Daily | NYFF 2016 | Projections

Joshua Solondz's 'Luna e Santur' courtesy of the Toronto International Film FestivalJoshua Solondz’s ‘Luna e Santur’ courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

There are a total of eleven programs in the New York Film Festival‘s Projections section, “an international selection of film and video work that expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be.” The titles of each program appear below as headers and links to the respective pages at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where you’ll find descriptions of the films. The idea here is to keep everything down to the titles and then add links to reviews as they appear.

Program 1: The Spaces Between the Words
  • REGAL (Karissa Hahn, 2m).
  • Steve Hates Fish (John Smith, 5m).
  • Real Italian Pizza (David Rimmer, 13m).
  • Now: End of Season (Ayman Nahle, 20m).
  • See a Dog, Hear a Dog (Jesse McLean, 18m).
  • Twixt Cup and Lip (Stephen Sutcliffe, 23m).

David Rimmer’s “16-mm work retains a vibrancy that feeds off the dazzling formal creativity of 1970s avant-garde cinema,” writes Tony Pipolo in his overview of the program for Artforum. “His sensitivity to the medium has a physical handprint not easily duplicable in digital.”

Program 2: Beyond Landscape
  • Burning mountains that spew flame (Helena Girón and Samuel Delgado, 14m).
  • Bending to Earth (Rosa Barba, 15m).
  • Ten Mornings Ten Evening and One Horizon (Tomonari Nishikawa, 10m).
  • Canadian Pacific I (David Rimmer, 9m).
  • Jáaji Approx. (Sky Hopinka, 8m).
  • Bad mama, who cares (Brigid McCaffrey, 12m).
  • Ears, Nose, and Throat (Kevin Jerome Everson, 10m).

Ten Mornings Ten Evenings and One Horizon “is a subtly stimulating work. As several extreme long shots unfold of landscapes along Japan’s Yahagi River, the shadowy vertical bars that veil the foreground seem, initially, to represent a fixed perspective, as if every shot were taken from behind some off-screen grilled window,” writes Tony Pipolo. “But we soon realize that distant vehicles or figures within the landscapes do not move continuously across an integral image, but actually vanish between the vertical bars, as if into black holes. Despite this optical delusion, the seemingly unobstructed view of a unified landscape endures and the film achieves the harmonious serenity of Japanese painting.”

“Much of the first half of Burning mountains is deeply dark, so much so that images appear onscreen at the absolute verge of visibility,” writes Michael Sicinski in his roundup for the Notebook on the short films in this year’s Wavelengths program in Toronto. “As most of the film is shot in underground caverns, the pair spend a lot of time tracking over-worried surfaces of rock and wall… Most interestingly, Delgado and Girón double down on this craggy surface texture by using outdated film stock and/or hand-processing their film.” Still, “the film might’ve benefited from perhaps one more strand of material, since the caves signify very little beyond themselves.”

And Ears, Nose and Throat “is one of Everson’s very best short films, and if you know the man’s work you know that’s saying something. Part of what makes EN&T so affecting is its combination of storytelling and formal invention…. As is so often the case with Everson’s work, a seemingly marginal part of a larger social issue becomes our way to grasp its magnitude. The ripple effect of urban violence is materialized on an African-American woman’s body, but she is telling us about yet another victim. Otherwise, abstract montage is grounded in tragic materialism.”

Program 3: The Illinois Parables
  • The Illinois Parables (Deborah Stratman, 60m).
  • The Horses of a Cavalry Captain (Clemens von Wedemeyer, 10m).

