The Story So Far: Wavelengths 2016

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Originally published in Sight & Sound, December 2016

Wavelengths, the Toronto International Film Festival’s annual programme of “daring, visionary, and autonomous” cinema, is never in thrall to traditional components of film, but it’s generally narrative that is first to be cast aside. Even by these standards, the best of this year’s selection of Wavelengths features, shorts, and installations seemed particularly intrigued by different narrative strategies and reimagining how one might go about telling a story through moving images. Continue reading

Era Extraña: Lewis Klahr on Sixty Six

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Originally published in Cinema Scope 66

“I’ve been listening to all the dissension/ I’ve been listening to all the pain/ And I feel that no matter what I do for you/ It’s going to come back again”—Leonard Cohen, “Minute Prologue”

An anthology film in 12 chapters, Lewis Klahr’s animated mosaic Sixty Six is both greater than the sum of its parts and grander than the scope of its one-dimensional decoupage. Any attempt to describe the film leads to a maze of contradictions. Largely a work of stop-motion collage (a term the filmmaker favours to distinguish his practice from traditional animation), it is at once Klahr’s latest feature and a compendium compiled from years of short-form experimentation. Beginning in 2013 as the attempted reimagining of an unreleased 16mm film, the project soon expanded to encompass a multitude of digital miniatures ranging from three to 20-plus minutes in length. Combining outré visual sources—comic books, newsprint ads, pulp literature, and all manner of Pop-Art ephemera—with classical music cues and allusions to Greek mythology, this composite feature is the strangest of hybrids: a personal work of universal provenance. Continue reading

Strange Geometry: The Films of Björn Kämmerer

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Originally published by Reverse Shot, January 19, 2016

It’s been 120 years since The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (1896), and it can feel more than a little redundant to note that one of cinema’s foremost capabilities lies in its freedom to manipulate perspective. That said, if one were to outline the chief innovations in modern filmmaking, they would likely situate around a number of advances made in the arena of visual proficiency—namely, in what viewers see and how they see it. As expertly as any artist of his generation, the German-born, Austria-based filmmaker Björn Kämmerer—subject of a nine-film program at the Museum of the Moving Image’s fifth annual First Look Festival—exemplifies the avant-garde’s fundamental interest in this phenomenon, in cinema’s unique ability to negotiate the complexities of optical intrigue. Utilizing the medium as a means to investigate material reality and the manner by which we conceive of the physical relationship between form and the spaces in which these figural manifestations reside, Kämmerer has, over ten years and as many films, established himself as one of Europe’s most exciting and formally economic young filmmakers. Continue reading

Tremors and Transformations: Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film, 1920-1970

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Originally published in Sight & Sound, January 2016

Given the sheer number of histories one might prescribe to a given field of cinematic practice, any attempt, no matter how valiant, at cataloging an entire era of creativity or period of productivity can only reasonably be said to offer a single interpretation of said events. To their credit, Flicker Alley do not attempt to annotate a half-century’s worth of non-industrial cinema with their new Blu-ray/DVD box set, “Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film, 1920-1970,” so much as outline one rough trajectory of noteworthy accomplishments in interdisciplinary visual art over its most evolutionary span. Curated by filmmaker and preservationist Bruce Posner, the four-disc, region-free collection resurrects 37 works (many of them restored and new to digital) of experimental and non-commercial Stateside cinema, allowing the films themselves to navigate a course through the past rather than imposing an ahistorical lineage through which to view their attributes. Continue reading

Art of the Real 2016

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Originally published by Brooklyn Magazine, April 6, 2016

José Luis Guerín’s The Academy of Muses, the highlight of the third annual edition of Art of the Real, casually yet thrillingly embodies much of what drives the nonfiction showcase’s unique curatorial initiative. Indicative of co-programmers Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes’s liberal programming ideology and predilection for works of shapeshifting provenance, Guerín’s film is likewise exemplary of a primary theme coursing through many of this year’s best selections. One of the oldest and most fruitful of creative gambits, the muse—as vague, elusive, and oft-intangible a conception as it may be—nonetheless continues to motivate many an artistic pursuit; it follows that filmmakers should frequently extol the virtue of such sources. Continue reading

Interview: Claude Lanzmann

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Originally published by The Hollywood Reporter, May 5, 2016

At 90 years old, director Claude Lanzmann made his first trip to the Academy Awards this past February on behalf of the Oscar-nominated documentary short film, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, Adam Benzine’s moving tribute to the nonfiction filmmaking titan and his most celebrated work, the landmark nine-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985). Featuring new interviews with Lanzmann and a selection of critics and fellow directors, as well as unreleased footage from the making of Shoah, Benzine’s film is both an inside look at how a work of such historic and cinematic magnitude came to be and a loving portrait of an artist whose integrity and sense of humanity remains undiminished. Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah premieres on HBO on Monday, May 2, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

The following are excerpts from an interview conducted on Feb. 27, the eve of the 88th Academy Awards that Lanzmann attended. Continue reading

Neither/Nor 2016: Mondo Cinema and Beyond

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Originally published by Filmmaker Magazine, March 23, 2016

Throughout this year’s Neither/Neither program at the 13th annual True/False Film Festival, I found myself frequently calling to mind storied Los Angeles film curator John Fles’ concept of “analytic programming.” Far less pedantic than the label suggests, Fles’ directive calls, quite simply, for the curatorial consideration of films with “subjects usually tabooed” — works of artistic merit that, when investigated at all, are generally “dealt with a kind of academic-aesthetic paternalism which robs these often wild films of their real content: as blasters of the traditional mores.” Continue reading

In Conversation: Shambhavi Kaul with Jordan Cronk

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Originally published in The Brooklyn Rail, May 2016

The work of the India-born, Durham-based filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul has a unique relationship with not only the world of contemporary experimental cinema, but also the lineage from which it draws both its inspiration and, quite often, its materials. Slyly spurning the strained, self-serious demeanor of much of the avant-garde, Kaul’s playful and inquisitive films unite histories of personal, cultural, and cinematic intrigue while maintaining an integrity borne of a deep engagement with the natural world. At the inaugural edition of the Big Ears film festival—to the revered experimental music celebration of the same name, which this year took place from March 31 – April 2 in Knoxville, Tennessee—Kaul premiered Modes of Faltering, a new six-channel installation, along with the five-film program, “Planet,” featuring a selection of spoken reflections capped with a reading of a manuscript adapted from a variety of in-flight magazines. Continue reading

Cannes 2016: Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie, France)

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Originally published by Sight & Sound, May 15, 2016

French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie made the proverbial splash at Cannes in 2013 with the Un Certain Regard standout Stranger by the Lake. The many laurels the film received in the months following constituted mainstream recognition of a major talent in world cinema – an unapologetic cinematic libertine whose half-dozen prior films casually triangulated European modernism, queer comedy and elements of classic genre cinema. With visceral efficiency, Stranger by the Lake consolidated these disparate threads into a gay cruising thriller pitting man versus man in a hunt for satisfaction as much as survival. Continue reading

Cannes 2016: Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil/France)

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Originally published by Sight & Sound, May 20, 2016

A work of resolute social consciousness, Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature and followup to his well-regarded Neighbouring Sounds (2012) is at once a refinement and a deepening of the social and stylistic preoccupations laid out so comprehensively in the critic-turned-director’s debut. Expansive yet focused, Aquarius confirms Mendonça’s commitment to Brazil’s middle-class populace – a caste otherwise underrepresented in international cinema – and asserts a newly evident skill for dramatic storytelling. Continue reading