Projections, Wavelengths, and More

The Daily — Aug 13, 2019
Ben Russell’s COLOR-BLIND (2019)

What, in 2019, are we calling the sort of work shown in the New York Film Festival’s Projections program or the Wavelengths section of the Toronto International Film Festival? The question was raised yesterday on Twitter by Darren Hughes, cofounder of the Public Cinema and a programmer for the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. “My sense is that ‘experimental filmmaker’ and ‘avant-garde’ filmmaker have fallen out of fashion,” he writes, “but I’m not sure what to use instead.” In the thread that follows, “moving image art” is the term that seems to have won the day.

Announcing this year’s Projections lineup, Film at Lincoln Center is calling it an “international selection of film and video work [that] expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be.” The word “experimental” pops up here and there in today’s announcement of the Wavelengths program from TIFF, but as the section’s head programmer Andréa Picard points out, on the eve of the program’s twentieth anniversary, “one can discern an important shift in formal language and experimentation, and an even wider range of artistic expression, which reflects—in some cases seriously, and others surprisingly playfully—a refusal to be contained, confined, or even labelled.”

From October 3 through 6, Projections will present a total of forty short, medium, and feature-length works. There will also be a special program dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Schwartz, the late artist known for his evocative 16 mm films. “Schwartz developed a beautiful rhythmic pattern with his in-camera edits and intuitive use of the variable shutter,” wrote Claudia Siefen last year at desistfilm. “There is a musical quality to the way brief clusters of shots, complete with flash frames, leading into gestural pans . . . In both his travel films and his more diaristic work, Schwartz draws influence from certain traditional approaches to observational filmmaking as well as from mentors Saul Levine and Mark LaPore.”

The names of several artists in the Projections lineup will be new and unfamiliar to many—always a healthy sign—but there will be fresh work as well from established artists such as Peggy Awesh, Luke Fowler, James N. Kienitz Williams, Beatrice Gibson, Turner Prize winner Charlotte Prodger, Éric Baudelaire, who has worked with junior high school students on Un film dramatique, and Ben Russell, whose COLOR-BLIND is described by the NYFF as a “visually eclectic Super 16 mm work of psychedelic ethnography [that] surveys the history of colonialism in French Polynesia through present-day forms of ritualized dance, body art, and woodworking.”

Wavelengths will host the world premieres of several works, including Blake Williams’s 2008, Luke Fowler’s Cézanne, Tomonari Nishikawa’s Amusement Ride, and Annie MacDonell’s Book of Hours. A good number of the features have been gleaned from the latest editions of festivals in Cannes (Albert Serra’s Liberté, for example), Berlin (Thomas Heise’s Heimat Is a Space in Time), and Locarno (Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela and Maya Da-Rin’s The Fever).

Six More TIFF Lineups

Following the unveiling of the bulk of this year’s gala and special presentations last month and the competitive Platform lineup last week, TIFF has rolled out the lineups for six more sections besides Wavelengths. The festival has also added two more galas and sixteen specials, including Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, with Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche; Olivier Assayas’s Wasp Network, with Penélope Cruz, Édgar Ramírez, and Gael García Bernal; and Benedict Andrews’s Seberg, with Kristen Stewart.

Five fresh 35 mm prints will make up this year’s TIFF Cinematheque program, the festival’s rough equivalent of the Classics sections in Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. Angela Schanelec, who is bringing her latest feature, I Was at Home, But . . . to the festival, will present Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959), the story of a smalltime thief in Paris. In the essay that accompanies our release, Gary Indiana argues that Pickpocket, “like all of Bresson’s films, records the expiration of humane feeling in the modern world, the impossibility of decency in a universe of greed.”

In 2014, Paul Schrader spoke about the link between Pickpocket and Taxi Driver, the 1976 film he wrote for Martin Scorsese. Two years after Taxi Driver, Scorsese released his first concert movie, The Last Waltz (1978), which captured the grand farewell party thrown on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 by The Band. Scorsese has produced Daniel Roher’s documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, TIFF’s opening night film, and both Scorsese and Robertson will introduce The Last Waltz.

