The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the full schedule for Art of the Real, the new documentary-as-art series that will take place April 11-26, featuring premieres of new works and recent restorations as well as a wealth of appearances by notable filmmakers. Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Second Game will have its North American premiere on Opening Night, with the director in attendance, following the previously announced screening of Raya Martin and Mark Peranson’s La última película.
Art of the Real will feature new work from around the world alongside retrospective selections by both known and unjustly forgotten filmmakers. In keeping with the emergence of documentary as a primary mode of art making, it also includes work that has typically shown in galleries and art-world contexts rather than in cinemas, or that has forged connections between both worlds.
Art of the Real will feature a focus on film and audio works from Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL), established by Lucien Castaing-Taylor in 2006. The films in this section include work produced at the SEL and work that has inspired SEL makers. Among the featured SEL titles are New York Film Festival selections Sweetgrass (2009), by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor; Foreign Parts (2010), by Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki; and Manakamana (2013), by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez. The films selected by SEL makers as influences include work by pioneering ethnographic filmmakers Robert Gardner and Jean Rouch and rarely screened films by Vincent Monnikendam and Jana Ševčíková. Spray and Velez’s Manakamana was shot with the same 16mm camera that Gardner used for Forest of Bliss (1986); both films will be shown on the same day.
Films, Descriptions & Schedule
La última película
Raya Martin & Mark Peranson, Mexico/Canada/Denmark/Philippines, 2013, 35mm, 88m
English and Spanish with English subtitles
In this documentary within a narrative—and vice versa—a grandiose filmmaker (Alex Ross Perry) arrives in the Yucatán to scout locations for his new movie, a production that will involve exposing the last extant celluloid film stock on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse. Instead, he finds himself waylaid by the formal schizophrenia of the film in which he himself is a character. Simultaneously a tribute to and a critique of The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper’s seminal obliteration of the boundary separating life and cinema), La última película engages with the impending death of celluloid through a veritable cyclone of film and video formats, genres, modes, and methods. Martin and Peranson have created an unclassifiable work that mirrors the contortions and leaps of the medium’s history and present.
Apr 11 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Mark Peranson and Alex Ross Perry)
North American Premiere
The Second Game
Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2014, DCP, 97m
Romanian with English subtitles
In 1988, one year before the revolution that toppled Ceaușescu, Corneliu Porumboiu’s father refereed a soccer game between the country’s leading teams as heavy snow fell over the playing field and all of Bucharest. In 2013, father and son watched the original television broadcast of the game, providing their own commentary in real time. The static-heavy analogue video images mix with the grain-like flurries of snow to make this rather ordinary game into something altogether more complex and mysterious, as father and son’s discussion leads to the pondering of alternate events and different outcomes: what if the ball hadn’t hit the crossbar? What if the camera had captured the brief on-field fight? What if the match had taken place a year later? Investigating the slippery middle-ground where personal memory meets historical memory, Corneliu Porumboiu has created an entertaining and disquieting essay on the legacy of the Ceaușescu dictatorship for both Romanian society and his own family.
Apr 11 at 9:15pm (Q&A with Corneliu Porumboiu)
Apr 14 at 7:00pm
Robert Greene, USA, 2014, DCP, 86m
This thoroughly compelling and at times thoroughly unnerving new film by Robert Greene (Fake It So Real) is a documentary that feels like intimate melodrama. Brandy Burre had a recurring role on HBO’s The Wire when she gave up her career to start a family. After a few years of life in the country, she decides to return to acting, and sets the denouement of her relationship in motion. As she comes apart on camera in varying shades of drama, it’s never clear at what level this film may simply be the next role.
Tom Rosenberg, USA, 2013, 11m
Like a flipped but equally dystopian reality version of Peter Watkins’s The War Game, Rehearsal depicts a simulated terrorist attack in Middle America, with hundreds of participants playing the roles of panicking victim, rescue worker, and stunned passerby.
