Ming of Harlem

UK/Belgium/USA, 2014, DCP, 71m
Financed by The Wellcome Trust, ACE, VAF, FWB (Belgium)
UK/Eire distribution by Soda Pictures, 2016
Available on MUBI for a five year period from 2021.
Purchase Ming of Harlem gatefold publication DVD/Blu-ray from the BFI shop: DVD/Blu-ray publication

“The film has far too much animal” MUBI
Ming of Harlem on MUBI - link

An article by Phillip Warnell, 'The Skin of Others' appeared in the 50th edition of Antennae Journal in March 2020, within part two of a two issue survey of the 'Making Nature' exhibition which took place and included 'Ming of Harlem' at the Wellcome Collection in 2017. Details and part one download of the issue available here: ANTENNAE

Filipa Ramos’s ‘three tigers’ talk at LOOP Barcelona in Nov 2020 is archived here 

Installation at Coreana Museum of Art, Korea 2021

An essay on Ming of Harlem: The Animal Question: an ecological reflection on co-existence by Silvana Fiorese is included in the book 'Between Contemporary Art and Cinema' published by Giunti/Schermo dell Arte film festival in 2020. screenings and exhibitions of Ming of Harlem 2014-19

Coreana Museum of Art, Seoul will feature a two-screen installation and photography from the project, Sept-Dec 2020.

Selected other screenings/exhibitions of Ming of Harlem:
Olhar de Cinema film festival Brazil/MUBI online, June 2020
LOOP Barcelona (excerpt/paper) 2020
MOMI, Queens, New York City
EICTV film school, Cuba
Visions experimental film centre, Montreal
Museo Tamayo contemporary art museum, Mexico City (curated screening)
Block Cinema, Chicago, USA
Harvard Film Archive, USA
'Making Nature', Wellcome Trust exhibition (two-screen exhibition installation)
'British Film & Video' studio 55, Seoul (two-screen installation)
Amazon Prime (VOD - limited)
iTunes (VOD - limited)
Illingworth Kerr gallery, Calgary (curated screening)
PAF festival of cinema and animation, Czech Republic
Box with the sound of its own making, (curated screening)
MAMI, 'The New Medium', Mumbai, India
Cassis cinema, carte blanche 'The Animal Mirror', France, Nov
Home, Manchester, Jul 2016
Picturehouse Central, Trocadero, London, July
ICA London
TV Cine 2, Portuguese television - Indielisboa special
CCA Glasgow, April 25th 2016
Tyneside Cinema Gallery (solo exhibition, April 2016)
Royal College of Art, London
Gerrit Reitveld Academie, Amsterdam
RCA London
VIFF Vancouver
Viafarini Milan
New Horizons Poland
Kunst-werke Berlin
Fotogalerie Vienna
FICIC Argentina
FICUNAM Mexico City, includes a regional tour of Mexican cities
Curitiba Film Festival Brazil
Dieren Film Festival Holland
Festifreak Film Festival Argentina
Rencontres Berlin
Palazzo Grassi Venice
BAFICI Buenos Aires
Indie-Lisboa Lisbon
(various portuguese & african territories television screenings 2016/17)
Tate Modern London
Doc-Point Helsinki
Museum of Hunting & Nature Paris
Signes de Nuit Saarbrucken, Lisbon
Bozar Cinema Brussels
Nova Cinema Brussels
CAC Tallinn
NYFF New York
CPH-Dox Copenhagen
Rencontres Internationale Paris
IDFA Amsterdam
Viennale Vienna
Schermo dell'Arte Florence
Jihlava Czech Republic
Valdivia Chile
Transcinema Peru
FNC Montreal
FID Marseille

In October 2003, Antoine Yates was arrested for reckless endangerment following the discovery of his cohabitation in a Harlem high-rise with Ming, a five-hundred-pound tiger and Al, a seven-foot alligator. This beautifully crafted, haunting documentary explores the story of Yates and combines this with filmic observation of predators in domesticated geographies.

