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Tag Archives: The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima

SM ROXONMARFLOORENDMarshall Gaddis and Roxanne Rogers in SLOW MOVES

Following a very nice screening of Last Chants for a Slow Dance at Light Industry (155 Freeman, Greenpoint, Brooklyn), to a sold out house and very nice response, this weekend we follow up with screenings of four different films at Spectacle, 124 S. 3rd St., (near Bedford), Brooklyn, NY.  See this:

bd-baseballMarshall Gaddis in Bell Diamond

Films showing will be Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Parable, and The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima.   I’ll be there for all screenings (hope there’s a good wi-fi cafe and/or bar nearby!)

KATSU1_22smThe Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima

pic steverachshower3x


Yesterday I went to MoMA’s documentary series to see my friend Peter Snowdon’s film, The Uprising.  I’d seen it in a rough form 3 years ago, and at the time he was very discouraged and said he was ready to stop and give up on it.  I found what I saw very strong and encouraged him to carry on and figure it out and finish.  He says my little nudge helped, and after all this time he finished it.  The film is composed of YouTube and other internet uploads of materials shot by people in the ”Arab Spring,” often rough things shot with cell-phones, i-Pads, DSLRs or whatever people had that they could shoot with.  Peter amassed a huge amount of this, and after his editorial labors I think he’s come up with a really strong and amazingly good film – can I say a kind of “masterpiece”?


Eschewing voice-over and explanatory materials, the film dives directly into the visceral reality which shifted from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Yemen and Syria, as the populist demand for change, for an end to corruption and dictatorships, spread like wild-fire across the middle-east.  Seizing on this emotional roller-coaster, riding from the delirium of massive crowds to the grim deaths of unarmed civilians in the face of military power, The Uprising seems to me orchestrated as a symphony, using the shifting tonalities and qualities of the various images used – blurred, jagged shifts of light, sometimes shifting into solarized simplicity – and cuts them with an internal aesthetic which verges often towards abstraction, but without ever lapsing and losing the emotional intensity of the situation.  Indeed, I think it is just this abstract infrastructure which makes the film work so powerfully.  Equally, the sound is used in this abstract sense, building into musical crescendos, and then going silent, shifting in concert with the images to orchestrate exactly as do the abstract sounds of a symphony, coaxing, enticing, shifting one’s inner world through pure aesthetics, yet ones which touch deeply inside us.   I know it was a lot of work, but I am glad Peter stuck to it and found (one of) the films which was in his material.  Powerful stuff.

Here’s a listing of upcoming screenings:

February 20, 2014 – 6pm : Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (NY), USA
not a screening, but a talk + Q&A with Peter Snowdon and Bruno Tracq

February 23, 2014 – 5:30pm : Images Cinema, Williamstown (MA), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

February 26, 2014 – 7pm : Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, New Orleans (LA), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

March 3, 2014 – 5:30pm : University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (NC), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

March 7, 2014 – 7:30pm : The Center for Middle East Studies, New Brunswick (NJ), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

March 27, 2014 – 7:30pm : Université Populaire, Brussels
followed by a talk with Bruno Tracq

UP 104

UP 159


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.


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.


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.)


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.

DSC01201smHeroic USSR-style sculpture of cinema-workers on Jeonju “Cinema Street.”

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!


Korean Drunkard Mask

As the last few weeks in Korea come up, naturally things are a crush of things-to-do:  final editing on Japanese film, which found its title finally – The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima.   Running 74 minutes, very simple and direct.   The product of a quick 2 and a half day shoot, that couldn’t have been done without the help of Moe Tomoeda, a young Japanese woman who acted as my translator and help in simple but necessary ways.    It will screen in a kind of private showing in Tokyo on Saturday, March 3.  I hope it is finished by then but I suspect some little things will still need to be done.  I’m quite happy with it – after a fashion the first film done (aside from a 30 minute short) since I moved to Korea.  I’d begun to wonder if the creative batteries were shot, but I think this says “no.”


This film was really a pleasure to make, though I will have to see on this coming Saturday if I am way off the mark or managed to slip into something Japanese.  I’ll report back after the screening and let you know what I get as feedback.

[Tokyo Update, March 4th.]

