Daughters of the Dust, (USA 1991) – Leeds Film Festival Screening

Tuesday November 12th at 1230 p.m. and Wednesday November 14th at 3. 15 p.m. at the Hyde Park Picture House.

 

The film is screening the ‘Time Frames’ series. It was directed by an Afro-American woman, Julie Dash. It is a seminal film for both the Afro-American and the USA Independent cinemas. The basic story-line follows the migration from a Georgia island by women from an isolated and creole speaking community, once enslaved on plantations, in the early 1900s. However, the film has an unconventional use of time and space and an unusual narrative voice. This enables Julie Dash and her team to provide a film that is full of vivid imagery, metaphors and symbolism. It also dramatises the clashes within Afro-American cultures between tradition and the modern.

The film is full of poetic mages whilst the dialogue is in a form of Creole. The cinematography by Arthur Jafa is particularly fine, offering sumptuous images to accompany the characters and story. It won the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Festival and the film has since been included in the Library of Congress National Film Register

The film was partly funded by PBS American Playhouse after being turned down by major studios. Unfortunately none of Dash’s subsequent productions have received proper distribution. It remains her only well-known title despite a considerable output for cinema and television.

The film could be challenging; apart from an unconventional narrative it eschews sub-titles for the Creole [mostly understandable]. But it is a rich and compelling work. The film was originally shot on 35mm in colour and standard wide screen. It has now been restored and is distributed in a digital format. Hopefully this will do justice to the original. For two decades after its initial release it was not seen at all in Britain, so this is a welcome return. The film runs 112 minutes.

Reports on Sarah and Saleem (2018) Leeds Film Festival Screening

Screening at the Vue in the Light on  Saturday 10th November at 1030 a.m. And on Sunday 11th November at 3.30 p.m.

This is a new film from the developing Palestinian Film Industry and it is both a welcome feature in LIFF and [as in previous years] launches the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival which runs on until December.

The film deals with an affair between two married people, a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman. Affairs between Palestinians and Israeli’s have been a staple of the cinemas of both Palestine and Israel but adding marriage to the complications is rarer. The film combines the thriller genre with the romantic drama genre. The film is the work of director Muayad Alayan and [his brother] writer Rami Musa Alayan. They have worked together on both a feature and short films but I have not seen any of these. As is often the case the production relies on funding from a number of different countries, Netherlands, Palestine, Germany and Mexico.

The film was shot digitally in both East and West Jerusalem with their contrasting cityscapes and cultures. It is in colour and a 2.35:1 ratio with Arabic, Hebrew and English dialogue and sub-titles in English. It promises to be an engaging and thought provoking film. Palestinian film-makers have become expert at combining cinematic genres with political issues and characterisations.

NB. The Festival online pages do not seem to have an straight alphabetical listing,; I found the title under country [Palestine].

Monsters and Men, USA 2018 – Leeds Film Festival Screening

Vue Monday November 5th at 2 p.m. and Wednesday November 7th and 3.45 p.m.

I was very impressed with this new title. Set in New York it presents the responses of three different characters to a shooting of an African-American male by the New York City Police. Thus it addresses one of the most contentious issues in the USA today.

The shooting occurs at the start of the film and then we follow the three very different protagonists – John David Washington as Dennis Williams, Anthony Ramos as Manny Ortega and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Zyrick – as they grapple with the event and the fallout both in the Department and in the local community. The setting is the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn. The plot follows each man in sequence, though they also appear in each other’s story, providing an underlying and binding narrative.

But we watch more than just these three men. An aspect of the film that I especially liked is the way that it represents the family and community lives of the protagonists. We see parents, partners, offsprings, friends, colleagues and the activists in the community. Whilst the action is the streets is often dramatic the domestic scenes have a different tone but are equally fascinating.

This is a fine socially conscious drama but also a drama that holds the interest all the way through. It is in colour and full widescreen, running 95 minutes. The cast, both leading and supporting players, are excellent. The cinematography by Patrick Scola and the editing by Justin Chan and Scott Cummings is very well done. The film relies very much on location shooting. There is an excellent and not over-intrusive music score by Kris Bowers.