Apr 26 at 8:00pm (Q&A with Robert Greene and Brandy Burre)
Amie Siegel: Recent Works
USA, 2010-2013, digital projection, 60m total
Moving between the gallery space and the cinema, Amie Siegel’s work often places genre fiction within documentary methods. Two films will be screened in full: Black Moon (2010), a partial remake of Louis Malle’s film of the same title, shot in empty, foreclosed housing developments in the U.S., and featuring a troop of female soldiers, pushing through an eerie post-everything wasteland; Winter (2013), an interior/exterior landscape film, juxtaposing the hyper-controlled environment of a New Zealand architect’s home with the surrounding endangered ecology. Clip selections from other new works and a discussion will follow.
Apr 20 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Amie Siegel)
The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 Years Without Images (L’Anabase de May et Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi et 27 anneées sans images)
Eric Baudelaire, France, 2011, DCP, 66m
English, French, and Japanese with English subtitles
Conceptualized while researching the Japanese Red Army during a residency in Japan, the French artist Eric Baudelaire’s first feature-length film is a probing and often mesmerizing weave of Super-8 footage, television clips, film excerpts, and archival miscellany. In voiceover, May Shigenobu (daughter of former Red Army Faction member and Japanese Red Army founder Fusako) and militant filmmaker Masao Adachi delve into their respective histories, including the “27 years without images” during which Adachi spent fighting alongside the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Lebanon. Their narrations unfold over imagery that both applies and extends what Adachi called his “theory of landscape”—the illustration of oppressive social structures through the meticulous filming of landscapes in which they are obliquely inscribed.
Eric Baudelaire, France, 2009, DCP, 26m
An adaptation of Michelangelo Antonioni’s notes on unmade films, published in his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber.
Apr 19 at 4:15pm (Q&A with Eric Baudelaire)
Alberto Grifi & Massimo Sarchielli, Italy, 1972-1975, DCP, 225m
Italian with English subtitles
Recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna, this astonishing nearly four-hour documentary centers on the titular pregnant, homeless 16-year-old whom the filmmakers discovered in Rome’s Piazza Navona. Mainly shot on then-newfangled video (which gives the black-and-white images a ghostly translucence), it documents the interactions between the beautiful, clearly damaged, often dazed Anna and the directors, who take her in partly out of compassion and partly because she’s a fascinating subject for a film. Far from straightforward vérité, this self-implicating chronicle includes reenactments of the first meeting, explicit attempts to direct its subject, and frequent intrusions from behind the camera (not least the emergence of the film’s electrician as a love interest). Anna cuts between domestic scenes and café discussions back in the square, where the unruly cross talk among hippies, bums, bourgeoisie, and angry young men touches on the movie’s key themes of obligation and intervention: between filmmakers and their subjects, the state and its citizens, fellow members of society.
Apr 22 at 6:30pm (Introduction by author Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers)
Bloody Beans (Loubia Hamra)
Narimane Mari, Algeria/France, 2013, DCP, 77m
French and Arabic with English subtitles
A group of Algerian children frolic on the beach, but their sunning and roughhousing soon turns into a kind of reenactment of the Algerian War of Independence that plays out as equal parts Lord of the Flies and Les Carabiniers. Roaming the nocturnal streets like a cross between a pack of feral cats and a brigade of revolutionary guerrillas, the kids “capture” a French soldier and force him to put himself in their shoes by eating a plate of their much-despised dietary staple, the titular legumes. Revisiting several signature themes of post-colonial cinema—the costs and benefits of fighting for national independence, the strain that political struggle exerts across all strata of a colonized nation, changes in popular attitudes toward foreigners after successful or failed uprisings—Narimane Mari’s exhilarating first feature counts the work of Jean Vigo and Jean Rouch among its key forebears. Winner of the main competition at the 2013 CPH:DOX Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival.
Apr 12 at 9:30pm (Q&A with Narimane Mari)
Apr 13 at 4:30pm (Q&A with Narimane Mari)
Derek Jarman, UK, 1993, 35mm, 79m
The final film by Derek Jarman, who died 20 years ago, comprises just one shot: a single frame of blue, close in pigment to Yves Klein’s patented International Klein Blue. The static image mirrors the deterioration of Jarman’s sight as a side effect of his HIV medication. Alongside the unchanging image unfolds a dense aural tapestry: Jarman and a group of actors read texts that reflect on the various meanings bound up in blue (as a color, an emotional state, a symbol of infinity) and the experience of living and dying with a terminal illness.
