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I Used To Be Darker: This Film Is Not About Music

Sixteen minutes into I Used To Be Darker you’re led into a house show behind 19-year-olds Taryn and Abby. The inside looks like an art gallery, people are smoking and dancing and stage diving, and the lead singer is shirtless, flailing around onstage. Honestly, it feels like you’re in Minneapolis. But the scene is set […]

Taryn (played by Deragh Campbell) in Matt Porterfield's _I Used To Be Darker_ (2013). Photo courtesy Strand Releasing.

Taryn (played by Deragh Campbell) in Matt Porterfield’s I Used To Be Darker (2013). All photos courtesy of Strand Releasing

Sixteen minutes into I Used To Be Darker you’re led into a house show behind 19-year-olds Taryn and Abby. The inside looks like an art gallery, people are smoking and dancing and stage diving, and the lead singer is shirtless, flailing around onstage. Honestly, it feels like you’re in Minneapolis.

But the scene is set in Baltimore. Why, then, was I instantly transported to Minneapolis? Is it because it reminded me of a house show I went to? Not really, the underground rock scene in the Twin Cities usually ends up less raw, less punk, more nonchalant shoegaze.

Everyone, to varying degrees, subconsciously views movies through their own personal experiences, trying to make sense of characters and scenes from the people and memories from their life. This may seem obvious—don’t we all view our entire lives through our past experiences?—but people who are even slightly involved in the Twin Cities music scene are going to connect to I Used To Be Darker more than people in New York City and definitely more than people in Los Angeles.

Bill (played by Ned Oldham) jamming with Jack (Jack Carneal). Photo courtesy Strand Releasing.

Bill (played by Ned Oldham) jamming with Jack (Jack Carneal)

While it’s certain similarities and my own history that made me liken the film’s portrayal of Baltimore to Minneapolis, it’s very deliberate elements of the film that immersed me in its environment and let me make these connections at all. This is Matt Porterfield’s doing. As the director and co-writer of I Used To Be Darker, which screens this Friday and Saturday at the Walker, Porterfield layers the film’s narrative with dynamic musical performances that will stick with you long after the film ends. But it’s not the songs in and of themselves that will touch you, because music is not the basis of this film, despite what the trailer and title will make you believe. The music is more of an expertly crafted character element that works because of much more essential principles. The foundation of this film is built of two things: camera movement and relationships.

Taryn (Deragh Campbell). Photo courtesy Strand Releasing

Taryn

“Every single shot in I Used To Be Darker was held by Jeremy [Saulnier, Director of Photography] on his shoulders. That breath, the sort of tie to the biological functions of the camera operator really gave it an intimacy that if it had been locked off, if the frame had been still, we wouldn’t have had.” - Matt Porterfield

Giving your movie a handheld feel, with the camera never quite stopping even when it’s focusing on one shot, is not something Porterfield invented. It is new territory for him though, whose two previous features, Putty Hill and Hamilton, were shot on tripods and other tools that kept the frame relatively still. One technique is not necessarily better than another, but one was the right choice for the movie Porterfield wanted to make—and he made it.

What you remember from the movie will undoubtedly be vivid snapshots—the sweaty frontman of Dope Body playing the house show, Bill winding up to smash his acoustic guitar, Kim and Taryn flipping through the scrapbook—but what’s more important than what you remember seeing is how you feel while watching. You’ll find yourself walking behind Taryn and Abby, sitting across the room from Bill, feeling like the camera lens is reflecting your own vision, not an omniscient one. This is a greater task than we realize now that every other blockbuster is in 3D and people don’t differentiate the experience of having things fly at you with the experience of feeling the characters’ presence.

Taryn and Kim (played by Kim Taylor). Photo courtesy Strand Releasing.

