Jenni Olson's The Royal Road.
The North American premieres of Sarah Francis’s Birds of September, Luo Li’s Li Wen at East Lake, Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s Naomi Campbel, Luísa Homem and Pedro Pinho’s Trading Cities, and Derek Jarman’s Will You Dance with Me? are among the full slate of films unveiled by the Film Society of Lincoln Center's second Art of the Real series next month.
The annual showcase featuring “the most expansive possible view of documentary film” will close this year with Jenni Olson's The Royal Road. As previously announced, 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. Art of the Real takes place April 10-26 at the Film Society.
Veteran filmmaker Jenni Olson's The Royal Road, which had its world premiere at the recent Sundance Film Festival, is a cinematic essay in defense of remembering. The feature offers up a primer on the Spanish colonization of California, the Mexican-American War alongside intimate reflections on nostalgia, butch identity, the pursuit of unavailable women and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo—all against a contemplative backdrop of 16mm urban California landscapes, and featuring a voiceover cameo by Tony Kushner. The Royal Road will be paired with the U.S. premiere of two shorts by Mark Rappaport: Becoming Anita Ekberg and The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk.
“The Royal Road is a unique kind of essay film, finding new and intimate worlds in the landscapes of California, turning its iconic imagery remembered from Vertigo and Sunset Boulevard into a backdrop for reflections on romance and heartbreak, history and mythology,” said Rachael Rakes, who co-curated Art of the Real with the Film Society's Director of Programming Dennis Lim. “Olson's film plays nicely accompanied by The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk and Becoming Anita Ekberg, as they all take cinematic memory as a jumping off point. Mark Rappaport's new duo of films look at the surface image of cinema, reflecting on the tropes, realities, myths, and dualities of the form.”
A number of this year’s selections deal directly with subjects undergoing personal reflection, loss, and redemption. René Frölke’s moving mediation on the experience of exile, Le Beau Danger is a collage-like portrait of the day-to-day life of legendary Romanian writer Norman Manea who survived concentration camps as a child. Masa Sawada’s I, Kamikaze (partially co-directed with French director Bertrand Bonello) is an uninterrupted spoken testimony of a 90-year-old Japanese World War II veteran who led and survived the first squadron of kamikaze pilots. Alain Cavalier’s enigmatic study of domesticity Le Paradis was voted one of the 10 best films of 2014 by French film publication Cahiers du Cinéma and was shot by Cavalier on digital video in his home.
Noted Rakes: “Though [film such as I, Kamikaze, Le Paradis, and Letter to a Father] are otherwise stylistically and topically very different, I would say that they all share a kind of curious narrow focus, of finding thrall in zooming in, and in the events, remembrances and remarks of one life and point of view, but they also show how much can be expanded from that vision through those memories to the worlds around them.”
Other selections in this year's Art of the Real use hybrid fictional-documentary techniques in their intimate portraits, including Nicolás Pereda’s The Absent, which centers on an old man living in the majestic Oaxacan forest whose life is disrupted over a land dispute. Luo Li’s Li Wen at East Lake, meanwhile, follows a cop who tracks a suspicious figure around Wuhan’s East Lake and encounters the area’s regulars, and Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s Chilean debut, Naomi Campbel, follows a thirtysomething transgender woman as she struggles to finance her sex-change operation.
As previously announced, 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 when the sidebar was first announced. “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.”
Also previously announced is the festival sidebar Repeat as Necessary: The Art of Reenactment, which traces a partial history of reenactment as its own medium, spotlighting the works of a wide range of artists and filmmakers from the past and present, including James Benning, Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, Elisabeth Subrin, Ant Farm, Ming Wong, Simon Fujiwara, Cecilia Dougherty, and many others.
[Tickets will go on sale Thursday, March 19. A pre-sale to Film Society members will begin Tuesday, March 17. Single screening tickets are $14; $11 for students and seniors (62+); and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with the $99 All Access Pass or the 3+ film discount package. Visit filmlinc.com for more information.]
Nicolás Videla & Camila José Donoso's Naomi Campbel.
Art of the Real films and descriptions follow:
Opening Night Shorts Program:
Premiering new works by João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata, Eduardo Williams, and Matt Porterfield. Rodrigues & Guerra da Mata’s Iec Long mixes archival footage, photographs, figurine-based reconstructions, and oral testimony in their eclectic depiction of a derelict Macao fireworks factory; Williams’s spellbinding and enigmatic I Forgot follows a group of Vietnamese teenagers as they stave off boredom by leaping from one building to the next; and Porterfield’s Take What You Can Carry is a delicate portrait of a young American woman in Berlin attempting to reconcile her need for a stable sense of identity with her itinerant lifestyle.
João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata, Portugal, 2014, DCP, 31m
Chinese with English subtitles
Simultaneously echoing and extending themes and techniques present in their prior collaborations (The Last Time I Saw Macao, Mahjong), João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata turn their attention toward a derelict fireworks factory in Macao and its environs. Interweaving archival footage, photographs, figurine-based reconstructions, oral testimony, slices of contemporary life, and the nearly omnipresent sound of fireworks exploding in the distance, the filmmakers have crafted another multivalent and eclectic exploration of memory, place, and the politics underlying both. U.S. Premiere
I Forgot / Tôi quên rồi
Eduardo Williams, France/Vietnam, 2014, DCP, 29m
Vietnamese with English subtitles
A group of Vietnamese teenagers stave off boredom by leaping from rooftop to rooftop, window to window, one building to the next. Eduardo Williams’s free, immersive way with street scenes recalls Tsai Ming-liang’s Rebels of the Neon God. But as the film narrows its focus onto the death-defying feats its youthful protagonists perform, he offers a vision as spellbinding as it is terrifying, juxtaposing all-too-familiar everydayness with the sublime beauty of the reckless act. U.S. Premiere
Take What You Can Carry
Matt Porterfield, USA/Germany, 2015, DCP, 30m
Matt Porterfield’s first work shot and set outside Baltimore is a delicate portrait of a young woman named Lilly (Hannah Gross, the star of his previous feature, I Used to Be Darker) living in Berlin, attempting to reconcile her need for a stable sense of self-identity with the fulfillment she derives from her itinerant lifestyle. Porterfield channels his gift for composition and subtle psychologizing into a distinctive take on French writer Georges Perec’s essay “Species of Spaces”—in particular, Perec’s assertion that, because places inevitably change, “space becomes a question, ceases to be self-evident… I have to conquer it.” North American Premiere
Friday, April 10, 7:00pm (Q&A with João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata, Eduardo Williams, and Matt Porterfield)
The Royal Road (Closing Night)
Jenni Olson, USA, 2014, DCP, 64m
The docks of Oakland; roadside marker bells in Pasadena; the Spanish King Carlos III; expansionism in 19th-century America; the Franciscan mission-founder Junípero Serra; the Golden Gate Bridge; Casanova’s Story of My Life; Jules Laforgue’s “Solo By Moonlight”; William Wyler’s Roman Holiday. The essential San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson’s latest essay-film is an associative, inquisitive meditation on love, remembrance, and California history structured around a trip down El Camino Real. The Royal Road riffs often and exquisitely on Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil—both films include key, lengthy discourses on Hitchcock’s Vertigo—but this movie’s voice, alternately dispassionate, confessional, and melancholic, is entirely Olson’s own.