Apr 25 at 9:15pm (Introduction by filmmaker and artist Carolee Schneemann)
North American Premiere
Davi Pretto, Brazil, 2014, DCP, 95m
Portuguese with English subtitles
Davi Pretto’s first feature-length film chronicles the daily life of João Carlos Castanha, a middle-aged, single, ailing actor who supports both himself and his live-in mother by working as a cross-dressing nightclub MC. When in drag, Castanha plays the part of a larger-than-life scoundrel, verbally assailing the clientele while also enjoying periodic visits from friends backstage. On the side, Castanha finds work as an extra in film productions and taking bit parts in small plays. His greatest roles, and greatest loves, are in the past, making way for his repressed memories to take over, and finally allowing the line between his experience of reality and fantasy to blur, as the film takes haunting and confounding turns.
Apr 19 at 9:00pm
Apr 23 at 5:00pm
Change of Life (Mudar de Vida)
Paulo Rocha, Portugal, 1966, DCP, 90m
Portuguese with English subtitles
Paulo Rocha’s second feature, conceived as a direct response to his mentor Manoel de Oliveira’s Rite of Spring (which Rocha worked on as well), is a masterpiece of “sculpted reality,” using fictional conceits and non-actors cast as themselves to create an ethnographic portrait of Furadouro, a remote Portuguese fishing village. The dramatic premise, about a soldier returning home to a place that has changed in both subtle and obvious ways during his absence, serves as a pretext for Rocha to respectfully examine the specificities of Furadouro’s people, their daily routines and rituals, and their evolving relationships with the village’s history.
Apr 24 at 9:00pm
Apr 25 at 5:00pm
North American Premiere
Sarah Vanagt, Belgium, 2013, digital projection, 47m
Using the trial of Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžić at the International Criminal Tribunal, Dust Breeding looks at the shifting nature of memory, media, testimony, and translation, and how they work to obscure accountability. Vanagt intersperses the court’s record of the trial, told through fragments of sound and footage from the legal proceedings, with scenes of her own recordings of pencil rubbings of objects and surfaces in the court. In the nearly featureless witness stand, or the window the translator sits behind, she gathers a parallel set of evidence to be reconstructed. What emerges is a complex composite sketch of historical memory and trauma.
The Garden on Both River Banks
Amel El Kamel, France, 2013, DCP, 20m
French and Arabic with English subtitles
The dying industrial landscape of the Union District in the North of France is narrated by the few souls who remain.
Apr 20 at 4:30pm
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer
Thom Andersen, USA, 1975, 35mm, 56m
Thom Andersen’s concise essay film on the famous proto-cinema experiments of Eadweard Muybridge combines a biographical overview of its subject with philosophical considerations of what Muybridge’s work might represent ontologically and anthropologically. Assisted by filmmaker Morgan Fisher, Andersen re-photographed and then animated more than 3,000 of Muybridge’s sequential images, giving new life to the experiments in recording motion while analyzing their aesthetic value and their impact on science and the creation of cinema. Narrated by Dean Stockwell, with a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity that brings together art history, sociology, and psychoanalysis, Andersen’s documentary is that rare feat of filmmaking as film criticism, a thoroughgoing investigation into cinema’s primordial years that connects the medium’s invention to the broader history of Western representation.
Thom Andersen, USA, 1966/74, 16mm, 6m
A heartfelt portrait of the patrons, workers, and objects in a beloved Santa Monica diner, which closed a few years after Andersen shot this contemplative footage.
Thom Andersen, USA, 2014, digital projection, 6m
Andersen continues his exploration of ignored urban spaces with a look at the Los Angeles strip club—made entirely of footage from The Takeover, a straight-to-video gangster movie complete with gun violence and glowing neon.
