New York's screens were dominated by political fare this week, whether in the form of ecologically-minded alternative transportation, Indian governmental atrocities, or wildly convoluted international intrigue.
Mira Nair Presents "Amu"
On Monday night, celebrated director Mira Nair was on hand at Cinema Village to introduce a preview screening of first-time director Shonali Bose's film "Amu", the story of a young woman, raised in California, who travels to her native India to discover more about her origins and her birth parents, whom she believes to have died in a Malaria epidemic but who she begins to suspect may have been victims of the anti-Sikh riots that followed the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi. Nair spoke poignantly of the period, in which upwards of 10,000 Sikhs were murdered with government approval, explaining "it was like India changed before my eyes - everywhere you saw hatred, gangs, sectarian violence".
In her Q&A which followed the screening, Bose described the unbelievable resistance she met while making the film. "People asked 'why are you bringing up this issue, when it happened 20 years ago?' But there are still widows waiting to be rehabilitated, and nobody has been brought to justice." India's censorship board insisted that all lines indicating the government's involvement be removed, and Bose responded by leaving the footage in and having the film go pointedly silent during those lines. The board countered by rating the film NC-17, thus preventing it from ever being shown on Indian television. When Bose asked why a film that had no sex and essentially no violence was being rated NC-17, she said the censorship board told her "'Why should young people learn a history that is better dead and forgotten?'" Nair's introduction may have provided the answer to that question - "If we don't tell our stories, no one else will."
Lesbian Film at the IFC Center
Later that night, the IFC Center hosted its monthly screening in conjunction with Newfest, the New York LGBT Film Festival with a stellar night of lesbian film. First up was director Joyce Draganosky's powerhouse short "The Science of Love", about the unlikely love and professional rivalry between two anthropologists, one cultural and one evolutionary (Draganosky's latest, "Happenstance", recently shared HBO's first LGBT short filmmaker award; it can be viewed on-demand starting in June). The feature film presentation was last year's Newfest Jury Winner for Best US Narrative Feature, Ned Farr's "The Gymnast", a remarkably well-realized drama about a middle-aged former gymnast (Dreya Weber) whose unhappy marriage is threatened when she begins to fall in love with a young dancer (Addie Yungmee) with whom she is attempting to start an aerialist routine. While the audience was understandably awed by the pair's acrobatics and ripped physiques, the film impressed most on the human level, taking unique advantage of its leads' individual personalities and talents. "The script was written around me," said Weber (a real-life aerialist) after the film, "as we realized the only way to make a feature with the kind of money we had was to use everything we had." This year's Newfest will take place from May 31- June 10th.
MoMA's Party in the Garden
The Museum of Modern Art held its 37th annual fundraising Party in the Garden black-tie benefit on Tuesday in honor of Martin Scorsese and museum donors Leon and Debra Black, affording a chance for the likes of Barry Diller, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Ovitz, Vera Wang, Richard Meier, and Damon Dash to show off their most elegant eveningwear amongst the museum's imposing new collection of Richard Serra sculptures. When Scorsese made his fashionably late entrance, the crowd moved inside to dine and hear the organizers and Scorsese praise each other.
"New York is a town that appreciates not only great art, but also great art supporters," said mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had paid $2,500 a plate (and apparently raised $3.8 million during that party, alone). Appropriate, then, that Scorsese kept his remarks brief and focused on MoMA, saying that the museum is "synonymous with film history... especially if you're a New Yorker of a certain age with a passion for movies." The director went on to list various MoMA film programs that had influenced him in his impressionable youth, stating "the very fact that it was at the Museum gave these films legitimacy, and they needed it then. They need it again now." After the dinner finished, the older socialites left and the younger ones arrived for the dance party, where Jay-Z introduced a live performance of Def Jam's latest talent, Chrisette Michel.
Bicycle Fest Kicks Off
The crowd was as different as could be imagined on Wednesday night for the 7th annual Bicycle Film Festival's official kick-off party at Studio B in Brooklyn; the rainstorms had cancelled the planned bike ride from Manhattan into Brooklyn, but the jubilant throng didn't seem to mind as they packed the cavernous club and spilled out into the streets while watching "Gang Gang Dance" and drinking PBR. Festival director Brendt Barbur's enthusiasm was similarly undampened, as could be expected: featuring over 70 films, reporting a total event attendance approaching 100,000 people, and traveling to 16 different cities worldwide, the festival keeps growing every year. Barbur founded the festival as a collection of shorts in New York in 2001, after getting hit by a bus while riding his bike a few years earlier. "I wanted to do something for bike culture," he says, "to understand the bike's place in society, to show that bikes need to be respected." Within three years, the festival had spread to San Francisco; soon after, organizers all over the world were clamoring for Barbur to bring the festival to their city.
The festival is still growing and sharpening its focus; historically, the film screenings have been more like happenings, highly interactive affairs with raucous crowds cheering along with a slate that mixed documentaries about bikes with more visceral fare, such as Lucas Brunelle's annual thrill rides, filmed atop his bike through tight, nail-biting urban scenarios. This year, Barbur is excited to open the festival with a narrative film, Reginald Harkema's "Monkey Warfare", a Special Jury Prize winner at the Toronto Film Festival for Best Canadian Film, about an aging revolutionary couple (bike enthusiasts, both) whose lives are invigorated by a younger, more modern anarchist, also on a bike. The leftist overtones are not entirely uncommon throughout the festival, Barbur says "we don't want the fest to be too hip or political, we want to stay true to our mission: to celebrate the bike".
Hartley Opens "Fay Grim"
Director Hal Hartley has always been content to be both hip and political, as he is in his latest offering, "Fay Grim", an ostensible sequel to his 1998 film "Henry Fool", which premiered at the IFC Center on Wednesday night. A sort of oblique spy mystery and vehicle for Indie Queen ne plus ultra Parker Posey, the film manages to pull off the neat hat trick of keeping the audience intrigued by an absolutely indecipherable web of espionage, by which the titular heroine (possible widow of Henry Fool) is also consistently baffled ("You'll be just as confused if you've seen the first film," said Hartley to the uninitiated in his introduction, "go with the confusion").
At a preview screening on Friday at the Museum of the Moving Image, Hartley said that the idea for a sequel came from working with the stellar Posey for four days during the shooting of the first film. "It was the highlight of my career... she was talented and hard-working, yes, but more than that, she was a star. I thought, 'I have to write a great movie for Parker.'" As to why the film was so dramatically different from its predecessor, Hartley gave the entirely reasonable answer "I wanted, with both films, to reflect their time and place. What are people talking about? In 1996, it was the swing to the right, and the paranoia about the internet corrupting our youth, and censorship. I did the same thing here, except these days there are much different concerns. Newspapers read like John LeCarre novels."
The film will open on Friday, 5/18, in select theaters.
In Theaters This Week
"Once" (May 16), directed by John Carney. Distributor: Fox Searchlight. Official website
"Fay Grim" (May 18), directed by Hal Hartley. Distributor: Magnolia. Official website
"Severance" (May 18), directed by Christopher Smith. Distributor: Magnolia. Official website
"Flanders" (May 18), directed by Bruno Dumont. Distributor: Tadrart Films.
"Private Property" (May 18), directed by Joachim Lafosse. Distributor: New Yorker Films.
"Brooklyn Rules" (May 19), directed by Michael Corrente. Distributor: City Lights Pictures. Distributor website
"Even Money" (May 18), directed by Mark Rydell. Distributor: Yari Film Group Releasing. Distributor website