Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bruce Baillie and others (Experimental Cinema, Summer 2012)

To kick off their Summer program at the Lightbox, The Free Screen will be screening Bruce Baillie’s Quixote, "the Baillie film most in need of rediscovery" according to The Free Screen programmer Chris Kennedy, and All My Life with Arthur Lipsett’s 21-87, and Joshua Romphf’s Ride This Country (May 30th, 7PM), a portrait of a southern Ontario farm, with Romphf in attendance. The Free Screen summer schedule will also include the programs Liquid Metal (June 20th, 7PM), a series that explores the changing textures of new digital effects; Fractured Movement / Constituent Parts (July 18th, 7PM), whose centerpieces are the restored work of Los Angeles avant-gardist Gary Beydler, and with works by Alexandre Larose and Alexi Manis who will be in attendance; and Jonathan Schwartz: The Skies Can't Keep Their Secrets (August 15th, 2012). On the subject of experimental-films, there are also the Pleasure Dome screenings of the recent work of Basma Alsharif at A Space Gallery (June 2nd – July 14th); James Richards recent videos at Cinecycle (June 2nd, 7PM) and a conversation between Richards and Steve Reinke at The Power Plant (June 3rd, 3PM); a book launch and screening of the short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby at Cinecycle (June 15th, 8PM) and artist talk with Mike Hoolboom (June 16th, 2PM); Robert Frank’s Me & My Brother at the Courtyard (July 21st, 9PM); an Open Screening at the Courtyard (August 11th, 9PM); and screenings of performance art curated by Johannes Zits at Artscape Gibraltar Point (August 19, 7:30PM). The next Early Monthly Segments will feature Ute Aurand, Ulrike Pfeiffer and Marie Menken at the Art Bar in the Gladstone Hotel (June 11, 8PM), as well they will continue their programming into the summer. As part of the TIFF Cinematheque First Peoples Cinema program, Kate MacKay programmed Chick Strand's Anselmo Trilogy a three-part look ath the Mexican native Anselmo Aguascalientes (July 11th, 6:30PM). And to keep up-to-date on all experimental film related screenings in Toronto make sure to keep checking out John Porter’s website super8porter.

To discuss Baillie it is relevant to bring up the book Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000 as Baillie is most readily known as one of the grandfather figures of the San Francisco experimental film community.

The book Radical Light which is edited by Steve Anker, Kathy Geritz and Steve Seid is described by film critic Nicole Brenez as being "a scientifically and visually magnificent survey". The title, Radical Light, according to Seid, “emerges from this sense of a cinema that considers its origins in a substrate of emulsion and luminescence.”  And, according to Anker, “They were filmmakers, many of them not-so-recovered painters and poets, ill at ease with cinema as an entertainment but rather fondly fixated on the apparatus, the alchemy of light and chemistry, and their own eccentric admixture that might make this all art.” In the books two introductions by Seid and Anker, what is highlighted is the Bay Area's topography, from Anker’s introduction A Haven for Radical Art and Experimental Film and Video, the Bay Area “remains unsurpassed as a place where artists using film and video for personal expression choose to live.” The history of this art form, as Seid brings up in Form from the Fog: A Book Takes Shape, "begins in the late nineteenth century, in 1878 in nearby Palo Alto. It was then that Eadweard Muybridge began his pioneering experiments with the photographic image and the incremental improvements that would result in the motion picture.” The avant-garde film flourished in San Francisco after World War II with people like Sidney Peterson. In Scott MacDonald’s essay, Art in Cinema: Creating an Audience for Experimental Film, things started, in the fall of 1946, with the San Francisco Museum of Art which had a film series Art in Cinema, organized by Frank Stauffacher, that focused on “avant-garde films in modern art forms - surrealist, non-objective, abstract, fantastic.”” The series was called Art in Cinema which was “established to present a more vigorous and liberated attitude towards the film medium.”  The popularity of experimental cinema was connected not only with advantageous exhibition venues, but also with the educational institutions that taught production and appreciation of experimental film and video, and media arts centers that fostered it.

