An annual survey of the most vital and innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking, the fourth edition of Art of the Real this spring features an eclectic, globe-spanning host of discoveries, including seven North American premieres and eight U.S. premieres, with many of the filmmakers in person. This essential showcase for boundary-pushing nonfiction film runs April 20 to May 2. Documentary Redefined.
“In our fourth year we’ve put an emphasis on placing works by first-time and emerging filmmakers alongside established names, with the aim to highlight the experimentation happening across generations, and to trace a new trajectory of documentary art that points to its promising future,” said Film Society of Lincoln Center Programmer at Large Rachael Rakes, who organized the festival with Director of Programming Dennis Lim.
The Opening Night selection is the New York premiere of Theo Anthony’s eye-opening Rat Film, a buzzed-about title out of the Locarno and SXSW film festivals that creates a damning account of segregation and injustice in Baltimore via the cultural history of rats in the city.
New works by familiar names at the festival include World Without End (No Reported Incidents) from director Jem Cohen (Museum Hours, Benjamin Smoke), a sweet, structuralist look at three small English towns along the Thames Estuary; Pow Wow, a series of visually striking vignettes by Robinson Devor (Zoo); and Untitled, a moving elegy to the late Michael Glawogger composed of remarkable footage from the filmmaker’s unfinished final project, lovingly assembled by his longtime editor Monika Willi. Complementing the roster of esteemed filmmakers are works by innovative and exciting new artists, including Salomé Jashi, whose acerbic The Dazzling Light of Sunset follows a local news team in rural Georgia, and Shengze Zhu, whose compassionate Another Year follows a series of meals shared by a family of Chinese migrant workers, revealing both intimate household dynamics and the broader socioeconomic realities of the country.
Highlights also include the North American premiere of two works from Heinz Emigholz’s ambitious “Streetscapes” series—his magnum opus Streetscapes [Dialogue], and 2+2=22 [The Alphabet], a response to Godard’s One Plus One— and special events with artists Basma Alsharif, whose cine-performance Doppelgänger has been performed around the world, and Moyra Davey, who will participate in a career-spanning discussion after the U.S. premiere of her two new works, essayistic tributes to Chantal Akerman, Karl Ove Knausgård, and Virginia Woolf.
In addition, there will be a spotlight on Ignacio Agüero and José Luis Torres Leiva, two prominent Chilean documentarians whose works act in conversation. They will be represented here by one new premiere and one older film each, including Agüero’s This Is the Way I Like It II, in its U.S. premiere, which moves between past and present and follows the director as he interviews fellow filmmakers, and his personal The Other Day (2013), beautifully shot in his own home; and José Luis Torres Leiva’s The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain (2008), about four rural Chileans struggling to find meaningful connection, alongside the U.S. premiere of his The Wind Knows That I’m Coming Back Home, a hybrid work that features Agüero, following the elder filmmaker as he prepares to shoot his first fiction film.
This year’s Art of the Real also features a tribute to the late Brazilian filmmaker Andrea Tonacci, a key figure in Brazil’s udigrudi (“underground”) or marginal cinema movement, who passed away last December. Three rarely screened key films will be presented on 35mm, including Blah Blah Blah and Bang Bang, two short classics of the marginal cinema movement that opposed both Cinema Novo and Brazil’s military government, and Hills of Disorder, which tells the story of an indigenous man who survived the massacre of his tribe through a blend of re-enactments and archival news reports.
This year, Art of the Real is proud to continue its collaboration with curated streaming platform MUBI. A selection of titles from the 2017 program will be featured on MUBI after their presentation at the festival. Details on the films and schedule will be announced at a later date.
Organized by Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes. Presented with support from MUBI.
Special thanks to Cinémathèque française; Goethe-Institut; Cinemateca Brasileira; Cristina Amaral, Daniel Tonacci, Patrícia Mourão, Gustavo Beck; Christopher Allen, UnionDocs.
Tickets go on sale April 6, with Film Society members receiving an early access period beginning April 4. See more and save with a 3+ film discount package and All Access Pass.
