Daily Postings
film : interview

Beth B

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"My work is so much about breaking that cycle of trauma, abuse, violence, and disturbance. It brings it out into the open so we can have a dialogue."

Artist and filmmaker Beth B came into her own in the downtown New York arts scene of the early '80s, creating large-scale installations and Super-8 films. Since then, she has released numerous documentaries and features for screen and television. Her non-fiction feature, Exposed, premiered in the Panorama section at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and her most recent film, Call Her Applebroog, chronicles the life and work of her mother—renowned visual artist Ida Applebroog. It premiered at MOMA's Doc Fortnight in February 2016. Voyeur, an installation of her videos, photography, and sculpture, opens at Howl! Happening in New York on February 18, 2017. I've known Beth since the late 1970s, when we helped co-found the radical artist's collective Colab.

Beth B I've made over thirty films, some of them shorts, some features, some hour-long docs. I did eight-hour docs for television, then came back to independent filmmaking. I continue to move from one genre to another in film because the most important thing is the subject matter. I figure out what form it's going to take afterward. I approach studio art in much the same way, looking to the idea to dictate the medium. Sometimes the work is thematic and an installation may take on various mediums, like this exhibition at HOWL! Arts. I'm showing sculpture, photography, video, and publishing a book—Nudes. The show dislocates the concept of voyeurism, which has been described as a psychosexual disorder. But look at the world today. We're living at a time when boundaries surrounding privacy are questioned everyday, and so the show challenges the convention of this secret vantage point, allowing the viewer to choose their engagement.

Coleen Fitzgibbon Let's back up a bit. How did you start making films?

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film : review

Call to Witness

by Nico Wheadon

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro testifies that James Baldwin's embattled America is still our own.

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary feat that draws much of its complexity from corralling the all-too-obscure history of race in the United States. A brilliant translator of this narrative, Haitian filmmaker and activist Raoul Peck adapts the unfinished, final novel by James Baldwin—provisionally titled Remember This House—as a framing device to unpack broader issues of power and privilege. Peck—to whom the few pages of the original manuscript were entrusted by the writer's estate—expertly matches Baldwin's prophetic lyricism with his own highly innovative approach. He juxtaposes images of today's political movements with Baldwin's manifestos and archival clips from the civil rights era, employing film's ability to collapse time and space to challenge the truth of American progress.

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film : review

Auteur Gone Wild

by Elina Alter

On the risqué drawings of Sergei Eisenstein

At the top of a narrow white staircase off 26th Street, a film shoot is taking place. Two make-up artists daub an actor with rouge; a harried costume designer straps a prosthesis to a toga-clad Nero in a French production; der Regisseur [the director] fusses while his cameraman naps. This affair is polyglot as well as pornographic: the German is chastising a naked couple, the prosthesis is a penis, and one can figure just where the rouge is being applied. Such is the imagery of these captioned drawings, made in 1941, culled from the prodigious paper works of the Soviet film director and theoretician Sergei Eisenstein. Historian Joan Neuberger puts the "conservative estimate" at 5,000; a judicious eighty-four drawings, held in a private collection, are now on view as "Sergei Eisenstein: Drawings 1931–1948," at Alexander Gray Associates. In graphite or pencil, with accents in blue and red, the drawings are cleanly contoured, skillful variations on verboten activities. Couplings and positions include bull athwart man, priest atop steeple, and woman occupied by candelabrum—the latter sporting little martyrs from its seven candlesticks. The woman seems deeply pleased; the martyrs, being martyrs, less so.

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film : interview

Kristi Zea & Jacki Ochs

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"I wanted to do a movie about a woman I respect—a woman artist."