Apr 13 at 7:00pm (Q&A with Thom Andersen)
Apr 15 at 5:30pm
Lisandro Alonso, Argentina, 2001, 35mm, 73m
Alonso’s landmark feature debut, based on months of closely observing its subject’s routines, follows a day in the life of Misael, a young woodcutter in the Argentinean pampas. Using long takes that are at once uninflected and hyper-attentive, La Libertad chronicles the stark facts and repetitive actions of Misael’s largely solitary existence: he searches for trees and chops wood, pauses to defecate or eat, prepares and transports the logs for sale, returns to his camp to build a fire and cook his dinner. The title crystallizes a question about this man’s life: is the cyclical daily grind a burden or a kind of freedom? Or does the title refer to Alonso’s conception of an anti-dramatic, materialist cinema, absolutely in-the-moment and liberated from the traditional confines of fiction and documentary? “An account of everyday work that transforms the banal into poetry, maybe even myth,” James Quandt wrote of La Libertad, named one of the top 10 films of the past decade in Cinema Scope magazine. Print courtesy of the Harvard Film Archive.
Ben Rivers, UK, 2008, 16mm, 20m
Rivers’s hand-processed black-and-white images depict the exuberant and anarchic everyday playfulness of the children of a family living an alternative existence in the Scottish Highlands.
Apr 21 at 7pm
Alain Cavalier, France, 1993, 35mm, 80m
Best known for his French New Wave–era political thrillers (Fire and Ice, The Unvanquished), Alain Cavalier has also produce a body of egregiously undersung documentaries and experimental works. One of the very best is this fable of political occupation and resistance that feels somehow both alien and familiar. In this series of situational tableaux set in a totalitarian dictatorship, no words are spoken, but the soundtrack is rich with the faint sounds of bodies breathing, shifting, embracing, and struggling. The low-key lighting, palette of dim blues and browns, emotional restraint, and precise framing call to mind Bresson or Malle, but the cumulative effect of this unique film is very much all its own.
Apr 21 at 9:00pm
Lukas the Strange (Lukas nino)
John Torres, Philippines, 2013, DCP, 85m
Tagalog with English subtitles
“Lukas, in the middle of the film, the actress will pay a visit. You’ll fall in love with her. And you’ll understand your father. I’ll become your memory. I haven’t shown you the middle yet.” Thus begins John Torres’s latest dream of a documentary, a highly experimental, gloriously free-form coming-of-age story. Shortly after the arrival of a film crew that throws his tiny, usually quiet village into a frenzy of commotion, Lukas’s father, Mang Basilio, announces that he is a tikbalang, the half-horse, half-man of Filipino folklore. When Mang Basilio disappears, the awkward, baffled Lukas sets out on a journey of self-discovery that will include a “river of forgetting,” invisible voices, and a hallucinatory blurring of reality and fantasy. Torres has already carved out an idiosyncratic niche for himself in the thriving world of documentary-fiction hybrids, and this is his most personal and expansive work to date.
Apr 18 at 5:00pm
Apr 20 at 8:30pm
A New Product
Harun Farocki, Germany, 2012, digital projection, 37m
German with English subtitles
At a design consultancy in Hamburg, a new corporate office concept is under development. In long, awkward office meetings, illustrated with perplexing diagrams, senior staff pontificate on the future thriving workplace, one inevitably powered by neoliberal buzzwords like flexibility, openness, and communication. With a light touch, Farocki arranges these scenes into a revelatory black satire of contemporary managerial process.
Just Like Us
Jesse McLean, USA, 2013, digital projection, 15m
The memories of an anonymous narrator who was once a body double for a famous actress punctuate a vast suburban waste space of empty parks and big box parking lots, and mingle with paparazzi footage and clippings. Here the tabloid insistence that we become intimate with the lives of celebrities takes a deep literal turn.
Benjamin Pearson, USA, 2013, digital projection, 20m
A sci-fi toned meditation on celebrity and the loss of the self in the public image, Former Models retraces the tragic rise and fall of Milli Vanilli, narrated by Robert Pilatus himself, in the form of a robot voice.
Apr 24 at 7:00pm
Plot Point Trilogy
Nicolas Provost, Belgium/USA, 2007-2012, digital projection, 60m total
Nicolas Provost’s work studies the similarities between the narrative conventions of movies and the recording of the everyday, and looks for the cinematic everywhere but the cinema. In his Plot Point Trilogy, three short videos created over six years, Provost filmed iconic public spaces with a hidden camera, weaving the footage into dramatic arcs using narrative editing devices. Plot Point (2007) dramatizes the NYPD’s movements in Times Square. Stardust (2010), transforms the ugly foyers of Las Vegas into a crime story featuring real Hollywood stars. And Tokyo Giants (2012) follows an actor playing a serial killer through the Japanese metropolis.