Becoming Anita Ekberg
Mark Rappaport, USA, 2014, digital projection, 17m
Did La Dolce Vita make Anita Ekberg a legend by giving her a 20-minute cameo, or was it the other way around? Through clips of both career-defining and forgettable roles, Mark Rappaport (From the Journals of Jean Seberg) traces the late Swedish actress’s ever-changing persona, noting the triumphs and limitations of being a sex goddess. U.S. Premiere
The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk
Mark Rappaport, USA, 2014, digital projection, 11m
Mark Rappaport probes the burdensome nature of beauty and bodily control through one of classical Hollywood’s most essential props: the vanity table. Employing clips from landmark films like Written on the Wind and All That Heaven Allows, the filmmaker delves into how Douglas Sirk, the master of melodrama and mise-en-scène, used this pejoratively named piece of furniture.
Sunday, April 26, 6:30pm (Q&A with Jenni Olson)
The Absent / Los ausentes
Nicolás Pereda, Mexico/Spain/France, 2013, DCP, 77m
Spanish with English subtitles
Since his 2007 debut, Where Are Their Stories?, Nicolás Pereda has distinguished himself as one of Mexico’s most treasured young writer-directors. Known for his collaborative, hybrid approach to filmmaking, The Absent marks a turn for Pereda to a focus on drawn-out scenes and careful, exquisite compositions. It centers on an old man living in the Oaxacan forest whose solitary daily routines are broken after he attends a hearing to resolve a land dispute. After this rupture, memories from his past begin to intrude, and following the demolition of his house, the man takes to the mountains in the hopes of finding people he once knew. The Absent effortlessly captures the beauty of this magnificent terrain while witnessing the abandonment of subsistence agriculture in southern Mexico.
The Palace / El Palacio
Nicolás Pereda, Mexico, 2013, DCP, 37m
Nicolás Pereda demonstrates his skill for abstracting everyday ritual in this film about 17 women and girls who live together in the same house, beginning with the opening shot in which all of them brush their teeth around a shared sink. Though the reasons why they’re cohabitating remain mysterious, the interjections of off-screen voices giving instructions on how to perform certain tasks suggest a certain degree of co-dependency or training.
Thursday, April 23, 7:00pm (Q&A with Nicolás Pereda)
Afrique 50 and New Short Works
This program features new works by artists Basim Magdy, whose The Many Colors of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness is vivid, tactile, and often radiant; Ben Russell, whose Greetings from the Ancestors revisits the themes of utopia, consciousness, and rebirth from his 2013 collaboration with Ben Rivers, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness; Peggy Ahwesh, whose Kissing Point matches subterranean footage from the West Bank and Israel. Finally, the program includes a key work from the late René Vautier, whose Afrique 50 remains one of the most vital and urgent examples of the camera’s power to write—and rewrite—history.
The Many Colors of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness
Basim Magdy, Egypt, 2014, digital projection, 12m
The latest short from the Cairo-based film and video artist Basim Magdy is, among other things, a hypnotic study of two sharply contrasting subjects: a display in a taxidermy museum and a rain-weathered forest monument. The film, though, is equally interested in textures other than those of fur and stone. Magdy often pickles his strips of film in household chemicals before transferring them to digital video, and the results are—as the title of his new movie suggests—vivid, tactile, and often radiant. North American Premiere
Greetings from the Ancestors
Ben Russell, USA/South Africa/UK, 2015, digital projection, 30m
The co-director of A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness returns to themes of utopia, consciousness, and rebirth, this time in an area between Swaziland and South Africa still experiencing apartheid-era social inequalities. Keenly observing religious rituals and smaller, intimate moments from both sides in vibrant 16mm color film, Russell’s camera drifts through these spaces, never quite passive observer or active argumentor.
Peggy Ahwesh, USA, 2014, digital projection, 14m
Playing on the sexual implications of the term “kissing point”—the geographical location where two enemy territories touch—this split-screen video pairs footage from inside and around West Bank tunnels with an Israeli bypass road and its environs. Shot during the early hours of the morning, the camera methodically snakes through these aseptic, nearly empty spaces, sometimes forced to stop and double back because of roadblocks or other physical limitations.
René Vautier, France, 1950, 16mm, 17m
French with English subtitles
René Vautier’s legendary exposé of the ravages of colonialism in French West Africa was made after the 21-year-old filmmaker arrived in the region to direct a marketing short for the French Education League, broke his contract, and fled 600 miles from Bamako, shooting as he went. It was banned in France for 40 years following its completion in 1950. (Vautier, who passed away in January at the age of 87, spent a year in prison after returning to French shores.) The first French film to explicitly denounce colonialism, it remains one of the most vital and urgent examples of the camera’s power to write—and rewrite—history.
