Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I

Art of the Real is returning for a second run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The series is a “documentary-as-art” festival, celebrating the “most expansive possible view of documentary film.” Art of the Real serves as a platform for filmmakers and artists to deliver “a wider view of nonfiction cinema.”

<p>The 2015 edition, taking place April 10-26, will again feature dozens of new works from around the world and in a variety of genres alongside retrospective and thematic selections. Opening Night will premiere new works by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata (The Last Time I Saw Macao, Mahjong), Eduardo Williams, and Matt Porterfield (I Used to Be Darker), with all filmmakers attending the evening.

The U.S. Premiere of Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata’s Iec Long, screening this week at the Berlin International Film Festival, mixes archival footage, photographs, figurine-based reconstructions, and oral testimony in an eclectic depiction of a derelict Macao fireworks factory. Argentinian director Eduardo Williams’s enigmatic I Forgot, also a U.S. debut, follows a group of Vietnamese teenagers as they stave off boredom by leaping from one building to the next. And North American Premiere Take What You Can Carry by Matt Porterfield, currently screening in competition at the 2015 Berlinale shorts program, is a delicate portrait of a young American woman in Berlin (Hannah Gross) attempting to reconcile her need for a stable sense of identity with her itinerant lifestyle.

“While only a little taste of the dozens of programs to be announced, our Opening Night titles give a sense of some of kinds of work we'll be highlighting this year,” said Rachael A. Rakes, co-programmer of Art of the Real. “For one, we're taking the unorthodox approach of doing a short/mid-length program for the Opening Night. We're excited to continue to give a little more emphasis to works that don't conform to feature lengths—where these might usually be relegated to simply supporting a feature—and that evade traditional arcs and storytelling conventions in favor of the complex and engaging. These three films are exciting new contributions to non-narrative, nonfiction from around the world right now, alongside the many others on our main slate.”

Rakes added that the Opening Night filmmakers will take part in a lively discussion, ushering in Art of the Real's second year.

Agnès Varda will feature prominently in this year's edition. In a sidebar restrospective titled The Actualities of Agnès Varda, Art of the Real will present many of the filmmaker's work in the context of her career-long focus on merging fact and fiction. “Documentary has long been a critical element of Varda's life's work,” said Rakes. “They demonstrate her career-spanning engagement with politics, community, and various forms of culture around the world. Her best-known documentaries have extended the field with her seamless integration of the personal with the expository.”

João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata's Iec Long

Varda will be in attendance for several screenings, and the spotlight will feature many new digital restorations, including her debut feature, La Pointe Courte, the landmark Vagabond, and all of her “California Films” (Lion’s Love, Documenteur, Mur Murs, Black Panthers, Uncle Yanco). The spotlight will also feature some of Varda’s most celebrated documentaries, including Daguerrotypes as well as The Gleaners and I. Varda is a longtime favorite of the New York Film Festival, and several of her works will return to the big screen at the Film Society, including Documenteur (NYFF ’81), The Gleaners and I (NYFF ’00), Lions Love (NYFF ’69), and Mur Murs (NYFF ’80).

Added Rakes about Varda: “In this series we wanted to highlight that even in her fiction films, Varda has often included elements of the real, such as the archival footage that created the backdrop for La Pointe Courte, and the real people who happened upon the set of Vagabond making their way into the feature, and becoming a crucial part of the narrative. This loose play with nonfiction and fiction is one of the many elements that enlivens all of her films, and makes her work one of a kind. We feel extremely grateful that she's agreed to share this work with us and attend the festival in person.”

Also included in the series is Repeat as Necessary: The Art of Reenactment section, which, according to organizers “will trace a partial history of reenactment as its own medium, an act of repetition that often leads to revelation.” Recent films like The Act of Killing and The Arbor have called attention to its uses, but reenactment has a long history in the nonfiction space as a tool of dramatization, an investigative strategy, and a means of creating art from the archive.

“In presenting this spotlight, we wanted to point to a few alternate histories and applications of reenactment, especially thinking about how it has been used to enliven history, the archive, memory, and the artifacts of culture,” observed Rakes. “We wanted to shed light on more creative and dynamic uses of the practice in art and film over recent decades. While it does seem like it's being taken up more and more by documentarians at the moment, and that's something we're excited about, I think that we are equally interested in showing how these uses have been there all along, in order to further encourage that shifting of attitudes.” 

The spotlight will feature works by a wide range of artists and filmmakers working today and over the past several decades, from Jean Eustache, Juan Downey, and Harun Farocki to Elisabeth Subrin, Ming Wong, Simon Fujiwara, Jill Godmilow, and many more.

“We'll [also] be showing works by established artists like Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, whose Fresh Acconci mines the titular artist's practice to create a new kind of art document,” added Rakes. “[Also in the spotlight are] Elisabeth Subrin, whose Shulie helped redefine reenactment, and brought about awareness of an amazing record of one major feminist thinkers of the 20th century, as well as Ming Wong, who hilariously reexamines the classics of film history through new lenses of race and gender, alongside essential works like Peter Watkins's Edvard Munch, James Benning's Landscape Suicide, and Jill Godmilow's What Farocki Taught.