Films & Descriptions
All films are projected digitally at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 West 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.
Theo Anthony, USA, 2016, 84m
Balancing a cultural history of rats in Baltimore with portraits of the city’s present-day rat catchers, Theo Anthony presents a damning account of entrenched racism and (sometimes questionable) scientific research ordered by governments and financial institutions. With a hypnotic voiceover by Maureen Jones and music by Baltimore native Dan Deacon, the film connects these multitudinous injustices with footage of Google Maps navigation, archival materials, interviews, poetry, and a tour of Frances Glessner Lee’s “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” forensic dioramas. Dense but accessible, Rat Film is a vital document that refuses easy answers or classifications. A Cinema Guild release. New York Premiere
Thursday, April 20, 7:00pm (Q&A with Theo Anthony)
2+2=22 [The Alphabet]
Heinz Emigholz, Germany, 2017, 88m
German with English subtitles
Celebrated for his rigorous films about the experience of architecture (Schindler’s Houses, Loos Ornamental), Heinz Emigholz launches a new chapter of his “Photography and Beyond” project with an ambitious four-film cycle titled “Streetscapes” (which premiered to great acclaim at the recent Berlinale). The first installment is an open-ended response to Godard’s One Plus One, which chronicled the Rolling Stones in the studio at the height of the 1960s counterculture. This 21st-century update documents the German post-rock band Kreidler at work on their album ABC in a wood-paneled hall in Tbilisi, Georgia. Throughout Emigholz cuts to shots of the city streets outside and to the briskly leafed pages of his densely illustrated notebooks, while a voiceover ruminates on the nature of art and desire. North American Premiere
Saturday, April 29, 8:00pm (Q&A with Heinz Emigholz)
Cláudia Varejão, Portugal/Switzerland, 2016, 113m
Japanese with English subtitles
Cláudia Varejão’s intimate documentary focuses on women living in a small town off of Japan’s Shima Peninsula who have carried on the 2,000-year-old tradition of diving for pearls, sea urchins, and abalone. Challenging notions of how Japanese females are supposed to behave, the Ama (“sea women”) dive without scuba gear or oxygen tanks, wearing minimal protection. Like the Ama probing the ocean’s depths, Varejão’s camera examines the minutiae of the women’s day-to-day existence: their hair curlers, the sea salt clinging to their skin, and assorted daily feminine tasks that are all too often taken for granted. Winner of best Portuguese documentary at DocLisboa. U.S. Premiere
Sunday, April 23, 8:30pm
Shengze Zhu, China, 2016, 181m
Chinese (Hubei dialect) with English subtitles
Thirteen meals shared by a family of migrant workers over 14 months. Through this simple premise, Shengze Zhu’s film speaks volumes about life in contemporary China. Shot in leisurely long takes with a static camera amid cramped living quarters, Another Year constantly finds something new and unexpected to focus on, magnifying small physical and psychological details and capturing subtly shifting family dynamics. Zhu uses her subjects as a microcosm for China’s broader socioeconomic realities, but her compassionate commitment to patient observation does justice to their specificity and dignity. U.S. Premiere
Saturday, April 29, 2:00pm (Q&A with Shengze Zhu and producer Zhengfan Yang)
Brothers of the Night / Brüder der Nacht
Patric Chiha, Austria, 2016, 88m
Romani, Bulgarian, and German with English subtitles
In a Viennese underworld that’s somewhere between the theatrical glam of Fassbinder’s Querelle and the cinéma du look of 1980s France, Patric Chiha (Domain) follows a group of Bulgarian Roma who support their families back home by taking on gay sex work. Through stylized interviews and staged situations, these (mostly straight) men frankly discuss their rates, customers’ requests, and the financial hardships they face. Nevertheless, the film never shies away from the inherent humor and playfulness of human sexuality: every aspect of desire gets burlesqued, be it cash or water sports. U.S. Premiere
Saturday, April 22, 6:00pm (Q&A with Patric Chiha)
Camila José Donoso, Chile, 2016, 71m
Spanish with English subtitles
