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Tag Archives: Jeonju Film Festival

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After a very early morning bus ride from Jeonju to Gimpo airport in Seoul it was on to Tokyo, so that Marcella might have a little taste of Japan, and to do a workshop, again, at the Tokyo Film School.  While here seeing a lot,  including friends, and in a few days we’ll have a meeting with Matsumoto-san, who for some years now has been dangling the prospect of coming to here to teach a class which would result in a portrait of this massive and vastly interesting city.  Find out more then.

Meantime a bit of echo from Jeonju – this review posted on-line a few days ago.  Makes me wonder which projection they saw, the mangled first one, or the second using H264 file. Or perhaps at the DVD library. Anyway glad it got some nice ink.

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But then having sent a note to Pedro Costa to say how much I liked his film Horse Money, he replied saying his French and German supporters were no more, and it was back to the real cheap film process for the next one.  Doesn’t matter how good you are, if it isn’t calculatedly “commercial,” in the present world it is deemed worthless.  What an ugly world.

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But it is our world.  Brutal – especially if you are black-skinned in America, or poor anywhere – and dishonest, as with Obama approving arctic drilling and trying to slip the TPP “trade deal” over at midnight, or other such things.  For the moment the neo-liberal-con ideology has appeared to triumph, and the world is suffocating under its grasp.  Though as with all such things, seeming “victory” tends towards over-reach, and there’ll soon be a comeuppance.  The current US weather gives a hint of this future….

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And then yesterday, in a BIC Camera store here, I saw the new Sony 4K Handicams, the larger one costing now about $4K.  Half the price of my XDcam a handful of years ago.   To add to the avalanche of unneeded imagery drowning the world.

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Yesterday, at the Jeonju festival, finally had a chance to see Pedro Costa’s latest film, Horse Money. It follows on the heels (slow) of his Fontainhas trilogy, adding an extension, both in terms of characters, content, and cinematic aesthetics, to those three films. For me the most striking aspect of these works – Ossos (1997, shot in 35mm film); In Vanda’s Room (2000, dv), Colossal Youth (2006, HD) – is the progression in the cinematic means, in which Costa steadily strips down to the utter essentials for his purposes. He arrives at an elusive, poetic state in which the most common of conversation – shown in anything but “common” settings and utterance – take on a solemn gravity, such that the recitation of the data of a birth certificate, or the most commonplace of thoughts, become freighted with tragedy.

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He accomplishes this with a mix of imagery that echoes Zurbarán, Ribera and other Spanish painters under the sway of Caravaggio, as well as of Goya in his darker passages.

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Posed in darkened settings, shot in angles which isolate figures and monumentalize them, the light falls carefully upon them, seemingly “natural” light, but in this film clearly highly controlled and composed. Coupled with his character’s readings of the words – Bressonian in their minimalist recitation – Costa extracts from the most humble of people a stunning and deep chord of humanity, in all its mundane misery and tragedy. Horse Money, like any serious art, places a heavy demand on those who would get from it what lies in its depths. A great work by a great artist.

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For further reviews and thoughts on this film, see these:

http://www.indiewire.com/article/locarno-review-pedro-costas-existential-ghost-story-horse-money-will-get-under-your-skin-20140813
 
http://cinema-scope.com/cinema-scope-magazine/tiff-2014-horse-money-pedro-costa-portugal-wavelengths/
 
http://www.indiewire.com/article/locarno-review-pedro-costas-existential-ghost-story-horse-money-will-get-under-your-skin-20140813
http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/horse-money

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While here I’ve walked out of a few of the films I’ve gone to see (not many), and did manage to see, after a long wait, Wang Bin’s Man With No Name, which left me pondering a few matters, from how did he manage to get an OK from his subject, to was it a matter of the man appears a bit mentally short and perhaps did not quite understand what he was agreeing with?  Ethical matters.  While I liked the film I felt it missed out just a little, in part from aesthetic matters, like perhaps it would have been a bit more powerful if the contrast had been upped, and such technical/aesthetic matters as that.  I do think any Hollywood filmmaker intending to make a film about poor people might take a look to get an idea what real dirt looks like.