"Ming, Al, and Antoine lived together on the 21st floor of an apartment building in central Harlem. In 2003, the police knocked on the door, and the media circulated photos of a black man who had been risking his life for years—Antoine was sharing the small apartment at the time with a tiger and an alligator. However, Phillip Warnell, the maker of this experimental documentary, is not interested in a tabloid take on events. Instead of passing judgment, he takes a closer look at Antoine’s unusual situation and explores relations between people and animals. With the alert eye of a predator, he seeks the limits of anthropomorphism. Formally, the film follows Jacques Derrida’s reflection that “thinking about animals stems from poetry,” which also seems the film’s motto. Scenes that take place in Antoine’s reconstructed apartment are devoid of the commentary that is typical of documentaries. The strangeness of throwing animals into a maze of furniture and corridors is emphasized through the use of ephemeral music and voiceover readings from the works of philosopher-poet Jean-Luc Nancy. Ming of Harlem is a unique combination of a contemporary bestiary and an urban jungle ethnography."
Mariusz Mikliński

Article on New York's weird living
Dazed and Confused

"The relationship between the house and Ming pushed Haraway’s notion of the daily practice of inter- subjectivity between animal and human toward a recognition of a relationship that is established between living and non-living, in which ownership and control are operated, not by possession or education, but by permeability."
Filipa Ramos' essay on Ming of Harlem, 'Three Tigers' HKW exhibition, Berlin

"The most dramatic contemporary work in the show" Jenny Uglow, New York Review of Books

"It's an incredible piece. It’s a chance to think about why someone would choose to live in close proximity to a tiger and an alligator. And also a question about who’s keeping who." Honor Beddard, curator

"an apartment and a zoo in ontological disarray" Mihnea Mircan, curator

"Enragingly enigmatic"
Wendy Ibe, Observer

Carrie Giunta on Ming of Harlem

In installation at the Wellcome Trust from Dec 1st 2016 Making Nature exhibition

"Yates created a hilarious chaos. He put humans and man-eaters in the same apartment, utterly subverting every rule and assumption going. Instead of being behind glass in a zoo, the tiger entered the human world. Imagine being his postman." Guardian review of 'Making Nature' Jonathan Jones

"Phillip Warnell’s extraordinary Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air (2016) looks into the case of Antoine Yates, who shared a large flat in a New York tower block with a full-grown tiger and alligator. Yates explains his relationship with Ming as loving and spiritual, involving meditation and enrichment activities (such as spraying colognes in the air for them to smell together). Yates’s understanding of his relationship with Ming is only the most eyebrow-raising example of how the human relationship to animals becomes territory for projected fantasy of one kind or another."

"Turns wildlife photography on its head" Mumbai Film Festival, 2016

"Moselle’s doc has a first feature, ragged-edge continuity, but its rough filmic execution is quickly forgiven. What The Wolfpack yields is the same kind of rich, only-in-New-York viewing rewards as Phillip Warnell’s feature length-doc, Ming of Harlem: 21 Storeys In The Air, which premiered last fall at The New York Film Festival. After Ming and Al were evicted by NYPD and transported to a Midwestern zoo, Warnell, an innovative documentarian, replicated the owner’s apartment in an England zoo and moved in a similar tiger and alligator to study how they’d domesticate. Animals aren’t children, but unnatural confinement is unnatural confinement—until it becomes something else. The stand-in tiger for Ming and the stand-in alligator for Al cozied into their kitchen, bathroom, and bunk bed/platform sleeping quarters far removed from New York City. And imagine—they didn’t have a library of movies to keep them company." Kurt Brokaw Independent Magazine, New York

"a self-conscious, excessively humorless exercise in boundary-blurring" Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter

"phillip warnell's film questions the mysteries of animal consciousness. a strange film about a very strange episode in the life of new york city...a filmic b-side to werner herzog's grizzly man". The Guardian July 2016

"a far cooler and more detached film than might be expected from its subject matter....the director has an eye for an incongrous and poetic image" The Independent, July 2016

"Ming in Harlem: Twenty One storeys in the Air’ is something of a one-off intriguing view of the relationship between man and animals and it’s colours are nailed to the festival art house circuit." Huffington Post