Taryn and Kim (played by Kim Taylor)

“Taking a cue from 18th century modes of melodrama, it’s full of big emotions, broad gestures and song, but like the best cinematic realism it also finds time to explore the quotidian.” - Matt Porterfield

This is not usually something wise to do, but I must go against the director’s stance here. Yes, I Used To Be Darker has moments of big emotions and broad gestures, but it is far from “full” of them. I also would never describe this film as melodramatic, acknowledging that he’s not doing so here. I would go the opposite route and say this film is utterly realistic and true to human emotions and human relationships. There are endless moments in this film where Porterfield could have crescendoed into a scene-stealing monologue or pushed a character to lash out physically, leaving the audience wide-eyed and silent. Instead of going this route, he and co-writer Amy Belk chose to think about how humans actually act in real life. The most dramatic outbursts and moments of passion in this film ebb as fast as they swell. The result is far from melodrama, but the audience still ends up wide-eyed and silent—for the film’s realism is more potent than any exaggeration could have been.

Photo courtesy Strand Releasing.

Taryn and Abby (played by Hannah Gross)

“We made this movie because we needed a document of good existing inside of terrible…We thought it might be something other people needed too. And if it succeeded in no other way, it would have a really good soundtrack.” – Amy Belk

Whether it’s the physical and musical thrashings of Dope Body’s Beat or the pre-guitar-thrashing melancholy of Ned Oldham’s One That Got Away, you’re going to leave I Used To Be Darker with one or more songs seared into your brain. Belk shouldn’t worry though—the film succeeds in a multitude of other ways, but it doesn’t hurt that I’m now a Ned Oldham and Dope Body fan.

I Used To Be Darker screens at the Walker on Friday, October 25 and Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm. A discussion with director Matt Porterfield and producer Steve Holmgren follows.

Making Poetry Films: Some Discoveries

I’m stingy at the box office, but last week I saw Life of Pi in the theater for the second time. The movie is a visual knockout, a delirium of color, probably the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen onscreen, but what I love most about it is it central metaphor. The script is deeply […]

Still from Amy Schmitt’s motionpoem, which adapts Erin Belieu’s “When at a Certain Party in NYC”

I’m stingy at the box office, but last week I saw Life of Pi in the theater for the second time. The movie is a visual knockout, a delirium of color, probably the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen onscreen, but what I love most about it is it central metaphor.

The script is deeply flawed. When the narrative is unveiled as an allegory, the telling is clumsy. But in that moment the film is transformed into a poem.

In my dual roles as literary director of Motionpoems–a poetry film company that will premiere a dozen new shorts at the Walker on April 24–and as a publishing poet, I am interested in the intersection of poetry and film. I’m interested in where the language of film intersects with the language of poetry. I’m always wondering what the forms have to teach one another.

It’s one thing to say that a script approaches the poetic. But what happens when a poem is the script? That’s what we do: At Motionpoems, co-founder Angella Kassube and I give great contemporary poems to our network of filmmakers and invite them to use them as scripts for short films over which they retain complete creative control. We do it because we believe film can introduce more people to the world of poetry.

Poems are, in many ways, perfect scripts. They often tell a story whether they’re narrative or not. They have a structure, a shape, and a progression of ideas, and they involve a speaker or implied speaker. More importantly, they are complete works of art, wholly contained and perfect.

We now have more than 30 films in our three-year archive at motionpoems.com. Here are some things we’ve discovered about this unique blending of artistic languages:

Pacing is essential.

Listening to poetry out loud poses a challenge for most people, a bit like being led on a blindfolded walk in a tangled wilderness. Poetry is a dense, convoluted landscape, and one can easily get lost if you’re not used to that landscape. Poets who are great readers of their own work are rare, mostly because their familiarity with their own work makes them tend to forget that every listener is new to it; often they simply read too quickly. For this reason, Motionpoems video artists don’t often utilize the poet’s voice, and choose to utilize a more careful voice-over instead. A film can pace a poem by slowing it down, pause it so the reader can catch up, and allow it to unfold on a timeline that’s organic to the way in which the poem might be absorbed by a first-time listener, not the way it might be read by a poetry aficionado.

Film can add layers.

A great example of excellent pacing is Scott Wenner’s adaptation of Norwegian poet Dag Straumsvag’s “Karl” from our 2010 season, but it’s also an excellent example of how a film can layer metaphors on top of a poem’s existing metaphors. “Karl” is, by itself, a haunting little narrative poem about a man who keeps getting misplaced calls from the police, but the film adaptation boldly sets the poem in the context of a derelict basement and uses two bugs—a moth and a spider—as central characters in the drama. Like Life of Pi, the film becomes an allegory for the poem, not a literal depiction of it, and as such, it multiplies the poem’s power to mean.

