October 17, 2014
Jessica Oreck speaks about The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga

October 17: The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga (2014) interweaves present-day registers of Eastern Europe with an animated fairy tale in which two children encounter a famed witch from Slavic folklore. Vanquishing is Jessica Oreck’s third feature-length film following Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (2009) and Aatsinki: The Story of the Arctic Cowboys (2013), all of which explore relationships between human beings and their natural environments. It screens in New York at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) through October 21st. Below, Oreck describes the making of the film and then answers some questions about it. 

Jessica Oreck: When I started this project more than five years ago, it was specifically about the common practice of mushroom collecting in Eastern Europe. But after I had spent nearly a year researching, the author Andrei Codrescu put me in touch with a bunch of his poet friends in Romania. I spent several days with them in Transylvania, collecting mushrooms, wandering through forest, cooking, and talking about history, literature, art, censorship, and social dissidents. It was from these early conversations that the focus of the film was carved.

To me, the most valuable part of making a film is getting to explore. A lot of my production process consists of driving around countryside, stopping people along the side of the road, wandering into tiny markets, and drinking at the local pubs. We stumbled into weddings, went mushroom hunting with strangers, got lost. We also conducted endless interviews while traveling across Eastern Europe. Strangers would open their homes to us and share tearful memories: of parents being taken in the middle of the night; of searching the woods for food to survive on; of ghosts. I spent months piecing their myriad voices together into a story that the film would tell.

I wanted the film to feel unfeasibly incongruous – both with the past and with the present.  Hence the choice of film itself, in the form of our shooting stock, Super 16. Similarly, I wanted a soundtrack that would distort the film into its own time zone. My everlasting gratitude goes out to my collaborators Sean Price Williams (who did the camerawork) and Paul Grimstad (who composed its score). They created imagery and soundscapes that are exactly imprecise.

From the get-go the film had a heavy element of folklore. Using the work of the Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin as inspiration, our illustrator/designer Devin Dobrowolski worked tirelessly to hand-paint mini-masterpieces, with which our animator Michelle Enemark then crafted magical, three-dimensional digital worlds.

The tale told through these drawings very judiciously follows the structure of traditional folklore. And, while this story incorporates contemporary elements, Baba Yaga’s character maintains her long-established depth and powerful ambiguity. She represents an extraordinary balance – between man and woman, nature and culture, mother and witch, good and evil. Even her hut strikes that same enigmatic equilibrium between animate and inanimate. She is both sides of each of us.

The narration in the film is in both Russian and Polish and I wanted the two narrators’ male and female voices to almost be in conversation with each other. Not directly, but when one started an idea, the other finished it – or at least added to it, embellished it in some way. The film is very much about the conglomeration of stories, the accumulation of history, the way that cultures overlap with one another, layer together, and then shine through each other. I never wanted to pinpoint any particular language, feature, or time.

I think this film fits rather snuggly into the niche I have excavated for my work – namely, exploring cultural perspectives on the natural world. And, as with all of my features, I am more interested in recreating an atmosphere – an almost synesthetic transference– than I am in conveying facts. I am attracted to actions that are deeply repetitive, routine, common, normalized. So much so, that when you actually focus on it, the gestures, the movement, the intent, the outcome, the entire purpose seems to break down and cease to make sense.

How did you and Sean Price Williams create a mutual understanding of the film’s look and feel?

I think a lot of it came from our mutual love of Eastern European cinema. Before we traveled, we both consumed large amounts of odd Polish and Ukrainian fairy tale films. We also watched and rewatched certain essential cinematic exemplars - Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Come and See, Stalker. So we had the same points of reference going into the shoot. Since most of the film would be built in the editing, I wanted him to be taking risks. I wasn’t interested in getting conventional coverage. I think that that is the way in which he works best – when he can experiment and push the borders of abstraction a little bit. 

You can tell when he’s getting great stuff. It’s like his whole being becomes electric.  When that happens, I just let him run the show. 

The film’s sound editing is extremely important. What thoughts did you have in mind for how the film’s sound should work? What relationships did you want to create between the film’s soundtrack and its imagery?

