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Filmmaker Portrait: Arthur Dong

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arthur Dong interviewed seven men. He sat with them, talked […]

Arthur Dong

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arthur Dong interviewed seven men. He sat with them, talked with them, looked them in their eyes. He gave them his full attention and complete respect. Not one for twisting stories, he filmed them in a way that told their truth. These men were also Dong’s worst fear.

In his 1997 documentary Licensed to Kill, Arthur Dong begins by telling viewers about his own narrow escape from a homophobic attack which left him fearful and wary when walking alone. Dong confronted his fear through his film. He wanted to understand the people making these attacks, so he went into prisons to interview seven men, each one convicted of a homophobic murder.  While this itself is remarkable—to sit across from someone who decided to murder someone just for being who they are—what is even more extraordinary is how he approached each story. Dong tries to understand each man and his background. He doesn’t demonize them; he helps us to see them as human. Each convicted murderer has their own troubled past, their own story to tell. Licensed to Kill allows both Dong and the viewer to understand the full story on why these men committed the crimes.

Not many visiting filmmakers at the Walker created as much political and community impact as Arthur Dong’s artist residency in April 1998. His visit was centered on the Twin Cities premiere of Licensed to Kill, but also involved screenings of his other documentaries and community events to support the Twin Cities LGBTQ community. As Licensed to Kill focuses in part on a crime that took place in Minneapolis, his visit ultimately became a way for the public to discuss their fears and hopes about transforming this area into a safer, more accepting community.

The Twin Cities case featured in Licensed to Kill involved a young man named Jay Johnson who shot two men on separate evenings in areas of the city notorious for gay cruising. During Dong’s residency he was able to go back to the prison in St Cloud and tape an interview with Johnson after he viewed the film. Johnson discussed his thoughts on the film and the other murderers featured alongside his story. As he spoke with the director, he seemed to be considering the gravity of his actions for the first time. His conversation with Dong was the first interview Johnson allowed to be conducted. Johnson explained that he’d witnessed too many of his fellow inmates become traumatized after allowing interviews with local news programs who sensationalize their stories. Johnson trusted Dong because he researched Dong’s career.

Dong aims to make unbiased documentaries. “As a filmmaker, part of what I struggle with and try to do in the editing room is to allow the space for the viewer to participate in the interpretation of what I’m doing,” Dong told the Gay and Lesbian Review in 2005. “Certainly I have a point of view, but you in the audience can also delve into your own personal experiences and your own interpretation of what is being transmitted on that two-dimensional, flat screen.” This generosity—allowing viewers their own opinion—is what makes his work so remarkable.

Dong’s weeklong Walker residency ran from April 14 to 18, but was jam-packed with community events and discussions: a workshop at MCAD, a screening of Licensed to Kill with a discussion at South High School, multiple screenings of his films at the Walker, panel discussions with Minneapolis residents and members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), along with a follow-up interview with one of the convicted killers featured in the documentary Licensed to Kill.

Panels held by PFLAG  allowed community members to discuss lingering feelings about Jay Johnson’s crime along with how to make the Twin Cities a safer place. The panel members were open to discussing their own experiences—from having LGBTQ children, the impact of religion, and the influence that the community plays in this kind of violence. One panel member emphasized the importance of listening to and understanding the perpetrators in order to stop hate crimes. Dong ended the discussion with a motto, which is crucial to many community issues: “Think globally, act locally.”

Arthur Dong’s visit emphasized the importance of discussing local events and crimes with other community members. Licensed to Kill resonates with current issues facing Minnesota such as anti-bullying policies and the safety of the Minneapolis LGBTQ community. The Walker recently hosted Joshua Oppenheimer, a visiting filmmaker whose film dealt with similar topics. His documentary The Act of Killing, focuses on interviewing Indonesian men who killed thousands of people in an anti-communist purge and their reasoning behind these killings.

Arthur Dong’s visit 16 years ago created a discourse between the arts community and the Twin Cities at large that remains relevant today. His residency not only featured screenings of award-winning documentaries, but also inspired community and political action around the Twin Cities.

Filmmaker Portrait: Michael Powell

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. Imagine that it’s the late 1940s and you’re about to go to the cinema. The majority of […]

Michael Powell

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

Imagine that it’s the late 1940s and you’re about to go to the cinema. The majority of films coming out at that time are in black and white. You walk into Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and you are ushered into a new world. A ballerina spinning out of control, fantastical plotlines, and color, lots of color. So much of the film is focused on the color red, and you start to understand the danger that comes with this ferocious shade. You find yourself mesmerized. Never before have you come across such a captivating film. The audience claps and your feet are still stuck to the floor next to nibbles of popcorn. Thank you, Mr. Powell and Mr. Pressburger.

Fast forward to the ’80s: the Walker Art Center is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their new building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in the summer of 1981. There is also a visit by one of Britain’s most innovative directors. Michael Powell was brought to the Walker during a retrospective of his films organized by the Film/Video department. He visited the museum for two days to introduce two of his most celebrated films, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, both films written, produced, and directed with his filmmaking partner Pressburger. He was joined during his visit by William K. Everson, British film historian, who taught at NYU at the time. As the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Michael Powell showed up at Walker Art Center last week looking like an advertisement for one of his films, films whose use of color brightened the cinematic landscape in the 1940s and ’50s…red socks of a color so loud they almost shouted from under the cuffs of his blue wool suit. His shirt and tie were more modest, but not much. One was lavender, the other a reddish orange.”

His visit initiated a splash of headlines on newspapers across the Twin Cities. The previous year, he had a retrospective at MOMA and this rippled into a resurgence of excitement for his films. While Powell was perhaps not a very familiar name, his connections with Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola certainly brought him well deserved attention.  Fourteen of his films were shown at the Walker throughout June and early July of 1980. They included: The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, I Know Where I’m Going, The Spy in Black, The Thief of Baghdad, and Peeping Tom.

Peeping Tom was the only film that brought bad press and this was because of its disturbing subject matter. Because of the film’s blatantly violent scenarios, the Women Against Violence Against Women group chose to picket the screening. The film temporarily banished Powell from the British film world. Peeping Tom tells the story of a man who murders women in front of a camera in order to capture their last looks before death. When the film opened in theaters in 1960, audience members and critics alike were horrified by the storyline. Despite the initial reaction, Martin Scorsese rereleased the film 20 years later and it is now hailed as a British masterpiece. According to Twin Cities Reader, around 20 people showed up outside of The Walker to protest the screening.

Powell’s visit to the Twin Cities was short but jam-packed. He conducted numerous interviews and attended many dinners, one being at an old Minneapolis favorite: New French Café. The Walker’s Film/Video curator at the time, Richard Peterson, was eager to bring Powell to theater performances at The Guthrie. Powell especially wanted to see The Tempest (directed by Liviu Ciulei); a play that he had always intended to translate to the screen but never gained enough funding. Powell had lunch with Ciulei the next day to discuss the piece.

Powell was able to introduce two films at the walker, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, which were both filmed in Technicolor and involve dramatic plotlines centered on escapism. The harmony of color and music energize scenes and make it almost impossible for viewers to look away. When the films were made, World War II had recently ended and Powell and Pressburger were sick of making war films. As Powell explained to the Minneapolis Star, they decided to “explode in color in a big way.”  These films generated excitement across audiences worldwide.

Michael Powell’s visit was a milestone for the Walker and represents the incredibly diverse range of artists the Walker has been lucky enough to host. Powell’s work not only celebrates the excitement and joy films can bring but also the ability that a film has to transport one into a new (and colorful!) world.

Filmmaker Portrait: Julie Dash

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. Distributors regarded Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) as a foreign film. During her Regis Dialogue […]

Julie Dash

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

Distributors regarded Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) as a foreign film. During her Regis Dialogue at the Walker, she said that many distribution agencies found it to be a compelling film, but they insisted no audiences would be interested in watching it. Despite recognition at the Sundance Film Festival (Arthur Jafa won the Cinematography award for his work), every major and minor distribution company turned it down. Finally Kino International decided to distribute it because the agency thought of it as an international film. Julie Dash liked that idea: “It was a foreign film. It’s so different from mainstream America.” Daughters of the Dust was the first full-length film by an African American woman distributed theatrically.