Ted Kennedy, USA, 2013-2014, digital projection, 6m
A series of short “docudramas” made from original 16mm camera rolls from a Pittsburgh TV news station.
Apr 23 at 9:15pm (Q&A with Nicolas Provost)
Thom Andersen & Noël Burch, USA, 1996, digital projection, 120m
Working from extensive original research, this revelatory documentary—an elaboration of Andersen’s 1985 essay of the same name—offers a unique perspective on Hollywood filmmaking from the 1930s to the 1950s, when “Red” screenwriters and directors worked within the studio system to make films that challenged issues of class, war, race, and gender. Andersen and Burch use clips from 53 different films spanning numerous genres in order to demonstrate how this network of filmmakers’ ideology affected the meaning and reception of their work, as well as interviews with many of the artists (such as Paul Jarrico, Ring Lardner, Jr., Alfred Levitt, and Abraham Polonsky) who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Apr 12 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Thom Andersen)
Apr 13 at 2:00pm
Raymond Depardon, France, 1982, 35mm, 113m
French with English subtitles
Reminiscent of Wiseman’s Titicut Follies (1967) and Forugh Farrokhzad’s The House Is Black (1967), celebrated Magnum photographer and documentarian Raymond Depardon’s gripping account of the last days of a psychiatric hospital on the brink of shutting down allows viewers access to a world otherwise hidden from the public. Portraying the everyday routines of the hospital’s patients, their body language and facial expressions that speak to otherwise inexpressible emotional turmoil, Depardon follows his subjects’ individual fates with strict observational distance and enormous compassion fitting Nan Goldin’s edict that photography be “not about a style or a look or a setup. It’s about emotional obsession and empathy.” Print courtesy of Institut Français, Paris.
Apr 25 at 7:00pm
North American Premiere
The Silent Majority Speaks
Bani Khoshnoudi, Iran, 2010, digital projection, 94m
In what critic Nicole Brenez calls “a deep political analysis of one century of revolt and repression in Iran, and the various roles of images in this collective history,” The Silent Majority Speaks collects images from several different cameras secretly recording the protests in the wake of the fraudulent June 2009 Iranian presidential elections. Clandestinely made and signed by the “Silent Collective,” the film mixes of-the-moment footage of the rise of Iran’s Green Movement with glimpses of revolutions long since suppressed and snippets of narration that recall a century of turbulence. Filmmaker and artist Bani Khoshnoudi has recently revealed herself to be the film’s director, and this will be its first screening in North America and the first since her disclosure.
Apr 17 at 9:15pm (Q&A with Bani Khoshnoudi)
Suitcase of Love and Shame
Jane Gillooly, USA, 2013, DCP, 70m
Constructed from 60 hours of reel-to-reel audiotape from the 1960s discovered in a suitcase purchased on eBay, Suitcase of Love and Shame reveals the intimate details of an affair between a Midwestern woman and her lover, who used recording devices to remember and document their romance. Foregrounding the audio material and restraining the visual, director Jane Gillooly reconstructs the doomed relationship in a way that brings the material exceptionally close to the viewer.
Gustavo Beck, Brazil, 2013, DCP, 28m
An enigmatic and captivating chronicle of a working Brazilian family and the life around them, through their direct and indirect engagement with the camera.
Apr 15 at 7:00pm (Q&A with Jane Gillooly and Gustavo Beck)
Apr 16 at 4:00pm
A Thousand Suns (Mille soleils)
Mati Diop, France, 2013, HDCam, 45m
French and Wolof with English subtitles
Mati Diop, France/Senegal, 2009, HDCam, 15m
Wolof, Swahili and French with English subtitles
A Thousand Suns is a portrait of Magaye Niang, the non-professional actor who played the lead in the African film classic, Touki Bouki, which was directed by Diop’s uncle, Djibril Diop Mambéty. Fusing documentary and fantasy in homage to her uncle’s masterpiece, Diop follows Niang from a screening of that 1973 film to his farm in Senegal as the old man comes to terms with the vanished past he longs for and the future he still hopes is possible. Atlantiques, winner of the Best Short Film Award at the 2009 Rotterdam International Film Festival, tells the story of a young boy’s tragic migratory voyage over the Moroccan border.
