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A Robust Round

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the set of Raging Bull (1980)

We open this week’s roundup with some good news and some sad news. First, the good news. The Cinémathèque française has invited Richard Peña and Livia Bloom Ingram to curate a special edition of American Fringe, an annual series of truly independent features. For a full week, starting today, eight films, two from each of the previous four editions, will be screening, one after the other, in the Cinémathèque’s virtual theater, Henri. Around the world and for free.

Two New York–based film festivals, in the meantime, are now beaming their current editions to home screens all across the country. For critics’ picks from DOC NYC’s lineup of over two hundred films, turn to Filmmaker,Hammer to Nail,Hyperallergic,IndieWire, and Movie City News. The boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking are further pushed and popped in the sixteen features and eleven shorts selected by Film at Lincoln Center programmers Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes, working with advisor Almudena Escobar López, for this year’s Art of the Real.

FLC and the Museum of Modern Art have just rolled out the lineup for the forty-ninth edition of New Directors/New Films, originally scheduled for March but now happening virtually from December 9 through 20. Among the twenty-four features and ten shorts are winners of awards at Sundance, Locarno, Venice—and Rotterdam, which has announced that its fiftieth-anniversary edition will be staged in two parts. Most screenings in early February will be virtual, but the festival is hoping to have movie theater doors open again for the second swath in June.

Awards season quietly pulled out of the garage this week with announcements of nominations for the Gotham Awards and the European Film Awards. Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi, Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, and Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round lead the race for the EFAs with four nominations each. All three filmmakers are nominated for best director as are Agnieszka Holland (Charlatan), François Ozon (Summer of 85), and Maria Sødahl (Hope).

The Czech Republic is sending Charlatan into the Oscar race, but Holland is currently preoccupied. Back home in Poland, she’s joined the women’s strike protesting the near-total ban on abortion that, as Jon Henley writes in the Guardian, “has stirred a generation to stage the largest mass demonstrations that Poland has seen since Solidarność toppled the communist regime in the 1980s.” The ban is “a clear signal that the state is being handed over to religious fundamentalists,” Holland tells Variety. “We have to get rid of them.”

To the sad news. Nelly Kaplan, the writer, critic, and filmmaker who left Argentina for France when she was seventeen, has passed away at the age of eighty-nine, another victim of COVID-19. Kaplan wrote novels and screenplays, worked as an assistant to Abel Gance, and made documentaries about artists as well as narrative features, primarily comedies, such as the one she’s best known for, A Very Curious Girl (1969). “In her zany pastiches,” wrote Ela Bittencourt for the Notebook last year, “Kaplan takes cinema’s frequently veiled, subconscious representations of women’s dangerousness and gives them concrete form.”

We’ve also lost painter, sculptor, poet, and experimental filmmaker Aldo Tambellini, whom the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe has described as “a major catalyst of innovation in the field of multimedia art. Tambellini took the transformational potential of artistic expression that stems from painting and sculpture and brought it to the experiences of Expanded Cinema.” ARTnews senior editor Alex Greenberger notes that, employing “a variety of techniques that involved degrading celluloid and creating abstract patterns that were strung together in dense montages, Tambellini offered up visually striking works that pushed the limits of what cinema could be.” Aldo Tambellini was ninety.

Some reading to take with you into the weekend:

  • Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, “a hard movie to watch, gazing unflinchingly at an abusive, paranoid sociopath,” as Jason Bailey, writing for the Playlist, describes the biopic based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. In the Guardian, Guy Lodge, too, looks back on this “study of unchecked masculine anger and thrashing insecurity that feels exhilaratingly unbeholden to Hollywood requirements of redemption and catharsis. In a genre dominated by stories of triumph over adversity, Raging Bull offers us the tougher reality of triumph and adversity existing side by side, before the latter eventually swallows the former: not all wounded men heal, or learn to stop wounding others.”

  • Manfred Kirchheimer shot his new hour-long film, Free Time, over sixty years ago when he and his partner, Walter Hess, took a Bolex out onto the streets of New York to capture children playing and adults hustling off to work, shopping, or just lounging with a newspaper. Since The Claw: A Fable (1968), Kirchheimer  has been dipping into the 45,000 feet of black-and-white 16 mm footage to piece together short and medium-length films, and Daniel Eagan talks with the eighty-nine-year-old filmmaker about his process and mentors at the Film Stage. “Reviewers have been calling Free Time a city symphony,” says Kirchheimer, “but I call it montage. Everything I do is one shot slapped to another: montage. I’m a film editor, I’ve been a film editor all my life.” But he’s also shot four films, “maybe more, I can’t remember,” for Leo Hurwitz, and he’s worked closely with his teacher at City College, Hans Richter: “He was his own man, I learned that from him.” For Grasshopper Film, Kirchheimer lists his fourteen favorite films of all time.

  • John Waters has given Ted Loos a virtual tour of his renowned personal art collection, the bulk of which—372 works by 125 artists—will be bequeathed to the Baltimore Museum of Art upon his death, although, as Loos notes in the New York Times, some pieces may be on view as early as 2022. The collection includes work by Thomas Demand, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Christian Marclay, Catherine Opie, Gary Simmons, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and Cindy Sherman as well as Karin Sander’s Gebrauschbild (2010), a blank canvas left outdoors until it was covered in mold. “I had to get it inspected,” Waters tells Loos. “I brought it into my house and it could technically infect you, kill you, and vanish and be worth nothing. That’s the perfect piece of contemporary art.”

  • The rise and fall of Quibi, the service that aimed to stream “Quick Bites” of “story” created by big-name filmmakers (Steven Soderbergh, Sam Raimi) directly to your phone, and only to your phone, has Chloe Lizotte reflecting at Reverse Shot about alternative narrative strategies that artists such as Eduardo Williams (The Human Surge), Terence Nance (18 Black Girls), Zia Anger (My First Film), and James N. Kienitz Wilkins (Common Carrier) have been turning to in order to address the deluge of content vying for attention. They “aren’t building escape hatches from this tsunami of endless IP, but reckoning with the ethical mess of dependence it creates,” she writes. “As neocapitalist whims structure production budgets and streaming libraries, that clear-sightedness is as vital as it is demoralizing to sustain.”

  • As filmmaker Sandi Tan (Shirkers) notes in her Vanity Fair profile of Chloé Zhao (The Rider, one of Barack Obama’s favorite films of 2017), the writer, director, producer, and editor who grew up in Beijing and studied in London and New York before resettling in California was at one point mixing sound on Nomadland, the road movie with Francis McDormand that won the Golden Lion in Venice, and editing Eternals, the twenty-sixth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe slated to open next November. Zhao “hopes to replicate her gutsy system of making a smaller and a bigger movie in tandem because ‘each movie keeps the other in check,’” writes Tan. “She names Alfonso Cuarón as the director with the kind of range she aspires to. ‘Do I want to go back and make a film with even less budget than The Rider? A hundred percent. If the right story presents itself.’”

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