Did You See This?

Five Paths to This Moment

The Daily — Jun 26, 2020
Ellen Schwanneke and Hertha Thiele in Leontine Sagan and Carl Froelich’s Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

Throughout the week, we’ve been hearing from film festivals about their plans for late summer and fall editions in a year when absolutely nothing is normal. One of the most innovative solutions to the challenges posed by staging a public event during a pandemic comes from Locarno. Artistic director Lili Hinstin and her team have launched The Films After Tomorrow, a program that aims to support productions that were forced to shut down by the outbreak earlier this year.

Ten international and ten Swiss projects have been selected to compete for a total of five cash prizes. From August 5 through 15, the filmmakers—including Lucrecia Martel, Wang Bing, Lisandro Alonso, Lav Diaz, Helena Wittmann, Miguel Gomes, and Eric Baudelaire—will be invited to present their projects and to submit another title from one of Locarno’s previous editions to A Journey in the Festival’s History, a program of screenings whose lineup will be announced next month.

On July 28, Venice will unveil a lineup that’s likely to be a bit thinner than usual, reports Variety’s Nick Vivarelli. “We don’t yet know exactly what we will be able to do,” says artistic director Alberto Barbera, “but meanwhile, we are proceeding with the films’ selection and laying out a plan that can guarantee maximum security.” The seventy-seventh edition is still slated to run, red carpet and all, from September 2 through 12.

Toronto’s forty-fifth edition, running from September 10 through 19, will be a scaled-down mix of screenings in theaters—with all the necessary social distancing measures, of course—digital presentations, outdoor events (drive-in movies!), talks, Q&As, and so on. Instead of the usual lineup of three hundred or so titles, TIFF 2020 will roll out fifty features and five shorts programs. Among the first eight confirmed films are Francis Lee’s Ammonite with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and Halle Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised.

San Sebastián will open its sixty-eighth edition on September 18 with the world premiere of Rifkin’s Festival, the latest romantic comedy from Woody Allen. Starring Elena Anaya, Louis Garrel, Gina Gershon, Wallace Shawn, and Christoph Waltz, this one is set against the backdrop of the very festival that’s launching it.

This week’s round of highlights opens with news from two more festivals:

  • Japan Cuts has announced a lineup of thirty features and twelve shorts to be digitally screened from July 17 through 30. And the Far East Film Festival, which usually takes place in Udine, Italy, is accessible from anywhere this year. From today through July 4, forty-six features from eight Asian countries will be streaming, and critic and programmer Mark Schilling has a few recommendations in the Japan Times. Of course, the latest great success story in Asian cinema has been Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. Writing for Public Books, Criss Moon and Julie Moon argue that “we can only understand Parasite’s vision of capitalism and neoliberal globalization by understanding South Korea’s history with patriarchal dominations, from past to present: its experience of Chinese cultural imperialism in antiquity, Japanese settler colonialism in early modernity, and, finally, Western hegemony via contemporary neoliberal capitalism and U.S. militarism.”

  • News cycles may have moved on, but Black Lives Matter protests are still happening from coast to coast and around the world. Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, and Janelle Monáe are among the hundreds of black artists who have signed an open letter that marks the founding of Black Artists for Freedom. We’re seeing more lists of viewing recommendations and more calls to rethink the ways that black stories have been told throughout the history of cinema. For Interview, Ben Barna talks with Black List founder Franklin Leonard, who argues that that we have to keep in mind that “right now in America, according to the FBI, roughly thirty percent of gang members are Black, but more than sixty percent of the gang members in our films are Black. So when someone like former officer Derek Chauvin kneels on George Floyd’s neck, he believes that Black people are more likely or more prone to criminality, and more prone to violence because of the images that he is consuming that Hollywood has created. Until the industry begins to take responsibility for that reality and begins to embrace a culture, from set to the corporate boardrooms, that reflects the way the world actually looks, we as Black people and many other communities are going to continue to deal with terror as a consequence of the fictions that are being written about us.”

  • For Pride Month, the BFI’s Sam Moore offers a quick primer on the New Queer Cinema of the early 1990s. 4Columns film editor Melissa Anderson looks back further to Ron Peck’s “quietly revolutionary debut feature,” Nighthawks (1978), in which “the dance floor becomes a space of both lusty liberation and disheartening ritual.” In the Chicago Reader, Cody Corrall reaches back even further to recommend a program of three features currently in virtual release from Kino Lorber, Pioneers of Queer Cinema. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Michael (1924) features “mesmerizing cinematography” from Karl Freund and Rudolph Maté, and Reinhold Schünzel’s Victor and Victoria (1933) is “charming as a musical comedy, but it is also a remarkably poignant commentary on the performance—and illusion—of gender.” In the New York Times, J. Hoberman spotlights Mädchen in Uniform (1931), a “subversively erotic and unabashedly anti-authoritarian” film directed by Leontine Sagan with Carl Froelich. And for further discussion of queer cinema heritage, turn to Light Industry cofounder Ed Halter’s conversation with filmmaker, writer, and archivist Jenni Olson.

  • Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, but Mosaic, the first popular browser, wasn’t released until 1993. Within two years, cyberculture was all the rage, and Hollywood wanted in on it. 1995 alone saw the release of Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic, written by William Gibson and starring Keanu Reeves; Irwin Winkler’s The Net with Sandra Bullock; Brett Leonard’s Virtuosity with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe; Iain Softley’s Hackers with Angelina Jolie; and Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days with Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, and Juliette Lewis. CNET’s Richard Trenholm finds it “hard to know what’s most dated about these mid-’90s curios: the primitive-looking effects, the funky fashions, or the clunky technology depicted on screen. But now, twenty-five years later, they’ve proved prescient in their concerns about surveillance, corporate power, and the corruption of what seemed to be an excitingly democratic new age.” Johnny Mnemonic was a famously troubled production, and William Gibson considers Trenholm’s backgrounder to be “the best account I’ve seen of what actually happened.”

  • The release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has slid further down the calendar again. Warner Bros. is now aiming for August 12. In a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books on the link between early slapstick comedies and “the catastrophe of epidemic contagion,” Maggie Hennefeld notes that in the 1900s and 1910s, “typhus, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, polio, measles, and rubella all loomed large as mortal threats to public health that individuals might contract in any communal space . . . Then as now, economic incentives butted heads with public health precautions. The unresolvable tensions between selling tickets and infecting viewers made its mark on film press discourse, spawning a flamboyant precedent to trivialize lethal outbreaks in order to preempt the financial threats they posed to the future of moviegoing. The industry thus actively weaponized the language of epidemiology, flaunting contagion as above all an incitement to fun, laughter, happiness, and merriment.”

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