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Back in Jeonju for the festival, lost count how many times now.  The place burst from a small provincial college town I first saw in 1999, to a bustling busy city.  Likewise the festival grew, not long ago underwent a palace revolution in which the original director and programming teams all got shoved out the door or left of their own accord.  Two years ago one still felt the wobble, and personally, I felt the sudden rigid insistence of a DCP to show Coming to Terms.  I asked that they not do this, but they held firm and I shelled out $700 to get one made, at their insistence shifting 29 fps to 24 fps, inducing the totally predictable motion crap changing frame rates will cause.  This year they stuck with their DCP insistence and I went on-line and did it myself, with no means to check it out.  Sent it off a bit doubtful, hastily at their insistence.  They then didn’t look at it, and then having sat on it 2+ weeks, informed me there was a problem, though wasn’t too clear just what it might be.  It did include that there was text in the middle of film, which, as it happens there is.

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I offered to try again, though cautioning that as I have no means to check the package, I had no real reason to believe another go round would result in a proper one.  I did in fact render all the big files needed to do so but just a few days before leaving got word all was OK, and don’t bother making a new one.  So I stopped.  And then, on day of departure got an urgent request to bring new DCP!  Which I couldn’t.

Yesterday they screened the film, to a decently sized audience.  I did not stay to watch as somehow I knew carnage was in the works, and indeed, arriving for the post-screening Q&A, a friend of mine was exiting and told me the projection was a total unwatchable mess.

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Requested a few opening words, I explained the whole deal, and informed the audience they had not seen my film, but rather the result of a totally unnecessary and wrong-headed policy.  Strangely though many had clearly liked the film, despite the butchered version on offer and we had a long discussion.  I gave the URL and password to the audience so they could go on line and see what I’d actually made.

To compensate for this unhappy bit I went to see a former student of mine at Yonsei University, LEE Sangwoo, who had a film on that surely cost many multiples of my most costly.  It was, like him, a weird, vulgar, aggressive and really well made film titled SPEED.

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Today, after a not so wonderful exchange with the projection people, they let me know they would do tomorrow’s screening with the H264 file I’d included with the DCP, just in case….

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Unless there’s a real juicy enticement to bring me back, I think this is last time around for me to Jeonju.  And maybe the last time around making these kinds of films.  I kinda feel like the character up top after 52 years of this….

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Roxanne Rogers and Blake Eckard

For what seems like for the umpteenth time, headed to the Jeonju Film Festival in South Korea, this time invited to screen They Had It Coming.   This will give us a chance to see some friends, former students, have another taste of delicious Korean cuisine, and see how much things changed in two years.  Don’t yet know the screening dates, but was looking like May 3 and 5.  It’ll be the first public screening, though given that it is heavily talky and quite “American” I wonder what the largely Korean audience will make of it – a real subtitle marathon?   Not going to exactly provide a good reading of how the film works on viewers.

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Set in Blake Eckard’s home town of Stanberry MO (pop. 1185), we shot in two phases, which, if it were up to my brain to sort it out, I couldn’t say just when.  I think spring and then autumn, 2014 or was it 2013?  Dang if I remember.   While in Stanberry shooting and acting in Blake’s film Ghosts of Empire Prairie, he told us a handful of local stories, embellished in his story-teller manner, and finding these just too juicy to pass up, I asked if maybe we could spin a film around them and him.  Such was the genesis of They Had It Coming.  I tossed in a few things that had been lingering in my files for 20 or 30 years, we each wrote a bit more, and bang, we had a film.  Frank Mosley, Arianne Martin, Roxanne Rogers and Tyler Messner came in, and in pretty quick order (less than a week?)  it was mostly shot, in Blake’s mother, Susan’s, kitchen! Yep, that was the studio space where nearly 2/3rds of it was shot with window light and a black cloth.  While I was off on a trip to Europe Blake used my camera to snare shots (above) of locals when they came into Eckard’s Hardware to shop. Roxanne’s sister Sandy let me use one of her songs, I tossed in a few of my own, Stephen Taylor’s dad, Larry, lent his voice for a smooth TV announcer (he used to be anchor in Boise Idaho news program), and after a short bit of editing on CS6, out popped the film.  My thanks to everyone who helped.

