Experimental Documentaries from New York City and Los Angeles
2014 International Festival of Documentary Cinema: Encounter with Other Cinema
Co-curated by Alexandra Cuesta and Lynne Sachs
Synopsis for NYC program by Lynne Sachs
Ten New York City artists ranging in age from 24 to 80 bring their personal impressions of the place they call home to Quito’s EDOCS screen. This program of experimental documentaries transforms a “bigger than life” metropolis into a place full of delicate, sometimes dirty, occasionally shiny images that will certainly complicate the more famous, monolithic images created by the mainstream media. Because these films are shot “from the inside out” by people who know the city well and are sensitive to the weave of the urban fabric, they reveal a fresh, intimate view from the ground up. Where and how do we engage with the city’s flora and fauna in our daily lives? How might the omnipresent trash of the streets reveal something about our quotidian rituals? When does the simple task of walking along a sidewalk become a surprising piece of radical performance art? Where are the silent, hidden workers who make the things we wear everyday? Together we will answer these questions during and after the screening of the NYC section of “Scenic Ruptures”.
Some people believe that the world looks better through “rose colored glasses.” I am not sure if this expression has any meaning in the Spanish language, but in English the implication is that these glasses are able to trick us into thinking that the bad things in life are not really so bad. It’s a kind of strange, optically generated false optimism. I’ve been living in New York City for eighteen years, and I must admit that ever since I arrived here I refused to put on those proverbial rose-colored glasses. I always wanted to see the dust, grime and shine of this major metropolis for what is was, in the same way that I truly prefer to see people without makeup, finding the lines of aging far more compelling than the smooth surface of cosmetics. I suppose this is the reason I make experimental films. I don’t want to cover up the brilliant, scary, intimidating surprises that the world offers, but instead prefer to look head-on with my eyes open. In this program, I have chosen a suite of short films that I think will show you and the audience at EDOCS a side of New York City that is rarely depicted through those big mainstream Hollywood movies that travel so easily across borders.
We will start the program by diving into the under water world. “Living Fossil” reveals a thriving beach side “community” of sea crabs, lovingly deposited on our local coastline by the Atlantic Ocean. Then in “Fulton Fish Market” you’ll see the nocturnal activities of the workers at the renowned, though now sadly defunct, South Street Seaport market. Next we will visit the cluttered, colorful streets of Manhattan by way of the object animations in “Early 12 New York Song”. Here, we will look at the magnificent detritus of the sidewalks, transforming the trash of our city into an archeologist’s treasure box. After that, we will take a pastoral detour to Central Park where, believe it or not, you will witness the Christmas time ritual of SantaCon. “Extinction Becomes Us” is an exquisite film portrait of an annual, anarchic event in which thousands of New Yorkers prance around the city dressed like, you guessed it, Santa Claus. Oh, and I better add, they are all drunk! From this nonsensical, apolitical reverie, we will move onto something far more dialectic. “Capitalism: Child Labor” is radical in every sense of the word. The film is an aggressive visual diatribe against all that New York City has come to represent in the world arena. The next two films on our visual journey will take us downtown to Chinatown. Through “Chinaman’s Suitcase”, we’ll experience a riveting, darkly humorous performance piece in which a somber traveler from Chinatown walks all the way to Midtown and then back again. As a finale to his low-key pedestrian adventure, our protagonist delivers one of the most outlandish film finales I have ever seen. “Night Scene New York” then carries us on a breathtaking, yet contemplative magic carpet ride through the same neighborhood. Moving north just a few blocks to the starkly different Lower East Side, “Bitch Beauty” gives us a candid portrait of a downtown woman artist who has lived a life full of heartbreak, disappointment, creativity and revelation. Our last image of New York City is my own “Drift and Bough”. We had an extremely cold and long winter this season, so I thought the only way I could reckon with its challenges was to make a movie.
I hope you will enjoy this cinematic voyage through the place I call home. I certainly had a great time designing your itinerary.
