BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Aside from the return of Aniston of the week, and September’s short essay on the wondrous experimental films of Dana Burman Duff, this site has been somewhat neglected of late. Programming, rather than writing has been my main occupation. Behind the Curtain is a project that was in the concept stage for a long time. The initial idea was to find a way to share with audiences, films which represent the eclecticism of my taste in cinema, so there’d be documentaries, and comedies and experimental works and more.

What came to fruition is a project that is quite close to that ideal, but with the added theme of a feminist film club. As I developed the idea, what became important was to show a cinema that is representative of all the different perspectives and creative practices of a variety of filmmakers. Behind the Curtain exists to support women filmmakers, queer cinema, filmmakers of colour and d/Deaf and disabled filmmakers – it is therefore by this very nature a feminist project.

With funding from Film Hub Scotland and in partnership with Alchemy Film & Arts and Moving Image Makers Collective, I programmed and produced 7 screenings from September – December 2017 here in the Scottish Borders, where I’m based. The feminist film club theme ran most obviously through five of the screenings, with films touching upon subjects such as the construction of gender in relation to female reproduction (Maja Borg’s Man, Anna Linder’s Spermwhore), the intersection of race and gender (Cecile Emeke’s Strolling episodes 1 and 7), inequalities of gender in colonialism (Onyeka Igwe’s We Need New Names), female power, both physical and intellectual (Evi Tsiligaridou’s On Your Feet, Woman!, Vēra Chytilová’s Daisies), inherited oppression in mother-daughter relationships (Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie), the problematics of radical feminism (Bruce LaBruce’s The Misandrists) and narcissistic feminism (Anna Biller’s The Love Witch).

Each of theses screenings inspired thoughtful conversations with the audience, especially the occasional opportunity to address a film’s relevance to feminism and the important intersections of other inequalities with that of gender.

Other film’s in the season were John Paizs’ Crime Wave, the cult, underappreciated Canadian comedy programmed by Glasgow’s Matchbox Cineclub, which depicts with a somewhat tender absurdity, the tribulations of the writing process. I also screened Further Beyond, the first feature documentary by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, aka Desperate Optimists, which uses essayistic approaches, reflexive use of voice over and reconstruction to tell the story of Ambrose O’Higgins.

The intention is for Behind the Curtain to continue in some form, though I’m flexible as to what form it might take. Rather than have a fixed idea of programmes and projects I’d rather respond to the specific context here in the Borders, taking screenings to locations where there’s a shared interest in all the possibilities of an eclectic, feminist cinema.

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My week in film: Iberodocs, Green Room and a Captain America movie

After a hiatus shaped like Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival (which I produced), my viewing journal returns with a typical mix of artistic expression and popcorn nonsense. On Wednesday night the third edition of Iberodocs – Scotland’s only dedicated documentary festival and a celebration of Ibero-American cinema – opened at Filmhouse in Edinburgh to a packed audience. Begun as a way to showcase the work of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin-American filmmakers, Iberodocs has quickly developed a dedicated audience, supportive sponsors and a robust and carefully selected programme of films. A lively and welcoming reception at Traverse bar preceded the opening film, Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a sincere and affectionate biography of the Nobel prize-winning author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Directed by Justin Webster, the film brings together interviews with Márquez’s friends (Gerald Martin, his biographer; Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, writer and Bill Clinton no less), peers, family and inspired writers (Juan Gabriel Vásquez), to reflect on the extraordinary life and politics of one the world’s most celebrated literary talents.

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A young Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Relying mostly on talking heads interviews, archive and television footage, Gabo chronicles the writer’s early life, student days, journalistic career, romances, his great friendship with Fidel Castro, which seemed to run counter to his anti-communist politics, and is most engaging in the use of interviews with the man himself, which demonstrate his sharp wit and idiosyncratic perspective on life. On receiving the Nobel prize for literature, a journalist asks him, “is this the greatest moment of your life?” to which Márquez replies, “No, that was the day I was born.” Such moments go some way to answer the film’s central question; how did a boy who was born into poverty grow up to be a writer ‘who won the hearts of millions?’ Márquez’s charisma, dedication, and importantly, self-belief emerge as the defining characteristics that allowed the author to have such an impact.

