Did You See This?

Striking Images

Cheryl Dunye in The Watermelon Woman (1996)

As of today, Hollywood is, for all practical purposes, shut down. For the first time in sixty-three years, two major unions, the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, the union representing 160,000 television and movie actors, are both on strike. When the WGA took to the picket lines in May, production ceased on such shows as Yellowjackets and Stranger Things, but the effect was not immediately visible to anyone outside the industry. With the actors out of the picture, neither performing in front of cameras nor promoting their movies, the impact is going to hit harder. For one thing, as one studio executive tells Variety’s Clayton Davis, “Fall festivals are fucked.”

The fairest and most succinct guide to the points of contention between the unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) comes from Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay. “Among the issues at stake are higher wages, writers’ room staffing, performance-based streaming residuals, and artificial intelligence (AI),” he writes. SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland noted at Thursday’s press conference that the AMPTP put forward an AI proposal that would allow studios to scan a performer’s image, and for the cost of a single day’s pay, use that likeness any way they’d like without consent or further compensation—forever.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher delivered the fieriest remarks on Thursday, taking aim at the AMPTP, which “cares more about Wall Street than you and your family,” but also placing the strike in a larger historical context. “The eyes of the world and particularly the eyes of labor are upon us,” she said. “What happens to us is important. What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor.”

Here’s a sampling of what else has been going on this week:

  • On Tuesday, we released The Watermelon Woman (1996), a romantic comedy starring director Cheryl Dunye as a Black lesbian video-store clerk making a documentary about a forgotten actress who played mammies in 1930s Hollywood. “It’s an endlessly revealing film,” writes Cassie da Costa, “with the power to surprise and invigorate audiences who are seeing it again or for the first time.” At one point in Mia Vicino’s marvelously wide-ranging interview for Letterboxd, Dunye recalls that when she started making films, “I was not seen on the screen; there was nothing, nobody that looked like me. I was not a part of the Cosby cast, you know what I’m saying? There was nobody already out there, physically, as an image, because if they were, I would’ve gravitated to them. That would’ve filled me up. That, number one, was why I made films with my body and myself.”

  • Christian Petzold’s Afire, in which a group of young German friends spend a fateful summer by the Baltic Sea, opens today in New York and Los Angeles. “In Germany,” Petzold tells Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage, “we have regressive summer movies about young people who study in Berlin and come back to their parents for the summer and say, ‘Mama, I’m homosexual.” The whole movie is about this. Or the father and mother want to divorce and the thirty-one-year-old son is getting depressed. I mean, this is not a story. I like that in French and American movies, the summer is not only a season—it’s something where you learn something about yourself. In many of these movies, bad things can happen, but the movies themselves are like summer. It’s the wind, the water, the bodies. It’s light, and they are light and elegant. This: this I like.”

  • Whit Stillman’s “drifters are all animated by an almost sacred survival instinct to belong,” writes Leonardo Goi in the Notebook, “and there’s something compelling about the way in which Metropolitan and its successors can square that need with the somewhat tragic notion that the places their heroes look for solace are all hermetic bubbles on the brink of extinction.” Goi spoke with Stillman just before FIDMarseille screened all five of his features. “I don’t think there’s anything pessimistic about these films,” says the director. “I consider myself firmly in the comedy camp.”

  • Bomb Magazine has rolled out two conversations from its summer issue. Filmmakers J. P. Sniadecki (El mar la mar) and Khalik Allah (Black Mother, I Walk on Water) do talk shop a bit, but this is primarily a late night discussion of spirituality and the ephemerality of the world. “I’m just using cinema as an extension of my inner vision,” says Allah. Leigh Singer asks Naqqash Khalid about his first feature, In Camera, a fictionalized portrait of a British Asian actor that just premiered in Karlovy Vary. “So much of the film is almost a horror film about the white gaze,” says Khalid.

  • After working on Seinfeld but before directing Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat (2006), Larry Charles cowrote his first feature with Bob Dylan. Masked and Anonymous (2003) stars Dylan as a rocker past his prime, and the cast includes Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Penélope Cruz, Angela Bassett, and Bruce Dern. For Uproxx, Steven Hyden gets Charles to tell some pretty wild stories about Dylan’s writing process—it starts with a box of notes scribbled on strips of scrap paper—what happened at Sundance with Roger Ebert, and the elusive three-and-a-half-hour cut. Charles will be in Los Angeles on August 4, when Jokermen screens a 35 mm print of Masked and Anonymous.

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