Friday, April 24, 7:00pm
Androids Dream / Nova Dubai:
Ion de Sosa’s haunting second feature, Androids Dream, is simultaneously a meditation on Spain’s economic crisis and on terrorism (and a sly reimagining of Philip K. Dick’s seminal cyberpunk novel), while Gustavo Vinagre’s Nova Dubai follows a group of young gay Brazilian men as they candidly explore their desires, capitalism, family, and self-destructive impulses against the backdrop of a contemporary, overdeveloped urban neighborhood.
Androids Dream / Sueñan los androides
Ion de Sosa, Spain/Germany, 2014, DCP, 61m
Spanish and Basque with English subtitles
A drifting portrait of Spain’s economic crisis, and a sly reimagining of Philip K. Dick’s seminal cyberpunk novel, this beguiling second feature from Ion de Sosa promises to haunt. In the year 2052, a nameless man silently travels through semi-completed high-rise apartments and grocery stores, assassinating random civilians without warning. More intimate scenes of the city’s inhabitants socializing—but never discussing the elephant in the room—underscore the absurd context of his violence. As the story shifts to the openness of the countryside, all action is eventually and surprisingly rendered futile. U.S. Premiere
Nova Dubai / New Dubai
Gustavo Vinagre, Brazil, 2014, DCP, 50m
Portuguese with English subtitles
Gustavo Vinagre’s documentary unapologetically depicts a variety of gay fantasies—violent, incestuous, comic, romantic, degrading, or all of the above—against the backdrop of a contemporary, overdeveloped urban neighborhood. Though the men participating in these sex acts are unable to reclaim or slow the disappearance of their communal space, their insurrection is as much a radical meditation on desire as a repudiation of shallow, consumer-obsessed millennial gay culture.
North American Premiere
April 23, 9:30pm (Q&A with Gustavo Vinagre)
Alain Cavalier's Le Paradis.
Le Beau Danger
René Frölke, Germany, 2014, DCP, 100m
English, Italian, Romanian, and French with English subtitles
Twenty minutes into his mesmerizing, formally inventive portrait of the legendary Romanian writer Norman Manea—a survivor of the concentration camps as a child who escaped the Ceaușescu regime in 1986 and now lives in the U.S.—René Frölke does what few cinematic biographers dare to do: put their subjects’ texts on screen. The inclusion of a complete story from Manea, which we read piecemeal throughout, is just one of the many playful moves Frölke makes in this collage-like, ceaselessly surprising, and deeply moving film. A study of the day-to-day business of intellectual life (panels, book signings, interviews), Le Beau Danger is also a sensitive meditation on the experience of exile.
Thursday, April 22, 7:00pm (Q&A with René Frölke and subject Norman Manea)
Birds of September
Sarah Francis, Lebanon, 2013, DCP, 99m
Arabic with English subtitles
Sarah Francis’s feature debut heralds a thrilling new species of the city symphony. A large glass vehicle passes through present-day Beirut, feeling the city’s rhythms subtly change in different weathers and different times of day. At regular intervals, current residents of the city hop in and open up to the camera in scenes that resemble gushier, more confessional variations on the cable-car rides in last year’s notable documentary Manakamana. An utterly novel reflection on modernity and urban life, Birds of September is an empathetic, disciplined attempt to capture the mood of a city—one block, and one person, at a time. North American Premiere
Tuesday, April 16, 8:30pm
I, Kamikaze / Parole de kamikaze
Masa Sawada, Japan/France, 2014, DCP, 75m
Japanese with English subtitles
“Sometimes I think, today is my turn.” Masa Sawada’s riveting new film (partially co-directed with Bertrand Bonello) is essentially a one-man show: the uninterrupted spoken testimony of Fujio Hayashi, a 90-year-old Japanese World War II veteran who led—and, against all odds, survived—the first squadron of kamikaze pilots. That he wasn’t meant to survive is one of several aspects that gives I, Kamikaze its chilling force. Hayashi is a remarkably clear-eyed, critical observer, well-attuned to the logic of submission, sacrifice, and duty that emerges in a military system where the emperor is—for most of his subjects—a god.
Saturday, April 11, 6:15pm (Q&A with Masa Sawada)
Kamen / Guided Tour:
Florence Lazar’s Kamen – The Stones illustrates an ongoing political injustice: an attempt by the Bosnian Serb Republic to erase the traces of the savage ethnic violence that decimated the region two decades ago. René Frölke’s Führung sardonically chronicles then–German President Horst Köhler’s 2008 visit to the HfG Karlsruhe, the renowned university of fine arts.
Kamen – The Stones / Kamen – Les Pierres
Florence Lazar, France, 2014, DCP, 65m
Serbian, Russian, and Bosnian with English subtitles
“What is happening today,” a middle-aged woman tells the camera an hour into Florence Lazar’s patient, devastating exposé of the contemporary Bosnian Serb Republic, “is only a continuation of what happened during the war.” The country’s slow, methodical resculpting of its landscape—its construction of faux-aged churches, its replacement of old buildings with others of a more Orthodox architecture—is an extension by other means of the savage program of ethnic cleansing the region’s Bosniak population suffered at the hands of Serbian forces. Its essential testimonies and careful factual surveys aside, Kamen – The Stones is a lesson in the use of a single, indelible image—the removal and replacement of stones—to illustrate an ongoing, profoundly disturbing political injustice. U.S. Premiere
Guided Tour / Führung
René Frölke, Germany, 2011, HDCAM, 37m
German with English subtitles
In high-contrast, richly textured black and white (self-consciously recalling cinema verité), René Frölke’s inquisitive camera chronicles then–German President Horst Köhler’s 2008 visit to the HfG Karlsruhe, the renowned university of fine arts. In this portrait of embedded power amid economic crisis, the President gets a guided tour from the university’s most eminent professors, is introduced to a number of the school’s students and takes in their works-in-progress, and candidly discusses the intersection of economics and aesthetics along the way.