Everybody Knows… Elizabeth Murray is a new documentary film about the life, groundbreaking work, and legacy of the renowned artist. Notable for her shaped canvases and bold colors, Murray's dynamic career was cut short by cancer in 2007, just a few years after her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (an opportunity seldom afforded to women at the time). Director Kristi Zea—the Oscar-nominated production designer for films by Jonathan Demme, James L. Brooks, and Martin Scorsese—debuts with this intimate portrait of her friend, making use of candid footage, home video, and personal journals. Producer Jacki Ochs, also an experimental and documentary filmmaker (Letters Not About Love and Vietnam: The Secret Agent), joins in for this conversation.

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film : interview

Ognjen Glavonić

by Pamela Cohn

"It's really important that my colleagues, the filmmakers from all Yugoslav countries, turn their cameras toward themselves, so as to dissect and question what really constitutes our recent history."

In his brief filmmaking career, Ognjen Glavonić has made not one, but two works of nonfiction that defy categorization. This is an artist who never planned on making documentaries at all. In fact, his latest work started out as a fiction script about a truck driver who becomes an unwitting participant in the cover-up of a mass murder. But Glavonić, flooded with articles, documents, and tribunal transcripts from The Hague and Belgrade Special Court that recount the discovery of mass graves in Serbia was compelled to dig much deeper into how that discovery came about, in the process creating a profoundly moving ode to the silenced victims.

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film : review

The Villian Is the 20th Century

by William Corwin

With I Had Nowhere to Go, director Douglas Gordon brings the diary of filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas into contact with our own reveries.

Douglas Gordon's film I Had Nowhere to Go—an adaptation of Jonas Mekas's diaries—is akin to the experience of pulling a sleeping mask over one's eyes on a long-haul flight or train ride. The enforced blackness plunges the viewer into a dream-state and even a nightmare at times, both actually lived by one of the most resilient and enigmatic poets and filmmakers of the last fifty years. I Had Nowhere to Go is chiefly about the word: Mekas's voice is the only constant in this complicated, polynomial equation, and Gordon has accomplished a tremendous feat in generating a riveting work of art on the back of another artist's work without stepping on his toes. While it's definitely a biography, it's a hypnotic work of visual poetry as well—a portrait that could only be effected through the film medium, and with the able editing of Ninot Lotet and sound editing by Frank Kruse.

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film : review

Foreign Exchange

by Elina Alter

European Cinema at the 54th New York Film Festival

This October, forty-nine years after its first appearance, The Battle of Algiers returns to the New York Film Festival. It's not a difficult film to see these days—it's on Hulu—but back in 2003, several months into the invasion of Iraq, somebody at the Pentagon thought it merited a special screening. Gille Pontecorvo's 1966 documentary-style account of the Algerian struggle for independence offered, according to a flyer advertising the screening, an excellent case study in "how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas."

Battle's first American screening, at the 1967 NYFF, was the work of not a Pentagonian but of Amos Vogel, the Festival's founding co-director. The teenage Vogel had fled Austria with his family just before the Anschluss, and through a lifetime of film programming in the U.S., he remained dedicated to "a more liberated cinema"—not a hierarchical project, but one of "constant transformation of all forms and systems." The Festival Vogel helped to start is also, at least nominally, not hierarchical—the films are not in competition for prizes. However, for reasons of merit as well as market, its Main Slate is rarely short on European prize-winners, which this year concern themselves less with winning wars of ideas than with surveying the carnage of those wars.

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film : interview

Kirsten Johnson

by Alex Zafiris

The cinematographer and director on her memoir, Cameraperson.

Over a twenty-five-year career, Kirsten Johnson has captured difficult, hidden images and brought them into the world. Sensitivity and courage inform her instincts and aesthetic, and her frames are deeply intimate, politically charged, and cinematic. She is best known for her work with Laura Poitras on The Oath (2010), Citizenfour (2014), and Risk (2016); with Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004); and with Ted Braun on Darfur Now (2007).

