Daily | Art of the Real 2015

Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda

Co-programmed by Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes, Art of the Real returns to the Film Society of Lincoln Center as “a platform for filmmakers and artists who have given us a wider view of nonfiction cinema and at the same time brought the form full circle, pointing to its early, boundary-pushing days.” Rakes tells Twitch‘s Dustin Chang that she and Lim “were interested in looking back at earlier pioneers of the documentary form, like Chris Marker, Chantal Akerman, and Jean Rouch, and remarked on how in many ways their work was more experimental and challenging than so much of documentary output today. So we wanted to revisit that work and in the course redefine what might fit within the overall definition of nonfiction art.”

The second edition opens tomorrow with the premieres of new short films by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, Eduardo Williams and Matt Porterfield, all of whom will be present for a Q&A. Twitch is running capsule previews from Dustin Chang (1, 2) and Ben Umstead.

And on April 26, Jenni Olson will be on hand to present the closing night film, The Royal Road. When it premiered at Sundance, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks wrote here in Keyframe: “Gorgeously filmed James Benning-esque static shots (16mm Kodak film—7245 50 Daylight stock) and geographically explored by way of Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder, this slow burning personal descent into Jenni Olson’s latest autobiographical journey is not only an obsessive cinephiles’ delight, but a romantic one as well.” See, too, Ben Umstead at Twitch. And Sam Fragoso‘s interviewed Olson.

Highlights of what’ll be screening in between include a tribute, The Actualities of Agnès Varda, focusing on “examples of her fiction work that beautifully integrated elements of the real,” and a spotlight, Repeat as Necessary: The Art of Reenactment, featuring, among other works, Peter Watkins‘s Edvard Munch (1974), James Benning‘s Landscape Suicide (1986) and a double feature, Harun Farocki‘s Inextinguishable Fire (1969) and Jill Godmilow‘s What Farocki Taught (1998).

In his overview for, Steve Erickson notes that the “series isn’t an LGBT film festival—it claims to offer the most expansive view and definition possible of the documentary field—but this year’s installment… includes a wealth of work by gay and lesbian directors (Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Jenni Olson, Mark Rappaport, the late Derek Jarman, Edgardo Cozarinsky) and films about gay and transgender people…. At a time when the price of mainstream visibility, especially for gay men, seems to be trumpeting gay identity but closeting sex itself, the documentary impulse showcased in Art of the Real remains important.”

Jackson Arn for Film Comment on Gustavo Vinagre’s “part documentary, part surrealist head-scratcher, part screwball comedy” Nova Dubai, Matt Porterfield’s “meditative short” Take What You Can Carry, Sarah Francis’s feature-length debut Birds of September and Ion de Sosa’s “dystopian fantasy” Androids Dream: “All four films are deeply concerned with the state of a particular city, but the city may be real or fictional, inviting or unsettling, unsettling because it’s constantly evolving or because it’ll look the same in a hundred years. To the extent that their inhabitants are hiding, they do it in different, even contradictory ways—hiding behind closed doors, or wandering through the streets, hiding in plain sight. It’s startling to think that all of these multifaceted looks at life have a claim to being, as the series they’re part of ambitiously suggests, ‘real.'”

More capsule previews at Twitch: Dustin Chang on Adirley Queiros’s “ingenuous low-fi sci-fi” White Out, Black In, Daniel Hui’s “gentle and lyrical” Snakeskin, Florence Lazar’s Kamen (“All I can say is I can’t look at [Emir] Kusturica’s films the same way again, ever”)

The program of shorts screening on Friday, April 24 looks especially strong, centering on the late René Vautier’s Afrique 50 (1950) and including Peggy Ahwesh‘s Kissing Point (2014; “beguiling and immersive,” says Ben Umstead at Twitch), Ben Russell‘s Greetings from the Ancestors (2015; “hypnotizes in its sharing of a world we Westerners may only see but in the dream of cinema”—again, Ben Umstead at Twitch) and, from Basim Magdy, interviewed in the current issue of the Brooklyn Rail, The Many Colors of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness (2014).

At Locarno last summer, James Lattimer “was full of righteous indignation at Mexican auteur Nicolás Pereda‘s Los Ausentes not having been included in the main competition,” as he put it in a dispatch to the House Next Door. “The pleasures of Pereda’s film are purely formal, the languorous traveling shots with which it tracks its three key locations—a house, the forest surrounding it, and a beach—producing a delight in discovering new visual details over time unusually reminiscent of James Benning.”