North American premiere
Thursday, April 22, 9:30pm (Introduction by René Frölke)
Letter to a Father / Carta a un padre
Edgardo Cozarinsky, Argentina, 2013, DCP, 65m
Spanish with English subtitles
Legendary Argentine novelist and filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky travels to Entre Ríos, the province of the farming community where his father was born, in an attempt to learn more about him. With stunningly composed photography, Cozarinsky unearths and nimbly connects the experiences of his Russian-Jewish émigré grandparents, his father’s naval travels, and his own exile in Paris during the country’s military junta. Despite encountering relics from the past—some personal, some communal—the director embraces the traces of what remains and what has been lost to time, never to be reclaimed, yielding a richly perceptive cine-letter and an essential film for anyone who has lost a loved one too soon.
North American Premiere
Thursday, April 16, 7:00pm
Li Wen at East Lake
Luo Li, China, 2014, HDCAM, 117m
Mandarin with English subtitles
Luo Li’s follow-up to Emperor Visits the Hell (New Directors/New Films 2013) is arguably the finest work to date from one of the most distinctive voices in modern Chinese cinema: a portrait of Wuhan’s East Lake that quickly evolves into a detective story—or does it? The title character is a cop who’s tracking a vaguely suspicious figure around the lake, but his rambling trajectory turns out to be, if anything, an excuse for Li to spend time with the area’s residents and regulars. Li Wen at East Lake ultimately becomes a grim, darkly comic picture of a modern China that makes a criminal offense of freedom of thought and being on the outside.
North American Premiere
Wednesday, April 15, 6:30pm
Nicolás Videla & Camila José Donoso, Chile, 2013, DCP, 85m
Spanish with English subtitles
The title of Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s debut feature, a hybrid film centered around the struggle of Yermén, a thirtysomething transgender woman, to finance her sex-change operation, is at once odd and totally fitting. “I’d like to look like Naomi Campbell,” a young woman tells Yermén as the two of them sit in a Santiago hospital waiting room. “Be exactly the same.” Naomi Campbel is a savvy critique of the assumptions—about gender, class, and beauty—that inspire that sort of talk, but it’s also an imaginative embodiment of the trans-ness it celebrates: a documentary with the structure of a fictional character study, and a sleekly shot piece of digital filmmaking punctuated by pixelated, low-grade video footage shot by Yermén herself.
North American Premiere
Friday, April 10, 9:30pm (Q&A with Camila José Donoso)
Tuesday, April 14, 5:00pm
Ron Peck, UK, 1978, 35mm, 113m
Ron Peck and Paul Hallam raised funds for their groundbreaking feature debut piecemeal, relying in part on confidential gifts from gay public figures. No film had shown what it was like to be an openly gay man in 1970s London: the keeping-up of daily appearances; the tiring, often demoralizing work of club-hopping and cruising; and the difficulties of making—and finding—lasting romantic commitments. Nighthawks is, quite simply, a priceless artifact from a period in British history when love, for many, could only be found furtively and in the dark.
Saturday, April 25, 9:00pm
Alain Cavalier, France, 2014, DCP, 70m
French with English subtitles
French director Alain Cavalier, now 83, may be best known for his fiction features (Thérèse, Le Combat dans l’île), but many of his recent—and best—movies have been deceptively modest, off-the-cuff personal essay-films. Voted one of the 10 best films of 2014 by Cahiers du Cinéma, Le Paradis, which Cavalier shot on digital video in his home, is a series of domestic sketches carefully arranged into a subtle, serene, and deeply touching meditation on how it feels to approach life’s end. The death and burial of a fledgling peacock, the carving of a watermelon, the buying and eating of a herring: one of Cavalier’s great gifts is his ability to translate broad abstractions into the concrete and the familiar. “God and I have separated,” he murmurs into the camera at one point, “but we run into each other again from time to time.”
North American Premiere
Tuesday, April 14, 7:00pm
Masa Sawada's I, Kamikaze.
Daniel Hui, Singapore/Portugal, 2014, DCP, 105m
A striking vérité snapshot of present-day Singapore that doubles as a semi-mystical cinematic incantation conjuring ghosts from the country’s history, Daniel Hui’s Snakeskin ingeniously compresses past, present, and future. In 2066, the lone survivor of a cult projects footage shot by his divine leader, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Stamford Raffles, the British statesman who founded Singapore. Both living and dead subjects candidly reminisce about love, race, revolution, and the Malay film industry as muted images from 2014 of the city-state’s streets and harbors—key locations of the cult’s future founding—flash by.
Saturday, April 18, 6:30pm (Q&A with Daniel Hui)
Trading Cities / As Cidades e as Trocas
Luísa Homem & Pedro Pinho, Portugal, 2014, 16mm, 140m
Creole with English subtitles
The first collaboration between Portuguese documentarians Luísa Homem and Pedro Pinho is a masterpiece of social observation comparable to the Direct Cinema of Richard Leacock and Frederick Wiseman. The film is an anatomy of contemporary Cape Verde’s rapidly expanding tourism industry and the work done to sustain it: the recruitment of locals for canned musical performances; the building of hotels and swimming pools; the sand trade that has supplied the country with concrete ever since its own beaches thinned out. Homem and Pinho move hypnotically and patiently between the space of the archipelago’s resort-hotels and the daily lives of the marginalized communities on which they depend, with a perceptive eye for the country’s economic imbalances and a rare attentiveness to the rhythms of manual labor.
North American Premiere
Tuesday, April 14, 8:30pm
White Out, Black In / Branco sai, preto fica
Adirley Queiros, Brazil, 2014, DCP, 95m
Portuguese with English subtitles
Set in Ceilândia, a city established by the Brazilian government to prevent the poor from settling in the capital of Brasilia and the location for most of director Adirley Queiros’s unique docufictions, this biting critique of race mixes science fiction with testimonials from two men physically disabled by police violence in 1986. A “researcher” from the future comes to collect evidence against the state, and the pair give testimonials of their lived experience; meanwhile, an act of terrorism against this “apartheid” is being plotted… Queiros’s take on Afrofuturism is subtle, ingenious, and utterly contemporary.
Friday, April 17, 9:00pm (Q&A with Adirley Queiros)
Will You Dance with Me?
