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.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, USA 2017

Wednesday afternoon, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

 

This is an impressive and important film though at times it offers painful viewing. The film recounts the rape of a young Afro-American woman and mother in 1944 in Alabama by a gang of white men. This was before the period of activism known for ‘The Civil Rights Movement’. Rape of black women, like the lynching of black people, was common in the period dominated by the racist culture called ‘Jim Crow’. Recy’s struggle for justice was supported by National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People [NAACP] and by one of its field officers, Rosa Parks. Parks is famous for her role in the ‘Bus Boycotts’ in the 1950s. But this case was equally important in the development of black resistance to the racism endemic in the USA. The NAACP, committed to constitutional action, was for decades the lead organisation in the struggle for equality for Afro-Americans. In this case the struggle achieved only partial results but it was a seminal step in the struggle.

The film is directed by Nancy Buirski whose previous films include a documentary The Loving Story (2011) and a dramatised treatment Loving (2016) of an inter-racial couple prosecuted for breaking laws against ‘miscegenation’. This films uses a complex mixture of personal film and audio testimonies, commentary and archive material. The latter include clips from feature films.  Most of the clips are from the films of  Oscar Micheaux whose work was a central component of the ‘race cinema’, segregated film production and exhibition in the USA from the 1910s to the 1940s.

The style of the film is excellent with fine work in cinematography, editing and special effects. In particular there are a series of beautifully composed superimpositions and some meaningful montage. The beauty of parts of the film provide a dramatic counterpoint to the agonies of the story. The testimonies from the family and Recy herself both describe the incident and comment upon it. Two contemporary commentators draw out the key position these events and struggle played in the long march of Afro-American resitance. But late in the film comments by white residents demonstrate how the much remains to be achieved.

This is a powerful and stimulating documentary on issues that, as the news constantly reminds us, remains a central problematic in US culture. What would be good would be if we could have a follow-up with a screening of one of Oscar Micheaux’s powerful film dramas: Within Our Gates (1920) is a classic that addresses both the rape of black women and the lynching of black people.

Certain Women, USA 2015

April 8th and 9th only.

This film was screened at the 2016 Leeds International Film Festival but inextricably it was not in the top twenty ‘picks’. It is a very fine film from the talented and stimulating filmmaker Kelly Reichardt. This is a portmanteau film with three stories, all centred on female characters and set in Montana. Laura Dern plays Laura a lawyer: Michelle Williams plays Gina, a business woman, mother and wife building her new house; Kristen Stewart plays ‘Beth’ teaching an evening class on the law. All three actors provide fine performances and the final story also offers stand out performance by Lily Gladstone as Jamie, a worker on a horse ranch.

Reichardt’s films frequently fit into contemporary treatments of the western; such as Brokeback Mountain (2005), though that is a rather different film. She also has a fine feeling for landscapes, assisted her by her regular cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. Reichardt herself edited the film.

The director also has ‘simpatico’ for our canine friends: witness the fine Wendy and Lucy (2008). In this film Laura is accompanied by a faithful canine retainer and Jamie patrols the ranch in the company of  madcap sheep dog.

These are all reasons to make sure you see the film, or see it again. Note, it is only on Saturday and Sunday as the Leeds Young Film Festival kicks off on Monday. Meanwhile, if like me you are a fan of Kristen Stewart, then she also appears in Personal Shopper (2016) at the cinema: and that film is preceded by high praise from critics. It was directed by Olivier Assayas who also wrote and directed the excellent Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) in which Stewart worked with Juliette Binoche to fine effect.

Manchester by the Sea USA 2016

manchester-by-the-sea1Saturday March 4th and Monday March 6th

It is good to have another opportunity to see this film, the best new release so far of 2017. That said, the first two months of the year have been fairly undistinguished: a number of good films but a lack of masterworks [Moonlight (2016) will hopefully remedy this]. This film garnered Lead Actor and Original Screenplay Awards at the recent Academy. I do still worry that a mislaid envelope may turn up and scupper either of these.