I love recording sound, but the features that interest me aren’t necessarily the same as what the camera would find important. And when you are shooting on film, you are never tied to sync sound. Not even having sound in the timeline can be so freeing. A lot of the movie was edited completely silently. Slowly I would go in and add sounds here and there, layering in sync sound, wild sound, pieces from libraries, and then eventually music. The music was, once again, heavily influenced by Sean.  Early on, he handed me a library of probably a thousand pieces of music from Russia, Hungary, Ukraine, Romania…

I pored through those and then worked very closely with Paul Grimstad. He and I speak the same strange synesthetic language, in which I could describe a piece of music as being like a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream and he would know exactly what I was talking about. Paul and I developed this technique where he would compose something and then hand me all its elements separately, like Legos. I would pull them apart and put them back together to my most meticulous desire. 

What interested you about the people that you were filming in the film’s live-action sequences?

In addition to what I’ve already said, I find that the family structure in Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia, is very distinct from our American one. It is much stronger and deeper, thicker and yet elastic. I became fascinated by the way the individuals would define themselves in these ever increasing circles of self: households, families, neighbors, villages, states, Russians. We have that to a certain degree in the U.S., but it doesn’t markedly stand out the way we experienced it there.

What does it mean to you to call your film a documentary? 

I don’t call it a documentary. I just call it a film. It’s like “story”—I don’t know what those words mean anymore. I want the experience of a film to expand me as a person – my brain, my emotional capacity, my understanding of existence. My favorite films often feel like concentrated little memories. The more you watch them, the more you pull them apart and try to understand them, the bigger they become – exploding like cerebral piñatas – littering ideas, lessons, inspirations for days, years even. It doesn’t matter if someone calls them documentaries or fiction films.

October 14, 2014
38th São Paulo International Film Festival

October 14: The link above leads to the front page of the English-language version of the website for the São Paulo International Film Festival. The festival’s 38th edition opens tomorrow with the new Argentinean film Wild Tales and will run for the next two weeks in theaters throughout South America’s largest city. The front page for the original Portuguese-language version of the site can be found here.

I worked as a programming aide for the festival this year, and was involved mainly with suggesting new international films along with several of the titles in the MK2 retrospective. I therefore have yet to see most of the films in this year’s lineup, including the majority of the new Brazilian films and much of the Spanish Showcase and Pedro Almodóvar retrospective.

With this in mind, I am placing two lists below for potential festivalgoers, as I did last year. The first consists of films playing at the festival this year that I have already seen and liked; the second includes some of the festival’s films that I have not yet seen but to which I am looking forward. Nearly all films are listed under their official English-language titles. (I assume it will be clear which ones are not.)

Seen and Liked: L’Age D’Or; Anna; Arraianos; Antoine and Colette; Le Beau Danger; Because I Was a Painter; Blow for Blow; Branco Sai Preto Fica (aka White Out Black In); Burroughs: The Movie; Un Chien Andalou; Chimes at Midnight; Chocolat; The Circus; Code Unknown; The Color Out of Space; Corn Island; Costa da Morte; The Dream of Light (aka The Quince Tree Sun, or El Sol del Membrillo); Ela Volta na Quinta (aka She Comes Back on Thursday); Father’s Garden – The Love of My Parents; Filming Obstinately, Meeting Patricio Guzman; Flowers of Taipei – Taiwan New Cinema; Foreign Body; From What Is Before; Gabbeh; A House in Berlin; The Invisible Life; Iranian; A Leap in the Dark; Letter to a Father; Los Angeles Plays Itself; Mélo; The Mute; The Naked Room; Non-Fiction Diary; Opium; Our Terrible Country; Pope; The Prince; Shoot the Piano Player; Sorrow and Joy; The Spirit of the Beehive; Suitcase of Love and Shame; Summer Hours; Three Colors: Blue; Three Colors: Red; Three Colors: White; Trap Street; Unripe Pomegranates; White Nights on the Pier; The Wind Will Carry Us.

