Open Bethlehem Palestine, UAR, UK, USA 2015

Tuesday 15th December 2015 at 6.30 p.m.

Open Betlehem

A Palestinian Film Festival has been running in Leeds since November, opening with a screening at the Leeds International Film Festival. The final film is Open Bethlehem (aka Operation Bethlehem) screening this coming Tuesday. It will be nice to finish with the full cinematic experience. The film records the writer and director Leila Sansour’s journey to revisit and explore the town of her birth and upbringing. The town is  not only under Israeli occupation but is a meeting point of cultures and conflicts involving the communities and the religions of this region. The conflicts has been exacerbated by the construction of the ‘separation wall’ by the Israeli state. Sansour’s film records a rather novel response to this situation. It seems she shot about 700 hours of footage and the result was something different from what she had expected. The film is in English, and in colour and runs for 90 minutes.

Scalarama, 2015

Various venues between September 1st and 30th.

Scalarama heading

This ‘unofficial month of cinema’ runs throughout September. Following the mantra ‘Go forth and fill the land with cinemas’ there are a varied range of events in major urban areas in England and in Scotland: there is also an event listed in the north of Ireland. To help punters there is a free Newspaper which includes listings which can be found at the various venues: in Leeds I picked one up at the Hyde Park Picture House and at the Arch Café.

As well as listings the Newspaper includes a range of articles on the various forms of cinema. The filmmaker Peter Strickland looks back at his experiences, including visiting one of the key venues for alternative and counter cinemas, The Scala. I remember many fine screenings there, including great all-nighters. Other writers sing the praises of 35mm, digital and [even] VHS. This is cinema in all its shapes and guises.

At the Hyde Park on Saturday September 12th at 11.00 p.m. we will have La Grande Bouffe (Blow-Up, France, 1973), a film that rather puts John Waters in the shade. And there is a Scalarama Special on Saturday September 26th themed round Creatures of the Night.

There will be two more of the excellent films from Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. On Sunday September 13th at 3.00 p.m. we have Provincial Actors (Aktorzy prowincjonaini , 1979). The film was co-scripted and directed by Agnieszka Holland. She worked in Polish film as a writer, director and occasional actor. The film is set in a small town, [partly filmed in Lodz] as a theatre company prepare a classic play for performance. On September 22nd at 6.30 p.m. there is The Illumination (Iluminacja, 1973) written and directed by Kryzstof Zanussi, another major filmmaker drawn to moral concerns. The protagonist in the film works as a physicist and the film explores his search for identity: his personal life affected by the larger social world.

On September 27th there is a double bill of films by US independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke. One film is a must for jazz enthusiasts, Ornette – Made In America (1985). Alongside this is her early and rarely seen The Connection (1961), a fine film adaptation of a ‘beat generation’ play. You can read about her in the profile in the Festival newspaper.

Other film venues in Leeds are also participating in the Festival. There are several screenings at Minicine, at the Oblong Cinema, and individual screenings at Little Reliance Cinema and Leeds Queer Film Festival. And there are events at The Heart and the Arch Café. You can check events here and in other cities on the Scalarama website, impressively put together. Note, fresh events are being added, so check the website and do check individual events, I have discovered a couple of minor errors. If you going to the Hyde Park over the next week you may enjoy among the trailers a showreel of the films on offer. It make September a great month for film buffs.

Man With a Movie Camera/Chelovek S Kinoapparatom, USSR 1919.

Screening on Tuesday August 18th at 7.00 p.m. Vertov32 The film hardly needs recommendation. A Soviet classic, from an excellent print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum and digitally restored by Lobster Films: both the latter are in the forefront of early cinema archival work. And this silent film is presented with a musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, who went back to the archives and Vertov’s own musical notations for the original screening, [to accompany a screening at the 1995 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto].

Dziga Vertov is usually credited as director, but the credits read ‘Author and Supervisor’. The film sprang from a collective of Kinocs [the cinema of kino-eye]: with cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman and editor Elizaveta Svilova. Other radical Soviet artists were also involved in their work, so that the famous posters for the film were designed by Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg. It is worth adding some context. The film was produced by the Ukrainian Film and Photography Administration [VUFKU]. 1929 saw the cementing of a new political line in the Soviet Union, best represented by ‘Socialism in One Country’. The emphasis was on technology rather than social relations and in art and culture there was a retreat from radical form to the more conventional. However, for a while, an outpost of more radical style and content continued in the Ukraine: VUFKU had already produced Alexander Dovzhenko’s Arsenal in 1928. Thus much of the city footage was shot in Kiev and Odessa, with some found footage from the Kinocs’ earlier films for Goskino in Moscow. The radical form of the film can be seen in the opening credits and introduction, one of the most reflexive sequences in all cinema.

“This film, made in the transitional period immediately preceding the introduction of sound and excluding titles, joins the human life cycle with the cycles of work and leisure of a city from dawn to dusk within the spectrum of industrial production. That production includes filmmaking (itself presented as a range of productive labour processes), mining, steel production, communications, postal service, construction, hydro-electric power installation and the textile industry in a seamless organic continuum, whose integrity is continually asserted by the strategies of visual analogy and rhyme, rhythmic patterning, parallel editing, superimposition, accelerated and decelerated motion, camera movement – in short, the use of every optical device and filming strategy then available to film technology. …. ‘the activities of labour, of coming and going, of eating, drinking and clothing oneself,’ of play, are seen as depending upon the material production of ‘life itself’. (Annette Michelson in the Edited Writings of Vertov).

The film is often compared to the cycle of city films of the period: e.g. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). However, this is a film about people in the city and it is consciously political. In fact, it is a paean to Socialist Construction, a still meaningful term in 1929. Thus the final sequences of the film address themselves directly to the audience, the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union. This remains not only a great documentary but one of the outstanding products of the revolutionary 1920s Soviet Cinema.

The Act Of Killing

As The Look Of Silence starts it’s run at the Picture House, Friends committee member Bill Walton takes a look at Oppenheimer’s earlier companion piece The Act Of Killing.

The Act Of Killing poster
Truth can be stranger than fiction. This is my favourite film documentary of all time … but maybe it will take second place in my heart after I have seen its follow-up The Look of Silence showing daily from Friday 19th June.

A military dictatorship took power in Indonesia in a coup in 1965. The new regime gave its blessing and protection to death squads who massacred over a million communists and other activists, particularly among the ethnic Chinese population. With Western assistance, the Suharto dictatorship kept its grip on power and ensured that their propaganda version of their rise to power remained largely unchallenged.

What is a radical film director to do?

Continue reading