Did You See This?

More Ways of Seeing

The Daily — Jan 15, 2021
Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI (2020)

Another record-breaking, history-making week in America has managed to squeeze in a bit of movie news as well. Specifically, festival news. Bong Joon Ho, whose Parasite won the Palme d’Or in 2019 and four Oscars last year, will preside over the jury in Venice. The seventy-eighth edition is set to run from September 1 through 11.

Sundance, whose hybrid 2021 edition opens on January 28, has added two films to its lineup. Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther party leader Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as the man the FBI has sent in to track his every move. And Ali El Arabi’s documentary Captains of Zaatari focuses on two close friends in a refugee camp who dream of becoming professional soccer players.

The festival has also announced a series of free talks and events that includes a conversation with Raoul Peck, a session on Afrofuturism, and a panel on LGBTQ+ cinema hosted by Film Quarterly editor B. Ruby Rich. It will be nearly thirty years since Rich coined the term “New Queer Cinema” and moderated a similar discussion at Sundance in 1992. This year, her guests will be Andrew Ahn (Spa Night), Gregg Araki (The Living End), Lisa Cholodenko (High Art), Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), Silas Howard (By Hook or by Crook), Isaac Julien (Young Soul Rebels), and Rose Troche (Go Fish).

We’ll still be contending with the pandemic in March, so this year’s SXSW will be taking place online. The festival has rolled out a first round of nine titles lined up for its 2021 edition, led by the opener, Michael D. Ratner’s documentary series Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil. Berlin’s Critics’ Week has also unveiled a first set of titles as well as the roster of participants in the conference that will precede the screenings on February 27 and 28. Philosopher Juliane Rebentisch joins filmmakers Garrett Bradley (Time), Kevin Jerome Everson (Tonsler Park), Philip Scheffner and Merle Kröger (Havarie), and Suneil Sanzgiri (Letter From Your Far-Off Country) will discuss cinema’s post-pandemic future.

Here’s what else has been happening this week:

  • Fred Hampton was not, of course, the first “Black Messiah” that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was determined to put a stop to. From 1963 until the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Hoover obsessively gathered evidence of the civil rights leader’s marital infidelity in order to persuade King to cease his political activities—or even kill himself. Sam Pollard, a producer who has worked closely with Spike Lee and a director who first made his mark with two episodes of the landmark PBS series Eyes on the Prize, revisits this ugly chapter of American history in MLK/FBI, which opens nationwide today. “Commentator and Hoover expert Beverly Gage contextualizes Hoover’s fixation on King’s on-the-road bedroom activities within the history of rape, lynching, and the demonizing of Black sexuality that began in slavery and remains a blaring feature of our popular culture today,” writes Greg Tate at 4Columns. “MLK/FBI’s transparent resonance with present-day, government-sponsored anti-Blackness and unconstitutional assaults on lawful dissent is superbly framed and crafted, and undeniably astute.”

  • Writing for the Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, Ian Christie takes issue with Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux’s “presumptuous claim” that France is the birthplace of cinema. Christie takes his argument a step further, too, pointing out that the fare presented in London by competing companies in the late nineteenth century, rooted in the city’s bohemian culture and the decadence of the music halls, was far more risqué than anything that the Lumière brothers dared to screen in Paris.

  • In the late 1960s, Mike Dibb began making films for the BBC, documentary portraits of John Ford, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard. In 1972, he collaborated with the renowned art critic John Berger on Ways of Seeing, a series “which offered a new perspective on visual imagery, from the female nude and the male gaze, to oil paint, advertising, and the theories of Walter Benjamin,” as Laura Barton writes in her profile of Dibb for the Guardian. London’s Whitechapel Gallery is currently presenting a retrospective that includes portraits of figures as diverse as A. S. Byatt, Salvador Dalí, Miles Davis, Stuart Hall, David Hockney, Keith Jarrett, Elmore Leonard, Federico García Lorca, and Edward Said. In 2012, Sukhdev Sandhu suggested that “it’s possible Dibb has shaped more ideas and offered more ways of seeing than any other TV documentarian of his generation.”

  • In the Nathan Fielder–produced comedy series How To with John Wilson, the filmmaker (and former private investigator) draws life lessons from some of the most mundane experiences New York City has to offer. “Decades before Wilson developed his diaristic, instructional style, Luc Moullet carved his own uniquely independent and termite approach as a filmmaker and a social and self-critic,” writes Ruairi McCann in the Notebook. Moullet, who began writing for Cahiers du cinéma in the mid-1950s and making films in the ’60s, is “more susceptible to fits of bravado than Wilson, but there are similar levels of anxiety and a mutual sense of impotence,” notes McCann. “Still, with Moullet perched on the eve and Wilson in the midst of the current era of the city—­­increasingly privatized and stylized as a playground for the rich and powerful and a panopticon for the poor—there is a shared insistence that the urban space can still be used from the ground up, with imagination and against power.”

  • A top ten from Reverse Shot is always worth the wait. Contributors have actually voted up a list of eleven of the best films of 2020 with a tie at #10 between Cristi Puiu’s Malmkrog (“Statelier than Buñuel, angrier than Oliveira, scarier than Rivette,” writes Michael Koresky) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s To the Ends of the Earth (“Suggestive of The Wind Will Carry Us by way of Jacques Tourneur,” offers Edo Choi). And #1? Days. “Perhaps it’s no surprise that a new film by Tsai Ming-liang would resonate in a year of physical threat and psychological alienation,” writes Chloe Lizotte.

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