Derek Jarman, UK, 1984, digital projection, 78m
In 1984, Derek Jarman was doing research for his friend Ron Peck (Nighthawks, also showing in Art of the Real), who was working on a gangster movie to be set within London’s nightclub scene. The chief product of that research was this haunted, transfixing study of one night at a gay bar in East London’s Mile End district. Jarman was one of the earliest British filmmakers to experiment seriously with digital video, and in Will You Dance with Me? he found the format’s ghostly blurring of light and color perfectly matched to his subject. (The chiseled young man whom Jarman studies reverently in the movie’s last minutes would become an actor in his Super-8 work The Angelic Conversation.) “I don’t know that I’ve seen dance better filmed,” BFI curator William Fowler has said of the footage.
North American Premiere
Saturday, April 25, 7:00pm
The Actualities of Agnès Varda
“I need images, I need representation which deals in other means than reality. We have to use reality but get out of it. That’s what I try to do all the time,” Agnès Varda stated in a 2009 Believer interview. She has remained faithful to that credo, and to that approach to telling stories, fiction and nonfiction alike, over the course of her long and incalculably rich filmmaking career. Alongside her groundbreaking narrative features, Varda has always made inventive and experimental documentaries, diary films, anthropological sketches, docufiction hybrids, and essay films. Choosing subjects both close to home (her neighbors in Paris, the fishermen of the Mediterranean town in which she grew up) and geographically further-flung (L.A. mural painters, the Black Panthers, the citizens of post-revolution Cuba), Varda often treated her movies as products and extensions of her travels and her politics. The selection of Varda’s work in this year’s Art of the Real culls from an extensive body of curious, playful nonfiction, and also highlights examples of her fiction work that beautifully integrated elements of the real.
Black Panthers, Women Reply: Our Bodies Our Sex, Salut les Cubains & Ulysse:
A selection of short documentaries by Agnès Varda: Black Panthers is a casual, open-air portrait of a bustling “Free Huey” rally in Oakland that arose from Varda’s transformative encounter with the Black Panthers in 1968; Women Reply: Our Bodies Our Sex is a frank examination of how women are taking control over their bodies and lives; the exuberant Salut les Cubains is sourced from the vast cache of photographs Varda shot during her 1962 trip to newly post-Revolution Cuba; and Ulysse is a stunning essay film and a wide-ranging, concentrically expanding inquiry into history, memory, politics, and place.
Agnès Varda, France, 1968, DCP, 31m
French with English subtitles
One of Varda’s most transformative encounters during her 1968 L.A. journey was with the Black Panthers, then at the height of their influence and fame. Her casual, open-air portrait of the group, centered on a bustling “Free Huey” rally in Oakland, is more densely packed with information than many of her other documentaries, but it’s made with no less delicacy, grace, and political urgency. New digital restoration!
Women Reply: Our Bodies Our Sex / Réponse de femmes
Agnès Varda, France, 1975, 35mm, 8m
French with English subtitles
In 1975, a television station gave seven female filmmakers seven minutes to answer the question “What does it mean to be a woman?” Agnès Varda answered with this frank assemblage, examining how women are taking control over their bodies and lives.
Salut les Cubains
Agnès Varda, France/Cuba, 1963, DCP, 30m
French with English subtitles
In December 1962, four years after the Cuban Revolution, Varda visited the country at the invitation of the Cuban Film Institute and came back with a cache of about 2,500 photographs. The breathless, zigzagging photo montage she made the following year out of 1,500 of those stills is a priceless artifact: a double portrait of a multiethnic country at a pivot point in its national history, and a European left filled with hope for the new republic’s future. New digital restoration!
Agnès Varda, France, 1982, DCP, 22m
French with English subtitles
The photograph at the center of this stunning essay film, one of the secret highlights of Varda’s filmography, was taken by Varda herself in the mid-1950s, but the role it plays here is closer to those of the central snapshot in Godard/Gorin’s Letter to Jane or the footage from Iceland that bookends Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil: a jumping-off point for a wide-ranging, concentrically expanding inquiry into history, memory, politics, and place. On the other hand, as Varda suggests near the end of her captivating voiceover, perhaps it’s nothing of the kind: The image is there. That’s all. New digital restoration!
Sunday, April 19, 2:30pm (Q&A with Agnès Varda)
Agnès Varda, West Germany/France, 1976, DCP, 80m
French with English subtitles
Varda’s affable, curious portrait of her neighbors and acquaintances on Rue Daguerre, where she’d been living for decades, is at once one of her warmest, most quietly affecting movies and a slightly embittered reflection on “a woman’s creativity… smothered by the home.” A butcher; a baker; a laundress; an accordionist; a trembling, elderly perfumer who sells buttons on the side: the cast of Daguerreotypes becomes, over the course of the film, a kind of makeshift family. It was a family formed as much by need as by choice: having resolved to make a film while “a bit stuck at the house” with her 2-year-old son (Mathieu Demy), Varda remembers, she “stretched a cord from the meter in my house” and recorded where the cable stopped. “I would find something to film there,” she insisted, “and no further.” New digital restoration!
Sunday, April 19, 5:00pm (Introduction by Agnès Varda)
Agnès Varda, USA/France, 1981, DCP, 65m
In 1979, 10 years after her first California sojourn and during a period of separation from her beloved husband, Jacques Demy, Varda returned to L.A. for what would turn out to be a decidedly more dejected, minor-key stay. Documenteur, like several of Varda’s movies, follows an essentially fictional character (played here by Varda’s editor Sabine Mamou) through a more or less real environment. Unlike most of Varda’s movies, it’s a frank and often painful reflection on estrangement, loneliness, and loss. Certain settings and subjects from Mur Murs recur here (the two films were paired for their initial U.S. runs), but Documenteur was, per its title, more of “an emotion picture”—a revealing dispatch from a wounded heart. An NYFF ’81 Selection. New digital restoration!
Agnès Varda, USA, 1967, DCP, 22m
The first movie Varda made in America was, surprisingly, of a family reunion. Filming this breezy, sun-dappled portrait of her elderly Greek uncle, a painter who’s transformed his houseboat into a mecca for L.A.’s young, beautiful, and free-spirited, was Varda’s first prolonged exposure to the Californian counterculture by which she’d go on to be deeply inspired. New digital restoration!