Cameraperson presents outtakes from over twenty documentaries—moments that have stayed with Johnson: a Christian family preparing dinner in postwar Bosnia, a boxer's humiliation after losing a match in Brooklyn, men praying at a mosque in Afghanistan, and a newborn struggling for life in a Nigerian hospital. The film confronts the nature of seeing, being present, and dealing with memory and trauma. There's also personal footage of her mother's decline with Alzheimer's, her father, and young twins, drawing together seemingly disparate scenes with profound humanity. Johnson demonstrates that truth and objectivity are constantly shifting. [ Read More ]

film : review

Rendezvous in the Alps

by Ratik Asokan

With The Seasons in Quincy, filmmakers Tilda Swinton, Colin MacCabe, and Christopher Roth produce portraits of art critic and novelist John Berger.

Invited to his friend John Berger's house for dinner, Geoff Dyer once found himself seated between very different houseguests. On one side was a local plumber; on the other, Henri Cartier-Bresson. It's an image that neatly captures the two abiding interests of Berger's career. Ever since he began publishing provocative Marxist art criticism in the 1950s, he has written with unparalleled insight about both aesthetics and politics, about the most refined artists and most marginalized communities, about, as he himself put it, "the enduring mystery of great art and the lived experience of the oppressed."

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film : review

Disconnection Notice

by Jon Dieringer

Werner Herzog’s phoned-in tech film, Lo and Behold, is an ad in disguise.

From Walter Rutmann to Hou-Hsao Hsien, there's a rich vein of unlikely sponsored works by esteemed film and video artists. A survey could begin with abstract artists who used commercial patronage as a platform to dodge Nazi censorship, such as Oskar Fischinger, who licensed canonical works of experimental animation like Kreise to ad agencies, and Hans Richter, whose subversive mercantile histories for the Swiss stock exchange represent a leftist chronicle of capital ensconced in heady surrealist montage. In the 1950s, Eyes Without a Face filmmaker Georges Franju twisted a commission from the Army Museum into a grotesque anti-war critique in Hôtel des Invalides, succeeded by Alain Resnais and Oulipo poet Raymond Queneau's blissful and absurd paean to plastics, Le Chant du Styrène. Across the pond, Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero created a bone chilling PSA about the mortality rate of impoverished African-American youth in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and Dara Birnbaum's iconoclastic "MTV: Artbreak" spot presented a dialectical feminist history of animation in thirty seconds. But Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World marks the first time a feature film conceived and developed by a modern advertising agency and its client has landed in theaters, where critics and audiences alike are expected to accord it the dignity of a real movie.

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film : interview

Bingham Bryant & Kyle Molzan

by Nicholas Elliott

"It was meant to kink your head."

In Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan's directorial debut For the Plasma, Charlie (Annabelle LeMieux) joins her childhood friend Helen (Rosalie Lowe) in a remote house on the coast of Maine to help repair the surveillance cameras she uses as a fire lookout. Helen informs Charlie she's also been interpreting the CCTV images of the woods to accurately forecast global economic trends. Charlie tells her about the shit-eating bug featured in the Kobo Abe novel she's reading. Then things get weirder.

Skirting genre conventions to develop its own allusive (and elusive) tone, For the Plasma has the kind of highly specific, confident direction that inspires viewers to sit back and let their brains be scrambled. As I looked at a digital projection of Bryant and Molzan's 16 mm footage of CCTV images of a forest in Maine, I found myself acutely aware of the act of watching and by extension of myself, inside and outside the film. That rare heady experience encouraged me to invite these young New York directors to sit down and talk about the tension between narrative and interpretation, their film's offbeat soundtrack, and Korean filmmaker Hong Sang Soo's art of simultaneity.

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film : interview

Zachary Treitz

by Hannah Holden

Men Go to Battle is the story of two brothers who live in a cabin on the remnants of their family's once-grand Kentucky estate, which they sell piecemeal to survive. The year is 1861, and rumors about the Union Army are a hot topic in the parlor of the town's wealthiest family, the Smalls. When younger brother Henry (David Maloney) is romantically spurned by Betsy Small (Rachel Korine), he enlists in the Union Army without telling Francis (Tim Morton). The brothers' lives diverge for the first time, and they are forced to confront the world alone precisely as the Civil War transforms it forever.

