The Startled Faction (A Sensitivity Training)

During a sensitivity training held in Chicago, nine characters with varying degrees of aptitude and motivation rehearse symptoms of and methods for avoiding ambiguous labor (work outside one’s job description). The prevailing question for the characters is whether to ‘lean in’ or to resist through strategies of withdrawal, redaction, and retreat. The curriculum is complicated by scenes drawn from the 1954 film Salt of the Earth, a semi-fictional account of a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine wherein the status of the women’s domestic labor is viewed through the strike’s racial and economic urgencies. The group is drawn into this contestation by the film’s soundtrack and a woman attempting to escape becoming its protagonist. Ambiguous labor leaks between the nine characters as they confront the social instruments for the expression of complaint, anger, and suffering. Some learn to feign surprise and incompetence and to conspicuously demonstrate fatigue. The Startled Faction (A Sensitivity Training) proposes a social space of redress through historical and imagined scenes.
by Catherine Sullivan
with Cristal Sabbagh, Carrie Louise Abernathy, Kristin Van Loon, Coco Elysses, Zachary Nicol, Beata Pilch, Laura Crotte, Democco Atcher, Michael Garvey
USA 2016 English 35’ Colour


  • Cristal Sabbagh (Becomingmystic 2)
  • Carrie Louise Abernathy (Priestx3)
  • Kristin Van Loon (Priestx2)
  • Coco Elysses (Priestx1)
  • Zachary Nicol (Becomingmystic 3)
  • Beata Pilch (Female Mystic)
  • Laura Crotte (Jodie)
  • Democco Atcher (Male Mystic)
  • Michael Garvey (Becomingmystic 1)


Written and Directed by Catherine Sullivan
Cinematography Raoul Germain
Editing Catherine Sullivan
Music Sol Kaplan
Sound Design Catherine Sullivan
Sound Ben Kolak
Production Design Catherine Sullivan
Costumes Catherine Sullivan
Make-Up Marcus Geeter
Casting Catherine Sullivan
Production Manager Sophia Rhee
Producers Catherine Sullivan, Ginger Farley, Shawn Lent

Catherine Sullivan

Catherine Sullivan, born in 1968 in Los Angeles, USA, is a Chicago-based artist who creates work with ensembles in film and theater. Solo exhibitions, collaborations, performances, and films have been presented at international art institutions, galleries, and film festivals. She is an associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago.


2000 Unspoken Evil, Rites of Ascension and Obscurity; video installation 2001 Manic, Hysteric, Degraded, Refined; video installation 2002 Five Economies, Big Hunt; film installation 2003 ‘Tis pity She’s A Fluxus Whore; film installation · Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land; film installation 2004 The Chittendens; with Sean Griffin, film installation 2007 Triangle of Need; with Sean Griffin, Dylan Skybrook and Kunle Afolayan, film installation 2009 Lulu, Or, to what End does the Bourgeoisie Need Despair; video installation, 28 min. 2011 The Last Days of British Honduras; with Farhad Sharmini, film installation 2012 The Last Days of British Honduras; with Farhad Sharmini, video installation, 47 min., Forum Expanded 2012 2015 Afterword Via Fantasia; with Charles Gaines, Sean Griffin and George Lewis, film installation 2016 Nest, or, Eternal Resting; with Teatr Opera Buffa, film installation · Afterword Via Fantasia; video installation, 97 min. 2018 The Startled Faction (A Sensitivity Training)

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2019