John Gianvito chronicles America's progressive political tradition in completely original fashion. Using Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States as a point of departure, he traverses the US, filming gravesites, tombstones, monuments, and signposts that commemorate Native American uprisings, slave rebellions, abolitionists, feminists, labor leaders, striking workers, and other activists. Gianvito organizes his film as a chronological narrative of the ongoing struggle for social justice from the 17th century to the present day. His cinematic excavation of these long-forgotten sites adroitly brings to the fore America's rich history of social protest, especially relevant given the conservative times in which we live. Every shot of Profit motive, which the National Society of Film Critics named the best experimental film of 2007, is beautifully composed. Gianvito frames the memory of bygone human struggles against the majesty of nature: Stone and metal remnants lie beneath bending tree branches and leaves fluttering in the breeze. Such stately visual compositions evoke on another level the human dramas played out beneath the immutable Monument Valley landscapes of John Ford's Westerns. The gentle pace of the film, underscored by ambient sounds, conveys an elegiac, restrained quality. Gianvito contrasts this style with his own hand-drawn animation of frenzied stock exchange transactions and gold mines, setting capitalism against the struggle for social justice. At the climax of the film, the rapid-fire montage sequence of a contemporary protest elicits a call to action of the citizenry not unlike the spirit of Eisenstein's film Potemkin.
John Gianvito (b. Staten Island) earned a BFA in film and video from the California Institute of the Arts and a MS in visual studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served for five years as the film programmer for the Harvard Film Archive and is currently film curator for the List Visual Arts Center at MIT. In 2001, he was made a chevalier in the French Order of Arts and Letters. Gianvito is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College. His writing has appeared in Film Quarterly, CinemaScope, Undercurrent, International Documentary, and elsewhere. He is the editor of the book, Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews.