Art of the Real 2018

This year’s Art of the Real, the fifth, running from Thursday through May 6 and co-presented by MUBI and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, “offers a survey of the most vital and innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking.” Here’s a quick sampling of reviews.

John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut)
April 26, 7pm

It’s “like a feature film version of David Foster Wallace’s famous essay on Roger Federer, coupling John McEnroe and auteurism instead of Federer and religion,” writes Giovanni Marchini Camia in the Brooklyn Rail. “Like Wallace, Faraut here acts as a passeur, to use a term coined by Serge Daney (who, as the film reveals, had a decade-long stint as a tennis columnist for the newspaper Libération): the film’s geeky enthusiasm is so extreme and genuine, it generates in the viewer a vicarious enjoyment of the other’s passion.”

Braguino (Clément Cogitore)
April 26, 9:30pm

Image at the top. It’s “set in the hinterlands of Eastern Siberia,” writes David Perrin in the Notebook, and revolves “around the titular Braguino family and their embroiling feud with the neighboring Kilines family on opposite banks of a river—both members of a sect of the Russian Orthodox Church, who have been living there isolated from society and the law for over forty years. . . . Cogitore pushes hard on the side of drama, especially using sound and music to craft deep pools of suspense and unease.”

Once There Was Brasília (Adirley Queirós)
April 27, 6:30pm

The collection of reviews gathered at Critics Round Up opens with Notebook editor Daniel Kasman’s: “Queirós’s film uses makeshift future-world production design (space ships and cosmic warriors!) to cast this fiercely topical speculation in political assassination, class revolt, and intergalactic intercession as a bare bones sci-fi film that makes John Carpenter’s Dark Star seem like a mega-production. The result may be too dedicated to the audience experiencing repetitious duration of action, but the spirit of the production—a sense of camaraderie, shared anger, creative handicraft and a wry sense of humor—is supremely admirable.”

Milford Graves Full Mantis (Jake Meginsky and Neil Young)
April 27, 9pm

Writing for 4Columns, Geeta Dayal notes that “the documentary is focused entirely on the legendary drummer and his kaleidoscopically varied interests—herbalist, martial artist, musician, acupuncturist, scientific tinkerer. The feature-length film pulses with energy, and Graves talks a mile a minute, each sentence a mouthful almost more inconceivable than the last one.”

Artist Spotlight: Steffani Jemison
April 28, 4:30pm

“What I admire about Steffani Jemison’s work,” wrote Ben Lerner at the top of his interview for BOMB last year, “is its combination of structural elegance and situated critique—how, for instance, her 2014 video Personal can, through deft repetition and reverse motion, make us see mundane movement as balletic while also attuning us to the tremendous violence with which the black body is policed. Her work across media challenges facile narratives of progress while rediscovering moments of possibility in the history of utopian thought.”

Such a Morning (Amar Kanwar)
April 28, 6:30pm

“Where Kanwar’s earlier films always had one foot in reality,” writes Colin Perry for Art Agenda, “this eighty—five-minute work unfurls a loose narrative in which a famous but unnamed mathematics professor quits his job for no good reason (his colleagues guess at a ‘deep inner question of the soul’ or ‘a complex conflict of ideology and prejudice’), and retreats to the wilderness to live in an abandoned train carriage. Previously installed at Documenta 14, Such a Morning voices a general existential question: how to live in the present? Such a Morning is a cinema of affect at its most seductive.”

Let’s add here that, on Sunday at 4:15pm, Kanwar will present and discuss “two core films from his multimedia installation work: The Scene of Crime (2011), composed of a series of visual ‘maps’ that document the landscape of Odisha in minute detail, serving as a memorial to the local land and lives lost to industrialization; and A Love Story (2010), a tender love letter to the region’s lost landscape.”

Inland Sea (Kazuhiro Soda)
April 28, 8:30pm

“The sleepy life of a remote Japanese fishing village is languorously celebrated,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter.Inland Sea is “primarily a work of simple and unapologetic humanism, happily in love with people (‘We’re as we are,’ one remarks). . . . The bygone ways of this area are being eroded by progress and modernity; many traditions and practices die with the elderly residents. A working port is well on the way to becoming a tourist trap, bustling in the summer but otherwise torpid. While these undercurrents are unmistakeably elegiac, Inland Sea rejects gloom.”

Shorts Program
April 29, 2pm

Francisco Rodriguez’s A Moon Made of Iron, Laura Huertas Millán’s La Libertad, and Deborah Stratman’s Optimism.

Nicolás Pereda’s The Private Property Trilogy
April 29, 6:30pm

“In this interactive performance, Nicolas Pereda will explain his relationship to C.B., an amateur archaeologist, activist, artist, and the creator of the Mining Museum in La Union, who lives in the Sierra de Catorce (one of the highest mountains in Mexico).”

Baronesa (Juliana Antunes)
April 29, 8pm

From FIDMarseille: “Antunes shows favelas as we seldom get to see them: from the women’s point of view, in the backyards of makeshift homes, only a few low walls or metal sheets away from a gang warfare that is never shown, but whose violence pervades the main characters’ daily lives and fates.”

One or Two Questions (Kristina Konrad)
April 30, 7pm

Writing for Artforum,Leo Goldsmith notes that it “draws upon hours of interviews conducted by two journalists, María Barhoum and Graciela Salsamendi, around Uruguay between 1987 and 1989. These years saw the lead-up to a fateful referendum in the nation’s history: a popular vote to uphold or overturn a 1986 law that guaranteed amnesty to members of the military junta that had ruled the country since 1975. Edited by the German documentary filmmaker René Frölke, Unas Preguntas unfolds in long, largely unedited sequences as Uruguayans mull over the pros and cons of the referendum, expressing frustration, anger, and fear—usually over the false opposition between ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ stoked by propagandistic TV ads and news reports. What emerges is not a televisual mishmash of stock images and sound bites, but the rare archival film that actually trusts its material, a work of the most profound respect for those who become, in varying degrees of complicity, the subject of media images. It is an eminently diligent, honorable attempt to let the people speak—even if it is too late—and not a second of it is superfluous.”

Wild Relatives (Jumana Manna)
May 1, 7pm

As Erika Balsom writes for frieze, “the fate of the Aleppo-based seed bank ICARDA prompts an exploration of the geopolitics of agriculture in the age many call the Anthropocene.” Manna “works decisively on how humans transform their environment, examining practices of care for the Earth that attempt to mitigate harm already done and prepare for an uncertain future. From the wheat fields of Lebanon, where ICARDA moved after the Syrian Revolution, to the tundra of Svalbard, an island in the Arctic Ocean home to the Global Seed Vault, Manna traces intersecting narratives of biodiversity, migration, land use, war, and survival.”

All That Passes by Through a Window that Doesn’t Open (Martin DiCicco)
May 1, 9pm

Luciano Barisone for Visions du réel: “Caucasus. While labourers from Azerbaijan are working on the construction of a new high-speed train line intended to bring glory to future generations, in Armenia, a station master has been awaiting, idle, the return of the trains for twenty years beyond a closed border, in an abandoned depot. . . . With wonderful sequences and an original narrative structure—fragments of magic appear through the editing (of images and sound)—All That Passes by Through a Window That Doesn’t Open seizes the history and the present of a world crossroads.”

Artist Spotlight: Hiwa K
May 2, 7pm

The exhibition Hiwa K: Blind as the Mother Tongue will open on the same day at the New Museum and remain on view through August 19: “Drawing on vernacular forms and collaborative and performative actions, Iraqi-Kurdish artist Hiwa K (b. 1975, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq) makes work inspired by political events, chance encounters, oral histories, and his own experiences, including fleeing Iraq on foot in the late 1990s. Hiwa K approaches his subjects with curiosity, pragmatism, and spontaneity, and his videos, performances, and objects speak to themes of political memory and belonging—as well as what the artist refers to as ‘placelessness’ and ‘zones of possibility.’”

Yours in Sisterhood (Irene Lusztig)
May 2, 8:45pm

“Beginning as an insert in New York magazine, before becoming the first ever mainstream feminist magazine in the US, Ms. Magazine provided a space for feminism within the public, commercial realm of the 1970s,” writes Patrick Gamble for CineVue. “Between 2015 and 2017, Lusztig decided to gather over 300 strangers from across the US to read aloud letters written in the 1970s to the editor of Ms. Magazine. These submissions, the majority of which went unpublished at the time, provide a ground floor window to experiences of those living through the woman liberation movement.”

Fail to Appear (Antoine Bourges)
May 3, 7pm

Introducing his interview with Bourges for the Notebook, Lawrence Garcia notes that the filmmaker has “turned his eye towards Canadian social institutions and support networks, particularly for those struggling with mental health issues or addiction. More specifically, he looked at their fundamental inadequacy—not through a feature-length exposé, but by observing the individuals that often bear the brunt of the cost. The film, Fail to Appear, charts the meeting of two such individuals: Isolde (Deragh Campbell), a well-meaning, but inexperienced social worker, and her client Eric (Nathan Roder), a man charged with theft and awaiting a court hearing, first introduced solely by a case file. Pointedly bifurcated to follow each character individually, the film structures itself around negative spaces, various gaps—in personal attention, social interaction, and institutional bureaucracy—and the incremental weight of what gets lost therein.”

Casanova Gene (Luise Donschen)
May 3, 9pm

For Dan Sullivan, writing for Film Comment, this is “one of the year’s best debut features thus far . . . A beguiling, formally eclectic, and frequently funny investigation of desire, Donschen’s film seems to contain many others: a documentary on the mating habits of birds and their genetic predisposition against monogamy; a woozy fiction about young people killing time in a purgatorial bar straight out of Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore; a dressing-room interview (conducted by Donschen herself) with John Malkovich on the subject of seduction, filmed amid his onstage run as, appropriately, Casanova in The Giacomo Variations; an oblique portrait of a dominatrix seeing a client and, later, visiting a hypnotist; tranquil images of life at a monastery and more enigmatic images of children at play in a forest; and sundry other elements that enter the film and capture our interest, only to recede again into the absolute obscurity of their disappearance. Masterfully lensed in 16mm by the filmmaker Helena Wittmann, Casanova Gene sets out to paint the mystery of desire, and the articulation of its constituent parts illustrates the ineffable quality it ascribes to its slippery subject.”

On May 6 and 23, Acropolis Cinema will present An Image of Complicity: Films by Luise Donschen and Helena Wittmann in Berlin.

Meteors (Gürcan Keltek)
May 4, 6:30pm

The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London will present the film this coming Thursday as part of Frames of Representation: New Visions for Cinema 2018: “At night, in a Kurdish town in eastern Turkey, meteors start to fall. Stepping out of their homes to look, the city's inhabitants encounter fragments of the past and remember those who have been lost. In this environment, the tracing of absences becomes both an imaginative and a political act; the impact of the violence which has scarred the area has been erased from official records, leaving memories and stories to fill the gaps.”

The Image You Missed (Donal Foreman)
May 4, 9pm

“After the passing of his father, filmmaker Arthur MacCaig, Foreman went through his father’s archive of footage from The Troubles in Northern Ireland, looking not for images of revolutionary IRA fighters but of the man he never knew,” writes Kiva Reardon for Filmmaker. “He contrasts these with the films he was making at the same time in Dublin with friends as a tween and teen, only a few hours from Belfast but a world away—from both the conflict and his absent father.”