“The Midwestern state of Illinois is the fifth most populous in the United States, but its identity in the popular imagination is marked by none of the grand mythology enjoyed by Texas or California,” writes Erika Balsom for Sight & Sound. “Yet as Deborah Stratman masterfully unfolds in her 16mm essay film The Illinois Parables, the unassuming landscapes of her home state contain rich, accumulated traces of struggle, displacement, hope, and renewal. In 11 ‘parables’ spanning from 600 CE to 1985, Stratman marshals diverse filmic techniques to unearth a fragmentary history of how faith and belief, in their manifold manifestations, have shaped the territory and the experience of those who live within it. Through a concentration on the decidedly local, Stratman speaks to major themes and narratives of American identity, probing how particular archetypes are rearticulated and reshaped across time.” A conversation with the filmmaker follows. “As she moves across both time and place, locating ghosts and tapping voices as different as those of Emerson and the Black Panther Fred Hampton, Ms. Stratman finds a country that is as haunted and haunting as her film,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

Program 4: Fade Out
  • Old Hat (Zach Iannazzi, 8m).
  • Flowers of the Sky (Janie Geiser, 9m).
  • Answer Print (Mónica Savirón, 5m).
  • Athyrium filix-Femina (for Anna Atkins) (Kelly Egan, 5m).
  • Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper (David Rimmer, 9m).
  • Ghost Children (João Vieira Torres, 17m).
  • Cilaos (Camilo Restrepo, 13m).
  • Luna e Santur (Joshua Gen Solondz, 11m)

Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper (1970) “is a nine-minute black-and-white loop of an eight-second shot, in which a female factory worker, facing the camera, unwinds and flips a sheet of cellophane in fast undulating movements while an assaultive soundtrack magnifies the gesture to thunderous effect,” writes Tony Pipolo. “As Rimmer subjects the footage to aural and chemical treatment, the woman is transformed into negative and ghostlike silhouettes, until the film is finally reduced to fleeting splotches of white floating against a black screen. It’s a perfect marriage of film clout and social comment.”

“A true cinematic UFO, Cilaos comes on like a bastard combination of Pedro Costa and Owen Land,” writes Michael Sicinski. “Centered around a joyous, charismatic performance by musician Christine Salem, Cilaos often feels like a raucous game of the Dozens, with Salem starting out singing about her desire to find her father, known as The Mouth. From there, she and her two male costars (David Abrousse and Harry Pérrigone) perform, declaim poetic aphorisms (‘what does the tree say to the saw?’), and pose in various semi-plausible environments.” And “Janie Geiser’s latest effort, we discover at the end, is dedicated to fellow filmmaker Charlotte Pryce. This goes a little way toward explaining some of the ambiguities of Flowers of the Sky since, like much of Pryce’s work, Geiser’s film addresses itself to overall textures rather than any distinct temporal motility.”

Also, “possibly one of the year’s best films overall, Joshua Solondz’s Luna e Santur is in equal measure mysterious and disturbing, seductive and repellent. Characterized by an aggressive flicker, Luna doesn’t make its images easy to parse, and in fact obscures them through skeins of surface scratches, paint swipes, and other thickets of distress.” There are “figures are in some sort of room” and “an unnerving sense of ritual as if these draped bodies have been condemned to do this over and over again, a kind of Sartrean Abu Ghraib…. Luna e Santur marks the arrival of a major artist.”

Program 5: Site and Sound
  • Indefinite Pitch (James N. Kienitz Wilkins, 23m).
  • Europa, Mon Amour (2016 Brexit Edition) (Lawrence Lek, 14m).
  • Strange Vision of Seeing Things (Ryan Ferko, 14m).
  • Foyer (Ismaïl Bahri, 32m).

“Though its aesthetic is spare,” writes Tony Pipolo, “Foyer is as rich a conjuring of off-screen space and the tenors of the human voice that fill it as any movie I’ve seen in years. And in embracing the most elemental of cinematic figures, it obviates the features that separate peoples and cultures, just as it dissolves distinctions between film and digital.”