Last night had the first screening (also for me) of The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima, to a 100% Japanese audience.  This was after the screening and talk for 90+ minutes of my workshop students’ pieces, done since December.  I was very pleased with what they did, really some very nice work.  Then my piece screened.  Aside from some marginal technical glitches, likely seen only by myself, and a few name titles with the wrong people, on that level it all went fine.  As I screened an unsubtitled version, so as not to have the distraction for an audience which didn’t need them, I couldn’t really see the film myself as while I knew more or less what was said, I couldn’t really follow the talking – of which there is a lot.  So I looked a bit at the audience members to see if I could glean anything there – bored?  falling asleep?  twitchy?   After the lights went up, I tried to extract as much information as I could – usually difficult with Asian audiences – and bluntly asked if it was boring, if my use of some Japanese poetry seemed pretentious, or other things I imagined might be problematic.  I didn’t get any confirmation of that.  What I was able to get was that they were over-saturated with things about the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and that in a way this film didn’t “fit in” to their expectations.  Instead of being rough and brutal and ugly, as apparently most the films made on the matter so far have been (exception is my friend Toshi Fujiwara’s No Man’s Zone, recently shown at the Berlinale Forum), this one is rather elegant.  I’d call it elegaic.  And this one let’s ordinary people speak on their own terms, at length.  My impression was that this almost confused the audience, and in a way they “liked” it inwardly but felt conflicted, as if they shouldn’t be liking something that didn’t slip into their preconceptions of what earthquake/tsunami films should be like.

After the public discussion, one older woman came up to tell me that she found the Japanese language of these people – a dialect for sure in their isolated situation – was very beautiful, and that the way and manner in which they spoke seemed honest and from the heart.   The latter I can agree with – they certainly facially and in their gestures convey a sincerity which is tangibly written on the screen in their personae.  If indeed the Japanese is also beautiful to listen to, then lucky me!    A few others, individually, said they very much liked and were moved by the film.  So I guess, taking everything into consideration, I can conclude that for a Japanese audience it works, and is appreciated.  Toshi liked it a lot, and some of my students, now familiar with some of my work, concluded that though it is “different” from my other films, it is, well, a Jost film.  A Japanese Jost film.

Bottom-line, I think not self-deluded, is that my personal view, if somewhat language deprived in perspective, that it works and works well, was confirmed with this screening.  For which I am very happy.   Among other things it likely will help in assuring that I return in 18 or so months to take up a modest job to oversee a Tokyo portrait, circa 2013-14.

Meantime here in Korea, I finished shooting the film on Ahn Eun me’s dance project, which was very interesting for me, if rather marred with a very “film world” experience, of which more in a a future post.  I amassed 40+ hours of material, and when the hell I will have time to look at it, much less edit it, in the coming two years, I do not know.  Likely I won’t have time to mess with it for a long time.     What I had imagined – foolishly – as a simple project that I could edit as I went along, turned out instead to be rather complex in creative terms.  And it was all my own error.  I had seen a handful of Eun me’s works, which are kitschy, flamboyant, highly theatrical – all rather the opposite of my tendencies.  But I liked them very much.  They are full of energy, sharp turns, and most of the time – if not always – she has a control over the rambunctious overload.   I thought shooting this in an austere manner would be a nice complement.  So in my mind, before hand, I mistakenly imagined her studio as a normal dance studio – spare, a mirrored wall, and little else.  Instead it was a space like her work, if more modest: rather busy with kitschy decor, anything but spare.  And in turn that altered my foolishly preconceived ideas.    Here’s some images of what I shot.


Ahn Eun me’s troupe is in Bahrain now, putting on several performances of her fabulous piece, Princess Bari – a real spectacle in every respect.  I’ve had the luck to see it 3 times now, and I suppose it is the work that drew me to asking to shoot her process.


Ahn Eun me

It was a pleasure and a privilege to watch her work with her wonderful dancers (who also are superb athletes and acrobats) and I hope sometime in the future I can sit down with the material shot and make a film of it – I think there’s something good hiding in there, but 40+ hours is a lot, and for the next 18 months (at least) I will have almost no time as other things will be on my front burner.

The shooting of this work entailed some extra crap of the “You’ll never work in the town again” kind, a rather absurd and silly story of how tinsel town warps people’s brains.  Because it is a nice cautionary film-world tale, I’ll tell it in a later posting, in all its comic detail.  Need I say it has to do with a wanna-be producer(ette).

Meantime for updates on the coming travel and screening schedule, see this.

And in passing, Eleanor Callahan, her husband Harry Callahan’s photographic muse, died this week at the age of 95.



Posted from Tokyo.