Did You See This?

Midsummer Thrills and Spills

Bárbara Colen in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau (2019)

If we’re ever to return to some semblance of normalcy, we’re going to need a vaccine, and experts are telling us that we probably won’t have one until some time next year. At the earliest. Tabitha Jackson, the newly appointed director of Sundance, has been talking with festival founder Robert Redford about next year’s edition, currently pencilled in for an opening on January 28. “I invite you to think not just outside the box,” he’s told her, “but as if the box never existed.” And with that, she wrote in an open letter on Monday, “we began to imagine a kind of Sundance Film Festival unbound.”

Jackson and her team are currently putting together a program that would be presented online and in theaters in “at least twenty independent and community cinemas across the U.S. and beyond . . . We are in exploratory discussions with cinemas from LA to Louisville, from New York to Nashville, from Austin to Atlanta, from Detroit to Denver, from Minneapolis to Mexico City—with many more to come.” Jackson tells the New York TimesBrooks Barnes that when she landed this job in February, she told herself, “‘I must not break this. I must not break this.’ But we must break it to meet the moment. We must break it open.”

All week long, festivals have been announcing their various approaches to reinventing themselves. San Sebastián (September 18 through 26), which will cut its usual number of screenings by about a third, has unveiled a first round of six titles in its official selection, five of them bearing the Cannes label—that is, these five, including new features from François Ozon, Naomi Kawase, and Thomas Vinterberg, were originally selected by the world’s premier festival before its 2020 edition was cancelled.

The BFI London Film Festival (October 7 through 18) is going for a mix of live and digital screenings, including “up to fifty” virtual premieres. The Viennale (October 22 through November 1) will be three days shorter this year but will actually schedule more screenings—at venues all across the Austrian capital—than ever before. DOC NYC (November 11 through 19) is “moving primarily to an online format” but will still program around a hundred features. And in surprising news from Karlovy Vary, which had already postponed its fifty-fifth edition until next summer, the festival will present a modest event from November 18 through 21 that it’s calling Karlovy Vary IFF 54½.

Virtual film festivals created specifically for viewing during lockdown are still on a roll. Dominic Angerame, who was the executive director of Canyon Cinema for over thirty years, has programmed one for Ultra Dogme. Next weekend (July 10 through 12), the independent screening collective Static Vision will present Hyperlinks, a global program of more than twenty films including Eduardo Williams’s The Human Surge (2016), Bayley Sweitzer and Adam Khalil’s Empty Metal (2018), and Kurt Walker’s s01e03 (2020).

Now that we’ve sorted out what to watch, here are a few suggestions for what to read:

  • The new issue of Cinema Scope is out in print and up online, opening with editor Mark Peranson’s in-depth conversation with C. W. Winter and Anders Edström. More than a decade after their previous feature, The Anchorage (2009), The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin), an eight-hour portrait of a farming family in Japan’s Kyoto Prefecture, premiered in February in Berlin, where it won the festival’s first Encounters Award. “Even if one can glean the influences of such filmmakers as James Benning and Pedro Costa, the film predominantly draws upon a litany of artistic forebears and thinkers mainly from outside the cinema,” writes Peranson. Also in this issue, Jordan Cronk talks with Ilya Khrzhanovsky about his sprawling project, DAU; Adam Nayman discusses the BBC series Trigonometry with director Athina Rachel Tsangari; and Erika Balsom goes in search of the female gaze.

  • There’s a lot to grapple with in the State of Cinema address Olivier Assayas delivered last Friday for Sabzian. Cinema is “in crisis” and we are now forced to “confront the failure of cinephilia,” but all is not yet lost. “I think there is no other symptom more relevant to an art’s vitality than its constant reappraisal,” says Assayas (and the translation is by Sis Matthé). “Fundamentally,” Assayas continues, “the question I am trying to ask would be to know if it would not be in the interest of cinema today to confront the wealth of reflections that have, since the Renaissance, been concerned with considering both the question of the reproduction of the world and the even more essential question of the exploration of perception. If I were asked what I think is most useful to teach in today’s film schools, I would recommend these two tracks.”

  • In his latest column for the Baffler, A. S. Hamrah remembers Irm Hermann as the actor who “exemplified Fassbinder’s cinema.” He also reviews sixteen of the 115 films he’s watched at home alone since New York shut down in mid-March. In Never Rarely Sometimes Always, director Eliza Hittman, “with great subtlety, draws our attention to [Sidney] Flanigan as a performer without violating the naturalism of her documentary-like film.” And writing about Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau, Hamrah notes that last month “it was announced that the government of Brazil would no longer release COVID death statistics to its people, so the way that local pol Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima) neglects to tell the residents of Bacurau that he has rented them as targets for foreigners to hunt isn’t all that odd.”
  • The legacy of Brazilian cinema is endangered as well. President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is threatening to shut down the Cinemateca Brasileira, the nation’s largest film archive. “How to consider the urgency of contemporary Brazilian film in this dire context?” asks Ela Bittencourt. “Perhaps by framing it as narratives of crises and resilience.” In all, it’s been another strong week at the Notebook. Jeremy Carr presents a primer on Werner Herzog; Deragh Campbell, who stars in MS Slavic 7, the film she has written and directed with Sofia Bohdanowicz, describes approaching a character “less as something that you become but instead something you exist in relation to”; and Marco Abel recommends Dominik Graf’s The Invincibles (1994), “a film that remains an unsurpassed (genre) filmmaking accomplishment in the history of post-unified German cinema.”

  • Justin Chang is about halfway through his sixteen-week-long Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown, a poll in which Los Angeles Times readers and Twitter followers vote for the greatest seasonal blockbusters since 1975, when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws “forever changed the landscape of moviemaking, gross tallying, and beach bumming.” The New York TimesManohla Dargis, who has recently—and of course, respectfully—butted heads with fellow chief film critic A. O. Scott over another Spielberg record-breaker, Jurassic Park (1993), suggests that the fact that the mayor in Jaws, played “with a perfect mix of huckster smarm and cluelessness by Murray Hamilton,” has “become a pandemic meme is a testament to the film’s unnerving topicality and our habit of viewing the world through a screen.” Scott misses summer movies, too, of course—but not superheroes. “There are still books to be written about the ideological trajectories of Batman and Superman, who started out as part of the worldwide anti-fascist crusade and may have ended up on the other side,” he writes. “This has been one of the dominant modes of entertainment: to enjoy the spectacle of our own domination . . . Eventually, we’ll go back to the movies, but maybe we’ll be less docile, less obedient, when we do.”

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