Eager to See: The Apple; August Winds; Baal; The Beekeeper; Beloved Sisters; Clouds of Sils Maria; Dark Habits; Deep CrimsonLes Deux Mémoires (aka Both Memories); Flamenco; The Flower of My Secret; Frivolinas; O Grande Momento (aka The Great Moment); The Guests; Home Sweet Home; A Hora e a Vez de Augusto Matraga (aka The Hour and Turn of Augusto Matraga); Um Homem e Sua Jaula (aka A Man and His Cage); I’m Not Angry!; Jauja; Kid Auto Races at Venice; Labyrinth of Passion; Law of Desire; A Mulher do Desejo (aka The Woman of Desire); The Night of the Shooting Stars; Nuit Noire, Calcutta; The Oak; The Old Man of Belem; Ópera do Malandro (aka Malandro); Queen and Country; Sagrada Família (aka Sacred Family); The Shape of Night; Sinfonia da Necropóle (aka Necropolis Symphony); The Skin I Live In; Story of Women; Sueño y silencio (aka Dream and Silence); El Sur (aka The South); Tale of Cinema; Two Days, One Night; The Wall; When It Rains, It Pours; Winter Sleep; The Wonders; Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon. 

Good wishes go out to all of this year’s São Paulo IFF attendees. Happy viewing.

October 15: I return with an addendum about screening formats for some of the São Paulo International Film Festival’s repertory selections. Audiences should expect to see all of the films in the Pedro Almodóvar retrospective projected either on 35mm or on DCP. Victor Erice’s three features (The Spirit of the Beehive, El Sur, and The Dream of Light) will all screen on 35mm, as will the festival’s three films directed by Noboru Nakamura (Home Sweet Home, When It Rains, It Pours, and The Shape of Night); several of the lineup’s older Brazilian films (including O Grande Momento, Um Homem e Sua Jaula, A Mulher do Desejo, and Sagrada Família, among others); and a number of titles in the MK2 retrospective (The Apple, Code Unknown, Laurence Anyways, The Piano Teacher, Summer Hours, Tale of Cinema, The Wind Will Carry Us, and the entirety of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy). 

The MK2 retrospective’s remaining films will screen in a few different digital formats, including DCP. Restored versions of L’Age D’OrUn Chien AndalouChimes at Midnight, Les Deux Mémoires, Flamenco, and Frivolinas will also screen digitally, as will The Circus and Kid Auto Races at Venice.

There are three additional repertory films whose São Paulo presence I feel compelled to highlight. Burroughs: The Movie, originally shot on 16mm, is being presented in a new digital restoration. Anna will screen in a recently completed digital restoration made from 16mm material, with the twist that this remarkable work of direct cinema was actually originally shot on video before being transferred to celluloid. Los Angeles Plays Itself will screen in a newly remastered and slightly reedited version created by its director, Thom Andersen, who will serve as a member of the festival’s Documentary Jury in addition to attending screenings.

Lastly, although it isn’t repertory, I wish to plug a special event. There is only one 3-D film at the São Paulo IFF this year, and it is screening exactly once. Wednesday, October 29, 3 P.M. at CineSesc: Ken Jacobs’s The Guests.

Again, happy viewing.

October 13, 2014
Robin Williams

October 13: The link above leads to a rendition of the song “Friend Like Me,” as performed by the Genie in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. The Genie was voiced by American actor-comedian Robin Williams, who died on August 11 at age 63. Williams’s voice performance (reprised in two subsequent Aladdin films) expanded possibilities for animated filmmaking, encouraging a literally breathless creativity from comic voice actors. Without it, subsequent work like Eddie Murphy’s voice performances in Mulan and in the Shrek films seems far less likely to have taken place.

The role of the Genie was written with Williams in mind, and it became one of his greatest achievements. As for his live-action work, he was known well for hyperactive, oft-improvised speech and motion in films like The Birdcage and Good Morning, Vietnam, much of which had been honed in early comic stand-up routines.