The Festival catalogue lists the film as an 18 Certificate. There is not yet an entry on the BBFC web-pages; whilst there is violence and strong language at times I find this an overly unnecessary classification. The title is screening in 11 at Vue, a large auditorium with a large screen. The level of illumination during a feature is suitably low, not always the case at Vue. However, they do not mask ratios that differ from the 16:9 screen. And there is a central aisle, a design weakness as you get latecomers blocking views as they enter. In the case of this title we had a group wander in, climb up to the back, sit down, start talking, switch on a mobile phone and then get up and leave. Clearly the wrong feature for them: a recurring problem in multiplexes.

My 20th Century / Az én XX századom, Hungary, West Germany 1989

Tuesday  October 30th at 6.30 p.m.

This was the first feature directed by Ildikó Enyedi and won the Golden Camera at the Cannes Film Festival on its release. Ildikó’s more recent film, On Body and Soul, won the prestigious Golden Bear at the 2017 Berlinale. The 2018 Festival featured a digital restoration of this film in an excellent 4K format which retained the cinematic qualities of the original. The Hyde Park screening will only be 2K but I reckon the film will still look great.

It was an impressive feat for a first-time film-maker. Ildikó also scripted the film which combines, history, politics and surreal fantasy. Much of the pleasure is to be had from the beautiful black and white cinematography by Tibor Máthé. The images are really luminous and range from wonderful wintry landscapes to night-time chiaroscuro. The editing by Tibor Máthé ably follows the eccentric plot line as we switch between settings and dates.

The lead actor is Dorota Segda who plays identical twins, born in Budapest in 1879. Separated, their paths cross once more in 1899, making this also a New Year movie. The dates are significant in the film. 1879 takes in Thomas Edison’s first successful demonstration of the light bulb. And the film makes great play with the inventor and with cinematic references, both silent and sound. Indeed the film features tropes from the silent film era, homages to the film-maker’s predecessors.

The film takes great pleasure in presenting

“a romantic love story, a poetic fairy tale, an erotic riddle ..”

Note, it has a 15 Certificate in Britain. A real treat on offer for cineastes.

 

Faces Places / Visages villages, France 2017

Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons in the coming week

Happily here is one more chance to see the most recent film by Agnès Varda. Now ninety years old Agnès Varda has graced the world of film since the days when the nouvelle vague transformed both French and European cinemas. Her style is often eclectic and she has a whimsical turn of cinematic phrase. But she always brings a real empathy to her subjects and her films are fascinating but at the same time complex essays into contemporary society. Her new film follows a journey and odyssey with a French photographer known as JR. His approach to the medium is eccentric and unique. Travelling round in a vehicle shaped like a camera he snaps people in places and produces seriously enlarged copies of the image. This is followed by pasting the pictures on public places, mainly walls of buildings. This practice sheds a whole light on the subject and on photography itself.

In the course of their odyssey Agnes and JR discuss topics, revisit places and people and reminisce. Both are often playful but there is an underlying seriousness to their work. And the tone of their encounters and of their installations generates real charm.

A number of titles from Varda’s work over the years have been screened in programme ‘Gleaning Truths: The Films of Agnès Varda‘. These have included features like her early and seminal Cleo from 5 to 7 / Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) or her documentaries like The Beaches of Agnès (2008) Les plages d’Agnès (2008); films from either end of her long career.

The latter film like this new title is less a documentary and more like a film essay; the forte of one of her peers Chris Marker. This friend and peer is referenced in the film by the ubiquitous cats; another peer, Jean-Luc Godard has a less happy reference. The film is in colour and with English sub-titles, running for 94 minutes.

Women Animators from Near and Far

Tuesday September 25th at 6.30 p.m.