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I sent an early cut out last summer, accruing a list of festival “no’s,” and getting the suggestion from Mark Rappaport, that I should change my title, which had been “True Gentry County Stories” to one of the lines in the film.  I took his advice. They Had It Coming, while itself being a fiction, is simultaneously a kind of tone-poem/essay on the process of “story-telling.”  In my view a rather strange little beast it is, that for some reason gathers towards the end to provide a visceral punch of a conclusion.  I don’t really understand quite how it manages to do so – adamantly skirting all the usual mechanisms used – but it does.

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Blake and Tyler Messner

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Arianne Martin and Blake

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Upcoming screenings include Coming to Terms in Houston TX, April 23, at the Blaffer Art Museum, and then on May 11 in Austin at the Austin Film Society; Last Chants for a Slow Dance will screen May 10 at AFS.  And something is cooking for Phoenix AZ, just when up in the air.  As is life….

 

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Down by train from NYC, arrived to a frozen Philadelphia, a state joined by many others, dipping deep down into South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and other places where a drop to freezing was a rarity, but now our wobbly New World Weather has let things plunge to zero F.   Brittle cold, enough to force one indoors – so no visits to historical patriotic sites here in The City of Brotherly Love, which for shooting would have been nice.  However a stroll to downtown was enough to put the kabosh on further such things.  Marcella’s Southern Italian mien turns mean as her toes turn to ice.

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Was here for a screening of Muri Romani, tucked into a series of films shown at the International House Philadelphia, the de facto cinematec here, and which I’ve visited a number of times before, going back to Linda Blackaby’s time. For some time now it’s been programmed by Robert Cargni-Mitchell, who greeted us and spilled out a long and fascinating personal history, perhaps prompted by the Italian blood running in Marcella’s veins.

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After a long little talk with a “fan” (had seen Last Chants for a Slow Dance, which had me wondering if such a drastic shift as the film he was about to see would change things), was introduced and cautioned the audience of 30 or so – a number which given the weather and my sense of a much diminished existence, seemed large – about the nature of the coming film.  I had anticipated 5 or 10.    I checked the first few minutes and went to do internet stuff while it screened.  Having given the viewers a spiel that when I had finished making this film I concluded I’d finally made a work that would clean out any cinema, and was in its first public screening at the Jeonju festival much surprised to find that it didn’t work that way, I was maybe not quite so surprised to find virtually all the viewers were still there when I came back at the end.  I was told a couple left.  Ensued a long and interesting discussion, at the end of which a handful of people who’d seen clearly a number of my films, who said they loved this one, came up to talk more and bought some DVDs of other films.   The kind of thing which tempts one to slog on.

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Over a lunch the next day had a nice long talk with Peter Rose, commiserating over a compendium of seeming geezer complaints – about the dumbed-down state of students today (not their fault, but the fault of a purposeful mal-education imposed by our Market Economy system), and the fractured curiousity that seems to be prevalent among them; 3D (which he is working in these days); the demise of “the circuit” – that tiny little space where one’s work could be shown, and, if not a living, at least something could be “earned” for that work.  The places shrink, as has the modest pay, along with the audiences.  The grave beacons, so it seems.  Along with these parochial matters, we slipped in broader interests dancing around the state of the nation and the world.  The vista, matching the brittle weather outside, was grim.