Wednesday, April 22, 5:00pm
Friday, April 24, 5:00pm
The Gleaners and I
Agnès Varda, France, 2000, 35mm, 82m
French with English subtitles
“In times past,” Varda tells us at the start of this wondrous, humane reflection on the art of scavenging, “only women gleaned.” Urban dumpster-divers; rural potato-pickers; shoreline oyster-collectors; a chef who picks his own stock; Van der Weyden’s The Last Judgment; a brickmason who constructs eerie sculptures out of discarded dolls; Louis Pons’s collages; Étienne-Jules Marey, the inventor of “chronophotography”; vineyard grape-pickers; the unfamiliar crevices of Varda’s own hand. The Gleaners and I is a catalog of subjects candid, unsettling, touching, and sublime, gathered and arranged, as only Varda could, into a curious, playful whole. “On this type of gleaning—of images, impressions, emotions—there is,” Varda insists midway through the movie, “no legislation.” An NYFF ’00 Selection.
Tuesday, April 21, 7:15pm
Thursday, April 23, 5:00pm
Agnès Varda, USA/France, 1969, DCP, 110m
“It’s your story—you do it!” Lions Love, made during Varda’s sojourn in California, was one of the director’s boldest, goofiest reckonings with the American counterculture. Warhol superstar Viva floats into a precarious ménage à trois with James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the lyricists of the musical Hair. Gleeful, unabashed disrobings; stretches of poolside drifting; visits from Eddie Constantine and Shirley Clarke; the announcement, by way of the trio’s boxy TV, of the shootings of Andy Warhol and RFK: Varda captures it all with her usual mischievous humor, occasionally—in an early show of her gifts as a personal essayist—stepping in front of the camera herself. An NYFF ’69 Selection. New digital restoration!
Saturday, April 18, 9:00pm
Agnès Varda, France/USA, 1981, DCP, 80m
English and French with English subtitles
During the second of her two lengthy trips to L.A., Varda found a quietly brilliant way to get an outsider’s glance into the city’s convoluted social, racial, and economic tensions: filming its murals. The fiery, colorful public images spilling out of Mur Murs—Afro-futurist vistas, imaginatively re-created historical pageants, visionary scenes from the Day of the Dead—were, for Varda, aesthetic joys and fascinating cultural objects, but also rare opportunities to document their makers. One insists that his loving portrait of three forgotten Hollywood and TV stars is secretly of the Holy Trinity; another pair, in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, give a spontaneous musical performance surrounded by grinning skulls and Boschian afterlife scenes. The result is one of Varda’s richest nonfiction films: a graceful synthesis of her gifts as a social critic and her skill as a human observer. An NYFF ’80 Selection. New digital restoration!
Tuesday, April 21, 9:00pm
Ron Peck's Nighthawks.
La Pointe Courte
Agnès Varda, France, 1955, DCP, 85m
French with English subtitles
Varda was 25 when she shot her enormously influential debut feature, a marital drama set in a small coastal fishing village in Sète. “The film,” Varda later insisted, “was created for and with the fisherman,” and it’s indeed an acute, searching immersion in the daily business of provincial life. It was also Varda’s first of many attempts at working out what would become one of her career-long goals: to navigate fluidly between the terrain of her characters’ private emotional lives and the topography of (as she later put it) the “geographically and politically specific environments” in which they live. Varda, who grew up partly in Sète, famously claimed to have seen almost no movies before making La Pointe Courte, but the film is in direct conversation, accidentally or not, with many of its neorealist ancestors. It spoke equally well to the future: many critics and scholars now consider it the first proper entry in what would become the Nouvelle Vague. New digital restoration!
Friday, April 17, 6:30pm (Q&A with Agnès Varda)
Agnès Varda, France, 1985, DCP, 105m<br />English, French, and Arabic with English subtitles
It’s been one of Varda’s favorite devices, from La Pointe Courte to Documenteur, to structure her movies around fictional characters that act as foils for the non-actors they’re surrounded by. But it was only in Vagabond, one of her most celebrated features, that she filmed those non-actors trying—and failing—to figure the movie’s main character out. Mona, played in a career-high performance by Sandrine Bonnaire, has left her posh urban office job for a life on the road. The people with whom she comes into contact—a wealthy academic; a philosophical shepherd; a Tunisian laborer; an aging, giggly countess in need of company—are as fascinating and revealing a cross section of modern France as Varda has ever assembled, but the movie’s focus is squarely on Mona herself: a strong-willed young woman for whom freedom, you start to sense, is its own costly end. New digital restoration!
Saturday, April 18, 4:00pm (Q&A with Agnès Varda)
Tuesday, April 21, 5:00pm
Repeat As Necessary: The Art of Reenactment
Exploited by television docudramas and nonfiction whodunits, the device of reenactment endures a bad reputation. But artists and filmmakers have long employed it in varied ways: as a tool of dramatization, an investigative strategy, and a means of creating art from the archive. Recent films like The Act of Killing and The Arbor have called attention to its uses, but reenactment has a rich history as an invaluable mode of documentary art. When Peter Watkins directed nonprofessional actors in Edvard Munch, he encouraged them to bring contemporary tensions into their characters. Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie reconstructs, shot by shot, a lost film that depicted feminist icon Shulamith Firestone, on the verge of writing her manifesto. Artist Ming Wong re-creates scenarios from classic films but, in casting himself, sheds new light on their race, class, and gender dimensions. The films and videos in this spotlight trace a partial history of reenactment as its own medium, an act of repetition that often leads to revelation.
Dramatic Acts Program
This program includes Simon Fujiwara’s acclaimed and personal Studio Pietà, Jean-Paul Kelly’s sharp and critical Service of the Goods, and two works by Ming Wong that absurdly and touchingly engage with the legacy of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Eat Fear and Learn German with Petra von Kant.
Simon Fujiwara, UK, 2013, digital projection, 20m
The video component of Simon Fujiwara’s acclaimed first New York solo show, which also included a room-sized installation in which the short played in a kind of half studio, half interrogation chamber, is reenactment at its most personal: a record of the British artist’s culturally and sexually fraught attempts to re-create a photo from the 1960s—now long- lost—of his mother being carried by her then-boyfriend, a young Lebanese man, on a beach in Beirut.