Williams also possessed an exquisite sense of timing that he brought with him into dramatic roles. In quieter dramas such as Awakenings and Good Will Hunting, he drew attention to himself in silence with large, gentle eyes that served as sites of reflection.

His film career was marked by memorable turns ranging from leading roles to cameos and walk-ons. His bit parts perhaps reached their apex in Deconstructing Harry, where he briefly and wonderfully assayed a recognizable nightmare as a man who discovers that he is living out of focus.

Nearly all the first-hand accounts that I have read up to now paint Williams as a generous person who was always willing to share himself with others. This generosity perhaps relates to how he could do poignant work in films, no matter the size of his role.    

October 12, 2014
Late work: A review of Mitra Farahani's portrait film "Fifi Howls from Happiness"

A review of a documentary about an artist. Screen Machine, Issue 7 (July 2014).

Fifi Howls from Happiness is the latest feature-length documentary from the Iranian painter and filmmaker Mitra Farahani, who had previously directed Just a WomanTabous - Zohre & Manouchehr, and Behjat Sadr: Time Suspended. (She has also recently completed an intriguing short film called David & Goliath No 45.) 

Farahani speaks below about Fifi Howls from Happiness and its connections to her other film work:

Mitra Farahani:  In 2006 I completed a film about the Iranian modernist painter Behjat Sadr, called Behjat Sadr: Time Suspended, as a sort of pictorial exercise in the field of abstraction. Afterwards I thought about creating another exercise, this time with the work of Bahman Mohassess, the only Iranian artist of his time who dealt with the question of mankind’s rights in the world (even if he often did so with still lifes and paintings of fish). I wanted to create a challenge with his work, as though I were imposing my own translation upon it or finding a voice parallel to an oeuvre with which I have always been obsessed. I wanted to show the paradoxes inherent in his human figures, which possess neither arms nor feet, but which seem to exist within a real, concrete world far away from the art of religion and of mythology. I found that Mohassess had an idea that he had defined perfectly as human existence: “The man reduced to nothingness.” 

I additionally knew something special about him, which was that on top of being a great artist, he had long completely vanished from public sight. The act of considering his absence in relation to such strong artworks put me in a spirit of research, as though I were seeking traces of a ghost.

When I met Mohassess for the first time, however, everything changed and I saw that I had to find a new approach. Before our meeting I had conjured up fantasies and illusions about him that suited me, all of which were soon revealed to be far from true. I discovered that his Roman hotel room had no space for my artistic coquetry or self-accustomed mannerisms, so I had to seek out a more realistic form of expression. As a result, my chief concern became exploring the role of an individual within history. 

The painting Fifi was already present in Mohassess’s living room the first time that we met. Throughout our process, it always seemed to exist as a third living creature in the room, reflecting a side of Mohassess to which I didn’t have access to. (I even sometimes felt it over our shoulders, watching Visconti’s film The Leopard along with us.) When I learned that the Haerizadeh brothers, two young Iranian artists and art collectors, were also interested in his work, I knew that the project could finally come into fruition. They were intelligent enough to comprehend the importance of capturing every detail in the process of creation.  These details could be as mundane as everyday events to talking about money and prices of the works.  They were extremely sincere with a great sense of humor. I knew if Mohassess and the brothers agreed to be in the film together, I had enough characters to create a fiction. At times Mohassess resisted me, but he ultimately understood what I wanted, and he was willing to let me have it. If he had not, then he would not have allowed me to be present to watch him die. 

At times I felt as though everything that appears in Fifi Howls from Happiness was preordained. The film does not hold much in common with my previous works about paintings and painters. It is much more connected with projects that I have planned but have not yet realized, like a film-to-be about the great Italian writer Tonino Guerra. I am interested in making work about the frustration of creation, which is always predetermined, and which is always followed by death.   

October 10, 2014

A blurb about a cathartic film. The L Magazine, October 8.

Repentance was the Georgian auteur Tengiz Abuladze’s closing installment in a trilogy of allegorical works, following The Plea and The Wishing Tree. He won a prize at Cannes for it nearly thirty years after the beautiful debut film that he co-directed with Rezo Chkeidze, Magdana’s Donkey, also did so.