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A few very modest matters came along to underline the precariousness of my existence.  Like going out to a recommended place to have some cold-weather soup, so following Robert’s suggestion we went down the arctic street to The White Dog, which on entering clearly smacked of fancy, and ordered ourselves two soups.  Marcella also had a plate of 5 oysters, nada to drink except nature’s nice water.  Leaving = minus $40, which I can indulge in once in a long while, but….   Ditto the “let’s have a coffee” at which the tab ends at $10 for two.  Marcella immediately noted that in Italy better coffee and cornetto would have come to 3 Euro.  As we hit the road in the coming month, we’ll have to tighten our belts.

In a few more hours, back to NYC for another week and then, weather permitting, on the road.   Hope to come back to shoot some when things are more amenable.  And Robert has invited us back for a screening or two, likely in autumn.  And may show a few other films in the interim.

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Here’s a note, just in, from Bill Ackerman, the fellow I talked with before the screening and about whom I wondered how he’d take the shift from Last Chants to Muri Romani.  Posted here with his OK.

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Hello Jon, You asked me to email you with my thoughts on MURI ROMANI. Well, I have to say, it took a while for my mind to stop racing, to settle into the trance that’s intended. And that lead me to reflect on how one’s mind can do that. I also noticed how often I thought I *almost* saw specific images and shapes in the patterns, and thought how that must be how many of us are wired. At some point, music drifted into the soundtrack, maybe from a passing car, and it occurred to me how different, how much more conventional, the film might be if it featured a musical score. I listen to a lot of different types of music, and ambient/experimental music is one I return to at different points in my life. MURI ROMANI reminded me of ambient music moreso than, say, LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE. Your comments about the sound being too loud and the dissolves coming a little too quickly make sense to me. I loved TANTI AUGURI too! I’m trying to imagine how it might have played without your explanation of how it was created, and I’m not sure how it would work at a much greater length, but it served as a nice opening act to the main feature. Best, Bill

And, purely by coincidence of the nicest kind, is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci, that I bumped into quickly scanning FB posts yesterday.

“Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colors. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles and figures in action, strange faces and costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose clanging you can find every name and word that you can imagine. Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of wars, the battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks (Trattato della Pittura, Codex Urbinas)
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DSC00257smThe Jeonju Hanok Village outside the hotel window

Jet-lagged from the journey from Portland to Seoul, I arrived in Jeonju for what is maybe my 5th or 6th visit – I forget and don’t want to look it up.  I was here in 2000, with their first issue, a spanking new eager young festival out to put this small provincial Korean city on the map.  I recall that one, charmed by what seemed a modest provincial university town, suffering an inferiority complex which found them constantly inquiring of me if all was going OK, were they good enough.  They were. (I had experienced the same thing in my first visit to the Yamagata Documentary festival in Japan, in 1989).  Now it is 14 years later, and Jeonju has exploded, along with most Korean cities, with the standard issue concrete residential highrises (Lotte, Samsung, Hyundai, or another cheobol name signifying the brand painted on the side, along with a number – capitalist workers housing akin to the old Soviet ones of the USSR and eastern Europe, though built a bit better), stretching out from view, snaking up the nearby valleys, a version of soulless Seoul stuck in the midst of rice paddies, industrialized agriculture, and rural factories.   The modest charms of 2000 have pretty much vanished.  Similarly the festival ballooned, now a much bigger affair which takes over the downtown area,  has its own building, and after some kind of palace coup a year or two ago, is run by other people, and seems a little less organized than before, though the ticketing policies seem draconian now.

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Follies:  in a little error of idiot festival politics, I let Jeonju program both my new films, a failure on my part to think ahead and realize I was squandering one of my glorious “world premiers” by letting them show both.  So 120 or so people, off in little Jeonju, will see my films, and a large number of festivals will hence decline to show either of them because it isn’t a fkn premiere, a matter that no one except film festival directors/organizers could give a shit about.  So they trade a good film for a virgin of  dubious qualities.  Real smart…   While I know the ropes of the festival game I guess I find it all pathetic and indicative of some kind of warped cultural BS that those running these things should give another think.  There are a handful of larger festivals that show films that have shown elsewhere, but not many.  Those that insist on world premiers and such are merely slitting their own wrists, assuring that they fulfill my cynical view that festivals are by and large an institutionalized system for screening of a lot of mostly rather bad films under the least ideal circumstances for seeing good ones.