"This juxtaposition between the life of Antoine – a human lost in a city filled with his own kind – and the life of his ‘best bud’ Ming – a wild animal confined to an environment without his own kind – speaks volumes to how Warnell perceives his subject. Never overtly judging Antoine for his actions but instead finding a subtler approach through his filmmaking style. The recreation sections where ‘Ming’ wanders the apartment do drive home the message of boredom the animal felt whilst adding a surreal element to the film. The unusual, static camera work possibly lingered a bit to long throughout the middle as the occasional poetry by Jean-Luc Nancy filter in voice over, but it was an intriguing aspect of the overall film."
Gorilla film online

"Treadwell and Herzog (in comparing Ming of Harlem with Grizzly Man) blind themselves to what Ming of Harlem tries to track, and especially in its central sequence: the ambiguities of what it is to know wild minds".
Matthew Abbott,
SubStance Journal 'Cinematic Thinking: Film and/as Ethics', 2016

'a fascinating and oddly gripping work'
Scotland Herald, 2016

film forward review, NYFF 2014

Critics choice, Independent Magazine, New York 2014

"In terms of both originality and accessibility, I Had Nowhere To Go stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Phillip Warnell’s Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys In The Air (2014 NYFF). In that documentary Warnell first explored how a Harlem resident kept a 450-pound Bengal-Siberian tiger (Ming) and a 7-foot Caiman alligator (Al) housed in his one-bedroom apartment for years. When NYPD finally hauled “Dr. Doolittle” and his brood away, Warnell built an exact replica of the apartment in a London zoo, installed a replacement tiger and alligator, and started filming. The new Ming and Al, amazingly, immediately took to their new living area, kitchen, bathtub, bed and sleeping platforms." The Independent Critics Choice, New York, 2016

"hoarse tongued torsions
tongue behind words
in your mouth which roars and which weeps
groans moans howls
cries from your tear-filled throat
your throat tigrator your throat
but no less mine no less
deep in which these names you do not know make signs which celebrate you which honour you
rituals prayers
rhythms of adoration
from throat to belly and into the lungs
heart liver nerves and tendons
spread the shiny splinters of your names
Tiger Gator
their savage invocations
which make of you in me the gods
the ancient the fearsome
intimate with the impossible" Jean-Luc Nancy: Oh the animals of language

Oh the Animals of Language in german

A strange film about a very strange episode in the life of New York City: it’s a filmic B-side to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. In 2003, Antoine Yates was arrested for keeping a full-size tiger named Ming in his apartment in Harlem – and also an alligator named Al. They seemed happy enough, until Ming playfully got Antoine’s leg in his mouth and a call to the emergency services had to be made. Without ever questioning Yates that closely about how he got the animals, or what it was like to live with them, film-maker Philip Warnell interviews him generally about how these animals’ captivity must have felt – and he includes ambient footage of local residents drifting about, his camera regarding them as incuriously as if they too were animals in a cage. His centrepiece is a reconstruction of Yates’s apartment with fixed camera positions, with a real-life tiger in situ, to represent the deeply strange and surrealist spectacle of Ming the tiger pacing about the rooms, making a melancholy groaning sound. Warnell takes as his cue various quotations from Jacques Derrida’s meditation on the mysteries of animal consciousness: The Animal That Therefore I Am. I wondered if he might mention Wittgenstein’s dictum: if a lion could speak, we would not understand him. Fallacious and pathetic as it seems, Ming appears to expressing a very human loneliness." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

"This is the family story of a man who lived for a long time in a Harlem apartment together with a tiger named Ming, who slept at his side and watched films with him on the weekend –a heterodox, inhumanly loving bond between the species that also extended to a crocodile named Al. It constitutes a poetic essay about certain points of connection that can often occur between beasts and men and have nothing to do with domestication. Warnell’s point of view is explained by a quote from Jacques Derrida and a short text by Jean-Luc Nancy – which exceeds anthropomorphism – and it combines with Antoine Yates’ own story. Both the beginning’s archive footage, featuring a female tiger tamer and a tiger, and another excerpt showing moments of the judicial scandal Yates faced and his own testimony, work as the preamble to a direct meeting with both a feline and reptile interpreter who wander around an apartment that is similar to Yates’. The animals’ eyes are even greater proof of that mysterious love triangle, which escapes the logic of ethology and anthropology’s all too comfortable definitions." Roger Koza (for BAFICI, 2015)