Apr 18 at 7:00pm (Q&A with Mati Diop)
Apr 20 at 2:30pm
Time Goes by Like a Roaring Lion (Die Zeit Vergeht Wie Ein Brüllender Löwe)
Philipp Hartmann, Germany, 2013, DCP, 79m
German with English subtitles
A free-associative essay on temporality, mortality, and cinema’s capacity to represent both, Philipp Hartmann’s autobiographical film is at once affecting and dense with ideas. The filmmaker-narrator has just turned 37, half the average life expectancy of a German man, and his own chronophobia (the fear of time’s passage) prompts an increasingly personal and phenomenological investigation into the past. Time Goes by Like a Roaring Lion is captivatingly digressive, taking detours to consider Alzheimer’s, an atomic clock in Brauchsweig, and the world’s largest salt desert in Bolivia. Despite the loftiness of its subject matter, the film maintains an air of lightness and a spirit of artistic and philosophical experimentalism.
Apr 18 at 9:00pm (Q&A with Philipp Hartmann)
Apr 19 at 2:00pm (Q&A with Philipp Hartmann)
North American Premiere
To Singapore, with Love
Tan Pin Pin, Singapore, 2013, DCP, 70m
English, Malay, and Mandarin with English subtitles
Scattered about the globe, in London, Thailand, and neighboring Malaysia, the subjects of this expertly crafted, enormously moving documentary are Singaporean political exiles who fled their country decades ago to escape detention or worse for their beliefs and activism. Most will never be permitted to return in their lifetime, but all have created an extraordinary second life for themselves in an adopted homeland. The latest from leading Singaporean documentarian Tan Pin Pin (Singapore GaGa, Invisible City) doubles as a tender group portrait of these brave individuals, and of Singapore itself, as seen from afar by its harshest critics and most utopian defenders.
Apr 23 at 7:15pm (Q&A with Tan Pin Pin)
Apr 24 at 5:00pm
North American Premiere
The Ugly One
Eric Baudelaire, France/Lebanon, 2013, DCP, 101m
English, French, Japanese, and Arabic with English subtitles
A sequel of sorts to The Anabasis…, Baudelaire’s second feature takes as its starting point a script and a set of directions given to him by the Japanese filmmaker Masao Adachi, whose voiceover narration intrudes occasionally to meditate on memory and militancy. Baudelaire deviates considerably from Adachi’s text in presenting the story of Lili (Juliette Navis) and Michel (Rabih Mroué), who meet on a beach in Beirut. Their interactions reveal a traumatic shared past marked by an act of terrorism and the loss of a loved one. The contrapuntal interplay of this elegiac narrative and Adachi’s memories of insurrection and revolutionary regret produces a work that is as moving as it is intellectually and politically challenging.
Apr 19 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Eric Baudelaire)
James Benning, USA, 2014, digital projection, 56m
James Benning, USA, 2014, digital projection, 11m
James Benning, USA, 2014, digital projection, 18m
Since switching from his beloved 16mm to various digital formats, with all the financial freedom and creative possibilities that change affords, James Benning has been on an especially prolific streak. These three new short works are characteristically provocative in their political intonations, conceptual rigor and reflexive beauty. HF is Benning’s tribute in miniature to legendary filmmaker Hollis Frampton, known for his materialist dissection of the cinema apparatus and adventurous considerations of memory and time. Signs is a sobering continuation of Benning’s career-long interest with the written word as image, text as vision: a silent parade of stills showing dozens of cardboard signs asking for money, food, and kindness. A stretch of highway blanketed by snow becomes the stage for one accident after another in US 41, perhaps Benning’s first disaster movie, or a comedy of (automotive and meteorological) errors. Returning Benning to his favorite subject of the American character as reflected in our landscape, US 41 is an almost transcendental contemplation of mortality by way of traffic camera footage and Bob Dylan.