Abuladze’s final completed feature proved to be the subject of much attention - a work censored for three years following its completion and released only with the arrival of glasnost, after which it became a cathartic event for many viewers who had personally suffered through Stalinism, but who had waited for a long time to see its crimes acknowledged so publicly. Yet while the circumstances surrounding Repentance's release were markedly different from those of Abuladze's earlier works, the film proved to be very much of a piece with its predecessors. It, like them, is sensitive towards and even protective of a lost rural form of human existence, along with the lost people that enjoyed it.

Repentance will screen in New York at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as part of the ongoing series "Discovering Georgian Cinema, Parts I and II," which has recently announced its November titles. I have not yet seen any of these additional works, and I feel happy suspecting that they will also be new to many audience members.      

October 9, 2014
Harun Farocki

October 9: The link above leads to an upload of the 1995 film Workers Leaving the Factory, directed by the German filmmaker, media artist, teacher, and writer Harun Farocki, who died on July 30 at age 70. Farocki’s film uses myriad clips from a near-century’s worth of filmed factory images to consider cinema’s historical unwillingness to enter the workplace; as the film’s narrator calmly notes, “Most narrative films begin after work is over.”

The film fits into Farocki’s career-long goal of leading viewers to question what they see. His films often contain two simultaneously running lines of inquiry. The first details the work involved in realizing various jobs; the second explores, with meticulous care, how this work has been and is being presented by media, including within his own acts of recording.

The prolific artist established his practice early and firmly in Inextinguishable Fire, a startlingly clinical Vietnam War-era analysis of the effects of napalm. He continued his studies with diverse rich works including As You SeeHow to Live in the German Federal RepublicAn ImageImages of the World and the Inscription of WarIn ComparisonThe InterviewJean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work on Franz Kafka’s “Amerika” (a behind-the-scenes record of the making of Straub-Huillet’s film Class Relations, in which Farocki played an acting role), Still Life, Videograms of a Revolution, and War at a Distance.

Farocki’s final completed feature-length film, Sauerbruch Hutton Architects, offers a beautifully transparent presentation of a contemporary architecture firm. The bulk of the film consists of Socratic conversations between senior architects and their younger colleagues that aim to analyze the intentions behind each element of new building plans. Farocki, who stays offscreen throughout, explained his own intentions in Sauerbruch Hutton Architects's press kit (provided to me by his collaborator Matthias Rajmann):

“The demand for a consistently comprehensible design principle must equally be made on our film. There is no intervention in our direct-cinema film: we never asked the protagonists to do or say anything. We adhere to strict rules concerning time: anything seen or heard was done or said in that order. Nothing appears in one scene that has happened or was spoken elsewhere, before or after, perhaps in a similar scene. But comprehensibility is also a production value. To constitute our approach we have to engage in a great deal of construction.”

October 4, 2014
NYFF’s Projections: The Visions Persist

A piece about a film series. Fandor Keyframe, October 2. 

This article previews the lineup of the Projections sidebar of the New York Film Festival, devoted to a kind of cinema (avant-garde? experimental?) that people have long struggled to name. The article is largely quote-driven; thanks go to Projections programmer Aily Nash and to filmmakers Jim Finn, Janie Geiser, Lewis Klahr, Jodie Mack, Takashi Makino, Mónica Savirón, and Fern Silva for their contributions. 

From what I have seen from this year’s Projections lineup, and in addition to films named in the article, I can happily recommend (in order of screening) Old Growth, Canopy, Night Noon, Things, Fe26, Sound That, Color Neutral, Sleeping District, Under the Atmosphere, The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees, Atlantis, Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars, Sugarcoated Arsenic, Renaissance Center/GM Tower, Horizon, SONE S/S 2014: Chase ATM emitting blue smoke, Bank of America ATM emitting red smoke, TD Bank ATM emitting green smoke /// Invisibility-cloaked hand gestures in offshore financial center jungle, and Pan.