Euzhan Palcy will be on hand to present A Dry White Season, a fierce indictment of South Africa’s racist apartheid-era regime that Jyoti Mistry argues is “as relevant at our current global political moment as it was on its release in 1989.” Pablo Larraín, whose Ema will premiere in Venice before screening in Toronto, will introduce No (2012), which the New York TimesManohla Dargis has called a “sly, smart, fictionalized tale about the art of the sell during a fraught period in Chilean history.” And Rian Johnson will introduce Herbert Ross’s The Last of Sheila (1973), hailed by Roger Ebert as “a devilishly complicated thriller of superior class.” Johnson’s comedic whodunnit Knives Out will see its world premiere as a special presentation in Toronto.

The revamped Masters program will present eleven features, two of them world premieres. Arturo Ripstein has reteamed with screenwriter Paz Alicia Garcíadiego to tackle the challenges of aging in the stark, black-and-white Devil Between the Legs; and documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s fifty-third film, Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger, focuses on a terminally ill boy at the center of a political struggle in Canada. The Masters section will also present the latest features from Terence Malick, Marco Bellocchio, Ken Loach, and Roy Andersson.

The Contemporary World Cinema section will open with the world premiere of Atiq Rahimi’s Our Lady of the Nile, an adaptation of the novel by Scholastique Mukasonga about a group of young friends, all girls, attending a Belgian-run Catholic boarding school in Rwanda. Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, is among the dozens of other features slated to screen in the CWC program, including Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake, Haifaa Al-Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate, Ladj Ly’s Les misérables, Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole, and Mati Diop’s Atlantics.

Thirty-seven films, well over half of them directed by women, have been selected for the Discovery program. “This is where you want to look for the next decades’ masters,” says TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey. Discovery lead programmer Dorota Lech notes that past editions have served as “a springboard for launching the international careers of cinematic giants such as Yorgos Lanthimos, Maren Ade, Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuarón, Lav Diaz, Kim Seung-woo, Barry Jenkins, Jean-Marc Vallée, Dee Rees, and Jafar Panahi.”

Discovery will open this year with Chiara Malta’s fiction feature debut, Simple Women, the story of a director who aims to make a film about Romanian-American actress Elina Löwensohn (Simple Men, Schindler's List). Actually meeting her idol, though, has her questioning her entire approach to filmmaking. The film that’s caught the eye of Christian Zilko at IndieWire is Abba Makama’s The Lost Okoroshi, in which a security guard in Lagos is haunted by dreams of his ancestors appearing as masked performers. Zilko notes that Makama is “one of the leading voices for Nigerian cinema today.”

The standout in the TIFF Docs program for IndieWire’s Eric Kohn is Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema, a fourteen-hour survey of work by female filmmakers directed by Mark Cousins and produced by Tilda Swinton. According to Kohn, Cousins spent years researching and selecting around 700 clips from 183 films from all over the world. “I think that the film is going to rewrite film history and how we understand the role of women directors,” TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers tells Kohn. “You can watch any two hours of this and scribble down names of filmmakers you’ve never heard before.”

This year’s TIFF Docs will open with The Cave, in which director Feras Fayyad (Last Men in Aleppo) returns to Syria to profile female doctors treating war casualties in an underground hospital. The program of twenty-five features also includes Alex Gibney’s Citizen K, a profile of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch and a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin; and Barbara Kopple’s Desert One, an investigation into Operation Eagle Claw, the failed 1980 mission aimed at rescuing the fifty-two hostages being held in the American embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries.

Jeff Barnaby’s zombie thriller Blood Quantum will open Midnight Madness, and Crazy World, the latest film from Isaac Nabwana, a founding director of Uganda’s Wakaliwood scene, will close it. Among the eight films screening in between will be Color Out of Space, the first fiction feature to be directed by Richard Stanley since he was replaced by John Frankenheimer during the severely troubled production of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). The new film, adapted from a story by H. P. Lovecraft about the bizarre goings on in a New England town following the landing of a meteor, stars Nicolas Cage.

On a final note for now, the festival has announced that, along with Meryl Streep, Joaquin Phoenix will be presented with a TIFF Tribute Actor Award during its forty-fourth edition, running from September 5 through September 15.

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