Apr 26 at 5:30pm (Q&A with James Benning)
FOCUS ON THE SENSORY ETHNOGRAPHY LAB
In a mere eight years, the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University has gone from an unusually ambitious academic program to one of the most vital incubators of nonfiction and experimental cinema in the United States. Lucien Castaing-Taylor established the SEL in 2006 on the premise that documentary and art are not mutually exclusive and that the intensive fieldwork of anthropology could nourish both. In practice this means rejecting the laziest devices in the contemporary documentarian’s tool kit: reductive story arcs, infantilizing voiceovers and talking heads, manipulative music cues. It also reconnects documentary to the work of such pioneers as Robert Flaherty and Jean Rouch, and indeed to the medium’s eternal promise as an instrument for both capturing reality and heightening the senses. The films in this selection, including work produced at the SEL and work that inspired SEL makers, attest to the aspirations of sensory ethnography: to experience the world, and to transmit some of the magnitude and multiplicity of that experience.
As Long as There’s Breath
Stephanie Spray, USA, 2009, digital projection, 57m
Nepali with English subtitles
Stephanie Spray’s third video work documenting the lives of a Nepali family named the Gayeks, As Long as There’s Breath focuses on their daily rituals and conversations in the wake of their son’s departure. Using the long take as a means of rendering the emotional substance beneath the surface of everyday routines, Spray connects the psychological effects of a loved one’s absence to the most mundane yet essential acts of work, and the resulting portrait lays bare the family’s inner lives, while maintaining their role as collaborators in the film.
Stephanie Spray, USA, 2010, digital projection, 14m
A playful piece depicting, in a continuous shot, the bickering and bantering of a newlywed couple in Nepal.
Apr 16 at 7:00pm (Q&A with Stephanie Spray)
Véréna Paravel & J.P. Sniadecki, USA, 2010, DCP, 80m
Tucked between the Citifield baseball stadium and the Van Wyck overpass lie a ramshackle collection of auto-body repair shops and other small businesses, staffed by an extraordinarily multicultural cast of characters. But New York City has other plans: the area has been targeted for development, complete with apartments, malls, and parks, and this commercial shantytown may soon be a memory. Filmmakers Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki have created a revealing and tender portrait of Willets Point, Queens, that captures the many roads the American dream has taken. A Kino Lorber release.
Apr 14 at 5:00pm
Forest of Bliss
Robert Gardner, USA/India, 1986, 35mm, 90m
Pioneering ethnographic filmmaker and anthropologist Robert Gardner describes this mesmerizing evocation of the role of death in Benares, India, as “a ninety-minute expansion on a split second of the panic dread I felt on turning an unfamiliar corner onto Manikarnika Ghat (The Great Cremation Ground)” during a visit there a decade earlier. Appearing to occupy the time between two sunrises, the film revolves around three inhabitants of this world of death: a healer, a priest, and the hereditary “king” of the cremation ground who sells sacred fire to mourners. Interwoven with their activities are glimpses of life of the Ghat: wild dogs, marigold sellers, boys flying kites, wood-carriers, boatmen on the Ganges. Gardner eschews voice-over narration, explanatory title cards or even subtitles, instead relying on an eerie yet serene flow of images and sound.
Apr 12 at 4:30pm
Jean Rouch, France, 1954/1967, 16mm, 89m
French with English subtitles
Throughout his filmmaking career, Jean Rouch blended narrative practices and documentary techniques in what he called “ethno-fiction,” and Jaguar, which follows three young Songhay men from Niger as they set out on a journey to the Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) in search of adventure and work, is perhaps the prime example of his idiosyncratic and now widely influential approach. The four men filmed their trip in the mid-1950s, before synchronized sound was possible in documentary filmmaking, then reunited a few years later to record the sound, trying to remember what they said and making up commentary about their surroundings and themselves, by turns jocular and impertinent. Rouch and his collaborators succeeded in creating a complex portrait of African life where the three leads perform an ethnography of their own culture, turning it inside out. As Rouch put it, Jaguar is “a postcard in the service of the imaginary.” Print courtesy of Institut Français, Paris.