Service of the Goods
Jean-Paul Kelly, Canada, 2013, digital projection, 29m
The Toronto-based video artist Jean-Paul Kelly’s gutsy restaging of scenes from films by Frederick Wiseman is, among other things, one of the sharpest recent works of film criticism. Familiar episodes from Titicut Follies, High School, Welfare, and others play out in jarringly altered forms: the subjects have been replaced by bedsheet-draped ghosts, the dialogue swapped out for subtitles, and the settings reduced to their barest scaffolding. The result is at once a canny piece of social criticism in its own right and a revelatory invitation to consider the original works anew.
Eat Fear / Angst Essen
Ming Wong, Germany, 2008, digital projection, 27m
German with German and English subtitles
Ming Wong restages Fassbinder’s 1974 Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, playing every role himself (including the extras), and creates an exquisite interplay between camp, ’50s melodrama, foreignness, and a classic of queer cinema. Wong’s totally committed performance(s) questions the othering of East Asians in the history of cinema and contemporary queer visual culture. Meanwhile, his use of both English and German subtitles proves a reminder of his own otherness as a foreigner living in Berlin. An alternately absurd, touching, and outrageously funny work.
Learn German with Petra von Kant / Lerne Deutsch Mit Petra von Kant
Ming Wong, USA, 2007, digital projection, 10m
German with German and English subtitles
An attempt at “cultural immersion” on the occasion of the Singaporean artist’s relocation to Berlin in 2007, Wong plays Petra in the penultimate, meltdown scene of Fassbinder’s 1972 The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant. Presented as a double projection, the short unfolds like an instructional language tape in which Wong repeats Margit Carstensen’s lines after she speaks them. Wong makes little to no attempt to re-create camera movement or mise-en-scène; instead, the camera shifts our attention entirely to his performance, questioning identification and exactly what type of “learning” is going on.
Sunday, April 19, 7:30pm
Peter Watkins, Sweden/Norway, 1974, 35mm, 210m
English, French, Norwegian, German, Swedish, and Danish with English subtitles
Peter Watkins’s three-and-a-half-hour magnum opus is less a portrait of the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch than it is an exposure of the artist’s frayed inner life. Indelible images of the painter’s childhood occur and recur; ecstatic moments of human connection punctuate long stretches of boredom, loneliness, and frustration; aesthetic debates within Munch’s Berlin intellectual circle, which included the playwright August Strindberg, unravel at length. The result is an artist biopic—complete with dry voiceover narration—that moves with the logic of a free verse poem or a stream-of-consciousness novel. On one level, Edvard Munch is an exhaustive portrait of a particularly fervent moment in European politics and culture. On another, it’s a painfully intimate study of an individual with a particularly acute sense for, as one character in the film puts it, “the mysterious anguish of life”—and the cathartic anguish of art.
Sunday, April 12, 1:30pm*
*Venue: Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St.
Elisabeth Subrin Program
This program features several works by Elisabeth Subrin, including the re-release of Shulie (a re-creation of an unreleased, direct-cinema documentary about radical feminist Shulamith Firestone), as well as Lost Tribes and Promised Lands and Sweet Ruin. The screening will be followed by a panel with Subrin, Thomas Beard, and Johanna Fateman. Presented in collaboration with Video Data Bank.
Elisabeth Subrin, USA, 1997, 16mm, 36m
Subrin’s brilliant and celebrated portrait of a woman on the verge of becoming a revolutionary restages shot for shot a lost 1967 documentary about then-struggling art student Shulamith Firestone. The resulting work is a reflection on the legacy of feminism, and on how much things seem to have changed yet fundamentally remained the same. This screening marks the re-release of Shulie, which has been out of circulation since 2012.
Lost Tribes and Promised Lands
Elisabeth Subrin, USA, 2010, digital projection, 6m
An insightful study of the ways in which cities change, this film combines 16mm footage Subrin shot in the days after 9/11 of memorial displays around Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the same sites nearly a decade later. The passage of time and ravages of gentrification are immediately apparent (Subrin had difficulty retracing her steps), yet the disjunctions between each moment in space and time are not easily attributed to one or the other, as loss builds upon loss.
Elisabeth Subrin, USA, 2008, digital projection, 10m
Shot on damaged 16mm film stock, this radical adaptation of Michelangelo Antonioni’s script for his unmade film Technically Sweet stars Gaby Hoffmann in roles originally written for Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. Subrin presents this “abandoned footage” in a dual projection, its flaws evidencing its ruin. Hoffmann blurs the lines between Nicholson’s “T.” and Schneider’s “The Girl” by retaining her femininity as both characters, at one point squatting to pee. Described as a meditation “on love, violence, and cinema,” Sweet Ruin will be screened here for the first time in a theatrical setting.
Saturday, April 11, 4:00pm (post-screening panel with Elisabeth Subrin, Thomas Beard, and Johanna Fateman)
Essayistic Acts: Une sale histoire + Las Meninas
This program pairs Jean Eustache’s bifurcated essay-film, in which a peeping tom confesses to finding a hole in the wall of a woman’s toilet, with Juan Downey’s adventurous, essayistic reflection on Velázquez's Las Meninas.
Une sale histoire
Jean Eustache, France, 1977, 35mm, 47m
French with English subtitles
“I tried to tell [the story of Une sale histoire],” Jean Eustache insisted in an interview, “not as a story I’d lived, but as a film I wanted to make—like a scenario.” The story in question is told twice, once by the great actor Michael Lonsdale, and then again, very similarly, by Jean-Noël Picq, the man from whose life it allegedly came. It's the sort of dirty secret that Eustache always felt compelled to make public: the confession of a peeping tom who finds a hole in the wall of a women’s toilet. Both tellers, it turns out, are addressing crowds of young women—a revelation that turns the movie into another of Eustache’s self-excoriating studies of male-female relationships. But Une sale histoire is also, among other things, a reflection on the sort of personal, confessional filmmaking to which Eustache kept being drawn. “When I tell a personal story,” Picq says, “it’s because I’m convinced it isn’t one—that the whole world understands.”
