Did You See This?

“Which Films Matter to Us Right Now?”

The Daily — Aug 14, 2020
Kathleen Collins

The week wraps with major announcements from New York and Locarno. Presenting a round of twenty-five titles that will comprise the Main Slate of this year’s NYFF, Film at Lincoln Center has added another full week to the festival’s run to allow for greater access via drive-in screenings. The fifty-eighth edition, featuring films by Chloé Zhao, Frederick Wiseman, Tsai Ming-liang, Christian Petzold, Heidi Ewing, and Hong Sang-soo, will open on September 17 with Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock and close on October 11 with Azazel Jacobs’s French Exit. “To put it simply,” says NYFF director of programming Dennis Lim, “the Main Slate is our collective response to one central question: which films matter to us right now?”

In Locarno, Lucrecia Martel has won the top award in the international competition in the festival’s one-off program, The Films of Tomorrow. The prize money may help Martel complete Chocobar, a documentary investigating the murder of a land rights activist in Argentina. Marí Alessandrini has won the Swiss competition for Zahorí, the story of the bond between a young girl and an old man on the Patagonian Steppe. A special jury prize goes to Miguel Gomes for Savagery, an account of the Brazilian army’s attack on a small village in the nineteenth century, and Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor have won an award for presenting “the most innovative project,” The Fabric of the Human Body, which will delve into complex bioethical issues.

Here’s what else has stood out over the past seven days:

  • In a deep and detailed appreciation of Losing Ground (1982), the second feature directed by poet, playwright, activist, and teacher Kathleen Collins, Neyat Yohannes, writing for Bright Wall/Dark Room, quotes from a lecture Collins delivered at Howard University two years after the film’s all-too-quiet debut. “If you’ve been the notion of sin incarnate and you’re now trying to correct that balance, what do you do?” asked Collins. “You make Black people into saints.” But neither depiction “is reality. Both are tracks to dehumanize you.” Losing Ground, which centers on a philosophy professor (Seret Scott) and her artist husband (Bill Gunn), is “a complete departure from the saints vs. sinners trope,” writes Yohannes. The film is “a study of complex individuals in the midst of respective existential crises” that is also “an heirloom for Black women. It’s proof that we’ve always craved three-dimensional characters to look up to and sophisticated storytelling to relate to.”

  • In the new issue of Sight & Sound, Ashley Clark traces a six-decade-long history of films and television made by Black British filmmakers taking aim at racism and injustice. This “ghost canon” of British cinema is made up of “urgent work that has often been overlooked, actively suppressed, or left to languish in the margins, unloved or inaccessible. Although Black British communities have always faced intense disrespect and betrayal . . . this body of work serves as a vivid reminder that such mistreatment has never been taken lying down.” Horace Ové, whose Pressure (1975) was the first Black British feature film; cultural theorist Stuart Hall; and John Akomfrah, one of the cofounders of the Black Audio Film Collective, are among the major figures in this story. Akomfrah tells S&S’s Isabel Stevens that the Rio Cinema, a theater in east London that may not survive the pandemic, “was central to our practice. It became not just a place of work but a place where you could explore how a cultural group functions and continues to work inside a community.”

  • Back in May, as streets around the world were flooded with protests against systemic racism and police brutality, James Mangold posted a thread on Twitter about his 1997 film Cop Land. It’s a story of rampant corruption in a community of police officers who patrol New York City by day and then return each evening to their white suburban neighborhood across the bridge. “Commuting cops are 9-5 soldiers in a land that is not their own,” tweeted Mangold. “They do not have vested interest in embracing the place they patrol, rather, their interest in in ‘containing’ it. This produces quiet pernicious and systemic racism.” Now Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri talks with the director about his uphill battle to make Cop Land in what Mangold calls the “incredibly thuggish” culture of Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. “I remember getting the idea for the movie while driving on the Palisades Parkway,” says Mangold, “and thinking about how to transpose a western movie template onto what you might call a 1970s Sidney Lumet film—to make a film about these communities that were all interconnected, yet at war.”

  • Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), one of the foundational works of Italian neorealism, was voted to the top of Sight & Sound’s first “greatest films of all time” poll of critics and filmmakers in 1952. It remained in the top ten for fifty years and landed at #33 in 2012. Bicycle Thieves “has become an essential part of the cultural patrimony, a touchstone to be treasured, teased, and taken for granted,” writes the New York TimesA. O. Scott. But because “skepticism is what keeps art alive,” while “reverence embalms it,” this immeasurably influential work calls for another watch. “Part of what draws filmmakers (and film lovers) to Bicycle Thieves is its purity and simplicity,” writes Scott, “but to emphasize those elements—the unvarnished honesty of the performances, the gritty realness of the Roman streets, the raw emotions of the story—is to risk underestimating its complexity and sophistication.”

  • It’s been a rich week for interviews pulled up from the archives. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody flags a Q&A with Orson Welles that took place at the Cinémathèque française in 1983. Taking questions from film students, Welles “brings a mighty, Shakespearean pathos and comedy to the casually structured occasion.” Ehsan Khoshbakht has come across a three-hour series of freshly digitized conversations with Mervyn LeRoy recorded in 1970 and 1971. As a director and producer active from the early 1930s through the late ’50s, LeRoy shepherded “some of the best remembered films in the history of American cinema, films of enormous popularity, technical brilliance, and politically progressive conceptions.” And Sight & Sound has posted Charles Higham’s 1967 interview with Billy Wilder. When asked about the “creative atmosphere” at Paramount in the 1930s, Wilder recalls that it was “absolutely marvelous. You just walked across the lot and there they were: von Sternberg, Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Leo McCarey, Lubitsch. We made pictures then, we didn’t make deals.”

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