Roshell Terranova, 51, is the co-owner of Club Roshell, a transgender club on an unassuming street in Mexico City that holds “personality workshops” for its clientele, offering tutorials on makeup, costumes, heels, and other accessories. A “safe space” in the sincerest sense, the club allows men to eschew the limits of macho culture, push the boundaries of their own gender, and, as Roshell emphasizes in an address to the club’s patrons, to own their identities and desires, to feel pretty and less alone. As with her previous feature, Naomi Campbel (an Art of the Real 2015 selection), Camila José Donoso’s richly detailed film immerses itself in its world, mixing digital, 16mm film, and even closed-circuit TV footage to locate a glamorous utopia within the confines of the club. New York Premiere
Thursday, April 20, 9:15pm
The Dazzling Light of Sunset / Daisis miziduloba
Salomé Jashi, Georgia/Germany, 2016, 74m
Georgian with English subtitles
Beautifully shot and strangely comic, Salomé Jashi’s documentary follows Dariko and Khaka, an ultra-low-budget local news team in rural Georgia. Whether it’s elections, death announcements, a rare owl, or an oddly stressful fashion show for prepubescent and teenage girls, the pair approach each story without ego and with absolute professionalism, managing every aspect of reporting and production themselves. Through subtle editing choices, Jashi suggests that nothing truly changes in this former Soviet satellite—but allows her subjects to have one last acerbic word on the matter of representation. New York Premiere
Sunday, April 23, 4:00pm (Q&A with Salomé Jashi)
Dark Skull / Viejo Calavera
Kiro Russo, Bolivia/Qatar, 2016, 80m
Spanish with English subtitles
A hybrid work set in the uniquely rough world of the Bolivian mines, Dark Skull is a character drama and an idiosyncratic portrait of workers’ daily lives. The narrative unfolds around the troubled and troublesome Elder, sent to live with his grandmother in Huanuni, a small country town in Bolivia. Once there, Elder proves a constant embarrassment to his godfather, Francisco, frequently skipping work to get drunk or high. But his off-the-clock activities eventually lead him to a dark secret about Francisco’s involvement in his father’s death. Shot largely inside the mines, and made in collaboration with the miners’ union, Kiro Russo’s elegant and formally daring film employs an ambitious structure and gorgeous cinematography to express the nuances and codes of the workers. New York Premiere
Friday, April 28, 7:00pm (Q&A with Kiro Russo)
Doppelgänger: a cine-performance by Basma Alsharif
In Doppelgänger, which premiered at the Berlin Documentary Forum, and has since been performed at the Sharjah Biennial and in Gwangju, South Korea, artist and filmmaker Basma Alsharif examines her own family history and the concept of the double in a performance that reflexively weaves together the Occupation of Palestine, narrative cinema, and the possibility for Utopia. In reference to her own practice, Alsharif proposes how bilocation and doubling might enable the moving image to embody the Palestinian perspective, and invites the audience to engage in a new kind of voluntary collective memory. U.S. Premiere
Sunday, April 23, 2:30pm
Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli, USA, 2016, 83m
This rigorous yet sensitive debut from Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli follows Em, a queer sex worker, as she moves between New York City and her native Pittsburgh, struggling to kick her heroin addiction and get on with her life. With intimate access to seemingly all aspects of her life—her friends, lovers, clients, and Em alone—we witness firsthand the difficulties of getting clean and are given a stark but touching image of what it means to be young and at odds with oneself today. Elegantly shot on a mixture of digital and Super 16mm film and suffused with an intricate and atmospheric score, Empathy deftly chronicles its subject’s attempts to regain (or preserve) a shred of autonomy and evokes both the tragedy and the comedy of dire personal struggles. North American Premiere
Friday, April 28, 9:15pm (Q&A with Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli)
From a Year of Non-Events
Ann Carolin Renninger & René Frölke, Germany, 2017, 83m
German with English subtitles
The latest by Renninger and Frölke (Le Beau danger) tenderly traces the daily rhythms and rituals of 90-year-old Willi Detert on his rural northern German farm by way of an elegantly interwoven tapestry of 16mm and Super 8mm images. With Willi no longer able to work the land, the farm’s grounds are overrun and his house is littered with physical remnants of days gone by (and cats). In his presence, time itself passes in an altogether distinctive way, and the filmmakers meticulously capture this present speckled with the past. From a Year of Non-Events leaves us with a rich sense of both a man and a place as conduits for history. North American Premiere
Saturday, April 29, 6:00pm
Austin Lynch & Matthew Booth, USA, 2017, 76m
Deftly blending vérité footage, interviews, landscapes, and fictional elements (some of which involve actors Denis Lavant and Aurore Clément), Gray House candidly explores the relationships between individuals and their environments across five different settings. By way of stunning nocturnal imagery and a commandingly atmospheric sound design, the film presents glimpses of corners of the country seldom portrayed in cinema—the North Dakotan oil plains, an intentional community in rural Virginia, a women’s correctional facility in the Pacific Northwest—and methodically unearths their obscure beauty. Perhaps more urgently, Lynch and Booth provide ample screen time to American working-class people who are seen in films even less often, carving out a space for them to express their fears, desires, politics, and musings about their everyday realities. North American Premiere
Sunday, April 23, 6:15pm (Q&A with Austin Lynch and Matthew Booth)
In Time to Come
Tan Pin Pin, Singapore, 2017, 62m
Returning to themes of redevelopment and excavation of the past, Tan Pin Pin carefully probes the topography of Singapore with long, slow-burning shots of schoolchildren, shopping malls, and workers, digging up a time capsule buried by the state. Less overtly political than her film To Singapore, with Love (Art of the Real 2014), In Time to Come questions Singaporeans’ relationship to time and each other. In every quotidian interaction we witness, an underlying question burns: how can true connection take place when so much has been preshaped and destroyed by a government that’s only looking out for its own interests? U.S. Premiere
Sunday, April 30, 7:00pm (Q&A with Tan Pin Pin)
The Modern Jungle / La Selva Negra
Charles Fairbanks & Saul Kak, Mexico/USA, 2016, 72m
Zoque and Spanish with English subtitles
Centered on the relationship between indigenous and Western culture, The Modern Jungle documents the tensions that emerge when an elderly Zoque couple come into contact with global capitalism and the filmmaking process. Carmen and Juan are fighting to keep the small plot of land they’ve worked on their whole lives in southern Mexico. Juan, who is also a shaman, struggles with a hernia that traditional methods can’t treat, and soon gets sucked into a nutritional supplement pyramid scheme. Fairbanks and Kak (himself an advocate for indigenous rights) disclose upfront that Juan and Maria are being paid, dismissing long-held myths about “pure” relationships between ethnographer and subject. New York Premiere
Sunday, April 30, 8:45pm (Q&A with Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak)
MOYRA DAVEY: TWO PREMIERES
Hemlock Forest (2016, 42m) + Wedding Loop (2017, 23m)
Moyra Davey, USA
Steeped in personal and literary history, Moyra Davey’s videos explore compulsion, creativity, and the feminine. Hemlock Forest, a sequel to her 2011 work Les Goddesses, and Wedding Loop, employ the same rigorous formal strategy: Davey paces in front of the camera inside her apartment, reciting her narration from an iPhone, then incorporates old photographs or home movies to form a visual essay around the monologue. In the former, Davey traces the worlds of Karl Ove Knausgård and Chantal Akerman as she considers the implications of her son leaving home and Akerman’s suicide; the latter recounts a wedding party and the women involved, reflected through Virginia Woolf’s family history. An in-depth discussion, tracing many different facets of Davey’s decades-long career as an artist, will follow the screening. U.S. Premiere
Sunday, April 30, 2:00pm (Q&A with Moyra Davey)
The Other Day / El otro día
Ignacio Agüero, Chile, 2013, 122m
Spanish with English subtitles
Ignacio Agüero fashions a documentary that manages to encompass his family and national history, Chile’s economic problems, identity, and nature via the most low-key of approaches: the film is shot primarily inside his home and through a door that leads to the street, establishing a clear line between the self and the world. Beautifully photographed, this impressive work locates the profound through family heirlooms and encounters with strangers who come knocking.