Juan Downey, USA, 1975, digital projection, 20m
“We are looking at a picture,” Foucault wrote in a 1970 account of Velázquez's Las Meninas, “in which the painter is in turn looking out at us.” The text from which that line comes is one of the chief ingredients of Juan Downey’s adventurous, essayistic reflection on the painting, which also involves a live-action restaging of the scene, a lecture from the great art historian George Kubler, and a step-by-step journey through the picture’s complex shiftings of perspective.
Wednesday, April 15, 9:00pm
James Benning, USA, 1986, 16mm, 92m
For his career-long excavation of the American national character, James Benning found two of his most striking case studies in a pair of murderers whose crimes took place 30 years and more than half the country apart. Landscape Suicide, like many of Benning’s films, consists largely of footage of places, landscapes, and roads accompanied by—or paired with—speech. The speech, in this case, comes from the court testimonies of Bernadette Protti, who stabbed one of her California high-school classmates to death in 1984 over an insult, and Ed Gein, the infamous Plainfield, Wisconsin, killer who made trophies out of his victim’s bodies, read aloud by actors directly to the camera. Benning’s America is a country terrified equally by the wilderness to which it’s in thrall and the civilization it’s set up to keep that wilderness at bay—and nowhere in his work does that tension become more chillingly clear. New 16mm print courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum.
Saturday, April 11, 8:30pm
Thursday, April 16, 5:00pm
Political Acts Program
This program features Irina Botea’s Auditions for a Revolution, her fascinating attempt at reenacting the 1989 Romanian Revolution, as well as T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm’s The Eternal Frame and Jenny Perlin’s Transcript.
Auditions for a Revolution
Irina Botea, USA, 2006, digital projection, 24m
Inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and Andrei Ujică’s and Harun Farocki’s Videograms of a Revolution (excerpted here), Botea recruits students and staff at the Art Institute of Chicago to reenact the 1989 Romanian Revolution. Paying especially close attention to gesture, Botea instructs her extras from behind the camera on what slogans to shout and how to hold their fists. Some assume their roles more enthusiastically than others, yet all of the approximations are made clumsy by the language barrier, and by time. A fascinating document for anyone who’s ever wanted to play revolutionary.
The Eternal Frame
T.R. Uthco & Ant Farm, USA, 1975, digital projection, 23m
In 1975, the influential San Francisco “underground architecture” group Ant Farm teamed up with two members of the local multimedia collective T.R. Uthco, traveled to Dallas, and, studying the Zapruder film as a guide, restaged the Kennedy assassination at the site of the crime. This document of the performance, including the horrified gasps of passersby who don’t realize they’re watching a reenactment, is a classic of early video.
Jenny Perlin, USA, 2006, HDCAM, 11m
Jenny Perlin scavenged through an immense archive to find the material re-created in this mesmerizing short: a transcript of a 1953 recording made by a covert CIA operative at an Upper West Side dinner party whose hosts the agency suspected of having ties to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Paired with footage filmed in a contemporary apartment complex, the reenactment transforms into a trenchant critique of present-day government surveillance policies.
Saturday, April 18, 2:00pm
Reimagined Icons: Fresh Acconci + Grapefruit
This program pairs Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley’s wickedly funny restaging of one of legendary multimedia artist Vito Acconci’s most canonical pieces with a video work by Cecilia Dougherty that reimagines The Beatles as four women.
Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley, USA, 1995, digital projection, 45m
The legendary multimedia artist Vito Acconci now works primarily in large-scale installations, but is still best known for the groundbreaking pieces of performance art he developed in the 1970s. In 1995, Paul McCarthy—another performance artist of great stature—and the late Mike Kelley collaborated on this playful, wickedly funny, and razor-sharp restaging of five of Acconci’s most canonical pieces, newly set in a Southern California mansion and choreographed for a group of female models. Fresh Acconci is at once an affectionate homage to the ’70s low-budget skin flick and an irreverent refusal of the artist’s right to dignity.
Cecilia Dougherty, USA, 1989, digital projection, 40m
Reimagining The Beatles as four women (including a young Susie Bright as John Lennon), Grapefruit restages events leading up to the band’s breakup at the end of the 1960s, culled from Yoko Ono’s memoirs. Shot on videotape, the episodes—a reenactment of Ono’s seminal “Cut Piece,” the “Bed-In” with Lennon, Harrison waxing over Buddhist philosophy while strumming an unplugged electric guitar—retain the feel of a home movie while simultaneously opening up a crucial space in history for lesbians where they’re no longer on the margins. Per Dougherty: “It is not about lesbians, it is lesbian.”
Sunday, April 26, 4:30pm
What Farocki Taught + Inextinguishable Fire
This program pairs Harun Farocki’s seminal antiwar film, which explores the development of napalm by dramatizing the inner workings of Dow Chemical’s Michigan headquarters, with Jill Godmilow’s exquisitely precise, shot-for-shot remake, made nearly 30 years later.
What Farocki Taught
Jill Godmilow, USA, 1998, 16mm, 30m
A shot-for-shot remake of Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire, translated into English and shot on color Kodachrome. Every motion is exquisitely reproduced—from the self-inflicted cigarette burn at the beginning, to a woman reacting to evening news coverage of the Vietnam War by putting her head on her husband’s shoulder—though the precision is occasionally underscored by Godmilow superimposing Farocki’s original over her reproduction. In a short epilogue, Godmilow is interviewed about her project on the set, expanding her thoughts in a voiceover recorded later: “We don’t have a name for this type of film… it replaces the documentary’s pornography of the real.”
Harun Farocki, Germany, 1969, digital projection, 29m
Among the most powerful antiwar films ever made, Farocki’s short unsentimentally traces the connections between the state, corporate interests, and scientific research by dramatizing the internal workings of the Dow Chemical plant in Midland, Michigan, surrounding the development of napalm. With the haunting refrain “A chemical corporation is like a set of building blocks. We let each worker have one block to work with. Then we put the blocks together to make whatever our clients request,” the film builds upon repetitions and news footage from Vietnam to illustrate the devastating consequences of a populace divided and disempowered by capitalism.
Sunday, April 11, 2:00pm (Q&A with Jill Godmilow)