A film by Noah Teichner
2022, 85 minutes
No. 361

In 1924, the Buford, a large dormant ship, cost little to rent. Buster Keaton used it as a spacious set for his film The Navigator. And without realising it, by filming the vessel, he archived the scene of another story of crossing. A few years earlier, the Buford had served the forced exile of 249 political opponents of the United States government. 

Noah Teichner explores this short-circuit and uses Keaton’s precious and detailed archive images of the ship to document and illustrate the crossing. Keaton advances on one side of the screen and on the other, exile is written. The voyage on the Buford unfolds through various extant accounts, in particular the poignant writings of the anarchist militants Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, detained on board. 

The dialogue develops and we accept the improbable link between the stories, as its meaning grows clear - getting rid of undesirables, their stories and their ideas through forced exile. 

The documentary interconnects archives, films from those times, logbooks, and assembles these traces to flesh out the story of missing images. From the passengers’ inner turmoil to the affirmation of their unshakeable ideas and their disillusionment with Soviet Russia, where the deportees finally arrived.

Official Selection, Cinéma du Réel
Official Selection, Festival l’Europe autour de l’Europe

“With its rich layering of film, photos, text, and sound, Navigators is not just a recounting of the past but an inspired cross-pollination of two distinct histories… Teichner’s success in marshaling a range of citations to track the ship’s journey from capital-h History to Hollywood brought to my mind Jean-Luc Godard’s Film socialisme (2010)…. Film socialisme lands on the side of fiction and Navigators on the side of documentary, but they both rely on a painstaking assemblage of primary sources to emphasize history as a vessel ripe for repurposing—and they both suggest convincingly that cinema is the ideal tool for the job.” – Film Comment

"With his erudite approach, Noah Teichner builds on the principle of the famous chase scene with Keaton and Kathryn McGuire on the deck of the ocean-liner. Slapstick film prints, newsreels, post cards, press clippings, and various writings (including The Bolshevik Myth by Alexander Berkman, also one of the deportees) come together and play off each other in a split screen which takes the form of both an editing table and an animated book.... Navigators’ humor and sensuousness offer a refreshing take on the essay form.” – Caheirs du Cinema