Daughters of the Dust was first screened at the Walker in March of 1992 during a “New Women’s Cinema” festival organized by the Film/Video department. The festival was meant to celebrate the huge achievements that female directors had recently made with feature productions. It screened the day before the film was to open theatrically at the University Film Society. Daughters of the Dust takes place at the beginning of the 20th century and focuses on people of the Gullah Culture on the Sea Islands. It has two narrators, an unborn baby and a great grandmother, and is about the changing times on an island which was once specifically for slaves. The film exemplifies the diversity of the African American community, voicing the contrasting beliefs of various generations. The stunning visuals allow the audience to experience the beautiful landscape and guide viewers along a story that doesn’t necessarily need words to tell.

When Dash first started the project, she wanted it to be a silent film but knew that audiences would be less than enthusiastic. She decided to have the cast speak in the Gullah dialect to focus on the beautifully composed shots rather than the dialogue. She mentioned later on in her Regis Dialogue that she grew up learning how to translate different dialects like Irish or Italian and she wanted a new dialect to be featured and accepted in film. When she finished the film, she was told to redub the entire film into English, or at least into a southern accent so that audiences could understand it better. She refused. Dash knew she was breaking the rules with this film and that was a conscious decision.

Dash’s first visit to the Walker was in 1993 for a Regis Dialogue titled “American Playhouse.” Dash was an American Playhouse director, a PBS series which brought classic and original drama and fiction to TV audiences. At the Walker, Dash discussed the changing film environment brought on by a growth of African American directors with producer Lyndsay Law. This dialogue was part of the Juneteenth Film Festival: a celebration to honor African American filmmakers. There were multiple events around the Twin Cities that weekend including workshops, screenings and filmmaker forums. This event helped bring the community together to celebrate an underrepresented group of artists.

Dash was a member of the film group LA Rebellion with notable directors like Charles Burnett and Haile Gerima. African American filmmakers who attended UCLA film school during the 70’s and 80’s and who created a new kind of cinema formed this group. Daughters of the Dust was Dash’s 11th film and her first full length feature. It pushed film-goers to consider what stories were commonly told and who was creating those stories.

Filmmaker Portrait: Pauline Kael

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. The artists that the Walker invites for visits span media, including journalism and the literary arts, making […]

Pauline Kale

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

The artists that the Walker invites for visits span media, including journalism and the literary arts, making for an exciting array of guests. While much of the hubbub at the Walker in August of 1998 was about Jonathan Demme’s upcoming dialogue, there was also buzz about the critic leading the interview. Pauline Kael, the interviewer joining Jonathan Demme, was one of the leading film critics who encouraged his work as a director and knew him personally. Kael, known for her controversial opinions and lengthy reviews in the New Yorker, was well established in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

Bruce Jenkins, Film/Video curator at the time, explained to the audience before the talk that it was a difficult task to convince Kael to visit the Walker Art Center, but he was able to persuade her to stay for two days. During the talk, Kael mentioned to the audience that she typically doesn’t do these kinds of interviews but felt this one might expand her film perspective. Jenkins’s next step was picking who to have the dialogue with Kael, and after mulling over different filmmakers, he and Kael came to the conclusion that bringing Jonathan Demme would be the best choice.

Kael had written numerous reviews of Demme’s films. She had always been excited about his “focus on the kitsch” and how he was able to transform it into art. Demme mentioned that if Kael liked a certain film of yours it’s “such a spectacular feeling—­­­you read these things over and over.” Kael didn’t always write positively about his work, though, and Demme said those reviews were ones you only read once. At one point in their discussion, Kael mentioned that she didn’t have time to review Married to the Mob being that she was on vacation. She couldn’t help herself and started to review the film on stage in front of Demme and the audience. She mentioned that she enjoyed the film but she thought the ending was lacking—specifically the use of outtakes. The audience began to lightly boo, but Kael just laughed, saying, “I welcome your disagreement.”

The criticism didn’t bother Demme however. He sounded star-struck during their dialogue. He mentioned that he was “really having a spectacular experience this evening,” noting that not only was he at the Walker, talking in front of Walker patrons, but also was sitting next to Pauline Kael. Demme gushed that, “even before you’re a filmmaker —just a film enthusiast, one reads Pauline Kael in a certain way—agree or not—there is point of view present —an artistry in the presentation of the thoughts that arise in her mind from seeing a movie that is extraordinary to be confronted with as a movie-goer.”