As more writing on the films in the series appears, I’ll naturally be making note of it here. A few quick notes, though, to wrap for the time being: Alain Cavalier‘s Le Paradis was voted one of the 10 best films of 2014 by Cahiers du Cinéma; and in Cinema Scope, you’ll want to see Shelly Kraicer on Luo Li (Li Wen at East Lake), Michael Sicinski on René Frölke’s Le Beau Danger and Max Nelson on Derek Jarman’s Will You Dance With Me?

Updates, 4/10: Max Nelson for Film Comment: “Like the work of the artist whose life and times it evokes, Peter Watkins’s 1974 film Edvard Munch comes off as a thing of frayed nerves, passionate resentments, and stray sexual frustrations, made on what feels like the edge of delirium and out of what seems like a desperate need to confess or exhume. The truth of the matter, in the case of Edvard Munch’s paintings and Watkins’s movie, is more complicated than that description suggests…. Edvard Munch remains one of Watkins’s most ambitious attempts to film pre-cinematic history using the methods—and the ethics—of modern documentary reportage.”

For BOMB, Gary M. Kramer talks with Elizabeth Subrin, whose “work is all about appropriation, reenactment, and recreation.” In Lost Tribes and Promised Lands (2010), Sweet Ruin (2008), and Shulie (1997), “the director takes extant elements—images, a script, and a film—and transforms them, layering of texture and meaning while raising provocative questions about gender, identity, memory, and representation.”

At the House Next Door, Ela Bittencourt reviews the opening night program of shorts, Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata’s Iec Long (“both personal and epic in scope, and, most of all, deeply affecting”), Porterfield’s Take What You Can Carry (“leaves us with a lingering sense of loss”) and, “[p]erhaps the most enigmatic, Williams’s film: “Like the other two films in the lineup, I Forgot reflects how cities change, at times rapidly and haphazardly, be it because of a local business closing down or a real-estate-development rush, leaving the humans that occupy them to find new spaces to reclaim, and new ways to forge a connection with the past.”

Updates, 4/12: “In form and content, The Royal Road makes unmistakable allusions to the work of Chris Marker, just as Olson’s wry, uninflected voiceover and disquisitions on cinematic iconography recall Thom Andersen and Mark Rappaport,” writes Jordan Cronk in his overview of this year’s edition for the L. “In fact, two new shorts by Rappaport originally commissioned by the Criterion Collection are paired at Art of the Real with Olson’s film. Both Becoming Anita Ekberg, a look at the forgone fate of the eponymous actress, and The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk, a compendium of footage dedicated to the thematic implications of the dressing tables featured in the director’s mid-50s melodramas, are droll, charming visual commentaries, but in context evidence just how influential this brand of essay filmmaking has become.”

BlackBook‘s Hillary Weston picks 15 must-sees; and the FSLC has a few questions for Elisabeth Subrin.

Updates, 4/16: “In the 60 years since she made her first film, the inexhaustibly curious Agnès Varda, who turns 87 next month, has always worked outside the limits of either/or,” writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. “‘What I’m trying to do—what I’ve been trying to do all along—is to bridge the border of these two genres, documentary and fiction,’ Varda told me when I interviewed her fifteen years ago…. Made between 1955 and 2000, the three shorts and seven features—a mere sampling of her extensive filmography—on view in The Actualities of Agnès Varda point the way forward for future cross-pollinators.” On Sunday, April 19, Anderson will moderate a Q&A with Varda. And Alison Nastasi interviews Varda for Flavorwire.

Jeremy Polacek for Hyperallergic: “Another notable film is Birds of September, Sarah Francis’s beautiful feature debut that will also be inevitably compared to a previous film—last year’s Manakamana. Like Olson, though, her film has a voice and vision of it own, more canny, engaged, and of a place (Beirut) than Manakamana’s unblinking look at strangers on a cable car. Driving around town in a see-through car, what looks like a glass box on wheels, Francis’s movie is reflexively, slyly transparent, as open to the city outside the glass as her subjects are during the filming.” Craig Hubert interviews Francis for Artinfo.

For R. Emmet Sweeney, writing at Movie Morlocks, the “most affecting work” in this year’s Art of the Real “might be its simplest. Masa Sawada’s I, Kamikaze is a 75-minute interview with the 90-year-old former kamikaze pilot Fujio Hayashi. Hayashi sits behind a table, his glasses traveling up and down his nose, as he dredges up the memories from his time in the Japanese Imperial Navy…. He keeps repeating that for long stretches of his life living or dying made no difference to him. He was, in this sense, the perfect kamikaze—though he was never able to achieve his intended destiny. He describes that period as ‘memories bathed in light,’ and that when it is his turn to leave on his final mission, he will have a smile on his face, just as the kamikaze pilots did on theirs as they were heading out into oblivion.”