Baillie was one of the founding members of Canyon Cinema in 1961, “a nomadic group presenting underground programs in different settings, and developed into a small organization that presents a regular series, produced by artists and curators,” which was named after the small town of Canyon which is just outside of Oakland. Canyon Cinema later became the San Francisco Cinematheque.

Baillie, as Kennedy describes him, “has forged a singular path in his visionary explorations of the world, his exquisite treatment of light and fragmented storytelling influencing successive generations of like-minded filmmakers.” Radical Light includes a really nice artist page by Baillie, which includes a picture of him as a boy with his dog, a younger picture of him in an open field carrying a camera on a tripod, and a few colorful figural sketches. Michael Sicinsky's contribution, The Bay Area as Cinematic Space in Twenty-five Stops or Less, includes Baillie’s All My Life, and Sicinsky writes, “Bruce Baillie’s lasting achievement (in this and all his films) is his attention to the living surfaces of the physical world, the way he allows them to disclose themselves.” While in Canyon Cinema: The Early Years – Interviews with Bruce Baillie, Ernest Callenbach, Chick Strand, and Emory Menefee by Kathy Geritz, Baillie talks about the aura around the early screenings, programming criteria, and projection details. Bailie: “Years of fun, work, and thoughtful exchange, covering perhaps everything under the sun!” 

David Davidson

“This visually exquisite masterpiece of minimal-budget, low-tech filmmaking has nothing to do with the Castro Street of San Francisco’s gay district, or with Fidel Castro of Cuba. Named for a Spanish land grantee, Castro Street, in Richmond, California, is a gritty industrial byway lined with refinery structures, railroad switchyards, omnipresent power lines, and the general detritus of modern heavy industry. Bruce Baillie, with his magical eye, has taken these unpromising materials and constructed a flowing lyric poem. Its steady rhythm of pans and dissolves is set by the ponderous motion of trains over a sound track bass line of industrial noises: bangs, regular beats, whirrs, clangs, toots. Baillie makes iris effects in the camera; he softens and blurs the imagery, perhaps with Vaseline on the lens; he distorts images, perhaps with mirrors; he catches a gorgeous palette of colors in the wasteland; he twists human voices into abstract sounds; he runs some images in negative color. This elegant playfulness combines the half-recognizable, the luminously abstracted, and occasional flashes of ordinary vision: train wheels, yellow earth-moving machinery, flowering lupines glowing purple, corrugated iron. Yet everything is carried along with the flow, the dance of exploration and perception: this is what we can see, if our inner eyes are open. Castro Street is a meditation on the reality of our industrial condition, not redeeming it, but transcending it." - Ernest Callenbach on Castro Street (1966)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Best of Hot Docs 2012

This festival report is the second guest contribution by Moen Mohamed. - D.D.

The 2012 edition of Hot Docs proved once again that the festival keeps getting better and better, year after year. The enthusiastic audiences and interesting line-up of world documentaries culminate in a well-organized ten-day event. They expanded this year, but I believe they will need to expand even more next year. Such is the enthusiasm for documentaries in Toronto. Of the fifty-four feature films I saw this year, here are my personal favorites, in order of preference:

1. JAI BHIM COMRADE (India, Anand Patwardhan)
Due to its three-hour running time, I expected an epic documentary about the low-caste untouchables (Dalits) in India.  However, this superb labour of respect chronicles the plight and suffering of the untouchables in a way that elevates it to a work of poetic art. The director uses protest songs and poems, composed and performed by Dalits, not for the camera, but captured at events and gatherings. The poetry and songs serve as a Greek Chorus, strategically placed at various intervals as the director uses interviews, media-coverage and heart-breaking testimonies to make this film an unforgettable experience. The genesis of the film itself is interesting and almost accidental. The suicide of a low-caste poet who was a friend of the director, prompted him to assemble footage of the poet's songs on film, and from that, blossomed the documentary. The film took fourteen years to be completed, not because the director was intentionally making an epic, but for the simple fact that he was awaiting a verdict on a court case about atrocities committed by police against a group of untouchables, which incidentally was the reason the poet friend committed suicide. 

2. WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL (USA, Sasha Friedlander)
The daily toil and struggles of Indonesian sulphur miners are captured with such respect by this first-time director, that it leaves you speechless. From their toil to their tender moments, all is chronicled so intimately that we feel privileged to have spent this time with the miners and their families.

3. ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! (Germany, Victor Kossakovsky)
One of the most enjoyable experiences of the festival was this gorgeously photographed film about settlements on precisely opposite points of the globe (there are only a few due to the vastness of the oceans). The conceptual design of this film is to be marveled at. No, this is not one of those Disney or Imax nature documentaries.  Akin to the great films of Nikolaus Geyrhalter, this film gave me much to think about our planet, our existence and how insignificant we are in this sphere of nature. This film is not about how we treat our planet, it is simply illustrating to us how we are all linked to each other, regardless of the vast diversity. Distances and differences melt away watching this film; and that, in itself, is a great achievement because the film is about places that are furthest away from each other.  

4. BALLROOM DANCER (Denmark, Christian Bonke & Andreas Koefoed)
A revelation. I was expecting perhaps a fun film about a dancing competition and the come-back of an aging ballroom dancer (thirty-four is considered old in that world), but this film is a sad, love story that disintegrates before your eyes. In complete cinéma vérité style, no interviews, no narration, the camera seems almost voyeuristic as we watch this dancing couple battle their personal and professional issues. 

5. WITH MY HEART IN YAMBO (Ecuador, Maria Fernanda Restrepo)
The director searches for the truth about her two teenaged brothers' disappearance and murder that occurred in the 80s. Interviews and confrontations with the corrupt officials in charge at that time, home movies, the last known footage of the brothers at a Scout camp, all come together to weave the making of a tragedy that happened over and over again to thousands of families, all across Latin America in the 70s and 80s. At 140 minutes, this film felt much shorter.

6. OUTING (Austria, Sebastian Meise & Thomas Reider)
The most difficult and uncomfortable film I had to sit through during the festival. A shy, young man confesses to his family (and the camera) about his growing attraction to children. What ensues is at times unsettling, candid but never sensational. When you realize why this man would agree to document his story on camera, knowing the effects of his disclosure, the film comes together.

7. GREETINGS FROM THE COLONY (Belgium, Nathalie Borgers)
Almost every year, I discover an excellent documentary about dark, family secrets. This year, it was Greetings from the Colony. A young child is brought from Rwanda to Belgium in the 1920s. She is fathered by a white colonial official. Her mother is native Rwandan. In Belgium, she is never told that her mother is black, still alive with her 2 younger brothers in Rwanda. As a child, she is given no information as to why the colour of her skin is darker than other children. Thus begins this intimate journey back in time as we explore family secrets, alienation, shame and racism.

8. THE PROPHET (UK, Gary Tarn)
The poetic prose of Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran is the soundtrack of this mesmerizing film, beautifully read by Thandie Newton. It is an exploration of life, love and the human condition. Although it was filmed in many countries, one may think this is a visual delight, but this is a film that begs you to listen first and then watch.

9. 5 BROKEN CAMERAS (Israel, Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi)
Profound and humanist in every way, five cameras (all broken due to clashes and gunfire) used by the main subject of the film to chronicle six years of life in his tiny West Bank village which is threatened by new settlements. I know we have seen many of these documentaries, but there is something immediate and deeply personal about this film which contains no talking heads, interviews or experts. It is all real footage, some shocking, of one man's efforts to become a journalist and to document what is happening to his home, family and the livelihood of the farmers.

10. THE IMPOSTER (UK, Bart Layton)
The most cinematic documentary you will see this year, or perhaps ever. A young boy, missing for years, is returned to his Texan family after being found in Spain. What unfolds is such an incredible story. No more can be revealed here.

11. COLOMBIANOS (Sweden, Tora Martens)
Two young brothers of Colombian origin, born and raised in Sweden, make different choices in life. One has returned to Colombia for his medical studies and the other is in Sweden, dependent on drugs and alcohol. And he is only twenty-three years old. Yet another superb cinéma vérité work that allows us into the lives of two sons and a strong mother.

