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  • May 13, 2016

    BULLETIN BOARD: Subjective Reality in Cinema at MoMA, Anthology Film Archives, New Museum, and Metrograph

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    Paths of the Soul (2015)
    Museum of Modern Art
    May 13-19

    Against the backdrop of the high Himalayan landscape, the actions of a small group of devout Chinese Buddhists might seem of little significance. The Tibetans walk along nearly deserted roads, repeatedly clapping wooden blocks together, prostrating themselves, and bowing to Buddha every eight or nine steps. As Paths of the Soul documents the pilgrims’ 2,000-kilometer spiritual trek from a native small village in Yunnan province to the capital of Lhasa, individual actions and motives seem beside the point.

    Director Zhang Yang, with wide frames and long takes, paces the pilgrims’ collective experience by capturing natural events within the group, including adaptation to weather and terrain, a death, a birth, a budding romance, and expression of joy through song and dance. The individuals of the group, with their mutually steadfast faith and devotion, move as one community united by something greater than themselves. Yang, with neither a script nor professional actors, imbues this account of true events with cultural history, existential drama, and the resilience of human spirit.

    Paths of the Soul premieres at MoMA Friday evening with a subsequent discussion with Annabella Pitkin, Assistant Professor of Buddhism/East Asian Religions at Lehigh University.

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    Les Ordres (1974)
    Anthology Film Archives
    May 13, 6:45pm and May 15, 8:30pm

    As a pioneer of the hand-held camera aesthetic within documentary filmmaking, Michel Brault treated cinema as a medium of intimacy and immediacy while wrestling with contemporary ideologies, technologies, and injustices. Inspired by interviews with citizens falsely imprisoned under Canada’s War Measures Act, Les Ordres depicts the fragility of civil rights and the fallout of misused power through the perspectives of five of those incarcerated civilians.

    Brault mixes footage of the actual victims with actor portrayals to illustrate one of the most traumatic events in Quebec history. The film’s re-enactments of strip-searching, solitary confinement, food and water deprivation, and physical torture might seem like methods of shock value were they not grounded by Brault’s observations and investigations of the political oppression that took place during this historical event.

    Anthology Film Archives will screen Les Ordres as part of their Quebec Direct Cinema series, which commemorates Direct Cinema, a movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s when a treatment of real events coupled with a manipulation of mise-en-scene permeated documentary filmmaking.

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    Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: Song, Strategy, Sign
    New Museum
    Through June 12

    For her latest exhibition during her residency at the New Museum, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz explores how an individual remembers, interprets, and deviates from his or her own history. Within the exhibition, a three-channel video displays footage of real women in Caribbean settings, conveying the cultural and societal realities documented in each woman’s environment.

    In making reference to Monique Wittig’s 1969 novel Les Guérillères, the video imagines a post-patriarchal future that questions social and gender norms once thought to be natural, invariable, and clearly definable. In addition to the three-channel installation, the exhibition also includes a 16mm film portraying anthropologists, artists, and activists working in Haiti and Puerto Rico.

    While blending ethnography, art, and history, Santiago Muñoz blurs the boundaries between what is real and imagined. Her work, seemingly achieved through long periods of observation and documentation of behavior and expression, challenges economic, political, and social conditions past and present.

    The themes of Santiago Muñoz’s work fit within the larger context of the New Museum’s Spring 2016 R&D Season: LEGACY exhibitions, which explore “our connections to the past” through different presentational and educational formats.

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    L’intrus (2004)
    Metrograph
    May 16, 2:30pm, 7:30pm

    In her body of work, writer and director Claire Denis makes clear that a film need not depict a linear narrative, but rather create a sensory experience that allows viewers to take all the moments and make of them what they will. L’intrus, a film about an aging man with failing health told mostly through nonlinear dreams and flashbacks, explores the physical and mental intrusions created by mortality, culture, and one’s own history.

