On the dawn of the mumblecore movement and with the arrival of the New Crowned Hope film series being brought to Brooklyn, this was a week of new manifestos making their debut on the New York Film Scene with two unique series, at BAM Cinematek and at the IFC Center. A series conceived in Vienna, Austria travels across the Atlantic in celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday with a program inspired by the “spirit” of the great composer. And back in the 21st century, IFC hosted a screening and party for “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” which brought out every (OK, maybe not every) coolio in town.
A Big Happy 250th for Mozart from Vienna to BAM
In 2006, on the eve of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the city of Vienna commissioned visionary theatrical director Peter Sellars to put together a program of artistic pieces to commemorate “the spirit of the great composer.” “We decided not to play a note of Mozart,” Sellars recalls, “and that was a very beautiful thing.” When curating the film component, Sellars called upon noted filmmakers from around the world to conceive and execute new pieces that were indicative of the themes Mozart was playing with when he died–themes like mysticism, death and what Sellars calls “coming to power, Nelson Mandela style.” The group of films first premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall and is finally making its way to New York City with a series at BAM.
At a Monday night screening of Paz Encina‘s “Hamaca Paraguaya,” Sellars was on hand to give an extremely passionate intro professing his love for the work that was spawned from the idea. “We particularly like to focus on films from countries where these themes are still a very close reality in their day to day lives,” Sellars said. Encina’s film certainly fits the bill, telling the allegorical story of smallholders in 1935 struggling with a country in ruins. The film is the first to be shot entirely in the ancient language of Guarani, a traditional dialect that was at one time considered a political taboo worthy of extreme punishment. Explaining this seems to almost bring Sellars to tears. “I’m glad you are all seeing this film theatrically. It has such a beautiful, careful soundscape in which the viewer needs to put themselves in that space.”
“Hamaca Paraguaya” is not the only complex and intelligent work in the series. Viewers would be wise to check out Apitchapong Weerasethakul‘s “Syndromes in a Century” or Tsai Min-Liang‘s “I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone.” Very much like the work of Mozart, all of the films take vast political and social themes and bring them down to a very human level that carries the point home. It may be heavy stuff for a summer evening, but well worth it for any curious filmgoer.
The newest wave of DIY Filmmaking, or “mumblecore” as it has been dubbed, is a form of low-budget collaborative filmmaking that has had group of actors and directors all working in the same circle. Most would argue that it started with the films of Andrew Bujalski, whose films “Funny Ha Ha” and “Mutual Appreciation” took the idea of the naturalistic slacker comedy to a whole level, putting more emphasis on realism than plot and creating filmic documents that marked the ways of a new generation of 20-somethings of the moment New York City. The movement grew through other filmmakers influencing each other into a similar style, and has recently been the talk of many major independent film publications, blogs and message boards.
From a mumble to a roar, and a mumblecore
On Wednesday, the IFC Center hosted the premiere for Joe Swanberg‘s third feature, “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” Swanberg, a DIY veteran, has really come into his own with his latest work, an improvised piece about a woman and her indecisive relationships with three different men. Arguably the quintessential mumblecore film, “Hannah” was constructed organically by a group of friends over the course of a summer and features lead performances from other noted figures in the movement such as Mark Duplass and Bujalski himself. The film, released this week by IFC First Take, is one of the catalysts for the IFC Center’s current series “The New Talkies: Generation DIY,” a select sampling of mumblecore movies.
The premiere marked the beginning of “Hannah’s” run at the IFC Center. The screening was followed by a lively Q & A that included Swanberg and actress Greta Gerwig. There was also a packed but homey party at the Vol de Nuit, a Belgian Beer Bar around the corner, co-hosted by SXSW. Though the movement may be run out of basements piloted by the farthest thing from household names, a few bigger stars from the same generation of independent film made appearances, including Melonie Diaz and Reece Thompson and the packed based welcomed numerous NYC filmmakers, bloggers, and industry types, including folks from local companies including Magnolia, Kino, ThinkFilm, and Samuel Goldwyn Films
The series continues in the coming weeks with films from soon to be mumblecore legends such as The Duplass Brothers (“The Puffy Chair“), Frank V. Ross (“Hohokam“) and Aaron Katz who’s most recent film “Quiet City” will also enjoy a week long run at the IFC Center following its premiere in the series.
Next week promises to be lighter and more streamlined with The New York Korean Film Festival. Taking the next slate on the BAM list, the festival will showcase some of the greatest Korean titles making the their way through the festival circuit in the past year. Hidden gems like master Im-Sang Soo’s newest wartime character drama, “The Old Garden” should not be overlooked. And if you missed Yoo Ha’s beautifully layered and strangely humanistic (to a degree that gives mumblecore a run it’s money) gangster pic “A Dirty Carnival” in the Tribeca Film Festival, now’s the chance.