a black womans face in profile

Commissioned and produced at EMPAC during the COVID pandemic, The African Desperate has been nominated for several awards and is distributed by streaming platform MUBI. Film still, The African Desperate, 2022.

Courtesy of Dominica Inc.

International Film Festival Rotterdam to Premiere Artist Martine Syms’ Debut Feature

“The African Desperate” was co-produced at EMPAC in 2021
News Type

TROY, NY—EMPAC artist-in-residence Martine Syms’s new feature film The African Desperate, co-produced by The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, will premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam on January 26, 2022.

The African Desperate follows Palace Bryant, a tall Black sculptor, on one very long day in 2017 that starts with her MFA graduation in upstate New York and ends at the Chicago Blue Line Station. Set against the lush backdrop of late summer, Palace navigates the pitfalls of self-actualization and the fallacies of the art world. Shot through with Sym’s celebrated conceptual grit, humor, social commentary, and vivid visual language, The African Desperate leads us on an intimate and riotously funny journey through picturesque landscapes and artists’ studios, from academic critiques to backseat hookups, and from the night of a wild graduation party to the morning of a lonely trip back home. 

Martine Syms has presented solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and ICA London, and has produced commissioned work for Prada, Nike, Celine, Kanye West, and NTS, among others. Syms is a recipient of the Creative Capital Award, a United States Artists fellowship, the Tiffany Foundation Award, and the Future Fields Art Prize. She is a member of the band Aunt Sister, hosts the monthly radio show, Double Penetration, on NTS, and runs Dominica Publishing. Syms was previously in residence at EMPAC between 2016–17 to produce her moving image installation An Evening with Queen White

Written and directed by Martine Syms and starring artist Diamond Stingily, The African Desperate is co-written by Rocket Caleshu and edited by Nicole Otero with cinematography by Daisy Zhou and an original score by Aunt Sister, Colin Self, and Ben Babbit. 

The African Desperate is co-produced by Dominica Inc., Ways & Means, The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Sadie Coles HQ, and Bridget Donahue Gallery.

The African Desperate was filmed on-location, with production support from EMPAC’s staff, in the Hudson Valley at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, White Feather Farm Foundation, and TechCity in Ulster County, with post-production sound by EMPAC audio engineer Stephen McLaughlin undertaken in conjunction with Sym’s fall 2021 residency at the Center.

EMPAC’s curatorial program is dedicated to the commissioning, production, and presentation of ambitious performances and artworks across music, time-based visual art, theater and dance. Our polyvocal curatorial approach resonates through each project, generating time-based artworks that are diverse in content, method, technology, and audience experience. For over a decade, the program has hosted hundreds of artists to create and present new works that foster deep artistic inquiry and meaningful audience engagement.

The African Desperate, 2022. Courtesy of Dominica Inc.


The African Desperate Trailer

January 19, 2022