At the time of her visit, Kael was discouraged by how much impact marketing had on which films stayed in theaters longer, and thus reached a larger audience. She told Twin Cities Reader, “what kills you about all this is that there are so few movies that are really good, that when the good ones don’t get promoted and nobody knows about them and instead people go to all of this crap and—what happens is they wonder why movies are so lousy.”  She mentioned that she didn’t think that Demme was getting the full recognition he needed. As a film critic, she was on the lookout for exciting new filmmakers. Pedro Almodovar especially impressed her at the time.

Kael seemed to mostly keep to herself during the visit and the dialogue was her only planned Twin Cities event. Through correspondence though, we know that she was impressed by Minnesotan wild rice. Few dialogues at the Walker have half of the audience questions directed to the interviewer, but Kael proved that the critic can be just as interesting as the artist. Kael was a remarkable voice in the world of film criticism and she truly graced the stage at the Walker.

Filmmaker Portraits: Derek Jarman

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. Derek Jarman’s Jubilee opens with a scene set in the mid-1500s—a servant of Queen Elizabeth I in […]

Derek Jarman during his visit to the Walker in 1986

Derek Jarman during his visit to the Walker in 1986

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

Derek Jarman’s Jubilee opens with a scene set in the mid-1500s—a servant of Queen Elizabeth I in a flowering garden feeding dogs. She appears calm and languid. The chirping birds accompanying the scene add an indulgent quality to the atmosphere. However, there is a storm brewing in the background. The next shot is Queen Elizabeth pacing while telling an occultist to call on angels to help her pass her time. The occultist decides she will travel to the future through a spirit guide. Suddenly, the scene is transported to England in the 1970s—a baby carriage on fire, car crash victims getting mugged; life is chaotic and confusing. Jubilee accurately depicts one of the themes that run through his films: the clash of the old world and the modern, traditional ideas confronted by new ones. Jarman was never fearful of featuring society’s outcasts: radical thinkers, fantastical people, and punks. His films are daring and unforgettable poetic masterpieces.

The Film/Video department at the Walker has celebrated Jarman in different ways over the years. While Jarman was still alive, he visited the Walker twice. His first visit was in 1986 for a touring retrospective of his work, originally programed by the British Film Institute. Bruce Jenkins, Film/Video curator at the time, coordinated Jarman’s tour across the United States with his films Sebastiane, Jubilee, The Tempest, The Angelic Conversation, Imagining October, Caravaggio and a selection of his “Home Movies” (the screenings of “Home Movies” and Caravaggio were introduced by Jarman himself). His films were not widely recognized in the United States. In response, Jarman told LA Weekly, “Yes, it’s quite strange, because it’s like beginning again. I don’t know whether to play down my controversial angles or not. I am so controversial at home—you know, in that world.”

The controversy surrounding his films caught the attention of the press while he was at the Walker. The Star Tribune reported on his upcoming visit with the headline, “Walker’s Jarman retrospective is gutsy in current moral climate.” As mentioned in the article, the Supreme Court had recently ruled that individual states could now deem certain sexual acts illegal. The Tribune described how Jarman’s film Sebastiane is typically “distributed by specialists in homosexual soft-core pornography.” Jarman was proudly an out gay man and featured LGBTQ characters in his films. His visit shook up the Twin Cities and was vital for the LGBTQ community here. And despite allegations of controversial material, the visit only brought more praise and attention to his films.

Jarman was also at the Walker in September of 1988 to introduce his film The Last of England for the New Brits program. Also screened was Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers and Peter Wollen’s Friendship’s Death. In a letter to the Walker, Jarman wrote how thankful he was for “the hard work and coverage” that the Film/Video department gave him. Just six years later, Jarman died of an AIDS-related illness in February 1994. To commemorate Jarman, the Walker screened his last film Blue on National AIDS Awareness day that year. This film is a single shot of the color International Yves Klein Blue (IKB), while Jarman and his friends narrate the story of his life. After his death, the Walker proudly continues to remember and celebrate Jarman. In February of 2009, the Walker screened a “Films of Derek Jarman Retrospective,” and during October 2014 the Walker will screen a selection of his films in “Commemorating Derek Jarman.”

Jarman wasn’t simply a filmmaker—he was also a gay rights activist, a poet, an artist and a gardener. All of this creative work helped him expand the frame of his films, allowing him to experiment with poetic scripts and visually stunning shots. Blue was awarded the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August 1993, distinguishing him as one of Britain’s top directors. The Walker is lucky to be connected with such a talented artist and his visits paved the way for more radical, free thinkers to be featured in its programs.

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