Director: Jesse Lerner

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


The complexities of historical authenticity are explored in Jesse Lerner’s provocative experimental film. Ruins constructs a hilariously inventive, hybrid documentary form by sampling aspects of the newsreel, the travelogue, the enthnography, the polemic, and the home movie.

The film focuses on the histories of Mayan and pre-Columbian artifacts and follows their trajectory from their discovery at an archeological excavation, through a subjective interpretation process (usually Eurocentric), where meaning and intent change, to a final resting place in a prestigious American museum. Lerner draws clear parallels between the fake (art reproductions) and this “fake” documentary film by interrogating notions of expertise and authority as they relate to authenticity—not simply in the world of Mexican art but in that of documentary as well. Using personal testimonies and omnipotent narrators, he plays with style while never allowing his visual sensibilities to overstate the biting central questions of the film. At Ruins’s end, Lerner purposefully and effectively undermines the label “authentic” when he recounts the exploits of Brigido Lara, a talented forger of pre-Columbian art, who fooled everyone—including New York’s Metropolitan Museum—by replicating an artifact so well even experts claimed its authenticity.
Lerner melds deteriorating archival clips with distressed original interviews, creating the impression that the celluloid is itself a ruin. Ruins illustrates how neither film nor artifact can ever really be pure: Each is a construct recreated with every new interpretation. Indeed, Ruins celebrates irreverence through the collision of image after image at a frenetic pace, and in the process, delights its viewers with its astute commentary and aesthetic mastery.

— Beth Irizarry

Screening Details

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