All the best,
Quito, 9 de marzo, 2014
Gracias por tu carta. Tengo mucha curiosidad de ver a Nueva York a través de los filmes que has escogido. Me identifico con tu mirada porque, al igual que tú, pienso que la esencia de un lugar esta detrás de lo que se percibe en el exterior. Como dices, hay infinitas perspectivas desde donde explorar una ciudad, y en mi caso el entendimiento de Los Ángeles está ligado a mi contexto personal. Viví ahí durante siete años, siendo este el tiempo más largo en que he vivido en un solo lugar. Desde temprana edad me he trasladado de ciudad en ciudad, llevando conmigo diversas culturas. Por esto, mi relación con el lugar es una experiencia simultánea entre pertenecer y ver desde afuera, adaptarme y observar, siempre desde algún lugar en la mitad. Es desde ahí desde donde construyo mi descripción de esta gran urbe. Una mirada que se fija en los márgenes, en los intersticios y en lo invisible. Paradójicamente también es la razón por la que mi práctica e interés en el cine están enraizadas en lo experimental, justamente porque este proceso permite construir perspectivas permeables y abrir significados.
Al no disponer de un centro definido en un amplio territorio, una de las características más impactantes del imaginario urbano de Los Ángeles es el urban sprawl, “esparcimiento urbano”. Partiendo de esto, el espacio de la ciudad y de sus habitantes no se puede definir con fronteras trazables. Es así que he creado un programa de obras poéticas y personales que crean una descripción abierta y ambigua, proponiendo una oportunidad para imaginar a la ciudad. Además, esta selección servirá como una introducción a las diversas tradiciones experimentales en el cine.
El primer filme en el programa, My Tears Are Dry, es un homenaje al cineasta experimental Bruce Baillie y también una oda al ideal californiano: palmeras y el cielo azul en una tarde de descanso. Después, observaremos la decadencia suburbana en un paisaje nocturno donde imágenes de películas viejas evocan al pasado en el filme Vineland. Continuando con un paisaje diurno, estaremos visualmente estimulados con la gran cantidad de vallas, sonidos, música y letreros que aparecen en Get Out of the Car, una sinfonía de ciudad del gran cineasta Thom Andersen, quien describe la nostalgia en el presente y visibiliza el maquillaje multicultural de la ciudad. Seguimos con The Electric Embrace, un estudio formal y estético filmado en película blanco y negro de alto contraste, sobre estructuras eléctricas e industriales particulares en las afueras de la ciudad. Continuamos con Everybody’s Nuts, un filme-ensayo sobre la presencia forzada de corporaciones agrícolas en la tierra de un trabajador mexicano, en un filme altamente personal. Regresamos a la urbe con mi película Piensa en mí, que incluí porque visibiliza a la gente que utiliza el transporte público mientras recorre la ciudad de Este a Oeste en una trayectoria visual. Finalmente, salimos a la frontera y nos encontramos en el muro que separa a Estados Unidos con México en Crossings, una obra altamente experimental del cineasta Robert Fenz.
Este es el recorrido. Por supuesto, es una pequeña muestra en un inmenso territorio. Siempre habrá más que mostrar y quedan infinitas miradas por incluir. Sin embargo espero que disfrutes de este fragmento y que te dé una idea de esta gran ciudad.
Con mucho cariño,
dir. Sean Hanley
16mm, 2 min., 2014
It is springtime along the coast of New York’s Long Island. Thousands of horseshoe crabs spawn on beaches under the glow of the full moon. This film offers a brief glimpse of a 450 million year old ritual. (SH)
Sean is an educator and filmmaker pursing experiments in the documentary genre. His work as a director and/or cinematographer has shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Images Festival, the Pacific Film Archive, the Vancouver International Film Festival, FLEXfest, and the Black Maria Film + Video Festival. He is the Assistant Director of Mono No Aware, an annual exhibition of expanded cinema and film-installation.