"This is a far cooler and more detached film than might be expected from its subject matter. It’s a documentary telling the jaw-dropping story of a New Yorker called Antoine Yates who kept a tiger and an alligator in an apartment in Harlem. The existence of these unlikely flatmates became public knowledge after the tiger turned on Yates. Rather than concentrate on the sensationalist elements of the story, director Warnell treats it as if it is an academic case study about the relationship between humans and animals. There are some intriguing insights about what the tiger ate (a mix of meat and chicken, depending on supermarket prices). The director also has an eye for an incongruous and poetic image. The footage of a fully grown tiger wandering around a reconstruction of the apartment, snuggling up on a bed or strolling through a bathroom, is fascinating precisely because it is so unexpected." Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent, UK

"The salutary point here is that animals such as these remain profoundly and eternally indifferent to domestication. They are powerful objects of distant meditation, not close cohabitation. That is true, yet this film does bring us beguilingly near, with respect and rapt awe." VIFF summary of Ming of Harlem, 2015

Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air is an only-in-New-York account of Ming, Al, and Antoine Yates, who cohabited in a high-rise social housing apartment at Drew-Hamilton complex in Harlem for several years until 2003, when news of their dwelling caused a public outcry and collective outpouring of disbelief. On the discovery that Ming was a 500-pound pound Tiger and Al a seven-foot alligator, their story took on an astonishing dimension. The film frames Yates’s recollections with a poetic study of Ming and Al, the predators’ presence combined with a text by philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, re-imagining the circumstances of the wild inside, animal names, strange territories, and human-animal relations.

Al the Alligator as a landscape

Ming of Harlem, by contrast, offers Abbott the basis for formulating the kind of acknowledgement that might [End Page 11] take place between the human being and the wild animal being as some intermediate “subjectivity.” As Abbott demonstrates, this film deals much more provocatively with the question of the animals’ intentions (in this case, a tiger and alligator). Instead of using camera angles and framing to “theatricalize” their wilderness or domesticity, the director poses questions regarding the ambiguity of their behavior and how to understand the companionship between these three cohabiting species. From his analysis of the film, Abbott concludes that what we share with animals, wild or tame, is a sense of embodiment, of being alike as creatures who live and die and are vulnerable to suffering and that this is available to being acknowledged on both sides. Regarding the issue of reciprocation, Abbott demonstrates that such acknowledgement is not based on sameness, but on difference, and on not being able to know, precisely, what this difference is, yet acknowledging it all the same.

SubStance philosophy Journal

Listen to the discussion on Ming of Harlem between Phillip Warnell & Jean-Pierre Rehm at Tate Modern in Feb 2015: https://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/audio/phillip-warnell-ming-harlem

Gallery dialogues: Elizabetta Fabrizi & Phillip Warnell,
Tyneside Cinema Gallery, 2016

Ming of Harlem was awarded winner of Grand Prix Georges de Beauregard International Jury prize.
FID Marseille Film Festival, 2014
Ming of Harlem was awarded the Universities Culturgest International Prize.
IndieLisboa Film Festival, Lisbon, 2015

Ming of Harlem is featured in 'Animals' Whitechapel documents of contemporary art, edited by Filipa Ramos
Whitechapel Docs

"This documentary mixes real feature material with Yates’ memories and the surreal studio pictures of a giant adult tiger in a normally sized human habitat – and it does so in the most stunning and poetic way one could imagine. The poetry by Jean-Luc Nancy alone, recited like a prayer over images of wonder and awe accompanied by the marvellous music of Hildur Gudnadottir are worth every second spent watching this film. This is by far the best documentary – no, by far the most remarkable film – I hadn’t mentioned from 2014."
Elisabeth Schabus (viennale)

