There are 33 films in the Main Slate of the 50th NYFF. In total, over 60 films are screening as part of various Masterworks sidebars over the course of the festival’s three weeks. It seems a little overwhelming, as anyone who’s currently trying to compile a personal screening schedule can attest. But that task just got still more difficult: for a single weekend between October 4 and 9, just over 80 newly-announced films will play over the Film Society’s four screens. They’ll run the gamut in length from a couple minutes to five hours. Some will delight, others provoke, baffle or enlighten. They will range from the pastoral to the nightmarish, the political to the mystical. And yet their extreme diversity of style and form can’t fully mask their unity of purpose: each film playing in this year’s Views from the Avant-Garde section (really a festival in itself!) intends for us to leave the theater as if we’ve never before seen the world beyond its doors—or at least, not quite like this. Their shared ambition is nothing less than the re-definition of perception.
In this respect, Views starts to look less like an alternative to the rest of festival and more like its consummation. There’s not a film in the Main Slate that doesn’t strive to impose on us a new way of seeing, whether it’s to compel us to empathize with far-flung neighbors or share in experiences denied us. But the Views lineup represents that tendency in its most concentrated form: visit enough of these programs and you’re likely to find your senses assaulted, contorted, and even permanently changed. I’m not sure the highlights that follow even qualify as scratching the surface of this lineup, which begs to be experienced in breadth and in depth, all its sprawl and ambition intact. But here goes:
Sans Soleil: Much has been written about the late Chris Marker in the past month—and much, including his masterpiece Sans Soleil, has been screened and re-screened. Thankfully, critical dialogue and repeated viewings alike seem to slide effortlessly off of Marker, and especially this film—which remains, thirty years after its premiere, endlessly inscrutable, compulsively watchable, and utterly necessary. It’s one of those rare films that convinces you, when the lights come up, that you’ve just lived something.
James Benning’s small roads: the man behind American Dreams and Landscape Suicide gives us another rich, immersive catalogue of landscape and place, in the style of his previous 13 Lakes and Ten Skies.
Nathaniel Dorsky: Dorsky is the closest thing we have to a patron saint of American avant-garde cinema. In the style of mentor Stan Brakhage, he treats filmmaking as a spiritual exercise—a devotion that, if it lacks an immediately apparent object, is more than capable of transforming an audience by the sheer force of its conviction and the eloquence of its delivery. He is one of very few prolific filmmakers whose every new film qualifies as an event—partly because, out of dogged loyalty to the film medium, he refuses to let his work be put on video. See it while you can!
The Blind Owl: The great thing about Raúl Ruiz (ok, one of the many great things about Raúl Ruiz) is that we’re likely to keep unearthing “new” films by him for decades. His was the best sort of prolificacy: he cranked out films not out of obligation or habit but because he seemed to derive so much delight and joy from the act of filming that it would pain him to stop. The Blind Owl has been very, very rarely screened. It looks like vintage Ruiz: giddy, colorful, full of meta-reflections on the filmmaking process, perched right on the narrow boundary between dream and life.
Phil Solomon’s Empire: Has there been a more brilliant short film idea this year? Heck, will there be one this decade? Phil Solomon logs into Grand Theft Auto IV, hijacks a copter, perches himself on the edge of a precisely-chosen building, and, over the course of a single day of in-game time, recreates Andy Warhol’s Empire.
David Gatten’s The Extravagant Shadows: Gatten has been working for close to two decades now on a massive film project devoted to the even more massive bibliography of American colonialist William Byrd II—one installment, The Great Art of Knowing, was voted one of the 50 best avant-garde films of the decade by Film Comment. He has in the meantime somehow found time to complete this three-hour long opus—though admittedly, it's taken him 14 years. This will be The Extravagant Shadows’s world premiere.
On its final day, Views will welcome the legendary Peter Kubelka for the world premiere of Monument Film, a furious, blustering, aptly-named new two-projector exhibit in which his classic Arnulf Rainer will be paired with, and subsequently layered over, its exact inverse. Expect ear-shattering volume, seizure-inducing flicker effects, and, hopefully, the sort of participatory, visceral viewing experience film festivals—and, come to think of it, movies themselves—were intended to provide.
Also announced today: We’re proud to give one of contemporary cinema’s great humanists, a precise observer of human behavior who also happens to have an eye, and a taste, for the big and spectacular, a venue to speak at length about his life and work. After a career-full of triumphs including The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee will return to NYFF with the hotly-anticipated world premiere of his new film Life of Pi—and now, on September 29, he’ll join renowned journalist (and NYFF selection committee member) Todd McCarthy for an HBO Directors Dialogue!
Finally, today we’ve announced the lineups for both of this year’s Shorts Programs. The slate is full of reflections on youth and aging—including tales of disgruntled teenagers, frightened dates, and fraught child-grandparent relationships. Also on the program: idiosyncratic true-life tales of famous artists and sexploitation pioneers, alongside portraits of one-of-a-kind families and mixed-martial arts champs. With at least one surprise appearance by Gerard Depardieu! For a full list of the films, check out the official press release.
Tickets to all NYFF events are now on sale to Film Society Patrons and Members, and go on sale to the General Public Sunday at noon. Check out a comprehensive schedule of the festival here, and a guide to all things ticket-related here. See you in three weeks!