Film can amplify humor.

Most people think poetry is gravely serious. Not so. A lot of contemporary poetry is downright hilarious, but you wouldn’t know it from its sober façade on the printed page. A great recent 2012 motionpoem that takes its cues from film noir and turns a sardonic poem by Erin Belieu into a hard-boiled rant is Amy Schmitt’s adaptation of “When at a Certain Party in NYC.” The thing moves like a city bus: In this case a literal depiction is the perfect choice because the scenery glides by so quickly. Most poets chafe at any mention of the arts as entertainment, but film happily exploits the entertainment in art.

Film can restore poetry’s original power.

It should be said that what my Motionpoems co-director Angella Kassube and I are attempting isn’t to make poems better, or to interpret them literally, but to consider them as starting points for another art form, and thereby extend poetry’s typical readership. If, in the process, our video artists interpret, well, that’s a casualty of the process. Some will take exception to this, but it misses the point; our mission is to treat the poem as a creative start-point, not an endpoint. At The Playwrights’ Center, where I worked for a time, I was surrounded by theater artists, all of them collaborative by training and necessity. Poetry’s origin as an oral/performing art leaves it rather orphaned in print. Just as television is finally rediscovering the power of great scripts, Angella and I believe film can restore some of poetry’s birthrights.

We hope you’ll come see our new films at the Walker on April 24 and share in the discussion.

Interview: Chris Sullivan on Michael Jordan, Jean Piaget, and The Sopranos

I met Chris Sullivan quite by accident at the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival. My friend and I had settled in for a screening of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt when the guy next to us struck up a conversation about the good crowd for the screening. He mentioned he was a filmmaker visiting with his […]

Chris Sullivan Coutesy Taylor Glascock

Chris Sullivan
Courtesy Taylor Glascock

I met Chris Sullivan quite by accident at the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival. My friend and I had settled in for a screening of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt when the guy next to us struck up a conversation about the good crowd for the screening. He mentioned he was a filmmaker visiting with his film, we asked which film? That film happen to be Consuming Spirits and the guy we coincidentally sat down next happened to be Chris Sullivan. The Walker had booked Chris’ film literally right before I had left for Vancouver, so I was thrilled with the lucky serendipity.

Three months later after this brief meeting and as the screenings for Consuming Spirits at the Walker quickly approached, I seized the opportunity to interview Chris about the film and his work for an article on the Walker site. Our conversation spiraled in many different and interesting directions, many of which I was unable to incorporate in the piece that I wrote. Read on for our full conversation where Chris compares Prairie Home Companion to The Sopranos, feels lucky that he didn’t make a film about Lady Di, and diviluges that David Bowie is on his short list for his next film, even if David doesn’t know it! (more…)

(Almost) 20 questions with Miranda July

Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), who last visited the Walker in 2000 to show video and performance work from her Big Miss Moviola project, returns on July 8 to present her second feature, The Future, which premiered at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Deftly balancing bathos and pathos, July’s film […]

Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), who last visited the Walker in 2000 to show video and performance work from her Big Miss Moviola project, returns on July 8 to present her second feature, The Future, which premiered at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Deftly balancing bathos and pathos, July’s film is a funny and unsettling tale about impending maturity and the responsibility that comes with it. In advance of July’s arrival, we posed a few questions to her.

