Yesterday I went with Marcella and comps to MoMA’s film series, Documentary Fortnight, invited by friend Peter Snowdon, to see a new short film of his, We Are Going To Record. This was a nice piece, shot by his collaborator, Juan Javier Rivera, in a small village in the Peruvian Andes, where a large copper company has its sights on local deposits. Thwarted by lack of adequate funding to make the film they intended, Peter culled many hours of footage to make this droll commentary, which it is suggested is a metaphor for the indigenous people’s struggles with the copper company. I read it rather otherwise. The shots, in a small improvised studio are all static, of a handful of people brought in to record their memories, some music, some poems. What we see is the process of professional sound recordists from Lima setting up. We never hear a note played, the intended words said. Rather we get the complete failure of those doing the recording to be conscious of themselves and what they are putting these people through. As the film, 11 minutes long, plays out, it becomes a rather comic collision of cultural and social mores. Discreet, funny, sad, it has a hint of Pedro Costa in the simplicity with which it is done, though while the film itself is respectful of those who were to be recorded, it shows the curious failure of the pro’s to respect the natives. Very nice film.
The rest of the program was for me a surprising melange of near amateur “experimentalism” of a quality that I was surprised was being shown in the hallowed space of MoMA, and struck me as the kind of things I get from students, and a ghastly slickness in a 3D portrait of a prison in Norway, part of a Wim Wenders conceived package of films about “the souls of buildings.” This one was slick, the 3D meaningless and irritating, the voice-over grating, and the over-all thrust utterly wrong-headed. The audience responded with tepid applause.
There was though one film which was quite good, Controversies, by Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan McKenna. Using archival tapes from a famed radio show, McKenna drolly shoots, in gorgeously done extreme wide-screen b&w, portraits of people in their homes, and some out of doors, tossing in a few actors (naked), and cityscapes, as we listen to comments phoned in for the show.
Owing a touch to Diane Arbus, and to Guy Maddin, McKenna makes a somewhat surreal and down-beat portrait of his home town. A bit on internet research suggests there is a whole school of Winnipeg filmmakers working in a vaguely similar tone.
In both cases, if chance let’s you have a look at these, I suggest you grab it.
On another level, in the NY Times read a puff piece on a Sundance favorite, so they said, English filmmaker Yann Demange. In it he is quoted this way:
“I saw images of the streets, and it was something like Cormac McCarthy’s descriptions in the book ‘The Road,’ ” he said. Sidewalks were torn up; burning cars filled the air with black smoke. “It looked like the apocalypse.” His film, he resolved in salty terms, would treat the scene as a moody thriller. “Every frame,” he said, “should have an element of mystery to it.”
The production still posted with the article, from his film about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, looked like this:
Boy, look at that grit, the uniform just out of the costume department, not worn 3 hours. And the spic and span kid. Yep, movie folks really know what real is. Like the glossied up botox brigade on last night’s spectacle in Hollywood.