‘They Call us Maids’

This programme offers a selection of animation by women film-makers from a round the world. There will we the opportunity to hear film-makers talking about their work. The occasion for this is the celebration of 40 years of the work of the Leeds Animation Workshop. Over this period they have produced 40 animated films and this evening sees the premiere of a new work, Own Skin, made with their support.

Leeds has been fortunate in enjoying the work of this collective which has produced both campaigning work and agitational films. Screening also is their They Call Us Maids from 2015; a film about the exploitation and abuse of migrant domestic workers. And there is also their earlier No Offence (1996) which uses a fairy tale form to critique sexual harassment at work. So here is the opportunity to see both their campaigning film approach and their subversive use of genre.

There will be eight other titles from Britain and from Canada, the Czech republic and the USA. A selection that will represent the rich tapestry of animation work from near and far.

‘Three Thousand’, Canada 2017

This programme should excite you. If so, the Leeds Animation Workshop have a three day residency at 42 New Briggate [right by the Grand Theatre] from Wednesday. [See the |Workshop Facebook Page].

The Eyes of Orson Welles, Britain 2018

Screening Saturday at 5.10 p.m. And Wednesday at 6.30 p.m.

More than any other film-maker of the sound era Welles seems to embody ‘renaissance man’: that is he ‘can do all things well’. His films sprawl across C20th cinema and Citizen Kane (1941) can still claim to be the outstanding Hollywood production. His series of Shakespeare adaptations on film are some of the finest renderings of the ‘Bard’, and Chimes at Midnight (1965) is one of the most moving. And F for Fake (1973) displayed his interest in magic and deception. His Federal Theatre Project productions, such as ‘Macbeth’ (1936), stood out in the decade. On Radio the Mercury Theatre’s ‘War of the Worlds’ (1938) remains the most famous media spoof in the modern era.

As an actor he graced both his own films and those of many other film-makers: in the 1956 Moby Dick he is as memorable as the great leviathan. For television he was the great raconteur; in the BBC series ‘Orson Welles Sketchbook’ he reminisced as he drew. And in the mammoth BBC Arena interview, when asked about Hollywood he responded,

‘I always liked Hollywood but it was never reciprocated’.

Equally slyly and witty were his famous commercial adverts including that for ‘Carlsberg’.

In this new film Mark Cousins explores Welles painting and drawings. This was a life-long activity and Cousins creates a biographical and artistic study using the art works, photographs, film clips and interviews. As this is Cousins there are slightly fanciful sequences but overall this is a fascinating study of one of the major film-makers of the C20th.

Dawson City: Frozen Time, USA 2016

Tuesday September 4th at 6.15 p.m.

You can now check out this film on the new Picture House Web Pages: replacing those that ‘crashed’ earlier in the year. The film is the work of the fine documentary film-maker Bill Morrison. I saw his earlier The Miners’ Hymns (2011) at the Picture House and it was a fine example of his skills in filming, selection and editing. It also has excellent use of music. This new title has fine musical accompaniment by Alex Somers.

The town and the ‘frozen time’ of the title refer to a cache of ‘lost films’ discovered in a remote township in the Klondike. These are all pre-sound films which were buried in a pool or rink in 1929. About two thirds of the films produced before the arrival of sound in the late 1920s are lost. So such a find is a real excitement for film buffs, Morrison, with his usual skill and command of technique, produces a portrait of the city and the treasure which combines historical detail with aesthetic pleasure. His work, tending to the avant garde, is often elliptical but repays continued attention.

Apart from Film Festivals, including Leeds, this fine film work has not had a British release, so it is great that there is this opportunity to see it here. The film runs for 120 minutes and Morrison uses both black and white and colour footage in the same ratio as the early films, 1.33:1.