  1. What have you been obsessing about lately?
    My poison oak. It’s going away more now, but there were a bunch of nights where I’d have fantasies that I could shoot my legs or cut them off and throw them out the window.
  2. What’s your guilty pleasure?
    I have pretty horrible taste in movies. If there’s an ad for a phenomenally bad-looking movie, usually a romantic comedy, I’m like ‘I definitely want to see that.’ I’m disappointed at the end but I have high hopes for them. The marketing completely works on me. I saw 50 First Dates on opening weekend. And a lot a Drew Barrymore movies. And 27 Dresses
  3. What was your worst job?
    I worked as a car door unlocker when people’d lock their keys in their car. It was a company called Pop-a-Lock and I was on call 24 hours so I’d get called out at like 3 am. Plus I wasn’t really that good at it, and that made it very stressful.
  4. What’s your favorite passage of poetry?
    That William Carlos Williams poem, the one with “sorry I ate all the plums.” My husband says that to me at random, so I associate it with him.
  5. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?
    The Velvet Underground, and all their related spheres—Warhol, even Patti Smith, just reading about that whole era. And then the Pixies, because they were modern, so it was very different.
  6. What’s your favorite comfort food?
    French toast.
  7. What’s the most overrated virtue?
    Just being good in general. But I’m always trying to be good, so I’m hoping it’s overrated.
  8. When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
    When I was 16, right when I did my first play, which I put on in a punk club in my town. I remember thinking very consciously, “Ok this is it, this is what I’ll do.”
  9. What three items can always be found in your refrigerator?
    My husband has some pickled vegetables made by his mom, who passed away many years ago. He’s not ready to let go of those and they’re definitely not edible. I’m just being with them until it’s time to let them go.
  10. Which living person do you most admire?
    I admire my husband but I know him. People I don’t know? Michael Pollan seems very admirable to me. Usually I admire educators of some sort—Alice Waters is another.
  11. What artists are you most interested in at the moment?
    I brought with me on this trip a Lydia Davis book I’d read a milllion times before, just to remember that life can be good. So Lydia Davis. I’d haven’t seen Attenberg by Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari, but its trailer is influencing me, and I’m excited that it exists. And the visual artist Marie Lund. I met her briefly at the Venice Biennale and later looked her up and realized I love her work. Also the website Intelligent Clashing.
  12. If you could ask one question to every person on Earth, what would it be?
    How do you get through the day?
  13. What have you been listening to lately?
    Deer Hunter, Beach House, Lightning Dust.
  14. What is your least favorite sound?
    A mosquito.
  15. What is your favorite euphemism?
    This is not a favorite, but that word reminds me of how my parents would say they were going to go take a nap, and my brother and I always took that to be a euphemism for sex, but looking back, I don’t think they had sex that much, and not in the middle of the day while we were right there. But I remember trying to play dumb, or going outside or whatever. I think they really were taking a nap.
  16. What’s your favorite mode of transport?
    Walking.
  17. Which artistic trend annoys you the most?
    I’ve done this before myself, but when people refer to their “practice” – I can’t help but smile a little bit.
  18. Do you own a status symbol, and if so, what is it?
    Is a 2003 Prius a status symbol?

Simulations and Simulacra (and Ming Wong)

co-written by Jeremy Meckler and Michael Montag Most of Ming Wong’s work is installation-based—video projections looped in galleries for unwitting spectators to wander in at any point in the video’s eternal repetition. What’s strange about this, is that Wong’s work is generally in direct dialogue with conventional, theater-based cinema. His radical recasting, restaging, and recontextualizing […]


co-written by Jeremy Meckler and Michael Montag

Most of Ming Wong’s work is installation-based—video projections looped in galleries for unwitting spectators to wander in at any point in the video’s eternal repetition. What’s strange about this, is that Wong’s work is generally in direct dialogue with conventional, theater-based cinema. His radical recasting, restaging, and recontextualizing are the lifeblood of his work. From In Love for the Mood (2009), a remake of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love with a Caucasian actress playing all of the parts, to Life of Imitation, a reinterpretation of Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life with three men from different Singaporean ethnic groups taking turns portraying the protagonist and her mother, Wong’s work takes the cinema out into the gallery and forces viewers to stare at the social/racial implications buried in it.

But in tonight’s screening, Wong’s work will be ripped from the gallery, and thrown back into the theater that it draws its reference from in the first place. Tonight, the Walker screens what could be seen as Wong’s “Fassbinder series,” the two films screening tonight both take their inspiration from New German Cinema rockstar, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. And, tracing the line back even further, both of the Fassbinder films are themselves restagings of earlier works.

