First Look 2020

The Daily — Mar 10, 2020
Hubert Sauper’s Epicentro (2020)

Austrian nonfiction filmmaker Hubert Sauper will be at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York tomorrow when his new film, Epicentro, opens the ninth edition First Look, a festival of formally inventive features, short films, discussions, workshops, and performances. Like many critics at Sundance, where Epicentro won a grand jury prize, the Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin finds this new work to be a “more joyful than usual sojourn for Sauper, whose stringent but sometimes grueling features (Darwin’s Nightmare, We Come as Friends) tend to focus on the ravages of capitalism, post-colonialism, and war.”

Focusing at first on the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, Sauper draws a link between the invention of cinema and the machinery of modern warfare. He then shifts attention to a cluster of schoolchildren in Havana reenacting the sinking and then, as Bilge Ebiri explains in Vulture, to a Cuban artist “creating his own animated version of the sinking, in which Americans sabotage their own ship as a false-flag operation to justify their imperial designs on Cuba . . . One of the main questions posed by Sauper in Epicentro is what happens when the marginalized—be they individuals or entire oppressed populations—create their own narratives against the dominant ones.”

Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov finds that what is “consistently striking about Epicentro isn’t its political project, but how it looks: in its opening moments—heavily digital, noise-heavy night images of waves crashing in breathtaking white against the milky grey night sky—it looks like the visual language of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice film transplanted ninety miles away for further testing and research.” Overall, Rizov “enjoyed the hangout vibes and frequent moments of beauty more than I was roused to fresh political consciousness—this is not a bad thing, necessarily, but your ideological mileage may vary.”

In the Modern Times Review, Hans Henrik Fafner tells the story behind the rediscovery and restoration of About Some Meaningless Events, a 1974 documentary by Moroccan filmmaker Mostafa Derkaoui. Having screened just once in Paris before it was banned, it’s “a film about the role of cinema, art and national identity,” writes Fafner, “and so many years later it is still contemporary and relevant for today’s debate.” Another documentary highlight will be Anna Eborn’s Transnistra, which tracks a group of teens in Transnistria, a tiny nation between Moldova and Ukraine; the film has picked up awards in Rotterdam and Gothenburg.

Last year, Filmmaker named Deniz Tortum one of its twenty-five new faces of independent film and noted that Phases of Matter, which explores a hospital in Istanbul, “bears a meaningful relationship to the signature works of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL), where Tortum studied.” Other documentaries in the lineup include James Benning’s Maggie’s Farm, a rigidly formal study of the CalArts building where the filmmaker has been working for more than thirty years, and Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Viewing Booth, which we took an early look at last week.

Fictional features include Bas Devos’s Ghost Tropic, a “gorgeous, slender movie,” as Ben Driscoll has put it in Sight & Sound, that follows a Muslim woman’s long walk home through Brussels at night. For Carlota Moseguí at Cineuropa, Gregor Božič’s Stories from the Chestnut Woods, set on the Yugoslav-Italian border in the years following the Second World War, is “a melancholic fairy tale.” On Sunday, this year’s First Look will wrap with Midi Z’s Nina Wu, which Screen’s Wendy Ide calls a “vividly disorienting #MeToo-themed drama.” Written by its star, Wu Ke-Xi, and based on her experiences as a young actress, the film is “a powerful account of the post-traumatic stress suffered by the victims of powerful and unscrupulous industry insiders,” writes Ide. In Variety, Jessica Kiang finds Nina Wu to be “fascinating, glitchy, stylish, and troublesome.”

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