Fulton Fish Market
dir. Mark Street
35mm, sound, color, 12 min., 2003
Until 2005, New York City’s Fulton Fish Market exploded with movement, sound and color between the hours of midnight and 7 AM, Monday through Friday in lower Manhattan. Fishhooks flailed, crates were ripped open, and tens of thousands of fish were arrayed in ice as discerning retailers and restaurant owners made the rounds. This lyrical, visually vibrant documentary reveals a profoundly tactile material world tucked away in the shadow of the digital age. (MS)
Mark Street graduated from Bard College (B.A, 1986) and the San Francisco Art Institute (M.F.A., 1992). He has shown work in the New York Museum of Modern Art Cineprobe series (1991, 1994), at Anthology Film Archives (1993, 2006, 2009), Millennium (1990,1996), and the San Francisco Cinematheque (1986, 1992, 2009). His work has appeared at the Tribeca (5 times), Sundance, Rotterdam, New York, London, San Francisco, New York Underground, Sarajevo, Viennale, Ourense (Spain), Mill Valley, South by Southwest, and other film festivals.
Early 12 New York Song
dir. Amanda Katz and Anthony Svatek
Video, 3 min. 2012
Objects and sounds collected on an early morning walk through Brooklyn, New York billow against a sun-struck floor. The smallest parts of the city are up for grabs. (AK & AS)
Amanda Katz is a professional film editor who teaches 16mm filmmaking at the Mono No Aware workshops in Brooklyn, NY. She remains endlessly inspired by the urban environment, and this is reflected in her personal work. Georg Anthony Svatek is a documentary cinematographer and producer who seeks to inspire estrangement from the familiar and create a sense of awe within the viewer. Aside from working at BBC World as a shooter and researcher, Anthony is currently co-creating an experimental documentary tentatively titled The BQE Project.
Extinction Becomes Us
dir. Josh Lewis
Super-8mm, color, silent, 3 min., 2010
“Lewis, Josh” <email@example.com>
Shot at Christmas time in New York’s Central Park with Lewis’ last roll of Super 8mm Kodachrome, this film was born from a chance encounter with the post-irony holiday bacchanalia known as SantaCon. Sad to say, it is no longer possible to process this exquisite film stock, so the very look of the film is a relic from an age gone by. (LS & JL)
Working freely in abstraction, documentary, performance, and narrative filmmaking, Josh Lewis creates work that engages with the mechanics of human need, guilt, desire and transcendence. His film-based work revolves heavily around chemical experimentation and an unconventional, often derelict approach to darkroom procedures. He is a firm believer in manual knowledge and the transformative potential of an immediate bodily struggle with the elements of the natural world.
Capitalism: Child Labor
dir. Ken Jacobs
Video, color, sound, 14 min., 2006
“A stereograph celebrating factory production of thread. Many bobbins of thread coil in a great sky-lit factory space, the many machines manned by a handful of people. Manned? Some are children. I activate the double-photograph, composer Rick Reed suggests the machine din. Your heart bleeding for the kids? The children will surely be rescued and by their bosses! ‘Boys,’ they will say, ‘Have we got a war for you.” (KJ)
“For more than fifty years, Ken Jacobs’s work has inspired the sense of awe and mystery that nineteenth-century audiences must have felt when confronting motion pictures for the first time. Jacobs’s lifelong project has been the aesthetic, social, and physical critique of projected images.” (Museum of Modern Art) In 1967, with the involvement of his wife Florence and many others aspiring to a democratic -rather than demagogic- cinema, he created The Millennium Film Workshop in New York City. Honors include the Maya Deren Award of The American Film Institute, the Guggenheim Award and a special Rockefeller Foundation grant.
Dir. Miao Jiaxin
Performance Video, 6 min., 2012
In a performance, the artist Miao Jiaxin brings hanging ducks to Zuccotti Park (famous as the site of Occupy Wall Street) in downtown Manhattan, sprays them with color, hangs them back in Chinatown. (LS)
From his early practice, starting as a street photographer tracking Shanghai prostitutes to the development of a pseudo-transvestite web celebrity, Miao Jiaxin has evolved an edgy and protean practice. Beginning in Shanghai, Miao then immigrated to New York, expanding his view of urban streets towards a more conceptual public stage, where his works travel across different media.