    Based on a Jean-Luc Nancy essay of the same name, L’intrus meanders like a stream of consciousness flowing through ideas of identity, connection, and alienation. Just as Nancy explored themes of selfhood, community, and multiculturalism, Denis, a child of decolonization in French Africa, deals with themes of assimilation and rejection of cultural norms that came as colonialism morphed into globalization throughout the 20th century. By overlapping the personal with the historical, Denis creates stories of characters defined by their own sense of memory and psyche.

    Metrograph will screen a 35mm print of the film on Monday in their continuing Welcome to Metrograph: A to Z yearlong, alphabetically ordered series.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • May 5, 2016

    Screening Notes: An Evening with Anna Karina at BAMcinématek

    Photo Courtesy of BAMcinématek

    Photo Courtesy of BAMcinématek

    “Are you Woody Allen?,” quipped Anna Karina to an audience member who asked her how she felt about being Jean-Luc Godard’s muse. The question came towards the end of a Q&A that followed a screening of A Woman Is a Woman at BAMcinématek on Tuesday as part of Anna in New York, a city-wide celebration of the French New Wave icon. Karina joined Melissa Anderson (The Village Voice) for a conversation about her life and relationship with Godard.

    “It was a present that he gave me, like a gift. A precious gift,” said Karina of the seven (“and a half”) films that she did with Godard between 1960 and 1966. When asked if she had a favorite, she likened it to having to choose between children: “How can you choose? One year you like this one better, then you like the other one. It’s difficult.”

    Godard famously first came across Karina in a soap commercial. (“I don’t know if he saw me in Monsavon, or if he saw me in Palmolive.” She appeared in both at the same time, underage and without a contract.) He sent her a telegram inviting her to his office to audition for a small part in Breathless. “He looks at me like this,” said an animated Karina, tilting her head to one side then the other, settling into a deadpan stare, “Well, you got the part. You have to take your clothes off.”

    Karina, bristled by the proposal, did not take the part, but she did accept an invitation to play the lead in Le Petit Soldat three months later. “A political film with no script is kind of more complicated,” she said of Le Petit Soldat, which took three months due to starts and stops. Perhaps because of the protracted filming period, Karina and Godard began their love affair. “We were looking at each all of the time, getting fascinated with each other. . . . So, we fell in love, and we did the film.”

    It’s now hard to imagine A Woman Is a Woman without Karina’s exuberant performance, but Karina explained that Godard had auditioned “all the actresses in Paris” before asking her to come aboard. “Then he asked me to do it, and ah! I was so happy, doing a film with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Brialy, you know,” said Karina, with a characteristically coy shift of her shoulder. On Angela’s love affair: “Did she do or didn’t she do it?” She doesn’t know, and Godard didn’t tell her.

    Of course, Karina’s career reaches beyond her relationship with Godard. When Serge Gainsbourg and Pierre Koralnik approached her about starring in a new comedy-musical (“With songs and all that!”), her childhood dream came true. “They couldn’t find a title, so after a while they called it Anna, like me. I liked that,” she said smiling. On her relationship with Gainsbourg, she added, “We were only friends. We would laugh, drink red wine, and smoke cigarettes.”

    As a symbol of the French New Wave, it’s all but impossible to separate Karina from Godard. A quick Google search will reveal this. But to return to the question asked by the evening’s Woody Allen: a muse? “When I see all of you here in this theater. . . . I’m very honored. But I’m not a muse,” pausing a beat, “I’m amused, yes.”

    Anna Karina will give one more talk during her stay in New York tomorrow night (05/06), following a screening of the newly restored Band of Outsiders at Film Forum. If you can’t make it to see her in person, be sure the catch one of the other Godard screenings this weekend at BAMcinématek and Film Forum.

    By Brittany Stigler

  • April 21, 2016

    Screening Notes: Recovering Life in Writing about Death: Obit at the Tribeca Film Festival

    Image Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

    Image Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

    Crafting an obituary is not a somber process at The New York Times. An entire editorial department makes daily attempts to give proper sendoffs to individuals who have left a lasting impression at a point in history. With only a line or two regarding the cause or the family’s confirmation of death, the Times obituaries use the majority of column inches to report on the life of the deceased. Filmmaker Vanessa Gould, with her rare behind-the-scenes access to the Times obituary department, explores this craft in her documentary Obit, which received its world premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

    While the section has posthumously highlighted the lives of cultural icons such as Michael Jackson and David Foster Wallace, it more frequently features pieces on lesser-known people who nonetheless had an effect on the period in which they lived. Two such cases frame Obit’s narrative as writers Bruce Weber and Paul Vitello cull together the stories of William P. Wilson, who was the first television consultant hired for a political campaign and proved instrumental in the Nixon-Kennedy debate, and Dick Rich, who “helped redefine TV advertising” through memorable commercials and ad campaigns.