“The structure of the film is unusually bold. Far from turning into a mere chronological reconstruction of the facts, filled with “talking heads”, the films prefers to lose itself in the exploration of its character’s words. With some beautiful cinematography, Yates is shot while on a car that moves around the streets of New York. He smiles when he recognizes places from his childhood, talks with the driver and goes to the supermarket to buy meat. The film is also filled with static inserts of towers in Harlem, shot from the sky, that give a new dimension to the repeated expression: “concrete jungle”. But its most daring part is in the middle of the film, when a tiger is followed for 15 or 20 minutes while it walks all around an apartment (it actually is a set built for the occasion) without dialogue, without rush and without testimony.”
Review of Ming of Harlem - Amadeo Gandolfo, Berlnale Talent, April 2015

“Another British filmmaker, Phillip Warnell, provided one of the surprises of the festival with Ming of Harlem, which screened in the Projections strand (formerly Views from the Avant-Garde). It’s based on the weird-but-true story of Harlem resident Antoine Yates who, until 2003, kept a tiger in the fifth floor of his spacious tower-block apartment. Any notions that Warnell would play the material for tabloid yucks evaporated along with an opening epigram from Jacques Derrida meditating on the nature of man and beast. The film itself is a curiously haunting blend of observational documentary (Yates, whom Warnell interviews while driving around Harlem, is a sensitive, complex character) and reconstruction: Warnell actually built a replica of the apartment for a tiger to prowl around in a hypnotic, if lengthy, digressional sequence.”
Sight and Sound – Ashley Clarke, Review of NYFF, 2014

"A few months ago I saw a documentary called Ming of Harlem: Twenty-One Storeys in the Air, about a man who kept a tiger and an alligator as pets in his tiny New York apartment. It was a staggering thing to comprehend, not just because of the logistics involved, but the blithe cruelty in doing that to an animal, even a savage one. Then I saw The Wolfpack. No, this doesn’t concern cruelty to wolves, but to children, and not just any children, but a man’s own. I’m beginning to wonder what they put in the water in Manhattan."
The Arts Desk - Demetrios Matheou , Sept 2015

"We're delighted that 'Ming of Harlem' and 'Outlandish' are to be the first works shown as part of the new Artist Cinema programme at Tate. Philip's films take a fascinating look at human-animal relationships and philosophical ideas of bodies and space, as well as being stunning works of art." Lily Davies, Wellcome Trust, 2015

Ming of Harlem screens on MUBI (USA) in conjunction with the 2015 New York Film Festival: https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/new-york-film-festival-s-projections-on-mubi
and on MUBI Mexico in conjunction with the FICUNAM Film Festival, 2015.

Find details on Ming of Harlem

Phillip Warnell's essay 'Fearful Symmetry' to be featured in: Ethical Materialities in Art and Moving Images, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2018
2 or 3 Tigers, Filipa Ramos essay for exhibition catalogue at HKW Centre, Berlin, 2017
Honor Beddard, ‘What’s real anyway’, for New Soundtracks Journal, 2017
'The Problem of Wild Minds: Knowing animals in Grizzly Man and Ming of Harlem'. Matthew Abbott
Project Muse
Paper by Cécile Ibarra at 'Animots' colloquium, Portugal
Carrie Giunta on Ming of Harlem: 
Jean-Luc Nancy's poem 'Oh the animals of language' is featured in 'On Animal', Whitechapel Documents and MIT press, editor Filipa Ramos, Sept 2016 and on e-flux 'Supercommunities' for the Venice Biennale
The Tiger and the threshold: Filipa Ramos, Amsterdam 'Bots, Bodies & Beasts' symposium, 2016 and in 2 or 3 Tigers exhibition catalogue, HKW centre Berlin 2017
Writing in the place of the animal, Phillip Warnell, for 'Jean-Luc Nancy and Visual Culture', Edinburgh University Press, 2016
Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter, Rhiannon Harries, 2016
Bringing the zoo to the ghetto (paper/screening), Filipa Ramos, Film & Philosophy conference, Amsterdam 2013