Night Scene New York
dir. Jem Cohen
16mm, 10 min., 2009
A sleepwalker’s circumnavigation becomes a chance observation of New York’s Chinatown. (JC)
Jem Cohen is a filmmaker especially known for his observational portraits of urban landscapes, blending of media formats (16mm, Super 8, video) and collaborations with music artists. Cohen found the mainstream Hollywood film industry incompatible with his sociopolitical and artistic views. By applying the do-it-yourself ethos of Punk Rock to his filmmaking approach, he crafted a distinct style in his films.
dir. M.M. Serra
16mm & Super 8mm, 7 min. 201
This film is an experimental documentary profiling the life of Anne Hanavan, who experienced the underground scene in the East Village of the Eighties. It is a time capsule of addiction, the perils of street prostitution, and subsequent renewal through cathartic self-expression. (MS)
Filmmaker, writer, teacher, curator, director of the Film-Makers’ Co-op and all around dynamo, MM Serra has been central to the East Village experimental film scene for two decades. Her raven-black Betty Page hairdo, starlet sunglasses, sexpot leather pants and outrageous laughter make her one of downtown’s most unforgettable personalities.
Drift and Bough
dir. Lynne Sachs
Super 8mm, 6 min. 2014
“I spent a morning this winter in Central Park shooting film in the snow. The stark black lines of the trees against the whiteness creates the sensation of a painter’s chiaroscuro, or a monochromatic tableau-vivant. When I am holding my Super 8mm camera, I am able to see these graphic explosions of dark and light.” (LS)
Lynne Sachs makes films, videos, installations and web projects that explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together poetry, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design.
Los Angeles (and vicinities) Experimental program
My tears are dry
Laida Lertxundi, 4 minutes, sound, original format 16mm screened on blue ray, 2009
A film in the three parts of a dialectic. Hoagy Land’s song is played and interrupted as guitar makes
sound, two women, a bed an armchair, and the beautiful outside. After Bruce Baillie ́s All My Life.
The lyrics of the song reference the eternal sunshine of California and its promises. (LL)
Laura Kraning, 10 minutes, sound, original format 16mm screened on DV, 2009
VINELAND is a short experimental documentary filmed at the last drive-in movie theater in Los Angeles, located in a desolate area called the City of Industry. Floating within a backdrop of smokestacks, beacon towers, and passing trains, dislocated Hollywood images filled with apocalyptic angst are re-framed and reflected through car windows and mirrors as the displacement of the radio broadcast soundtrack collides with the projections upon and surrounding the multiple screens. In VINELAND, the nocturnal landscape is seen as a border zone aglow with dreamlike illusions revealing overlapping realities at the intersection of nostalgia and alienation. (LK)
Get Out of The Car
Thom Andersen, 35 minutes, sound, original format 16mm, screened on dvd, 2010
Get Out of the Car is a city symphony film in 16mm composed from advertising signs, building facades, fragments of music and conversation, and unmarked sites of vanished cultural landmarks (including El Monte Legion Stadium and the Barrelhouse in Watts).
The Electric Embrace
Norbert Shie, 2minutes, silent, original format 16mm screened on SD, 2010-2011
This silent hand-processed and optically printed film shifts like an electric current between positive and negative spaces to examine the electric pylons by the Los Angeles River.
Fabián Euresti, 15 minutes, sound, HD,
I started shooting images around the house. The more images I shot, the more I started thinking about the accompanying narrative. And this is how the film’s narration was born. The more I kept thinking about what to say, the more I kept thinking of images I still needed to shoot. The film is ultimately a product of time spent in the home and the surrounding environment. (FE)
Piensa En Mí
Alexandra Cuesta, 15 minutes, original format 16mm screened on dvd, 2009
Moving from east to west and back, the windows of a bus frame fleeting sections of urban landscape. Throughout the day, images of riders, textures of light and fragments of bodies in space come together to weave a portrait in motion; a contemplative meditation on public transport in the city of Los Angeles. Isolation, routine and everyday splendor, create the backdrop of this journey, while the intermittent sounds of cars construct the soundscape.
Robert Fenz, 10 minutes, sound, original format 16mm screened on DVD, 2006-2007
Crossings is an abstract portrait of the border wall. Both sides are confronted. The film is a short installment on a larger project that investigates insularity in both geographical and cultural terms. It is also my short reflection on From the Other Side, a film I worked on in 2002 by Chantal Ackerman (filmed at the United States- Mexico border). (RF)