    In addition to archival footage of featured obituary subjects, including Joseph Stalin’s daughter, a man who rowed solo across an ocean, and the bombardier who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Gould peppers Obit with one-on-one interviews with members of the Times staff. None of the obituary writers are the type of cub reporters fresh out of j-school, hired as a cost-cutting measure to replace seasoned veteran reporters. Instead, most of them could probably talk about what it was like growing up in the 60s and each seems to have been raised on a diet of print journalism.

    Gould, who received a Peabody Award for Between the Folds, a documentary exploring the art of origami, brings a type of Errol Morris intimacy to the film as her interviewees stare down the barrel of the camera while extemporizing, seemingly without need of a directorial nudge. Gould also paces the film through her use of the staff members’ longer and meandering anecdotes and thoughts describing the legwork required to write about the recently deceased and to prepare advanced obits for those in their autumn years.

    Margalit Fox, senior writer for the Times and holder of more than 1,200 obituary bylines, explains how her department works in “a retrospective genre.” While obituary writers look back through the 20th century to spotlight individuals who had opportunities to make cultural marks, the Times coverage also has a deficiency of stories on women and minorities. When asked to explain that lack, Fox maintains, “Ask me again after another generation.”

    While following the sometimes lengthy trails of evidence and research, the obituary staff still operates in a daily newspaper with deadlines at the end of the workday. Through a combination of history, research, news, and conversations with a subject’s friends and family, a Times obituary attempts to demonstrate a single person’s historical impact and relevance in today’s society. An example of an individual’s influence on 20th century history, whether it’s in the form of a presidential debate or a commercial, a photo or a television show, provides a callback to the reader’s own time and place when he or she first heard of that event.

    By remembering where one was, how they became who they are, and how society changes over time, a person can find the past in the present and the present in the past. In that sense, looking at human existence through the lens of an obituary is not about what was lost but how life can flourish.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • April 21, 2016

    Screening Notes: Tribeca Film Festival 2016

    Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

    Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

    With an impressive amount of virtual reality simulation stations and immersive screenings, the Tribeca Film Festival, which opened April 13 and runs through April 24, got a lot of toys for its 15th birthday. Inside of the festival’s hub at 50 Varick Street, participants were encouraged to don goggles and take part in the interactive technology featured in the Storyscapes and Virtual Reality programs.

    As a special treat, Guy Maddin’s “Seances” project premiered as an installation. Behind a black curtain, small groups of viewers were invited to curate a set of images that, when put together, combined to show a one-time-only film. The footage, created through a collaboration with Evan and Galen Johnson, featured Maddin’s interpretation of lost films—or films that had, for some reason or another, disappeared as if they had never existed. For those not lucky enough to make it to the installation, “Seances” is now live online as an interactive website.

    This year, the festival opened with Andrew Rossi’s glossy documentary First Monday in May, which delivers an inside look into the preparation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibition and gala. Though the main question of the film—whether or not the exhibition was offensive—is never really answered, the film succeeds in providing what feels like privileged access into one of the city’s most exclusive parties.

    Some standouts in the documentary field are Alma Har’el’s experimental LoveTrue, Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai’s Reset (Relève), and Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway’s The Return. While LoveTrue finds its tenderness in its fluid exploration of love and loss, The Return (premiering on PBS’s POV on May 23) shows its heart through the pointed attention it pays its subjects: prisoners trying to reintegrate into society following Proposition 36, which reduced the life sentences of those imprisoned under the controversial “Three Strikes” law. In their best moments, these documentaries challenge the audience’s perceptions and call into question how we form our own judgements.