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So on Tuesday I showed The Narcissus Flowers of  Katsura-shima to an audience of 50-60, and got a look at the DCP of it and confirmed that the process only inflicts some damage on it (conversion from 29.97 fps to 24 fps). It was marginal damage, but visible and stupid, done only at the behest of Hollywood and its desire for a single uniform system for projection.  I am 100% sure the equipment here and any place that can show off computers could have as easily shown my original h.264 file and spared the motion quirks, color shifts and other crap the DCP conversion brought into play.  And spared me a $300 expense.  Put it this way: assuming the next audience is the same size, I had to pay about $2 per viewer to make their experience worse.  Ain’t that grand!

Even so, not having seen it for some time, and never having seen it on a good big screen projection, with good sound, I must say it is an impressive work – minimalist, beautiful, of measured (slow) pace, and intelligent – qualities which assure it will hardly be seen at all, and naturally I will never see a dime from it.  Which, after 50 years of doing this, draws from me some doubts – about the world I live in, about my sanity or at least my intelligence, about at this late date in my life persisting in this.  I recall a few years back seeing Raul Ruiz wandering the lounge space of the Rotterdam Film Festival looking inwardly lost, as if he were wondering the same thing I am: what’s the point? (Though Raul managed to make a decent living from what he did.)

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On May 1st I was present at the second screening of Coming to Terms here (hadn’t arrived for  first screening).  Packed house of 150 or so, which was a nice surprise, though as the film came up it was painful for me to see the damage inflicted in the DCP conversion: slow fades turned into digital waves of light jumps, all lateral movement (cars going by) now juddered in little jumps, even relatively slow human movements became jerky.  As I watched felt as if I’d been raped – another $300 to severely damage my film because the festival bought the Hollywood DCP con.  They will be getting a pretty harsh letter from me (and perhaps a request to pay for the stupid conversion they required though I told them before hand what it would do.)   Setting all that aside, and  some remaining sound tech matters, I was very happy with the film – certainly as good as anything I have ever done.   So coming full circle to Jeonju, where at a screening in 2006 my Yonsei teaching  job offer began and subsequently found me wondering if, after nearly 4 “dry years” of not making any new films when teaching  (I did edit previously shot ones) , I’d lost the creative moxie.   The two films here, made immediately after I quit in August 2011, seem to suggest the well is not yet dry.  Though I should hasten to state that it would be perfectly OK if it were dry – creative work is like that, and when the source runs out, it is fine.   I intensely dislike the critical view that  there is something wrong when an artist hangs it all up, or when, pursuing their work, it falters.  We get old.  We deplete our energies.  We curl up and die.  And that is as it is and as it ought to  be.

However, though I am happy to feel that this work can go on, I must say I am rather fed up with the other end of it: festivals, getting things shown.  And I think I will likely write an open letter to the festival and exhibition world, letting them know that while I continue to make films most likely, I won’t be sending in entry forms and jumping through all the hoops and idiocies required, and if they want to see my work, they can contact me.  Or perhaps I will post it on a private Vimeo channel and they can request to see it that way.  Meantime, given the nature of the cinema business these days,  in a few months – once I have the time to do so – I will be placing all my work on a Vimeo channel, to view for pay per the new Vimeo set-up.  However miniscule in the “real world” I do know there’s an audience for my work, and this will make it available for those who do wish to see it.

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In another week and some I’ll head back to the USA, greeted more or less by a blank slate:  having called off the American essay film, and having screwed up the festival politics of a ticket to Europe, it appears wandering the west, or perhaps hunkering down to catch up a a large backlog of footage, fotos, and other things is in order until (and if) some screenings in the east draw me there, or an invitation for Narcissus Flowers, flies me to Japan (to stay a month).  Wait and see.  Though now that I think of it I did set in motion the wheels to shoot a feature in Port Angeles in September….  silly me!

