chapter where participants divide themselves up along political, racial, and socioeconomic lines; another in which the women reflect on how they undermine one another’s attempts to assume power within the group; and a final chapter where I enter the group after having been sidelined by Tavistock staff members monitoring the conference. While doing so directly challenged the psychologists’ hierarchy, their anxieties around the camera had already altered their relationship to the participants and destabilized their authority, leaving me little choice but to assert my role as director.

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