Projections 2019

Zachary Epcar’s Billy (2019)

Terms such as “avant-garde” and “experimental” as descriptors for the sort of work screened each year in the New York Film Festival’s Projections program have fallen in and out of fashion since the earliest days of cinema. Let’s just set that discussion aside for now and head straight into an overview of the critical response to the work selected by curators Dennis Lim, Aily Nash, and program assistants Shelby Shaw and Dan Sullivan. This past weekend, the NYFF presented six features, six programs of new short film and video works, and a tribute to filmmaker Jonathan Schwartz, who passed away last October. Canyon Cinema, which distributes his 16 mm films, notes that Schwartz left behind “a remarkable and intimate body of work that registers the sorrow, love, despair, and exultation of lived existence.”

Thomas Heise’s 218-minute essay film Heimat Is a Space in Time might seem at first glance to be the most daunting work in the program, and yet it’s an immediately accessible and consistently engaging history of his family. It’s a trek from Vienna to Berlin incorporating archival footage and photographs, letters read by the director in voiceover, and contemporary shots of empty urban and rural spaces. Two world wars, the rise and fall of a fascist regime, the creation of two republics with opposing ideologies, and the uneasy melding of those two Germanys are seen and heard with varying degrees of urgency through the eyes and ears of Heise’s immediate and distant relatives. In this summer’s issue of Cinema Scope, Michael Sicinski wrote that Heise “delineates intensely personal relationships: between parents and children, siblings, spouses, and dear friends. The question the film presents is not just how individuals were subject to the vicissitudes of history, but also how those broader structures, insidious as they were, worked to shape the very conditions under which personal bonds could form.”

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