Wong’s Angst Essen is based on Fassbinder’s 1974 Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf), which is itself a remake of Douglas Sirk’s melodrama All That Heaven Allows (1955), a film whose heritage has cinematic links to the lachrymose melodramas of the 20’s and 30’s (namely, three neglected John Stahl melodramas from the ‘30s—Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life, and When Tomorrow Comes, all of which Sirk remade in the ‘50s). Fassbinder paid further homage to Sirk in his article “Six Films by Douglas Sirk,” which originally appeared in Film Comment in the 1970s. At the end of the article, he concludes with great enthusiasm, “I have seen six films by Douglas Sirk. Among them were the most beautiful in the world.” Both directors used melodrama as a means of social criticism. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul may retain the dramatic structure and plot of All That Heaven Allows, but it’s also, like Imitation of Life, rather brutally straightforward about racism and its noxious effects. It’s both a remake and an homage to Sirk in general. On purely visual terms, Fassbinder’s picture is more subdued, but he creates a mise-en-scene that is laden with Sirkian symbols: television sets, mirrors, doorways, all of which reiterate a sense of alienation, and in the former, there is a critique of materialism (though I think this is more true of Sirk, as he’s bringing attention to American materialism). Unlike Sirk, who came to America in the late ‘30s, Fassbinder remained in Germany; nevertheless both drew heavily on their European intellectual backgrounds.

A few more thoughts: Sirk’s films are a lot trashier than any of their remakes. They are REALLY ridiculous, but through a combination of social critique and dynamic visual style, he transcends the sheer ridiculousness of the material and elevates it to art, I think. What I mean to say is the excessive visual style comments on and critiques the actual content or material. He’s using the form to dissect the content.

While Fassbinder’s obsession with and admiration for Sirk’s English-language melodrama crossed language barriers, Ming Wong’s focus on Fassbinder illuminates those very linguistic differences. Wong moved to Berlin two years ago, and still doesn’t speak German, yet rather than translating the film into one of the languages he does speak (Malay, Mandarin, English, etc.) he performs it all in German. Wong even goes so far as to transform one of these films into a film about language. Taking directly from Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, originally based on a play by Fassbinder, Ming Wong portrays the perpetually distraught and abusive Petra in his interpretation, Lerne Deutsch mit Petra von Kant. Wong’s stilted, repeated German, mixed with his violent portrayal of this powerful character lends a strange feeling to the experience of learning such important German expressions as Ich liebe Sie (I love her) and Eine dreckige, elende, miese Hure (A dirty, miserable, lousy whore). And his recasting and reperformance returns Petra von Kant to the trashy eloquence of Douglas Sirk.

It is through the restaging of work he admires that Wong is able to draw out what he is interested in. By causing a disjunction both in the language of the work, and the actors, Wong is able to draw us in to the assumptions that cause that disjunction. He is able to focus tightly on the underlying elements of the work itself—like Sirk, he uses the form to dissect the content. In an interview, Wong said of his Sirk restaging, Life of Imitation:

The key moment in the scene is when the daughter turns to the mirror and declares to her black mother that she is ‘white’. I used 3 actors from Singapore for the roles, and they are all neither white, or black, nor are they female, or from Hollywood, and they are the wrong age to play either mother or daughter, a total mis-casting.

This blog is too short a venue to explore tonight’s other exhibiting artist, Phil Collins. Not to be confused with the Prog-Rock percussionist and vocalist, this Phil Collins is a world-renowned artist considered for the 2007 Turner Prize. To find out more about Phil Collins and Ming Wong (and to see their work) come to the free screening tonight at 7:30 as a part of this year’s Artists’ Cinema 2011: Projected Images.

Queer Takes: Alt Families

In its fifth anniversary program, Queer Takes delves into the complexities of the topic of families within the LGBT community—those who have been rejected by their blood relatives and formed new families among tight kin they’ve chosen as well as those facing the challenge of obtaining legal and official recognition of their relationships.

In its fifth anniversary program, Queer Takes delves into the complexities of the topic of families within the LGBT community—those who have been rejected by their blood relatives and formed new families among tight kin they’ve chosen as well as those facing the challenge of obtaining legal and official recognition of their relationships.

Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0S_-ouXi3I[/youtube]

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL83Yl4-9Vc[/youtube]

Going South (Plein Sud)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms2aYFqnV_0[/youtube]

Laurel Nakadate’s “Dirty Old Men”

by Eric Jones A most appropriate teaser to the upcoming exhibition The Talent Show, Laurel Nakadate’s Stay the Same Never Change premieres at the Walker Cinema on Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 pm. Curator Peter Eleey’s review of Greater New York 2005 at P.S.1 labeled her early work as “disturbed videos of herself horsing around […]

by Eric Jones

Stay The Same Never Change

A most appropriate teaser to the upcoming exhibition The Talent Show, Laurel Nakadate’s Stay the Same Never Change premieres at the Walker Cinema on Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 pm.

Curator Peter Eleey’s review of Greater New York 2005 at P.S.1 labeled her early work as “disturbed videos of herself horsing around with dirty old men (Frieze 2005), and though the embodiment of dirty might be substituted for amazement, severe luck or edging, Nakadate’s staging of non-actors brings her work to this similar arena of reality television or gritty HBO documentaries.

Beg For Your Life

In 2008, I saw her speak during the opening of Yerba Buena’s The Way That We Rhyme: Women, Art & Politics and this Yale graduate startled me with Beg for Your Life, a video series of herself holding a gun to older men’s heads asking them to beg for their lives. The multiple vignettes of these non-actors begging revealed how little they honestly felt threatened (one particular victim barely held back his giggling smile), or objectified for that matter.

In truth, these fantastical dates looked like a good time, then again, I was fresh from Colonize Me in which I was left alone in a room to strip completely naked and await my 2 minutes alone with Vaginal Crème Davis, so I realize mine was an acclimated palate.

Still, I am addicted to her audacity and humor: nude, bored-looking in roller skates while he sketches, dressed in cliché French maid uniform with a dog humping her leg and dance sessions with awkward and strangely loveable older men.

Within her work, among exploding 2 liter bottles of Pepsi and the illusion of naivety, I find the power every online, preteen girl asserts in anonymous flirtation without consequence. Unlike most, I do not see her as bravely going alone with these men because the camera so obviously makes her invincible. She’s indulging them second to her own ego.

Nakadate’s videos immediately draw me into reckless fantasy. With each scene, I earnestly await butterflies, a unicorn and rainbow bursts. Nakadate, a Lisa Frank for adult swingers (or anyone who can create a myspace page), is drunk with the power to cast and see herself in a multitude of roles with many, many men, and all the while knowingly leaving a viewer thinking: That can’t be real? Something of their difference in age and beauty leaves our characters un-marriageable even for a five minute clip.

With that said take your intergenerational internet friend offline and bring them to the Walker for the cheapest date in town on Target FREE Thursday Night. Laurel Nakadate will be present for interrogation or praise and she just might want to take you home for some art-making…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrOGDjzWnUM[/youtube]

Eric Jones graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a BA in English and a minor in Women’s Studies. During the Republican National Convention, he worked at volunteer coordinator for Sharon Hayes’ Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy. In October, he received the Minneapolis FEAST grant for the still unfinished Party Bus. Just back from his SW drag tour American Gash: Wide Open Spaces, he will join other queer storytellers at the Bedlam Theatre for a Women’s Prison Book Project Fundraiser on April 10.  He is currently working to co-present Come As You Are MPLS (a celebration of queer sex 40 years after Stonewall) with the Theater Offensive and Mixed Blood Theater on May 22.  This and so much more may be found on his blog.

Eric Jones graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a BA in English and a minor in Women’s Studies. During the Republican National Convention, he worked at volunteer coordinator for Sharon Hayes’ Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy. In October, he received the Minneapolis FEAST grant for the still unfinished Party Bus. Just back from his SW drag tour American Gash: Wide Open Spaces, he will join other queer storytellers at the Bedlam Theatre for a Women’s Prison Book Project Fundraiser on April 10.  He is currently working to co-present Come As You Are MPLS (a celebration of queer sex 40 years after Stonewall) with the Theater Offensive and Mixed Blood Theater on May 22.  This and so much more may be found on his blog www.fuckmewhileimgorgeous.blogspot.com.