Men Go to Battle eschews the extravagance of conventional period pieces in favor of intimacy and naturalism. The camera lingers on Henry's face as he marches into the Battle of Perryville, and outdoor scenes are scored by cicadas and rustling wind. Contrary to expectations, Men Go to Battle is also very funny. Much of the humor arises from longtime pals Maloney and Morton's prankish brotherly dynamic, which vacillates between hostility and affection. Korine also kills as a romantic, well-bred young woman who gently humors her hapless suitors—that is, until Henry makes the wrong move.

I sat down with director Zachary Treitz to discuss the film, which he co-wrote with Kate Lyn Sheil and for which he was awarded Best New Narrative Director at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Men Go to Battle plays at Anthology Film Archives in New York City through July 14 and opens in Los Angles on July 15, 2016.

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film : comment

Remembering Peter Hutton (1944–2016)

by Joan Retallack

Peter Hutton was an American filmmaker who spent many years of his youth at sea in the US Merchant Marine. His celebrated films, widely acclaimed for their luminous integrity, blurred the divide between still photography and cinema. Lingering, contemplative shots of water, sky, land, and cityscape opened camera and eye to the unexpected thrill of minute changes in stillness, making both seem as wondrously improbable as they actually are. Beloved by his students, he taught for three decades at Bard College in the Hudson Valley—subject of many of his films. Poet and essayist Joan Retallack remembers her colleague with the text below, which consists of lines from Lucretius's poem De Rerum Natura in transvariation from the Latin and the W.H.D. Rouse translation.

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film : review

Bound by Cinema

by Daniel Bird

On the fiery filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski and his final work—Cosmos.

Five years ago in Copenhagen.

A hotel restaurant.

Breakfast.

Polish director Andrzej Żuławski has a dramatic announcement to make: "There are no real directors at this festival."

"Why?" I ask.

"Look!" A young girl, bored senseless, stacking plates loaded with breakfast remains.

"A real director would stop stuffing his face and cast her in a movie."

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film : interview

Athina Rachel Tsangari

by Giovanni Marchini Camia

"It's not really subversion, it's catching something before it becomes what we're accustomed to."

The 2010 release of Attenberg, Athina Rachel Tsangari's second feature, marked the high point of the Greek Weird Wave set off the previous year by Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth. With Tsangari producing Dogtooth and Lanthimos producing as well as acting in Attenberg, the pair became the wave's de facto poster children—even if, as is the case with most such categorizations, the filmmakers themselves vehemently opposed the idea of a movement. Lanthimos went on to direct increasingly large-scale films with relative regularity—his latest, The Lobster, features international stars like Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Rachel Weisz—whereas Tsangari disappeared from the spotlight to some degree. Apart from her short film The Capsule, which made the festival rounds in 2012, she mostly collaborated on others' projects, for example co-producing Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, where she also appeared in a minor acting role.

It was a very welcome surprise when last year's Locarno Film Festival announced that Tsangari's Chevalier would screen in the main competition. Very little information was revealed prior to the premiere and the press kit only consisted of a rulebook for "a fantastic strategic game for two or more male players," containing cryptic guidelines like: "Excessive use of adverbs, -5 points. Stiff hard-on, +2 points. Overblinking, -40 points." As it transpired, these pertained to the game invented and played by Chevalier's protagonists, six wealthy men vacationing on a yacht out at sea. The boat functions as a huis clos within which the men engage in a series of absurd contests, exposing and exploiting each other's insecurities and vulnerabilities as they try to ascertain who amongst them is "The Best At Everything In General."

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film : interview

Brent Green

by Chris Chang

“Like holding hands with a stranger—for kind of a long time.”

