What is a non-actor? It’s a question that’s being asked and answered by The Film Society of Lincoln Center in their brand-new series, beginning Nov. 24.

The Non-Actor is a historical survey of the myriad ways in which filmmakers have used so-called amateurs to reimagine the language of cinema and to investigate—and perhaps fundamentally change—the medium’s relationship with the realities it depicts.

Ponder this: Questions concerning “the real” have haunted cinema from its inception, and they have often been entwined with performance. Always adventurous, filmmakers have long experimented with the use of nonprofessional, untrained actors, whether to inject a measure of documentary reality into fiction, to deconstruct acting itself or to challenge the conventions of screen performance and cinematic realism.

Organizers are offering a 40-plus film lineup that spans cinema history, from early examples such as F.W. Murnau’s final film “Tabu,” shot in Tahiti, and Sergei Eisenstein’s “October” on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, to modern works such as Denis Côté’s study of animals at a safari park, “Bestiaire,” and Ronald Bronstein’s riveting “Frownland.”

The selection was organized by Dennis Lim and Thomas Beard. Here are a few suggestions:

“Black Girl/La Noire de…”

Ousmane Sembene, France/Senegal (1966), French with English subtitles

Mbissine Thérèse Diop’s magnetic and devastating performance in Ousmane Sembene’s feature is by turns tough, swift and true in its aim. Diouana leaves Senegal with dreams of a more carefree and glamorous existence in France, where she procures a job as a live-in maid and nanny for a young couple on the French Riviera.

Monday, Dec. 4, 8:45 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2:30 p.m.

“The Blood of Jesus”

Spencer Williams (1941)

Along with Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams was one of the great directors of race films, movies made specifically for African-American audiences during the era of segregation, and his debut feature, “The Blood of Jesus,” shot in Texas with a largely nonprofessional cast on an exceedingly lean $5,000 budget, was one of the most widely seen productions of its kind. The picture concerns a woman who, near death after being accidentally shot by her husband, discovers herself at a crossroads between a heavenly afterlife and damnation.

Saturday, Dec. 2, 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 7, 9 p.m.

“Born in Flames”

Lizzie Borden (1983)

A feminist sci-fi cult classic, “Born in Flames” is set on the 10th anniversary of a socialist revolution in America, but whereas Eisenstein’s “October” celebrated the decennial of 1917 by striking a note of triumph, Borden’s film imagines a world in which the promises of a new society have yet to be fulfilled.

Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 27, 4 p.m.


Jean Rouch, France (1954/1967), French with English subtitles

In Rouch’s first sustained experiment in the kind of “ethno-fictions” that would prove influential to so many filmmakers, three young men from Niger decide to emigrate to Ghana. Each is descended from warriors, but the more immediate challenge is finding decent jobs.

Tuesday, Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m.

“The Cool World”

Shirley Clarke (1963)

Based on the novel by Warren Miller about a teenager navigating the violent turf wars and internal hierarchies of Harlem gangs, and set to an unforgettable jazz score composed by Mal Waldron and performed by Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Clarke’s “The Cool World” is a landmark of early American independent cinema.

Friday, Dec. 1, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 8:45 p.m.

“Touki Bouki”

Djibril Diop Mambéty, Senegal (1973), Wolof with English subtitles

Followed by:

“A Thousand Suns/Mille soleils”

Mati Diop, France (2013), Wolof with English subtitles

“Paris…Paris…Paris,” We hear Josephine Baker croon the capital’s name in a loop throughout Djibril Diop Mambéty’s postcolonial fever dream of a film, a constant refrain that punctuates the adventures of Mory, a herder who cruises around on a motorbike adorned with a cow skull, and Anta, a university student.

Sunday, Dec. 10, 5:30 p.m.

Tickets went on sale Thursday, Nov. 9, and are $14; $11 for students and seniors (62+); and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with the 3-plus film discount package or All-Access Pass. Learn more at filmlinc.org.