Persistence of Vision: A Journey

In looking forward to the upcoming events of “Expanding the Frame: Journeys,” a parallel revealed itself to me, whether intentional or not. Besides the theme of journeys, another common thread that binds the films and artists together is the persistence of vision. This diligence spans beyond the artistry and transcends to a humanistic plane.  This […]

Zhao_Liang-Petition_PPIn looking forward to the upcoming events of “Expanding the Frame: Journeys,” a parallel revealed itself to me, whether intentional or not. Besides the theme of journeys, another common thread that binds the films and artists together is the persistence of vision. This diligence spans beyond the artistry and transcends to a humanistic plane.  This vision is what takes the artist on the aforementioned journey.

Ellen Kuras, for instance, worked for over two decades documenting the story of The Betrayal. The film was shot in multiple locations and allowed for the characters to grow in age and experience over the course of production.

Similarly, for the film Liverpool , Lisandro Alonso took his time in order for the film to organically reveal itself. Different in approach from The Betrayal, Alonso set out to the location, invested time in understanding the aesthetic and life of the people and place, and then began production nearly a year after his initial visit.  In his process, he was able not only to understand a different way of life but also capture it on film because of his meticulous process.

This persistence of vision, this dedication to the people and craft of documenting, is also beautifully apparent in the work of visiting artist Zhao Liang. In his most recent documentary film, he explores and displays what petitioners in China go through in order to potentially be heard. 

Since 1996, Zhao has filmed the “petitioners” who come to Beijing from all over China to file complaints about abuses and injustices committed by the authorities. He follows the sagas of peasants thrown off their land, workers from liquidated factories, and homeowners who have seen their dwellings demolished but received no compensation. Often living in makeshift shelters around the southern railway station, the complainants wait months or even years for justice and face brutal intimidation.

This to me is the ultimate journey, the epitome of the title, the theme, the reason they are filmmakers. I feel that it is the relation of the human first, the instinctual element that drives them to document the subject in the first place. The artistry either coincides or comes as an afterthought—second nature. Zhao Liang is definitely no exception to this.

Camera Austria recently did a piece on Liang in which he talks about his audience and his subject—a dynamic that when put together completes the cycle of the artist and the persistence of vision.  Below is an excerpt from the interview:

A conversation with Zhao Liang

In summer 2009, following the film festivals in Cannes and Locarno, Zhao Liang also presented his video documentary film “Petition” (2009) during his course at the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg. He had been shooting this film for more than ten years, editing 500 hours of footage for one year. The photographer, video artist and documentary film-maker observed and accompanied people from all over China travelling to Beijing, living there in a slum, the “Petitioners’ Village”, to present their case to the Petitions Office, to complain about wrongs done to them at work or in private, and to demand justice, an undertaking that would often last several years. The interview conducted by Hildegund Amanshauser together with Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann focuses on the methodology and historical, social and art historical background of the various productions of the artist, who was born in Dandong in Liaoning province in 1971 and lives in Beijing.

Hildegund Amanshauser: With the aid of the different formats, you reach different audiences, the Chinese and the international public, the film public and the art public. What role do these different audiences play for you?

Zhao Liang: First and foremost, I address the Chinese audience. My work focuses on social reality in China and I would like it to improve something in this society, that’s the crucial thing for me. I hope that the Western public get an idea of circumstances in which people are living at the same time in a different place. I want to make people think. When my work Petition was showing in Songzhuang, the audience was upset, many of them didn’t even know that people lived in such poor conditions in China. But what happened to these people could happen to anyone, everyone has to realise that. The problems I portrayed in Petition are big problems facing Chinese society, problems that will have to be solved in the near future. The important thing for me is that as many people as possible see my film so that they learn the truth. Also, it would be important for “higher levels” to see the film too, maybe it would help them get to know our society better and implement reforms. I even considered sending the film to the chairman or the minister, but I didn’t. I cannot imagine them really watching the film, perhaps they know about the situation and don’t want to change it, or perhaps they can’t. When ordinary people see my film, they find it very exciting, and perhaps that can ultimately sway the government.

 —Hildegund Amanshauser, Camera Austria 108/2009

The full interview can be found in Camera Austria 108/2009.

It is this empathy of the human that makes films real, allows for them to permanently reside in our subconscious and consequently become more aware of the world around us.