More from Michael Sicinski, who also writes about Indefinite Pitch, a “very probable masterpiece,” and Strange Vision of Seeing Things, “a kind of anti-travelogue of Belgrade. More specifically, it’s about the way that the remnants of the Balkans War can only be seen as absent—empty buildings and offices, spaces where key events happened but there is no evidence to be found. If work like Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah takes this key historiographic idea and presents it as a straightforward tragedy, Ferko displays it not as farce but as a tragicomic aspect of late 20th / early 21st-century postmodernity.” Dan Sullivan interviews James N. Kienitz Wilkins for Film Comment, noting first that “Wilkins, 33, is the rare experimentalist who takes a noticeable interest in writing, especially screenwriting but also detective fiction, confessional monologues, interviews, elevator pitches, and Powerpoint presentations. A former Cooper Union classmate of kindred filmmakers Gabriel Abrantes and Alexander Carver, the Maine native co-wrote the screenplay for the forthcoming follow-up to the much-lauded Fort Buchanan [2015] directed by Benjamin Crotty. He is a canny conceptualist who explores race, Hollywood, the Internet, and a host of other subjects with wit, daring, and a knack for demonstrating how the various fixtures of our historical moment that we take for granted are in fact strange, funny, and worthy of further examination.” Update, 10/10: “Between this and last year’s Special Features, I’m tempted to declare Wilkins the best writer making films today,” writes Brooklyn Magazine‘s Mark Asch. “At the very least, Indefinite Pitch’s voiceover narration would stand alone for its multilayered mental perambulations—on paper, as in the recent ‘imperfect stroller‘ novels, or from behind a desk, monologue-style, though the register is a bit more playful in its self-aware switchbacks and capacity for feigned surprise and a real delight.” Update, 10/16: From Lawrence Garcia at In Review Online: “Wilkins’s film consists entirely of still images of water in various flowing forms, accompanied by a digressive stand-up-type voiceover (which shifts in pitch as the film goes on) rambling on about—among other things—the lost 1927 film The Masked Menace, the Androscoggin River, and Jack Torrance from The Shining. It’s the kind of conceit that would be deadly at two minutes, but somehow works because it goes on for so long, its endless monologue helpfully including a discussion about frame rates, DCP, and how digital has changed the notion of what we term and perceive as ‘film.’ ‘Indefinite’ need not mean unsure, and Wilkins’s confidence makes all the difference.” Update, 10/18: “I’ve come to the conclusion that movies always communicate the circumstances in which they were made,” writes Wilkins in the Notebook, “and most of the time, these circumstances are unconscious influences. If one identifies with movies, or has dedicated one’s life to, or expects to make a living from, movies, then circumstantially, one’s personal ambitions, dreams, and memories get riskily exposed. Indefinite Pitch tries to pinpoint this.”

Program 6: All the Cities of the North

“A digitally altered still of a cinema interior, as if we have just walked into the cinema itself, orchestra left, to see the cinema completely empty of patrons and a blank screen, is the first image the viewer encounters in All the Cities of the North,” writes Samuel T. Adams in Brooklyn Magazine. “The image is a welcoming introduction, inducing a self-conscious awareness of one’s own presence inside the cinema, but moreover, introducing this film specifically with a blank canvas. It’s as if the young filmmaker, Dane Komljen, is not only stating watch closely but also asking, what are the possibilities of the cinematic palette? Komljen answers with a constellation of cinematic endeavors that envelope as one darkly perplexing tide.” For Tony Pipolo, “it’s difficult not to think of the work of Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov. As the latter does in Spiritual Voices (1995) and Confession (1998), Komljen exhibits a predilection for long takes, somber monologic voiceover, indifference to narrative drive, a vaguely defined sociopolitical situation, and long silences, all laced with lyrical but subtle homoeroticism.” Update, 10/8: Introducing her interview with Komljen for Reverse Shot, Ela Bittencourt notes that “there may not be an obvious link between the still images that we see of Lagos and the white cubes presented in the film, but both are indeterminate spaces that serve multiple functions, and which invite human imagination, as well as a sense of wonder. In Komljen’s film, the white cubes serve not only as shelter but also as the setting for a film shoot, as we see Komljen and his crew on a boat, capturing images and sound. But while the film is self-referential, it’s also whimsically elusive. Treating the film within the film, or his own presence, as just one of the narrative threads, Komljen weaves in stories as diverse as that of the creation of the modern city of Brasilia and of a Serbian epic hero, Prince Marco. This gives All the Cities of the North an eerie quality that can perhaps best be compared to One Thousand and One Nights—we are in the presence of a storyteller who seduces us with his tales, while also reflecting on how much our environment is in constant flux, subject to our most primal fears.”