The following interview is culled from several encounters with artist/performer/filmmaker Brent Green, and it’s occasioned by (at least) three major things. First and foremost are his “outsider films,” and really, there’s no easy way to summarize the ragged beauty of the work. Second—from the fall of 2015 to early 2016 Green was an artist-in-residence at the Park Avenue Armory, where he performed animated works-in-progress with a live ten-piece band as part of the venue’s Under Construction Series. And third—in April, Green provided video projections and music for the first portion of Aaron Landsman’s Empathy School/Love Story, a theater diptych of individual yet perfectly paired monologues that deal with, in abstract sum, existential pleasures and terrors of both rural and urban varieties. Landsman might be called an “outsider dramaturge,” as he is best known for performances that can take place in private homes, public office buildings, moving buses, etc. But Empathy School took place in an actual theater, the Abrons Art Center, only the curtain remained closed. We, the audience, were seated behind the drapes, onstage, where the action took place.

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film : interview

Raam Reddy

by Daniel Kasman

“Freedom and bondage I find interesting. Or purity—and a contrast to that purity.”

This year’s edition of New Directors/New Films served as the perfect place for the North American premiere of Raam Reddy’s Thithi. To make this film, the crew—along with its 25-year-old director—immersed themselves in their south India location and built the narrative directly from the community. The story involves a modest saga of three generations of village men, each searching for their own kind of happiness. Their struggles and delights are seen as inextricable from their customs, which are effortlessly revealed in a manner suffused with generosity, understanding, and humor far wiser than the youth of its director might suggest. Here we are introduced to a town (Nodekoppalu), a language (Kannada), and an interconnected group of people—cast mainly from local non-professionals—rich and full of humanity. To watch Thithi is to be invited into a sprawling and diverse world—and to step through the cinema screen to explore a new place and meet new people. The film’s next stop on the festival circuit will be at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where screenings begin April 30, 2016.

Director Raam Reddy—who, incidentally, wrote his first novel at age 19—took home the First Feature and Cineasti del presente (Filmmakers of the Present) prizes at the Locarno Film Festival last year. I have no doubt he’ll be introducing more cinema to us soon. We began our conversation by talking about how Thithi might be received in his native India.

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film : interview

Adam Green, Alia Shawkat, & Francesco Clemente

“You’re looking at the human inverse of a technological idea.”

When I first learned that Adam Green—perhaps best known as the lead singer of the on-hiatus, indie stalwart band The Moldy Peaches—had made Aladdin, I thought the obvious: Macaulay Culkin should interview Green for BOMB. Reason? Culkin has a key role in this new film, and the Green-Culkin connection has already birthed several exasperating collaborations, plus it’s not often that the ex-star of Home Alone gets the space he deserves. But alas, it was not to be.

Miraculously, Francesco Clemente—who needs no introduction, and happens to play Aladdin’s Genie (WTF?)—was available. Even more surprising was the addition of another member of the cast, Alia Shawkat, who, among other things, is the actress who played the essential Maeby Fünke on Arrested Development. She turned the proposed one-on-one into a free-associative three-way.

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film : interview

Tom Sachs & Van Neistat

by Chris Chang

“I’ve always wanted to make something as good as an iPhone, and I never could, but Apple could never make anything as shitty as one of my sculptures or movies. And that’s a huge advantage.”

My intention at Tom Sachs’s Lower Manhattan art compound was to interview the artist and his longtime collaborator, the filmmaker Van Neistat. I wanted to talk about their new film, A Space Program, which chronicles the Sachs studio crew’s profoundly ambitious voyage to Mars as it was executed in a massive installation staged at the Park Avenue Armory back in 2012. That they actually complete this mission, albeit with plywood spaceships and hot glue, is a real tribute to their bulldog ingenuity.

NASA… Part of the original Eisenhower idea, in 1958, was that government research projects related to aeronautics or outer space need not necessarily focus on war and weaponization. The agency could, instead, set seemingly loftier, fantastic engineering goals, like the moon mission. The Sachs-brand NASA, with that same rigor, expands such a mission with excursions into zero-gravity opium cultivation and Japanese tea ceremony. Indeed, the Sachs studio could itself be described as a tea ceremony, or ritual, that—thanks to American innovation—has wonderfully lost its mind. (By all means, see Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony at the Noguchi Museum; it runs through July 24, 2016.)
 