Apr 13 at 9:30pm
Jana Ševčíková, Czech Republic, 1992, 35mm, 63m
Czech with English subtitles
Jana Ševčíková’s portrait of Jakub Popovich is a stirring look at the lives of the Ruthenians, a community based in Northern Romania and Western Bohemia that held together amidst 50 years of political upheaval and revolution. Ševčíková began filming two years before the ouster of Ceaușescu in 1989 and completed the project in 1994, emphasizing the fast-changing milieu around this marginalized community.
Old Believers (Staroverci)
Jana Ševčíková, Czech Republic, 2001, 35mm, 46m
Czech with English subtitles
Time seems to have stopped in the forsaken Romanian village of the Danube Delta where the Russian emigrants of a minority faith settled during the 17th century and Ševčíková spent five years documenting their intimate community for Old Believers. The residents have preserved the archaic language and strictly adhere to the traditions of their oldest ancestors, while the almost meditative rhythm of the place gives a transcendental significance to even the most ordinary everyday tasks.
Apr 14 at 9:30pm
Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, USA, 2013, DCP, 118m
Nepali and English with English subtitles
Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s (literally) transporting film—shot inside a cable car that carries pilgrims and tourists to and from a mountaintop temple in Nepal—is radically simple in conception. Each of its 11 shots lasts as long as a one-way ride, which corresponds to the duration of a roll of 16mm film. A kind of head movie that viewers are invited to complete as they watch, Manakamana is thrillingly mysterious in its effects: a staged documentary, a cross between science fiction and ethnography, an airborne version of an Andy Warhol screen test. Working within a 5-by-5-foot glass and metal box, Spray and Velez have made an endlessly suggestive film that both describes and transcends the bounds of time and space. Winner of the Filmmakers of the Present prize at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival. A Cinema Guild release.
Apr 12 at 1:30pm (Q&A with Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez)
Mother Dao, the Turtlelike
Vincent Monnikendam, Netherlands/Indonesia, 1995, 35mm, 90m
Dutch and Indonesian with English subtitles
A compilation of clips from documentaries and propaganda films shot by Dutch cameramen between 1912 and 1932 in their former colony of Indonesia, Vincent Monnikendam’s masterpiece of found-footage documentary contrasts the lives of wealthy colonial rulers, who issue orders while clad in immaculately white outfits, with the hopeless situation of the native people, victims of brutal economic exploitation. West of Sumatra, the islanders of Nias tell of Earth’s creator Mother Dao, the ever rejuvenating, the turtlelike, whose immaculate conception first begat man and woman. Taking this as inspiration for his use of dialectical techniques, Monnikendam uses a soundtrack of indigenous music and recited poetry as a sharp counterpoint to the abundant images of hardship, squalor and oppression. Susan Sontag praised Mother Dao as “a film that is both a searing reflection on the ravages of colonialism and a noble work of art.”
Apr 15 at 9:30pm
Ilisa Barbash & Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, 2009, 35mm, 105m
This breathtaking chronicle follows an ever-surprising group of modern-day cowboys as they lead an enormous herd of sheep up and then down the slopes of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana on their way to market. Call it an abstract Western or the last round-up. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor spent three summers in Montana documenting the process by which sheep are raised, ranched, sheared, and driven hundreds of miles to graze in high pastures of Sweet Grass County. Sweetgrass is routinely awe-inspiring and often hilarious. The Big Sky Country has never looked more spectacular—or, thanks to the ranchers as well as their animals, sounded more cacophonous—and, after Sweetgrass, it will never look the same. A Cinema Guild release.
Apr 17 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Ilisa Barbash)
Swiss Mountain Transport Systems, Radio Version (5.1 mix)
Ernst Karel, USA, 2011, DCP (audio only), 55m
Swiss Mountain Transport Systems consists of location recordings made during the summer and fall of the various transport systems that are specific to mountainous terrain—gondolas (aerial cable cars), funiculars, and chairlifts—of different types, of different vintages, and accessing different elevations, in different parts of Switzerland. Recorded from within mostly enclosed mobile environments, this emergent music includes mechanical drones, intermittent percussiveness, and transient acoustic glimpses of a vast surrounding landscape inhabited by humans and other animals.
Screening with other sound work
Apr 16 at 9:15pm (Q&A with Ernst Karel)