Artist Spotlight: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
May 5, 3pm

“Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme are part of an emerging generation of artists, generally with a background in music, who are mining the immersive possibilities of sound, image and environment,” writes Katya García-Antón for frieze. “They draw, on the one hand, from the remix techniques of the drum ‘n’ bass scene that emerged in the mid-1990s in the UK (where they studied), applying them to sound, text and image; and, on the other hand, from research that explores sound’s relationship to science fiction, aesthetics and popular culture. Indeed, Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s practice looks at vectors (often sonic in nature) for illegible or unimagined perspectives that can’t be pinpointed on contemporary mappings of the world.”

Infinite Football (Corneliu Porumboiu)
May 5, 5pm

“Front-and-centering Corneliu Porumboiu’s childhood friend, Laurentiu Ginghina, Infinite Football is drawn up in reminiscences from youth and long-shadowed disappointments of adulthood,” writes Steve Macfarlane for Slant. “In the arena of arthouse cinema, it would be too easy to assume Porumboiu is deploying such unflashy material in service of a sweeping subtextual reveal. But the Romanian auteur resists spelling anything out but the bare essentials, instead continuing his project of inviting viewers to closely parse the acerbic day-to-day banalities of post-Ceausescu Romania.”

Victory Day (Sergei Loznitsa)
May 5, 6:45pm

Michael Pattison for Sight & Sound: “Victory Day, as a strictly observational record of people engaging with a historical monument—in this instance, the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park—is most appropriately contextualised as a follow-up to Austerlitz, Loznitsa’s recent account of tourists in and around Nazi concentration camps. While the two are extremely similar in structure and approach, there’s a key visual difference: color. If the earlier film’s monochrome palette worked to neutralise the many meanings (T-shirt slogans and so on) to be found at a fascist death site, here the almost-saturated grading places much emphasis on the banners, flags, costumes and excessive paraphernalia with which a Russian diaspora visits Berlin each year to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over the Third Reich.” Loznitsa’s “strategies are nothing if not canny: they make the viewing process reflexive, they make us attuned to small details and narrative clues.”

I Remember the Crows (Gustavo Vinagre)
May 5, 8:45pm

It’ll be screening on April 30 and May 2 at IndieLisboa: “Júlia Katharine, a trans woman, tells the story of her life in a night of insomnia. Gustavo Vinagre makes this apparently simple portrait where personal memories get mixed with filmic memories, as a way to better understand the trauma.”

Central Airport THF (Karim Aïnouz)
May 6, 3pm

In Variety,Jay Weissberg calls it “a rare observational documentary that recognizes the beauty of spatial forms without forgetting the individuals who inhabit those voids. Struck by the irony that Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport, a place of transit amplified by Nazi dreams of grandeur, is now used as a refugee center, the Berlin-based director combines his superb compositional eye with an empathetic glimpse of the lives of a few people living and working in the center.”

Tribute to Eugenio Polgovsky (1977-2017)
May 6, 5pm

Eugenio Polgovsky was only forty when he died last year and, as a tribute, the festival will screen Tropic of Cancer (2004), “a pointed dispatch from the deserts of inland Mexico, where impoverished families use homemade traps and weapons to hunt snakes and birds amid arid brushland, a state of existence that might as well be prehistoric,” and Mitote (2012), “which weaves through the hunger strikers, wrestlers, soccer fans, and shamans at El Zocalo, Mexico City’s vast main plaza, evoking a hallucinatory, vérité snapshot of the nation.”

Empty Metal (Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer)
May 6, 7:30pm

This will be a world premiere, so naturally, there aren’t any reviews yet. The festival notes that it “takes place in a world similar to ours—one of mass surveillance, pervasive policing, and increasing individual apathy. The lives of several people, each inhabiting extreme poles of American social and political consciousness, weave together as each attempts to achieve some kind of forward motion, sometimes in contradiction, and always under the eye of far more controlling powers. Filled with energy, rage, and the smallest measure of hope, Empty Metal is a new kind of political film for these extraordinary times.”

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