Below are quotes from four Projections filmmakers about their work. Jean-Paul Kelly and Tinne Zenner’s discussions of their films The Innocents and Sleeping District, respectively, are original to this post; Mónica Savirón and Janie Geiser’s comments about their films Broken Tongue and The Hummingbird Wars, respectively, build on things that they say in the Fandor article.

Mónica Savirón: I think of Broken Tongue as a self-contained work, though I can also see it as part of a song cycle—or at least a future further exploration of the cinematic possibilities of sound and poetry. On a visual level, Tracie Morris’ outstanding performance makes me think of René Magritte’s fragmentations of meaning; Laurie Anderson’s explorations around visual language; the rapid-fire montage of Robert Beer’s film Recreation; the poetry of Takahiko Iimura’s abstract avant-garde film, White Calligraphy; the political awareness of Aldo Tambellini’s films Black Series; and the power of music to reunite opposing voices of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby.

Tinne Zenner: Sleeping District was filmed in Moscow in the spring of 2012. I invited my friend Anna Adler to come with me. She grew up in Moscow and arranged for us to visit people – mostly family friends of hers – in their homes while also acting as a translator. Microraions (also called Sleeping Districts) are residential areas that were built during the Soviet Era. They consist of thousands of private homes that together form massive architectural structures.  

The narrative of the film is constructed of different conversations I had with residents of the Sleeping Districts. I was often drawn to statements that gave senses of many different, disjointed experiences affecting how people understand what it means to live in a place. My interest lay not so much in exploring whether memories are true or false, but rather in how we think of collective memory and how the present may hold traces of history, family relations and a fallen political ideology in the shapes of physical objects and structures.

Jean-Paul Kelly: I am interested in documentary film and photojournalism as physical matter that, when mediated by an action like editing or used as an instrument in drawing or painting, has the potential to carry information within its material form. Like my previous videos, The Innocents analyzes visual and auditory rhythms in social documentary through re-enactment and abstraction. Using lens-based nonfiction as source material, I am attempting to study the translation of ethics through the separate empirical realities of photography and cinema, as well as through the ontological difference of recorded image and sound. 

I am interested in how everyday social actions depicted in documentary–especially acts of suffering and desire–can be translated into non-objective form. My investigation seeks to understand how formal elements such as color, shape, duration, and sound can be organized to echo the desires, ethics, and affect that resonate within documentary.  

Through a kind of allegorical superimposition, the work I create attempts to explore affective experience (joy, pain, empathy) as a substance with the possibility of being augmented and manipulated. In my work, realism is articulated in its full ambiguity, illuminating the gap between a physical matter and the subjective experiencing of that physical matter in the world.

The Kazuko Trust Award, which I have received this year from the Kazuko Trust and from the Film Society of Lincoln Center for my work, was completely unexpected. Receiving it is a real privilege, especially coming from a committee of people representing a community invested in critical dialogue around experimental image practices. It is a lovely affirmation, and I hope that this kind acknowledgment permits my work to be seen in different contexts and with other artists’ works so that I can develop from those points of exchange. A rare honor like this one greatly helps me to continue to expand my work and to explore new avenues of inquiry. 

Janie Geiser: The Hummingbird Wars started with a book that I found in a flea market in Zurich a few years ago. The book is an amazing series of about eight painted plates, richly printed, featuring the heads of actors and instructing the theater professional on how to apply makeup to create iconic stage characters. One half of each actor’s face shows the finished makeup, and the other side shows the strokes of color as they are first applied, before blending them into the skin. The color red dominates these images.

The paint on the actors’ faces looked like war paint, like blood, and like the painted “masks” of the Kabuki performer. I started gathering other materials to create a film with these images as a starting point. As the film developed, the images lost some of their centrality, but they cycle throughout. For me they represent something about theater, about performance, about taking on a role, of any time, and about the artificiality of doing so; and how the performer assumes iconic personas, essentializing eternal stories of love, loss, freedom, war, and power by en-acting them.