Nick Pinkerton for Artforum on the latest from Alain Cavalier: “Like Godard’s Goodbye to Language (2014), Le Paradis is a home movie—the great majority of it seems to have been shot on Cavalier’s own property, and he locates the Eden referred to in the title in his own backyard. But where Godard’s film is typically gnomic, Cavalier’s is sweetly pellucid. His language, though delivered in a conspiratorial hush, is plain, his points of reference the lingua franca of Western culture. The usual dismissal that greets work made in the amateur mode—’My kid could do that’—would be off-target here, as always, though one doubts Cavalier would take it as an insult.”

Sean Nam on The Royal Road: “How does one uphold the mandate of political activism and luxuriate in the kind of remembering that almost always becomes nostalgia? This is the film’s driving question.” And “if Olson’s film is like having a brutally honest discussion with a friend out on the porch over a beer, Rappaport’s works suggests a joyride lecture with a madcap scientist, unearthing a variety of cinematic coincidences, accidents, and running motifs.”

Also at the House Next Door, Joseph Pomp on Edgardo Cozarinsky’s Letter to a Father (2013): “The Argentine essay filmmaker, and prolific writer of fiction and criticism alike, specialized in ruminations on cultural history during his years as an expatriate, so his turn to a more personal narrative of the past in the form of a visit to his parents’ hometown is particularly organic.” Max Nelson for Film Comment: “One of the strengths of Letter to a Father is that, like several of Cozarinsky’s films, it shows an active imagination scanning over and sifting through a particularly tumultuous period in world history: guessing, making inferences, tracing out possibilities, worrying over loose ends.” Aaron Cutler interviews Cozarinsky for Filmmaker.

And the FSLC has questions for Camila José Donoso (Naomi Campbel) and Matt Porterfield.

Updates, 4/25: Brandon Harris for the New Inquiry on the Repeat as Necessary sidebar: “Reenactments have their detractors; in the wake of the Jinx craze, Richard Brody attacked reenactments en masse just three weeks ago in the New Yorker, claiming they ‘never work.’ But he back-tracked a bit the following week when it came to the work of Elisabeth Subrin…. The nature of reality’s spell in Subrin’s hands is pitched at an angle where we can glimpse the artifice… just enough to meditate on its construction, to redouble our efforts to see Shulie’s message in our own time.”

“Though only six years separate Ron Peck’s Nighthawks (1978) and Derek Jarman’s Will You Dance with Me? (1984), two essential documents of gay London, they are chronicles of entirely different eras,” writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum. “Peck’s feature film debuted a year before Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministry began and three before the first known case of AIDS in the UK was reported; Jarman’s footage, which remained unseen until last year, was shot well into those dual catastrophes. While Peck’s film is more or less fiction, it mixes in vérité elements, recording, sometimes ambivalently, the codes and customs of gay nightlife that would be ebulliently celebrated in Jarman’s dance-floor reportage.” Jordan Cronk has more on Nighthawks at the L.

Also in the L, Jeremy Polacek: “The Gleaners and I is drawn to the forgotten and the left behind. But more than anything, [Agnès] Varda is passionate about life’s continual discovery and perseverance, the serendipitous, extra things we find and are happy to keep uncovering.”

Richard Porton in the Notebook on Mark Rappaport’s Becoming Anita Ekberg and The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk: “Mini-versions of the half-bemused, half-reverent analyses of the film industry that Rappaport initiated in Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995), these short films charm us with an idiosyncratic personal voice; the deployment of trenchant voice-over coupled with judicious selections of film clips is a winning formula. Becoming Anita Ekberg chronicles the agonies and ecstasies of performing the role of a ‘sex goddess.’ … The more compressed Vanity Tables is a heartfelt, blessedly non-academic version of mise en scène criticism. By demonstrating, with clips from standbys such as Imitation of Life, All I Desire, and All That Heaven Allows, how vanity mirrors reflect, and amplify, the anguish evinced by disparate female protagonists, Rappaport wittily illustrates why Sirk’s aesthetic is inextricable from the sly political critique smuggled into his weepies.” For more on these two new essay films, see, here in Keyframe, Adrian Martin and Kevin B. Lee.

“If there’s a foundational flaw to the vaporous Los Ausentes, it’s that Pereda has put too much stock in the ghostly sensations invoked by his technique at the expense of developing much else,” finds Carson Lund, writing at the House Next Door. “Ben Russell’s Greetings to the Ancestors is scarcely more specific in its aims, but nonetheless builds a peculiar aura less reducible to the cumulative effect of a series of art-house mannerisms.”

Back at Artforum, Aaron Cutler talks with René Frölke; and the FSLC has a few questions for Cecilia Dougherty.

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