Jason Evans’s film End of the Season tracks matsutake mushroom foragers through the high desert of Oregon’s Cascade mountain range. The hunters are recessed in the frame, small figures moving in near darkness, spied through a lattice of tall pines and fallen branches. The film begins after the harvest has peaked, during a particularly dry season, when the prospect of mushrooms is unlikely at best (indeed, only one is uncovered on film). Evans eventually makes his way inside the camp, and films the preparation of a meal. At this intimate distance, we see hands rather than faces, busy with the insistent tasks of survival, moving more quickly than the camera. Evans then refocuses his attention on the slowly changing landscape, tracking the shifting light and the traces the hunters have left behind, before a stream of traffic on a nearby highway reconnects us with modern life.
Evans was inspired by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, in which Tsing equates picking the world’s most valuable mushrooms with practicing freedom. The foragers are immigrants of Southeast Asian descent—a mix of Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian—who have been displaced by war. As Tsing writes, “[the] pickers’ war experiences motivate them to come back year after year to extend their living survival.” Evans uses a series of fixed camera shots to compress time: motion picture temporality is condensed into a site of intensified photographic contemplation, which, in turn, transforms the landscape—a scene of recurrent trauma—into a habitat that can sustain life.
While every photograph is a time machine that returns us to the past, in Evans’s film, the suspension of time carries the potential for resurrection. The film echoes the subterranean life of the mushroom as something outside time, a form of rhizomatic becoming that flows toward an inchoate future and assumes different guises as it makes demands upon that future; we register its resistance intermittently throughout the film: here, as the roar of a chain saw; there, as a plaintive song in a native tongue, calling out through the dull glow of an iPhone.
One of the earliest photographs of war that we have, Roger Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death, shows only its aftermath. It is a post-battle scene from the Crimean War, picturing an arrangement of cannonballs that underscores the brutality of the constant shelling in the area. Fenton’s belatedness, as well as the slowness of his photographic plates, transposes and even abstracts the devastation into allegorical terms. Evans’s film, however, is not resolved so easily. The dissonance between the romantic notion of returning to the land as a critique of capitalist progress and the bitter evidence of the struggle this involves, in the wake of imperial violence, charge the stillness of End of the Season. The beauty and power of the film lie in Evans’s ability to hold opposing perspectives in productive tension, not only recording and remarking the dignity and expertise of the mushroom harvesters, but also imagining a world that is truly worthy of their labor.
Jason Evans (b. 1978, Melbourne, Australia) is an Australian-born, New York-based filmmaker and curator. For the past 12 years he has run online art project, This Long Century, a collection of personal reflections by artists, filmmakers, photographers, writers, and poets the world over.
The filmmakers acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which they filmed, the Klamath people, of the Plateau culture area in South–Central Oregon.
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