The Sachs studio’s creed, “Creativity is the Enemy,” is another way of saying, “Stay on Task.” It was my intention to speak with Neistat and Sachs about their new film. Which is another way of saying, “Epic Fail.”

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film : interview

Arnaud Desplechin

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

“I wanted to build the script as if we were entering into a brain or a memory, where you have separate elements existing in the same time and you don’t understand the logic.”

French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin—well known for Kings and Queen (2004) and A Christmas Tale (2008)—has made a sort of “prequel” to his first major cinematic work, My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into An Argument (1996). My Golden Days assigns an origin story to Desplechin’s former protagonist Paul Dédalus. It’s a personal and golden-hued tale of careless youthful passion. It stars Mathieu Amalric (the original Paul), and introduces the gusty newcomers, Quentin Dolmaire (the new Paul) and Lou Roy-Lecollinet (Esther).

Remembering his adolescence from the ripe old perch of middle-age, Paul Dédalus recalls three distinct chapters of his early life: the first, a painful childhood involving a depressed mother and violent father; the second, a strange trip he took to the USSR, where he offered up his own identity to a young Russian whom he deems his ghostly “double”; and the third, detailing his love affair with Esther. She’s the girl who matters most.

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film : interview

Nabil Ayouch

by Liza Béar

“There’s rampant hypocrisy in this society—a hypocrisy verging on schizophrenia.”

French-Moroccan writer-director Nabil Ayouch, now forty-six, is known for enlightening, nitty-gritty films like Ali Zaoua: Prince de la Rue, about a Casablanca street kid with big dreams, and Les Chevaux de Dieu (Horses of God), a rigorous study of what draws young men to Islamic fundamentalism. Ali Zaoua won the Ecumenical Prize at the 2000 Montreal Film Festival, and Horses of God was in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2012. Both films were Morocco’s selection for the Oscars in their respective years, so it must be particularly galling to Ayouch that his latest film, Much Loved, was censored there and not in other Muslim countries—such as Algeria and Tunisia.

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film : interview

Ricky D’Ambrose

by Steve Macfarlane

“I don’t want to continue making movies this way.”

Ricky D’Ambrose isn’t just discerning, he’s exacting. It’s palpable from the first frames of either of his short films: Pilgrims, from 2014, or Six Cents in the Pocket, which premiered at last year’s New York Film Festival. It’s also palpable in the way he stresses the syllables of the new film’s name, as if the title has been proofed for maximum poetic lucidity. D’Ambrose initially made a name for himself in the New York zone of film criticism for his rigorous-yet-casual video interviews (Chantal Akerman, Dan Sallitt, Gina Telaroli, Bruno Dumont, etc.), any of which you can watch for free, right now, on his Vimeo page. Like these conversations, both Pilgrims and Six Cents in the Pocket are productions of humble means (D’Ambrose paradoxically calls them “private”). Nevertheless, they are startling in their aesthetic sensibility. The elegance of the filmmaker’s taste speaks for itself, but what’s ultimately most beguiling about these short-form works are their formal ambition. Pilgrims mines its drama from the refusal of filmic proximity, as its protagonist monitors a protest gone full riot somewhere outside his apartment. D’Ambrose juxtaposes exegetic audio with diegetic—we hear sounds as the protagonist might be imagining them in his mind, or as a tinny broadcast from an offscreen computer.

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film : interview

Adam & Zack Khalil

by Pamela Cohn

“It’s the trickster element that exists throughout Ojibway storytelling and history, engaging both the sacred and the profane, turning things upside down and looking at them from a fresh perspective.”