Because of the images’ early twentieth-century context, I felt a poignancy in thinking about what these performers were about to experience. I considered how the world would change dramatically, with the terror of the Great War, and the craziness of subsequent times. The shadow of war is in the film for me with First Aid images, and with human figures running and hiding in the forests. (Narratives of war and conflict are of course at the center of most theater, including both Kabuki and Shakespeare.)

I knew that I wanted some longer sound sections, and that the sound needed some irregularity—some ways in which time was not predicable in the music. I tried a few things before bringing in the Japanese Gagaku music, which I knew was right as soon as I played it with the film’s imagery. The ways in which the film’s music boxes double and triple and go out of sync expressed a more European version of that idea, and of a kind of innocence.

As for the film’s spoken/performed text: At first I was working with some old recordings that I had of John Barrymore performing passages from Shakespeare, but they didn’t really add anything, they were too similar to the images. Then I found an audio recording of Claire Bloom playing Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in an early 1970s stage production, and tried that with a rough cut. It clicked. The music was already in place, and the addition of the more contemporary recording was what the film needed. It creates a mystery and a tension. The way in which Nora leaves her home and family represents a kind of war.

The flowers and other natural elements serve to create a fictitious and un-mooring landscape, and to give a sense of the ephemeral. The same red flower that glows in earlier scenes is brown and falling apart at the end, a real change that actually happens and marks time.

There isn’t a straight, clear narrative in this film (nor in most of my films), but its narrative ideas inform my structuring choices of images and sounds. As for the hummingbird, it is small and nonviolent. There seemed to be something incongruous in the idea of a hummingbird war. There was also something about this bird, which moves swiftly and travels great distances to find the perfect food, which seemed to fit with the idea of a traveling group of actors, and with Ibsen’s Nora.

October 2, 2014
God of Cookery

A brief piece about a silly film. The L Magazine, October 1.

God of Cookery (aka The God of Cookery) will screen on 35mm in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to open the film series "Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy." The nine-film retrospective - named after the Hong Kong artist’s film King of Comedy - will feature films directed by and starring Chow as well as ones in which he only acted. 

There was a period when Chow (who learned many of his trademark action moves through close study of Bruce Lee) ranked with Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat among China’s biggest box-office draws. Though the budgets for his auteurist efforts have grown over time, much about his approach to storytelling has remained consistent. As the South Korean performer Seo In-guk recently told Yahoo! News, ”I hope to work with Stephen Chow one day. I don’t mind playing an ugly role and acting funny.”

As many of this blog’s readers likely already know, there has been much news in the international press lately about Hong Kong, most of it serious. Best wishes go to everyone who is struggling there.

September 30, 2014
Caucasian Love (aka Eliso)

A brief piece about a Georgian film. The L Magazine, September 30.

Caucasian Love was the second feature directed by early Georgian filmmaker Nikoloz Shengelaia, following 1927’s Giuli. Both films tell tragic love stories featuring young people who struggle to bridge their different communities and faiths. Shengelaia died at age 39, leaving behind two sons, both of whom also become important national filmmakers and both of whom are still alive today. Eldar Shengelaia has often worked in a comic register, while his younger brother Giorgi’s films have adopted a more dramatic one.

Eldar Shengelaia recently introduced a screening of Caucasian Love at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) that featured the world premiere of a new score composed by American artist Carl M. Linich, a 2009 recipient of Georgia’s Order of Merit. The screening opened the film series “Discovering Georgian Cinema,” which is taking place over the next several months at MoMA and at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), along with other institutions.

The lineup of this enormous series - co-curated by MoMA’s Jytte Jensen and by BAM/PFA’s Susan Oxtoby, and more than two decades in the making - additionally features Giorgi’s film Pirosmani and Eldar’s An Unusual Exhibition and Blue Mountains. Yet the Shengelaias are responsible for only a few of the series’s 45 programs, which together offer a remarkable historical survey of an astonishingly rich national cinema.