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler is superb and fulfils the promise displayed in his earlier films. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent. I was especially struck by Michelle Williams as Randi Chandler. She has a brief but powerful scene with Casey.

The film also fulfils the promise shown by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan in his previous films. He heads a fine production team and I was particularly struck by the cinematography by  Jody Lee Lipes, with some  beautifully executed exteriors on the North Eastern Atlantic coastline. And the  Film Editing by Jennifer Lame  is very fine, handling a complex set of flashbacks that fill out the story and the drama. Note, the actual town is ‘Manchester-by-the Sea’: odd that the title is different in all release versions as it suggests something else.

This is a film that deals with memories and loss that colour and inhibit the present. The powerful drama delves into these and the accompanying relationships with care and compassion. It is a long film, 137 minutes, but the characters and settings render that timescale completely absorbing.

Paterson France, Germany, USA 2016

Daily from Friday 25th November

paterson-quad

This new film from Jim Jarmusch was the opening film at the Leeds International Film Festival. Jarmusch also scripted the film and the Festival Catalogue quotes him:

“I love variation and repetition in poetry, in music and in art. Whether it’s in Bach or Andy Warhol. In the film I wanted to make this little structure to be a metaphor for life, that every day is a variation on the day before or the day coming up.”

What we get in the film is the slight variations in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives and works in the city of Paterson. The city is famous for the Great Falls situated on the Passaic River and as the subject an epic poem by William Carlos Williams, a member of the US modernist poetry movement.

Paterson is an amateur poet who works as a local bus driver. The variations in his life and work take place over seven days. We see him frequently writing poetry in his notebook. and there are occasional encounters including with a much younger would-be poet.

Mornings, evening and night-times are spent at his house which he shares with Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and her dog Marvin (Nellie, playing in a cross-gender role). Laura seems mainly involved in domestic labour. Marvin, a ‘British Bulldog’, clearly is jealous of Paterson. But Paterson take shim for his regular evening walk when he visits a local bar where we see the more local inhabitants and some of the drama in their lives.

The film offers low-key humour. The observation of Paterson and his environs is absorbing. However, he is a slightly fey character and Laura is even more so. I did think that Farahani’s part was seriously underwritten. I thought that Marvin was more developed in character. It would seem though that this will be Nellie’s only film role as an end title is dedicated to her memory. She won the 2016 Palm Dog posthumously.

The production of the film is well done. The cinematography by Frederick Elmes is clear, direct and makes good use of settings like the Falls. And the editing, by Alfonso Gonçalves, works well and makes some of the humour in its cuts. The composer Carter Logan, who worked on Jarmusch’s last film Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), adds to the irony with judicious music.

I should note that the Sight & Sound review by Henry K. Miller thought this the best work by Jarmusch since Ghost Dog (1999). If your taste is in Jarmusch movies then you will likely enjoy this.

Dear White People, USA 2014

Screening at 8.50 p.m. on Thursday August 6th.

Dear-White-People-group

Another chance to see this distinctive and extremely relevant satire on US campus life. I found the film absorbing and interesting but somewhat flawed. Some others at the screenings were more more impressed and it it is certainly very funny at time, though also deliberately disturbing.

Set in the fictional world of Winchester University, the film explores the continuing racism to be found in US Higher Education. Like US police forces Universities over the Atlantic have faced a number of scandals in recent years and the film provocatively picks up on these.

The film makes effective use of film form and style, whilst the young cast are excellent. One of the merits of the film is how it handles a relatively large cast of key characters. These are not fully developed characters, they are there to serve the satire – directed at the white elite, the world of Education and, importantly, the media.

Film fans familiar with the work of Spike Lee will recognize a strong influence in the film. And whilst this first-time director has not yet developed his mature style, this film does offer many of the pleasures and stimulations found in the work of the major US filmmaker.