12. MCCULLIN (UK, Jacqui Morris)
Spanning decades of wars and humanitarian catastrophes, we hear, in his own words, all about the life and career of celebrated 'war photographer', Donald McCullin.  He is conflicted about how he feels about the title of war photographer, and this is just one of the many things that make this dignified man such a compelling subject. 

The rest of my Top 25:
13.  PLANET OF SNAIL (South Korea, Seung-jun Yi)
14.  MARLEY (UK, Kevin MacDonald)
15.  THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (USA, Laura Greenfield)
16.  MADE IN CHINA (China, Jian Du)
17.  CHASING ICE (USA, Jeff Orlowski)
18.  ESPOIR VOYAGE (Burkina Faso, Michel Zongo)
19.  PRIVATE UNIVERSE (Czech Republic, Helena Trestikova)
20.  THE LIST (USA, Beth Murphy)
21.  THE REVISIONARIES (USA, Scott Thurman)
22.  DOWNEAST (USA, David Redmon, Ashley Sabin)
23.  THE WAITING ROOM (USA, Pete Nicks)
24.  DROUGHT (Mexico, Everardo Gonzalez)
25.  THE WORLD BEFORE HER (Canada, Nisha Pahuja)

Moen Mohamed

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Editorial: Programmer (Cahiers du Cinéma, May 2012) [English Translation]

After writing editorials on University Film Studies Programs in France (March) and then on Online Film Pirating (April); the editor of Cahiers du Cinéma, Stéphane Delorme, in the editorial of the May issue (N.678) re-asserts the direction in which he's shaping the magazine, which I translated below. [For more on Delorme's writing at Cahiers see the last paragraph of my review of his Coppola book.] - D.D.

Putting together a film magazine is not much different than being a programmer. Which films does one decide to show in a movie theater? At a film festival? At Cannes? In Competition? Or elsewhere? To program is to think methodically, considering locations, inclusions and exclusions, openings and fences. This supposes a selection and a hierarchy. But we not only program for people, we guide them. This then supposes an alterity.

Programmer, a nice word, but one that does not have a good reputation these days. Defending five or six films each week, like in the alt-papers, reverts to annulling this work of programming. The films in these papers are all in the same mess, they are all equal. We ask ourselves how can the reader really figure them out! The mission of criticism is in opposition to choice, instead it should recommend what one must see first, what one can't miss. We live in strange times, where in the press there is a fear of losing space (one must consider the amount of pages dedicated to films), and too there is now the fear of loosing the larger audience (one then has to like the big films), and there is also the worry of "killing" the smaller films (that one should forcedly defend...). The situation since the beginning of the year has become dramatic: we have the sentiment that all the films are being defended. Cahiers, in contrast, seems very severe. Five or six films, only, liked each month!

In these lasts few months, there has been an extreme tolerance directed towards French productions, from Marsupilami to Cap Nord to Two Days in New York, by the way of 38 Témoins and Les Adieux à la reine (two proud representatives of the cinema du milieux something that Pascal Ferran wished for, but that engulfs France in an old French tradition). All the while an American production like the cotton-candy We Bought A Zoo by Cameron Crowe is being hailed by the snobbish critics as a new Hawks. The disorientation of criticism is real. The reader that discovers the programming that Cahiers proposed for in April was forced into disorder: Twixt on the cover, the extremely moving animated film The Plague Dogs - not tucked away in a corner like in the Journal section, but spread over four pages - alongside the great Bulgarian film Avé, which could touch a larger public if it was actually put in front of them.

The privilege of a monthly is to be the first to arrive on a film and then to propose the first programming. In the previous months we have accorded four pages to Oslo, 31 août and eight pages to Policier; two films by unknown directors, and which have had great commercial success. Cahiers played it's part. Too many films come out, the situation is becoming absurd. At the hour where films only last two weeks in the cinema, there needs to be a criticism that hits hard, and fair, and assumes it's role as a guide. If not then these important films won't be seen. This month, if we exclude the new Cronenberg and the Wes Anderson, only one film appears in our critique, the new Hong Sang-soo; a sign of the desertion of distribution due to Cannes (in regards to Burton, Warner declined to show it to us). Do we need to force ourselves to find others?