Thursday, April 27, 6:30pm (Introduction by Ignacio Agüero)
Robinson Devor, USA, 2016, 72m
Robinson Devor (Police Beat, Zoo) returns to documentary after a 10-year hiatus with Pow Wow, a visually striking series of vignettes. Showcasing the many environmental contrasts of the Coachella Valley in Palm Springs, CA, the film has an equally diverse array of subjects, including legendary Las Vegas comedian Shecky Greene, an elderly Austrian heiress, trust-funders, Native Americans, and white golfers who participate in their club’s annual “pow wow” party by wearing feather headdresses. These slices of life gradually come to illustrate the story of Willie Boy, a Paiute youth who escaped a mounted posse on foot across 500 miles of desert in 1908. New York Premiere
Friday, April 21, 7:00pm (Q&A with Robinson Devor)
The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain / El Cielo la tierra y la lluvia
José Luis Torres Leiva, Chile/France/Germany, 2008, 35mm, 112m
Spanish with English subtitles
In a remote, rural harbor town in southern Chile, Ana carries out her daily routines in silence, even when she’s with others. After she is fired, her gregarious best friend Veronica secures her a job as a housekeeper for Toro, a solitary man who lives outside the city. As the characters struggle to connect and discover themselves, Torres Leiva’s camera finds the beauty in their sepia-toned surroundings: the inside of Veronica’s home, a lonely forest path, the muddy bayous that encircle their town. As these moments accumulate, the film achieves a state of contemplative grace.
Thursday, April 27, 9:00pm (Introduction by José Luis Torres Leiva)
Heinz Emigholz, Germany, 2017, 132m
A director speaks at length to a psychoanalyst, confiding his obsessions, fears, ideas about cinema, and psychological blocks, and eventually comes to realize that this all-encompassing exchange could be the basis of a film . . . Streetscapes [Dialogue] is based on a six-day psychoanalytic marathon that Emigholz undertook with trauma specialist Zohar Rubinstein—their roles are played in the film by American actor John Erdman and Argentinian filmmaker Jonathan Perel, who are photographed in and around buildings in Uruguay by Julio Vilamajó, Eladio Dieste, and Arno Brandlhuber. The result is Emigholz’s magnum opus, a demonstration of his singular working methods, and a playful, moving treatise on trauma and architecture in which foreground and background carry equal weight. North American Premiere
Sunday, April 30, 4:00pm (Q&A with Heinz Emigholz)
This Is the Way I Like It II / Como me da la gana II
Ignacio Agüero, Chile, 2016, 86m
Spanish with English subtitles
In 1985, Ignacio Agüero spontaneously visited other Chilean directors on set to ask them about making films under Pinochet’s dictatorship. (The resulting 30-minute short, Como me da la gana, was, unsurprisingly, censored.) Thirty years later, Agüero revisits the concept, but he dramatically complicates it, by both rephrasing his line of questioning and repeatedly interrupting these recorded scenes with clips from his family’s home movies and his own films, interviews with random people, and landscape shots. This complex and entertaining film, which won the International Competition Grand Prix at FIDMarseille, dramatizes an ongoing negotiation between past and present. U.S. Premiere
Wednesday, April 26, 7:00pm (Q&A with Ignacio Agüero)
THREE BY TONACCI
Blah Blah Blah / Blablablá (1968, 35mm, 26m) + Bang Bang / Bangue Bangue (1971, 35mm, 80m)
Andrea Tonacci, Brazil
Portuguese with English subtitles
A key figure in Brazil’s udigrudi (“underground”) or marginal cinema movement, Andrea Tonacci passed away last December at the age of 72. Blah Blah Blah, his seminal short, is a middle finger to both Cinema Novo and Brazil’s military government at the time: in the face of national crisis, a dictator makes a long speech on television, seeking to justify his government in order to achieve an illusory peace. Bang Bang, his structurally radical first feature, is a “Maoist detective comedy”: a monkey man is chased by a gang of bizarre criminals, each encounter growing increasingly absurd.
