Before making his internationally acclaimed 1969 feature The Color of Pomegranates, Sergei Parajanov, born in Tbilisi, Georgia to Armenian parents, studied in Moscow under two Ukrainian directors, Alexander Dovzhenko and Igor Savchenko. Parajanov then moved to Kyiv to work as an assistant director on Savchenko’s final film, Taras Shevchenko (1951). “Although that film is largely forgotten today, it’s tempting to see its celebration of a great nineteenth-century Ukrainian painter and poet as prophetic for the young Parajanov’s career,” writes Ian Christie in the essay accompanying our release of Pomegranates.
In Kyiv, Parajanov made four features, including the romantic melodrama Ukrainian Rhapsody (1961), before a viewing of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) prompted him to rethink his entire artistic project from the ground up. Dismissing all of his previous films, Parajanov set about making his first “real” work, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), a tragic, Romeo-and-Juliet love story set in a small village in the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine. His next feature was to have been a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, but Goskino, the Soviet State Committee for Cinematography, put an early end to the project.
Parajanov assembled the screen tests to create Kiev Frescoes (1966), and “even in its truncated form, it retains some serious pleasures,” writes Daniel Witkin—who, by the way, wrote about The Color of Pomegranates just last month for Reverse Shot. “While it’s tempting to view [Kiev Frescoes] as a dry run for The Color of Pomegranates, its style is subtly but meaningfully distinct, using an eclectic sort of juxtaposition to playfully layer disparate elements of the Ukrainian capital’s history.” Kiev Frescoes is one of three films by Parajanov currently screening at the spectacular twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the Media City Film Festival. It’s a virtual event, and around the world through Tuesday, more than seventy films are freely accessible.
When 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (2020) was presented as part of the Berlinale’s Forum Expanded program last summer, artist and filmmaker Ana Vaz said that her initial intention was “to work with an idea that is very dear to me in terms of filmmaking, which is the relationship between the body and the camera.” Two telepathically gifted men converse in Michael Robinson’s Polycephaly in D (2021), and in the Notebook, Michael Sicinski suggests that “there is an overall sense throughout Polycephaly that presses on the viewer’s unconscious. Love is a monster, a gorgon, an untamed beast.”
Daïchi Saïto’s earthearthearth (2021) is “an optical acid trip in which the boundaries between terra firma and yawning firmament dissolve in a hallucinatory explosion of color and light,” writes Ara Osterweil in Artforum. Ben Rivers’s Look Then Below (2019) “renders the natural unnatural, transforming Earth’s basic signifiers—water, foliage, dirt, rock—into a bizarre, phantasmagoric unreality,” writes Daniel Gorman at In Review Online. And Peter Tscherkassky’s Train Again (2021) gives “a Tscherkasskian spin not just to a certain aspect of film history, but to entire chapters of its evolution,” writes Christoph Huber for Cinema Scope.
Writing for the festival about Luther Price’s Sodom (1989–1994), Ed Halter notes that the film “was rejected by some of the most prominent gay festivals of its day, thereby becoming a flashpoint for controversy. In an editorial in the San Francisco Cinematheque’s journal Cinematograph, Michael Wallin defended Sodom as a work of formidable emotion and deep ambiguity, comparable to Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks or Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’amour.”
In Plumb Line (1972), the late Carolee Schneemann “laments a lost love and the ongoing horrors of the Vietnam War,” wrote Giampaolo Bianconi for Light Industry in 2015. “Schneemann re-presents images of her own authorship in the film as records of a visually and psychically shattered subjectivity, miniaturizing and reframing her own material within the film. The destructive, alienating psychodrama of Plumb Line is bookended by shots in which the film appears to burst into flames.”
Media City is also throwing a spotlight on “artists whose body of moving image artwork deserves increased critical attention and a wider global audience.” In this section, we can read about and watch work by such artists as Tracey Moffatt, Tony Cokes, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, and Ulysses Jenkins, whose first solo exhibition opened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Philadelphia last year and is now on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles through May 15.
Jenkins was a painter when he first saw Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). “What a lot of people do not recognize, because they’re not film buffs, is that Sweet Sweetback was actually an experimental film,” he tells ARTnews senior editor Alex Greenberger. “I somewhat recognized those qualities in the film, so I followed my interest in that to working with a Portapak and video.” Borrowing equipment from the Long Beach Art Museum and encouraged by Nam June Paik, Jenkins became one of the first Black artists to work with video. Media City is presenting Mass of Images and King David, both from 1978, and you’ll find more of his work in our Criterion Channel program, Ulysses Jenkins: Video Griot.
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