 

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Showing multiple times from Friday 24th August
Panel Discussion With Leeds Black Film Club & the Racial Justice Network
Sunday 2nd September 5pm

Bill was going to encourage you to go and see BlackkKlansman, but he realised that Spike Lee himself does a much better job in this video:

Blackkklansman is already been called one of the most important films of the year and should provide plenty to talk about so The Picture House is excited to welcome representatives of the Leeds Black Film Club and the Racial Justice Network to participate in a post film discussion after our screening of BlacKkKlansman on Sunday 2nd September. The discussion will be not be limited to the panel and audience members are invited to share thoughts/questions and ideas about topics raised in the film including the relevance of Lee’s 1970s set American drama to contemporary British culture.

If you see the film and want to talk about it before the panel, why not leave a comment below. Or even better why not send us a review and become a contributor to this blog.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Creatures of the Night, Saturday 18th August 18th 10:30pm

Do The Right Thing

Phew, What a Scorcher!! I’m not talking Leeds 2018. I’m talking 30 years back when blood temperatures matched air temperatures in Brooklyn.

Director Spike Lee takes us into the smells of sweat and garbage on a Sunday in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Here we find the Blacks and Italians, Hispanics and Koreans, living and working together. And the cops and firefighters too. Do the Right Thing was inspired by real incidents in the Baked Apple we also know as New York City.

Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L Jackson): Whoa. Y’all take a chill. You got to cool that shit off. And that’s the double-truth, Ruth.

So get out the cold beers, the ice, the fans, and turn on the fire hydrants. We’ll find the summer heat is taking its toll on everyone. Tempers are rising too.

Boring this movie is not. Analytical it is not. Do the Right Thing is a gripping, funny and stylish drama of Love and Hate, with a wonderful cast (including Spike Lee himself, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Richard Edson, Bill Nunn, Roger Guenveur Smith) and many locals from the area who are not famous names, The film-makers even paid Fruit of Islam to keep away local drug dealers who were worried about this interruption in their trade.

ML (Paul Benjamin): Well, gentlemen, the way I see it, if this hot weather continues, it’s going to melt the polar caps and the whole wide world. And all the parts that ain’t water already will surely be blooded.
Coconut Sid (Frankie Faison): You’re a simple motherfucker. Now where you read that shit, eh? Polar caps…
ML: Don’t worry about it. But when it happens, and I’m in my boat, and your black asses are drowning, don’t call for me to throw you no rope, no lifesaver, or no nothing.
Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris): You fool! You’re 30 cents away from having a quarter! Where the fuck you gon’ get a boat?

Spike Lee’s brilliant movie does raise many difficult questions and gives us no easy answers. It’s not just climate breakdown that is so up to date …  Black Lives Matter, boycotts, sexism, reparation, “decolonisation” of cultural images, and other drivers of racial tension are all boiling away in this steamy and complex stew. There’s even a mention of a potential Trump Plaza/pizza empire in Bedford-Stuyvesant! It’s us who need to come up with our own answers.

And it’s not easy when the odds are stacked against you:

Buggin’; Out (Giancarlo Esposito): You the man.
Mookie; (Spike Lee): No you the man.
Buggin’; Out: You the man.
Mookie: No you the man.
Buggin’ Out: No. I’m just a struggling Black man trying to keep my dick hard in a cruel and harsh world.

Our movie’s title comes from a Malcolm X quote, “You’ve got to do the right thing.” But what IS the right thing? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. argues that violence is never justified under any circumstances; Malcolm X, argues that violence is not violence, but “intelligence” when it is used in self-defence.

And Mister Senor Love Daddy says: My people, my people, what can I say; say what I can. I saw it but didn’t believe it; I didn’t believe what I saw. Are we gonna live together? Together are we gonna live?

It’s all there. Empathy and respect; miscommunication and hate. Public Enemy sings “Fight the Power”. Al Jarreau sings “Never Explain Love”.  And we’re still standing. Even Barack  and Michelle Obama who went to this movie on their first date in 1989.

Da Mayor: Doctor…
Mookie: C’mon, what. What?
Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.
Mookie: That’s it?
Da Mayor: That’s it.
Mookie: I got it, I’m gone

So, do the right thing. That’s YOU! No excuses. Get your sorry ass down to the Picture House on August 18th.


Bill Walton