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Yesterday I had the deep pleasure of visiting Nathaniel Dorsky, at his place, to have a nice talk – he’d just recovered his legs from jet lag after a wonderful two week journey in Spain where he had 6 or so in-person screenings, set up by some young people there despite the ‘austerity’ program cutting into everything.  He had a great time, he says, and for that I’m really happy.  And then I got to see two of his newer films, made since I went to his retrospective screenings in Rotterdam 3 years ago.  Sadly didn’t have time to see the other two he did since.  Of the two I saw, they both are wonderful, and while being Nathaniel’s, and so sharing deep commonalities, both quite different from one another.   One, August and after, is a dark work, nodding to the deaths of some friends of Nathaniel’s, seen early in the film, among them George Kuchar, seen withered and gaunt.  The imagery is dense and lush but tuned to the range of a Fuji stock, and clearly to the tonalities in his mind’s eye.  His perceptions and use of camera/stock/eye/movement are honed to perfection, with images so rich and mysterious, layer on layer compacted in a single image – with no EFX, just that of an extremely acute vision – and edited with a near-mystical sense of cadence and rhythm.  I was overwhelmed, and talking a bit afterwards with him about it afterwards, it was with wet eyes – the kind which only the deepest art can evoke.    The other film, April, is equally astute in all aspects, though it is more, in the literal sense, “mundane” – to say, “of this world,” and in turn has a softer psychological impact.  He described it as a kind of recovery, re-joining the world following a dark passage of sadness which he took with his friends.

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I’ll try to write more on these films later, and hopefully return to see the others I have missed, and if the fates allow, see, once again, all his films to take a stab at a bit of serious writing about them.  Meantime thank you so much, Nathaniel – work of this kind, at this level, capable of slipping so deeply inside, is genuinely rare.

Nathaniel has some screenings coming up shortly and I will post here when I have the dates.  See below for listing of screenings in Cambridge Mass. and Seattle.

Meantime, in quite another world see this.

And while I am at it, before I skip out the door to head south to LA, a notice for some screenings of my own:

March 14, USC, 7 PM,   900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007 Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, located in the lobby of the George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, screening Over Here, LA premiere

In period March 15-20th, I’ll be in Ann Arbor at University of Michigan doing classroom things, and a public screening of Over Here.

March 24, Film Forum, Sunday, March 24, 2013, 7:30 pm,  Parable, Los Angeles premiere.

RYAN GRAIN FACE AwideRyan Harper Gray in Over Here

And lastly, the Jeonju Film Festival has invited The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima and I will be attending the festival April 29 – May 3.

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  • Six in-person film shows this spring including two premieres of Nathaniel Dorsky’s new film, Song

    Nathaniel Dorsky will have two film shows on Easter weekend at the Harvard Film Archive, the second of which will be part of a keynote address at a conference titled Imaging the Ineffable: Representations and Reality in Religion and Film.

    On Friday evening, March 29th at 7pm at the Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center for the Arts, Harvard University, Nathaniel will present three of his films: The Return, August and After, and April.

    On Saturday afternoon at 4:30pm, as part of the graduate student conference, Imaging the Ineffable: Representations and Reality in Religion and Film, Nathaniel will present three of his films, Threnody, Alaya,  and Compline.  He will be co-presenting and in conversation with Dr. Charles Hallisey Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures at Harvard Divinity School. This event is open to the public, admission is free, but pre-registration is required to attend this single event within the weekend conference.

    Link for more information and registration: http://mahindrahumanities.fas.harvard.edu/content/imaging-ineffable

    The Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, Washington will present two film shows hosted by Nathaniel Dorsky on Wednesday, April 10th and on Thursday, April 11th, both starting at 8pm.

    On Wednesday, Nathaniel will show his quartet of films: Sarabande, Compline, Aubade, and Winter.

    On Thursday, Nathaniel will show three more recent films: The Return, August and After, and April.

    Link for more information:

    http://www.nwfilmforum.org/live/page/series/2606