Program 7: Pop Culture Clash
  • A Boy Needs a Friend (Steve Reinke, 22m).
  • Spotlight on a Brick Wall (Alee Peoples and Mike Stoltz).
  • Return to Forms (Zachary Epcar, 10m).
  • Dream English Kid, 1964–1999 AD (Mark Leckey, 23m).
Program 8: Dorsky and Hiler
  • Autumn (Nathaniel Dorsky, 26m).
  • The Dreamer (Nathaniel Dorsky, 19m).
  • Bagatelle II (Jerome Hiler, 20m).

Manohla Dargis: “Mr. Dorsky’s elegiac Autumn and the equally meditative, somewhat shorter The Dreamer play with dualism—figuration and abstraction, nature and culture, the hidden and the revealed—creating an effect on this viewer that might be termed To the Wonder. Mr. Hiler’s misleadingly titled Bagatelle II, draws on ravishing moments in time (dancing lights, scudding clouds, a bathing woman) that build into what seems like a self-portrait of the artist.”

Program 9: Event Horizons
  • Há Terra! (Ana Vaz, 13m).
  • Kindah (Ephraim Asili, 12m).
  • In Titan’s Goblet (Peter Hutton, 9m).
  • An Aviation Field (Joana Pimenta, 13m).
  • Electrical Gaza (Rosalind Nashashibi, 18m).
  • Event Horizon (Guillermo Moncayo, 16m).

Michael Sicinski on An Aviation Field: “Drawing on the light works and installations of the South American avant-garde (particularly Hélio Oiticica) while also displaying her connection with Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, Pimenta demonstrates a cosmic vision without compromising the concrete, little-c constructivism that characterizes the best contemporary poetry.”

And Há Terra!: “This complex, searching film seems to engage with the specter of subjugation, in particular Brazil’s colonial past with the Portuguese.” Event Horizon is an “evocative visual experience,” finds Tony Pipolo. “A somewhat philosophical and poetic text is superimposed, modeled on ‘nineteenth-century ethnography and colonialist travel literature,’ but the central image embodies the adventurous spirit the work documents and celebrates.”

Program 10: From the Notebook of…
  • From the Notebook of… (Robert Beavers, 48m).
  • For Christian (Luke Fowler, 7m).

“Elegant, beautiful, complex and austere, From the Notebook of… is a film about creation, about the transformation of life into art and the loveliness of Florentine sunlight flooding through a window,” writes Manohla Dargis. “The whole thing functions somewhat like a rebus, in that you need to fit together with its pieces—precisely framed, warmly illuminated images of birds, windows, rooftops, water, mattes, a writing desk, some street scenes—to make sense of the larger, layered meanings. This involves a little work, but the film’s sheer loveliness and its ideas are so inviting and expansive that the experience is intensely pleasurable. Writing is thinking; so is filmmaking and film watching.” And For Christian is “a delicate seven-minute visit with the composer Christian Wolff that in its very fragmentation—and hand-held, grazing shots of curious sheep, green meadows, household clutter, and Mr. Wolf’s gesturing hands—seems to acknowledge the limits of portraiture.”

Program 11: The Human Surge

We’ve just posted an entry with a fresh round of reviews of Eduardo Williams’s first feature, The Human Surge, winner of the top prize in the Filmmakers of the Present competition in Locarno. NYFF 2016 Index.

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