From among “Discovering Georgian Cinema“‘s films, and in addition to the Shengelaia family’s contributions, I can already happily recommend Ashik Kerib, The Legend of Suram FortressThe Machine Which Makes Everything DisappearMagdana’s DonkeyA Nail in the BootThe Pipeline Next DoorRepentanceSalt for SvanetiaSeveral Interviews on Personal Matters, and The Wishing TreeI name these titles without yet knowing the series’s full lineup, and feel certain that there are many more treasures to come.  

September 17, 2014
Water and Power

A short piece about a film made in Los Angeles. The L Magazine, September 17.

Water and Power was directed by the still-living American filmmaker Pat O’Neill, who was born in Los Angeles in 1939. He began making 16mm films in 1963 and designed special effects for Hollywood films for several years before and after completing his effects-laden independent 35mm feature. O’Neill continued to work in 35mm post-Water and Power, including for his celebrated film The Decay of Fiction, until transitioning to digital video in 2009.   

A 35mm print of Water and Power recently preserved by the Academy Film Archive will screen on Sunday, September 21 in New York at Anthology Film Archives within the film series "Lines and Nodes: Media, Infrastructure, and Aesthetics." The series is connected to a symposium of the same name that will occur at New York University on Friday, September 19. The goal of these events, as per the series website, is to “bring together artists and scholars to examine the mediated and aesthetic dimensions of extraction and infrastructure” and to explore a range of topics including “globalization, transmission, digitization, territorialization, labor migration, displacement, sustainability, [and] security.” 

The “Lines and Nodes” films that I have seen and liked from among the series’s six film programs include Daybreak ExpressTectonicsCanalThe Path of Oil, and Trade Tattoo.

Water and Power will screen in the series’s closing program, called “Water,” along with two recent short films, 28 Outfalls and Gowanus Canal, which were directed by Adam Diller and by Sarah Christman, respectively. The two younger artists speak about their work below. Their words are followed by a quote from Leo Goldsmith, one of the programmers of “Lines and Nodes,” about how the session’s three films address each other.

Adam Diller:  28 Outfalls developed from a study of Combined Sewer Outflow (CSO) sites. After repeatedly visiting the 28 sites with the highest flow during a six-month period, I started to focus less on the obvious elements of these settings (including waste) and more on a quality that I found common to all of them—a sensation of somehow being both inside and outside the city. My film focuses on this peripheral vibe, with the thought that connecting with these CSO sites can give a visceral experience of the city’s infrastructure and mode of relating to its environment.

Sarah Christman: In 2010 I completed a year-long study of a public beach in Jamaica Bay with a 16mm film called Broad ChannelGowanus Canal resulted from my subsequent collaboration with the New York-based biologist and artist Jenifer Wightman, who creates living sculptures from mud and water samples of polluted waterways. Jeni saw Broad Channel and invited me to film her sculptures - not to document her process, but as a departure point for my own film. 

I combined 16mm time-lapse imagery with underwater audio recordings by filmmaker and sound artist Kevin T. Allen to transport the viewer below the surface of one of New York City’s most contaminated bodies of water, where microorganisms thrive amidst manmade waste. In making the film, I explored my ongoing fascination with the exchanges between people, ecology, and industry that take place within urban spaces.

Leo Goldsmith:  28 OutfallsGowanus Canal, and Water and Power all share an approach to depicting landscapes (or aquascapes) that accounts for their palimpsest-like nature, revealing the changes that these spaces have seen over time, the complexities of ecosystems, and the relations between the human and the microbial. In doing so, they also all assume an oblique position that falls somewhere between documentary and experimental cinema — and between research and aesthetics — that is quite crucial both to our greater series and to the symposium that inspired it.

All three filmmakers address the issue of water’s relationship to geographic and economic specificities of cityscapes in exploratory, challenging, and altogether remarkable ways. Pat O’Neill’s film is especially important, as he’s been bringing his unique vision to bear on issues of landscape and infrastructure since 1976’s Sidewinder’s Delta, or even as early as 1964’s Bump City. It’s a rare treat to be able to screen the Academy Film Archive’s restored 35mm print of Water and Power in New York, where his work has been sadly neglected in recent years. We hope that it screens here more often in the future. 

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