Nina Menkes

Nina Menkes

For me, cinema is sorcery, a creative way to interact with the world in order to rearrange perception and expand consciousness, both the viewers and my own."  — Nina

Considered a cinematic feminist pioneer and one of America’s foremost independent filmmakers, Menkes has shown widely in major international film festivals including multiple premieres at Sundance, the Berlinale, Cannes (ACID), Rotterdam, Locarno, Toronto, La Cinematheque Francaise, British Film Institute, Whitney Museum of American Art, MOMA in New York, MOCA and LACMA in LA.

Nina Menkes synthesizes inner dream-worlds with harsh, outer realities. She has been called “brilliant, one of the most provocative artists in film today” by the Los Angeles Times and her body of work was described as “controversial, intense and visually stunning” by Sight and Sound.

Menkes typically controls all aspects of her movies, including directing, writing, operating camera, as well as editing picture and sound on her own productions. She has worked in various media including Super-8, 16mm, 35mm and lately HD. Her films have often met with hostility, as she confronts and expresses violence in an unusual way, creating and following her own rules. Menkes has referred to herself as a witch, and Dennis Lim, writing in The New York Times, called her a “Cinematic Sorceress of the Self.”

According to film critic and historian Berenice Reynaud:

[Menkes] does not inscribe herself in a recognizable avant-garde tradition, she has no master and no disciples, which forces her to reinvent the history of cinema in her own terms, to struggle alone with formal and conceptual issues. This loneliness — both aesthetic and economic — is also embedded in the texture of the work. Yet, it is not the cliché loneliness of the romantic victim — it is more akin to the 'night of the soul' evoked by the mystics, Dante’s travel though a dark wood — or the heroic solitude of the knight-errant."

For many years, Menkes worked closely with her sister Tinka Menkes, who was both her actress and creative collaborator, and Nina credits Tinka for many of the key radical aspects of their work. Menkes was one of the first women to present a feature film at the Sundance Film Festival (QUEEN OF DIAMONDS, 1991 in dramatic competition). She has won a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for her first feature MAGDALENA VIRAGAa Guggenheim Fellowship, two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Annenberg Foundation Independent Media Grant, an American Film Institute Independent Filmmaker Award, three Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships, two Fulbright Research Awards to the Middle East and a Creative Capital Award. In 2012, The Menkes sisters' feature film THE BLOODY CHILD was selected as one of the best five films of the past fifty years by the Viennale International Film Festival, in Vienna, Austria.

Menkes, a first generation American, has received two DAAD Artist in Residence in Berlin Awards (1996, 2009). During her residencies in Berlin she tried to face the brutal truth of her family history. Her mother’s family were German Jews who fled Hitler’s genocide, settling in Jerusalem in 1933; her father’s Austrian Jewish family were gassed to death: trauma, alienation and murderous violence are central to her work. In 2002 Menkes shot and co-created a feature length, experimental documentary in Beirut, Lebanon, MASSAKER, about the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which premiered at the Berlinale in 2005 and received a FIPRESCI Award.

Menkes's first fiction film without Tinka's participation, PHANTOM LOVE (2007) premiered at Sundance to rave reviews. The film features Marina Shoif and Juliette Marquis in an unsettling examination of an enmeshed family in crisis. Shot on 35mm black and white film, DP Christopher Soos controlled the lighting with Menkes on camera. 

Her Hebrew and Arabic language feature, DISSOLUTION (2012), shot in Jaffa, was a collaboration with David Fire, who played the lead role as well as contributed to writing and editing. The film won "Best Drama"  at the Jerusalem International Film festival in 2010, and was a New York TimesCritic's Pick, being described as "Exquisite and Remarkable".

Most recently, Menkes has been touring with her cinematic talk “Sex and Power; The Visual Language of Oppression”,which has been presented at multiple high profile venues including AFI Fest, BFI London, Rotterdam Int'l Film Festival, Cannes, and Sundance. The talk is currently being made into a feature documentary, entitled BRAINWASHED:Sex-Camera-Power, with support from Tim Disney, Susan Disney Lord, Abigail Disney and CalArts Center for New Performance.

Two of Menkes’s early feature films, QUEEN OF DIAMONDS and THE BLOODY CHILD, both starring Tinka Menkes, have been selected for restoration by the Academy Film Archive and Scorsese’s Film Foundation, with funding provided by the Hobson/LucasFamily Foundation.  The 2019 re-release of the restored QUEEN OF DIAMONDS(Arbelos Film Distribution, with EOS World Fund ) was a critical hit, being widely hailed as a modern masterpiece and selected as one of the year's top ten films by Artforum magazine. 

THE BLOODY CHILD, which originally premiered at Sundance, received its restoration World Premiere at The New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in 2021, where Menkes was introduces by Dennis Lim, Head of Programming as "one of the most important American filmmakers".

Nina Menkes has an MFA with high honors from the UCLA Film School (1989). She has taught film directing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and is currently a faculty member at California Institute of the Arts. Menkes joined the Acropolis Cinema board in 2017. She is a directing member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

Filmography

Read Nina's New York Times Bio