Iberodocs runs until Sunday 8 May and includes the remarkable and very moving, All of Me (Friday 6 May), by Arturo González Villaseñor about the Patronas, women in Mexico who prepare and distribute food to the migrants who pass by on the freight train to the US. The short film programme Looking From Afar (Sunday 8 May) also looks to be an exciting collection of highly personal works from such sharp artistic talents as Salomé Lamas and Ana Vaz.

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Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawcat in Green Room

Elsewhere in my viewing, Jeremy Saulnier’s third feature as writer/director, Green Room surpassed my expectations, which were based on some buzz around Patrick Stewart portraying a skin head Nazi in backwoods America. Stewart certainly is suitably chilling in the role of Darcy, but what’s most interesting about Saulnier’s work, as with Blue Ruin, is how, unlike many a director of dark and violent films, he appears not to celebrate violence, but rather, violence occurs due to ingrained social expectations and justifications of power, and is horrific and visceral in a very authentic, non-stylised way. Green Room cinematographer Sean Porter creates a dank, dark atmosphere using very little light, whilst editor Julia Bloch uses neat and clever cuts to keep the pace fraught and the horror efficient.

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l-r: Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chris Evans as Captain America, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier in Captain America: Civil War

Finally, this week I saw Captain America: Civil War, which gleefully allows members of the Avengers A and B team (and some other ‘enhanced’) to shine, within excellently choreographed and edited action set-pieces. The film somehow doesn’t convey the ethical complexity of the Civil War comic books, despite the presence of a menacing Daniel Bruhl. It’s also still deeply frustrating to see only three female characters with speaking roles in these films (where’s Cobie Smulder’s Agent Hill?!) and only two women a line-up of super dudes. I’d love to see a Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) origin story, but the possibility of that seems nil.

Also watched:
What Happened Miss Simone?
Liz Garbus, excellent documentary
Season 7 of Parks and Recreation (again)

 

 

My week in film: Berlinale and a ‘hateful’ Tarantino

You might have missed this weekly viewing journal of late – this writer has been engaged elsewhere, covering the Berlin Film Festival competition (and some other films) for other outlets. For CineVue, I reviewed André Téchiné’s rewarding French drama Being 17 (****); Alone in Berlin (**) starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson; the dense and deftly handled Death in Sarajevo (****), which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize; the desperately frustrating Genius (*) which starred a manic Jude Law and a tired Colin Firth; and finally Gianfranco Rosi’s Golden Bear winning documentary, Fire at Sea (****). Meanwhile for Sight & Sound, I reviewed Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest feature, Things to Come, which deservedly won the Silver Bear for Best Director. Starring the endlessly watchable Isabelle Huppert, it’s a deeply thoughtful, mature work.

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Isabelle Huppert in Things to Come
On my return from chilly Berlin, I checked out the new Quentin Tarantino film, The Hateful Eight screening from the 70mm roadshow print at Filmhouse. The 70mm differs from the digital version in that it has 20 minutes of additional footage, an overture and an intermission. I must say that the experience of viewing the film this way, with the prestige of the red curtains pulling back following the overture, the sheer beauty of the print itself, which really enhances Tarantino’s skills as a filmmaker, and the anticipation that the intermission created, was a great pleasure.

Having made that clear, it remains that The Hateful Eight is a very unpleasant film. Even considering that the film’s title makes clear the scorn of its characters, the negativity of the film permeates everything, from the characters, to the dialogue and the message, making it hard to understand what exactly Tarantino thought the audience would find fun about the film. Oh, wait – violence is really fun, isn’t it?

Tarantino loves creating puzzles for the audience to solve, and creating no-win situations for his characters, his passion for narrative and story-telling is clear. It’s just that in The Hateful Eight there’s no reason to be invested in the outcome. hateful-eight-jennifer-jason-leighA note on the other big problem with the film. Of the female characters that get more than one scene, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, pictured above) is repeatedly beaten, constrained, abused and made powerless – we’re told she’s a dangerous murderer – yet we do not see the evidence of this. By the film’s end, the male characters have done despicable things to each other, and yet, Daisy’s punishment is to be gleefully hung and laughed at, dwelling on her pain as though a relief from the horror of the past hours. The Hateful Eight dispatches violent men quickly and explosively, but a non-compliant woman must be made an enduring example of. It’s exhausting. For a more in depth review, see Matt Zoller-Seitz’s piece for rogerebert.com – his assessment is spot on.

With that, ‘My week in film’ will be a little less active for a couple of months while this writer switches from reviewing festivals to programming a festival, to produce the Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival . Aniston of the week however, will continue!