This politic, since it is one, goes with, at Cahiers, for the last three years, with the refusal to follow the perverse rule of that, "that the person who likes the film most, should write about it." The excessive generosity of this axiom leads to that there is always someone to write about them! Today the chief editor decides, after a discussion with the team about the films, how the film is "treated" and programmed in the magazine. When a movie divides (like the Hong Sang-soo, by coincidence, this month), one must press upon a position. If no films fit the criteria, so be it. There are also DVDs to see, and books and magazine to read. The programming of a magazine should account for all of this. So, with that said, the film to see this month is maybe Touki Bouki, which just came out on DVD. There is also this pleasure, which is becoming even more rare, of rewatching films. As one knows, the demands of reality no longer offer us the time.

Stéphane Delorme

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Child’s Hope (A Placed Called Los Pereyra at the Projection Booth)

"A very honest, strong film. I liked the vision of this film very much." - Carlos Reygadas on A Place Called Los Pereyra

The documentary A Place Called Los Pereyra, which is directed by Andrés Livov-Macklin (who was born in Buenos Aires, and is mostly known for short films) and produced by Hugh Gibson and Peter Starr, is about the elementary school 959 in the rural community of Los Pereyra, in the Tucumán Province, Argentina. A Place Called Los Pereyra is like a mixture between two films: the classroom drama Monsieur Lazhar, which is about an elementary school teacher guiding a group of young and impressionable students; and the documentary-fiction hybrid Alamar, a naturalistic cinéma vérité look at a Mexican father teaching his son how to fish in the coral reef.

These two films give a sense of what A Place Called Los Pereyra is like. But the film is different from these other works and needs to be further discussed.

Los Pereyra is located east of the Tucumán Province, which is known for its Gran Chaco flatlands. The documentary refers to the area as the El Impenetrable, “the second largest forested region in South America after the Amazon.” A Place Called Los Pereyra shows a town without electricity or modern day appliances. It paints a portrait of a culturally and geographically isolated location that hardly has any information online.

In the community of Los Pereyra there are families and children. The children either stay at home where they help their parents at their farms, or they go to school with the hope of later pursuing their education elsewhere. A Place Called Los Pereyra centers on a group of high school girls from an expensive all-girl private school in Buenos Aires, who are known as the godmothers. The young godmothers are part of an annual charitable mission from Buenos Aires that provides goods and medical attention to the people of the area. It is these godmothers that were the inspiration for A Place Called Los Pereyra. One of Livov-Macklin’s friends went to this school in Buenos Aires, and shared with him the experience of the trips. Livov-Macklin was struck by both the disparity between the two groups and the kindness of their interactions.

These godmothers are a great asset to the community, and their arrival seems much anticipated. They show to the kids the possibilities that lie outside of Los Pereyra. As well they emphasize education, they bring them new toys and they perform medical check-ups. Fun and nice anecdotes from A Place Called Los Pereyra includes: the girls describing contraception, you see the boys playing with a new soccer ball, the girls tease one of the older boys, they do math equations where they distribute candy, they bring them to a zoo, and they even make one of the boys a nice birthday cake. But they are only there for a short amount time, and who knows when, and if, they are ever going to come back?

As Los Pereyra is over one-thousand kilometers away from the city of Buenos Aires, one of the subjects of the film is the Argentinean rural/urban divide. The teacher continuously brings up to these children that if they want a better future for themselves they will need to go to Buenos Aires to study. The teacher says, “You know that as people grow up, they want to do something with their lives. They dream of becoming something.” Concluding, “Nothing is difficult, if you’re willing to do it.”

A Place Called Los Pereyra will be screening at the Projection Booth from May 11th to the 17th.  And there will be a special event on Friday May 11th with a cocktail reception and post-screening discussion with producer Hugh Gibson and film critic Adam Nayman (The Grid, Cinema Scope).