The Ojibway are the fourth largest Native American tribe in a swath of country spread across both Canada and the United States. A once powerful and bountiful nation, the Ojibway are known for their sacred birch bark scrolls—legendary documents that contain prophecies along with the group’s history, songs, maps, memories, and stories. Raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and currently making their home in New York, Ojibway filmmakers Adam and Zack Khalil (twenty-seven and twenty-four years old respectively) have been working on their latest project for several years. And it’s one they started with their mother, an indigenous scholar, in their hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. Carrying on her legacy, they posit that the history of an oppressed people can be rescued from complete extinction by reclaiming their own narratives from the archives and museums that would have their people bound, gagged, and confined to the past.

Ultimately a deeply personal quest, their film cleverly and passionately opens up an arsenal of archival imagery, interviews, animations, performances, and rapid-fire, poetic cut-ups to make a case for the Ojibway to be their own storytellers once again. Having done shorter work both separately and collaboratively, INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place/it flies. falls./] is their first feature-length work. Most of their projects to date have been video installations that sculpt moving image and sound to create bespoke landscapes of the Ojibway experience. The first iteration of this work was as a looping, multi-channel installation with various objects arranged around it, but as a film it stands on its own as an artful and brilliant collage, expressing hope, pain, despair, and the trickster humor that is so evocative of its people.

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film : interview

Ciro Guerra

by Andrew Bourne

“It was no longer important to be accurate. I came to understand that imagination and dreams were as important to them as any fact.”

While Embrace of the Serpent—Ciro Guerra’s third, incantatory feature film—took the top Directors’ Fortnight prize at Cannes and, among other honors, is the first Colombian film to be nominated for an Oscar (and also the first with an indigenous protagonist), these superlatives are perhaps less intriguing than its upending of the familiar heart-of-darkness jungle narrative. Like a potion, or better yet, like a blast of medicinal “sun’s semen” from a shaman’s snuff pipe, the visionary mode of Amazonian storytelling is here at the helm. Although worlds more solemn and far less abstract, it’s as close as major independent filmmaking will get to, say, the flavor of Juan Downey’s experimental ethnographic video art. Excruciatingly well shot and cast, Embrace doses us with a waking dream of the early twentieth-century Amazon, turning mainstream depictions of the region, and even Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, inside out.

As with Guerra’s previous film, The Wind Journeys (2009)—which is a Western of sorts, replacing the gun-slinging shootout with a piqueria vallenata (something akin to a rap battle, but with dueling accordions)—the Colombian landscape is every bit as expressive as the actors. Both films drink deeply of roadtrip and even buddy-film tropes, and both portray native peoples as our healers, but only Embrace, with its bruising indictment of materialist civilization, comes on like a spirit or a drug.

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film : interview

Abigail Child & Peter Bo Rappmund

“Immaculate breakage! Elegant mobile! Yes! Yes! That’s it exactly!”

This interview begins—as many things should—with self-confessed ignorance. I was unaware of the films of Peter Bo Rappmund, until MUBI, the cine-website, programmed three. His work obviously belongs to a canon I revere. The criterion for that canon, which extends beyond film, has no official “ism.” Its contributing members—according to me—include Joseph Beuys, La Monte Young, and Walter De Maria. Marina Abramovic, Chantal Akerman, and Maya Deren, also fit the bill. James Benning, an archon of the aesthetic, tutored Bo Rappmund at CalArts.

I intended to assign a piece that would focus on Peter (born 1979, Wyoming), but when I made contact, I learned that his new work, Communion Los Angeles, wasn’t quite ready. I then noticed that Abigail Child’s 1983 short film, Mutiny, was scheduled for MoMA PS1’s Greater New York exhibition. I believe Child (born 1948, Newark) belongs to a completely different canon. Maya Deren (born 1917, Kiev) is perhaps the fold in the Child/Bo Rappmund fabric. Mutiny’s humanistic delirium is a far cry from Peter’s landscape lucidity. Or is it? I asked Peter to interview Abby. I placed them in touch. Abby admitted her ignorance of Peter’s work. Peter, the youngest, was of course aware of Abby. As Abby accepted, she described the pairing, “quixotic.” Truth be told—that’s the highest compliment anyone can get.

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