Monday, May 1, 6:45pm
Hills of Disorder / Serras da Desordem
Andrea Tonacci, Brazil, 2006, 35mm, 135m
Portuguese with English subtitles
Remaining true to his radical roots, Andrea Tonacci retells the true story of Carapiru, an indigenous man who survived the massacre of his tribe in 1978, roaming over 350 miles through the mountains of Central Brazil and toward Western civilization. Years later, a government agency attempts to resettle him to his native village—yet another uprooting. Commenting on Brazil’s alternately fetishistic and ugly treatment of native peoples as well as the director’s own gaze, Tonacci’s penultimate film constantly asks difficult questions, and employs a challenging aesthetic approach that blends re-enactments and archival news reports.
Monday, May 1, 9:00pm
Michael Glawogger & Monika Willi, Austria, 2017, 107m
In English and German with English subtitles
A traveling filmmaker who found beauty in some of the harshest living conditions on the planet, Michael Glawogger (Whores’ Glory, Workingman’s Death) contracted malaria and died in 2014 while filming in Liberia, a little over four months into what was meant to be a year-long journey around the world. (“The most beautiful film I could imagine is one which would never come to rest,” he said of the project.) His longtime editor, Monika Willi, has assembled the extraordinary footage—shot by Attila Boa—into Untitled, based on Glawogger’s notes for its completion and incorporating excerpts from his witty and meditative journal entries. The result is a revelatory glimpse into Glawogger’s ideas and process as well as a moving elegy to the man. North American Premiere
Friday, April 21, 9:00pm
Voyage to Terengganu / Kisah Pelayaran Ke Terengganu
Amir Muhammad & Badrul Hisham Ismail, Malaysia, 2016, 62m
Malay with English subtitles
Retracing the early 19th-century travels of the great Malaysian writer Munshi Abdullah, Amir Muhammad (The Big Durian) and Badrul Hisham Ismail journey across the state of Terengganu and interview its inhabitants, including a dirt bike enthusiast/mechanic, the owner of a camera repair shop, and various wheeler-dealers at the marketplace. Interspersing these present-day observations with excerpts of Abdullah’s text—by turns critical and ironic, some outdated and some still relevant—the directors fashion a warm, sly, humanistic travelogue that explores their countrymen’s beliefs about money, religion, and nationhood. North American Premiere
Tuesday, April 25, 6:45pm (Q&A with co-director Badrul Hisham Ismail and composer Zulhezan)
The Wind Knows That I’m Coming Back Home / El viento sabe que vuelvo a casa
José Luis Torres Leiva, Chile, 2016, 103m
Spanish with English subtitles
In the early 1980s, a couple vanished without a trace in the woods of Meulín Island. Director Ignacio Agüero (This Is the Way I Like It II) had intended to shoot a documentary about this strange occurrence, but eventually abandoned the project. Now, he journeys to the area to shoot his first fiction film based on the events, and José Luis Torre Leiva follows Agüero as he speaks with locals about the legends that have arisen surrounding this mysterious occurrence in between scouting for locations and auditioning nonprofessionals, who often provide a source of tender comic relief. The film is also a meditation on the isolation of those living on Chile’s Chiloé Archipelago, capturing its unique and solitary landscapes. U.S. Premiere
Wednesday, April 26, 9:00pm (Q&A with José Luis Torres Leiva)
World Without End (No Reported Incidents)
Jem Cohen, USA/UK, 2016, 56m
Perfectly encapsulating the sweet-hearted chatter unique to small-town England, Jem Cohen offers views of three different (yet almost identical) cities along the Thames Estuary: Southend-on-Sea, Leigh-on-Sea, and Canvey Island. With a structuralist approach, Cohen (Museum Hours) shows the high street, black sand dunes, and shops with great care; meanwhile, the cities’ inhabitants offer insights into the class codes of hats, Indian curry, the imaginary beaches of London, and punk rock (courtesy of members of Dr. Feelgood). A Grasshopper Film release. New York Premiere
Saturday, April 22, 8:30pm (Q&A with Jem Cohen)