    For the first time in the festival’s history, the narrative films are divided into two categories: American and foreign. In the American competition, comedian and illustrator Demetri Martin’s Dean mixes grief and whimsy to create an enjoyable film that will slide in easily next to a copy of Garden State, while Ingrid Jungermann’s morbid Women Who Kill provides subtle and witty commentary on Park Slope’s lesbian community. As for the foreign competition, Christian Tafdrup’s Parents is a disturbingly beautiful and funny tale that casts a side-eye gaze on the idea of resurrecting a past self.

    Also new to the festival is Tribeca Tune In, an expansion of TFF’s television-centric programming. Tune In features special sneak peaks and conversations with directors, producers, writers, and stars.

    The festival continues this weekend and tickets can be purchased online. For more TFF coverage, read our in-depth look at Vanessa Gould’s documentary Obit, which takes a peek inside the famed obituary department of The New York Times.

    By Brittany Stigler

  • March 24, 2016

    For the Love of Chantal Akerman: NYC’s Cinematic Tribute at BAM, Film Forum, Anthology Film Archives, and Museum of the Moving Image

    Still from No Home Movie, courtesy of Icarus Films

    Still from No Home Movie, courtesy of Icarus Films

    The films of Chantal Akerman sculpt time. Her signature static frame, which often lingers without any corporeal presence in the shot, emphasizes time’s disregard for mortality. Faced with stillness, we feel the tick of the watch as the camera observes with an uninterrupted gaze—frequently lasting several minutes, an eternity on film. Unable to outrun time by a series of quick cuts, Akerman’s subjects instead move steadily towards an aestheticized disappearance. In this, Akerman makes the viewer physically aware of time; an aspect that renders her oeuvre difficult to digest for some.

    The importance of Akerman’s defiant cinema has not completely revealed itself, but this spring’s city-wide celebration of her work brings us closer to understanding her impact. BAMcinématek will present a comprehensive retrospective April 1—May 1, opening with the New York theatrical premiere of her final film, No Home Movie. Film Forum will offer a free-to-the-public run of Marianne Lambert’s documentary I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman, accompanied by the short film But Elsewhere Is Always Better, for one week, March 30—April 5. They will also screen a new restoration of Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles April 1—7. Anthology Film Archives, which Akerman credited as a major source of inspiration, will run No Home Movie and Là-bas in mid-April. In Queens, Museum of the Moving Image will screen D’Est April 2—3. For purchase, Icarus Films is set to release a boxed set of rare titles, Chantal Akerman: Four Films on March 29.

    It’s hard to watch No Home Movie and I Don’t Belong Anywhere without feeling the chill of Akerman’s recent death. In No Home Movie, shot by Akerman on a handheld camera, we get a sense of Akerman’s intimate connection with her mother, who was at the heart of Akerman’s work. Echoes of her most famous film, Jeanne Dielman, reverberate through the dialogue and architecture of the film—particularly in the first conversation between Akerman and her mother about potatoes, which is a Proustian morsel for audience members familiar with Jeanne Dielman. Though she is no longer with us, there are instances throughout the film that attest to Akerman’s existence—a reflection in the window, breathing caught by the in-camera audio, and, of course, shots with Akerman actually in the frame. But as much as these glimpses confirm her presence, they also call upon the lack.

    A self-described nomad, it would seem that for Akerman home is not so much a physical place as it is a feeling. With the death of her mother came the loss of a central home, an anxiety that Akerman touches on in I Don’t Belong Anywhere. “Now that my mother is no longer there, there is nobody left,” said Akerman to the camera. “That’s why now I’m afraid. I think that now that my mother is no longer there, will I have something to say?” Intermixed with interviews (including musings about her commercial attempt, A Couch in New York) and footage from her films, I Don’t Belong Anywhere is an invaluable document of Akerman’s insights into her own work and a fitting closing word on her final film. My only complaint: we don’t—and never will—get enough time with her.

    In advance of the screenings, NYC-Arts will feature brief news coverage of the BAM retrospective on tonight’s episode. The full episode will be available here.

    By Brittany Stigler

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