Zhao Liang will be at the Walker Friday, January 29 at 7:30pm to introduce Petition, and Saturday January 30 for a gallery talk at 3pm followed later that evening by his film Crime and Punishment. For more details, visit walkerart.org

Expanding the Frame: Clips and Trailers

A collection of clips and trailers for the Expanding the Frame: Journeys program… An Evening with Ben Russell – 7:30pm, Thursday, January 21, 2010 Though this is not a part of the Walker show, I think this excerpt from a Joe Grimm + Ben Russell collaboration can give a sense of what you can expect […]

A collection of clips and trailers for the Expanding the Frame: Journeys program…

An Evening with Ben Russell – 7:30pm, Thursday, January 21, 2010

Though this is not a part of the Walker show, I think this excerpt from a Joe Grimm + Ben Russell collaboration can give a sense of what you can expect from Ben’s performance of The Black and White Gods.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqgUQJkNbSU[/youtube]

Where is Where? – 7:30pm, Saturday, January 23 and 7:30pm, Wednesday, January 27

Director Eija-Liisa Ahtila discusses her work, including Where is Where?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5rcN9w5D3s[/youtube]

Zhao Liang: Visiting Artist

Opening of Petition

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJBh3rN_o0k[/youtube]

It Came From Kuchar – 7:30pm, Thursday, February 11

Trailer:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyOvLS8JnBI[/youtube]

Liverpool - 7:30pm, Friday, February 12

Trailer

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0QdEDtwQXk&feature=related[/youtube]

Filmmakers in Conversation: Ellen Kuras – February 17-20

Swoon Trailer

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebzul9IoH-c[/youtube]

The Betrayal Trailer

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFGqNay1lT0[/youtube]

I Shot Andy Warhol clip

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nm8Lg7dGQAM[/youtube]

Berlin clip (A spectacular encore featuring Antony Hegarty!)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em7gC0bq_aM[/youtube]

Sundance ’08 Meet the Filmmakers segment on Ellen Kuras and Thava Phrasavath

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gZ-ZUGpbDQ&feature=related[/youtube]

An Evening with Daniel Barrow – 7:30pm, Wednesday, February 24

Though this isn’t a part of the Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry Performance, this Hidden Cameras video gives a good insight into Barrow’s visual style.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg_mZ18V2sU[/youtube]

Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena – February 27-28

clip from Critical Mass

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8g-Pf36Hxw&feature=related[/youtube]

a rare television interview with Hollis Frampton from 1977

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfU0rdV6KD8&feature=related[/youtube]


Treeless Mountain

Treeless Mountain, So Yong Kim’s second feature film is back in Minneapolis. The film screened this past March in the Walker Cinema as a part of the Women With Vision series and is now being released nationwide. The Landmark Cinema (Edina) will be screening Treeless Mountain beginning on Friday July 17th. I strongly encourage anyone who […]

march-2009-walker-001

So Yong Kim at the Women with Vision Festival at Walker

Treeless Mountain, So Yong Kim’s second feature film is back in Minneapolis. The film screened this past March in the Walker Cinema as a part of the Women With Vision series and is now being released nationwide. The Landmark Cinema (Edina) will be screening Treeless Mountain beginning on Friday July 17th. I strongly encourage anyone who missed the March screening to attend the film or even those who attended to see it again.

The New York Times and critics alike have praised the movie since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. From the unobtrusive camera , to the child-non-actors, Treeless Mountain is wistfully captivating, telling a story reflecting the director’s memories of growing up in Korea.

“Ms. Kim, her camera hovering gently and unobtrusively around the girls as they play, quarrel and daydream, turns their intimate moments into a quiet, poignant drama of abandonment and resilience.”—A.O. Scott, New York Times

“Rarely has a child’s POV been as evocatively emulated as it is in So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain, a work of tremendous poise and poignancy that assumes and articulates the perspective and emotional tenor of its two juvenile protagonists.”—Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

In March, So Yong was in attendance to introduce the film and answer a few questions from the audience post screening.  You can find the audio files from this conversation along with a previous blog post about the film on the Walker website.

For more information about So Yong Kim & the film, visit the Oscilliscope website and the Landmark website for screening times.

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