Film at Lincoln Center on Tuesday revealed the slate for the Currents section of the 2021 New York Film Festival, a slate of cutting-edge and experimental works that showcase fresh voices in contemporary cinema. The section’s opening night film is “The Tsugua Diaries,” a pandemic-era tale that premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight about three housemates in lockdown from Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes (“Arabian Nights”).
Currents includes 15 features, plus 36 shorts contained in eight programs, and represent 27 countries. In addition to the Portuguese “The Tsugua Diaries,” several films center around the pandemic. Shengze Zhu’s “A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces,” is a meditation on Wuhan’s urban spaces before and after the outbreak, while Denis Côté’s “Social Hygiene” is an absurdist comedy in which characters exchange frank barbs from a humorous distance.
“Currents is the section of the festival that attests to cinema’s continued capacity for reinvention,” said Dennis Lim, NYFF director of programming, in an official statement. “The features and shorts in this year’s program take many forms — everything from reimagined fables to archival experiments — and you’ll find some of the most personal films in the festival here, as well as some of the most political. We hope that audiences will share the sense of surprise and discovery that we experienced in putting together this lineup.”
Two Currents features will make their world festival premieres. Eléonore Yameogo, An van. Dienderen, and Rosine Mbakam’s “Prism” explores racism in film culture through the biases of movie-camera lighting. Film essayist Artavazd Peleshian’s “Nature” is a montage of humanity’s harmony and conflict with the natural world.
The newly announced titles are on top of buzzy Spotlight and Main Slate titles previously announced, including Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated “Dune” adaptation, the North American premiere of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon,” and Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner “Titane.”
The festival’s 59th edition runs September 24 through October 10 with a combination of in-person, outdoor, and virtual events. Though last year’s festival was held online, this year NYFF is not planning to offer any virtual screenings.
Below find the New York Film Festival Currents section, with all synopses provided by the festival.
Festival Passes are now on sale. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on September 7 at noon ET, with early-access opportunities for FLC members and pass holders earlier.
“The Tsugua Diaries,” Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes, 2021, Portugal, 102m, Portuguese and Romanian with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere, Opening Night
The rigorous process of moviemaking meets the torpor of pandemic life in this beguiling new film co-directed by Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes (Arabian Nights, NYFF53). A daily journal that unfolds in revelatory reverse order, this playful rug-puller begins by surveying the mundane routines of three housemates (Carloto Cotta, Crista Alfaiate, and João Nunes Monteiro) living in rural peace during the COVID lockdown: impromptu dance parties, cleaning, building a backyard butterfly house. Soon, we discover that there’s more going on beyond the limits of the camera frame. Cockeyed, funny, and slyly meta-cinematic, “The Tsugua Diaries,” lovingly shot on 16mm, demonstrates the possibility of artistic creation out of sheer will.
“All About My Sisters,” Wang Qiong, 2021, USA, 175m, Mandarin with English subtitles, North American Premiere
In her astonishing feature debut, Wang Qiong documents with unflinching and harrowing honesty her own fractured family, gradually revealing the personal and psychological effects of China’s one-child policy on the individual, the family unit, and women in society at large. At the center of the film is her sister, Jin, who remains profoundly affected by her biological parents’ abandonment of her as a baby after attempting to abort her. Adopted by her aunt and uncle, Jin resumed living with her birth parents as a teenager, yet the family remains embroiled in a legacy of trauma. Filming over the course of seven years, Wang moves far beyond the diaristic, capturing moments of vulnerability, joy, pain, and anguish with insight and delicate artistry; in excavating her own difficult history, she establishes herself as a major new voice in nonfiction cinema. An Icarus Films release.
“The Great Movement” (El Gran Movimiento), Kiro Russo, 2021, Bolivia/France/Qatar/Switzerland, 85m, Spanish with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Expanding on the hybrid narrative of his remarkable 2016 film “Dark Skull,” Kiro Russo has mounted a monumental, gently mystical portrait of the contemporary central South American cityscape and those who work within its bowels and environs. Set in the alternately harsh and beautiful terrain of La Paz, Bolivia and its surrounding rural areas, “El Gran Movimiento” follows a young miner as he looks for work alongside his friends, even as he begins to descend into a mysterious sickness. With its marvelous long-lens zoom work and increasingly dynamic, rhythmic editing, Russo’s film is a hypnotic journey into a psychological space that touches upon the supernatural.
“Haruhara-san’s Recorder,” Kyoshi Sugita, 2021, Japan, 120m, Japanese with English subtitles, North American Premiere
Kyoshi Sugita creates an evocative portrait of a young woman’s interior world through impressionistic action rather than psychology. Though we learn little about her, the central character, played by Chika Araki, is marvelously present: She rents an apartment on her own, gets a job in a café, and begins to find peace after a recent tragic event. Fixing his patient camera on meetings with friends, family, and strangers, lunches and teatime, and occurrences both mundane and mystical, Sugita alights upon surprising, inexplicable, and frequently moving moments that hint at the spiritual in everyday life. Adapted from a tanka (a short poem) by Naoko Higashi, Sugita’s film, which won the Grand Prize at FIDMarseille, employs the cinematic form to express the otherwise inexpressible.
“I Want to Talk About Duras,” Claire Simon, 2021, France, 95m, French with English subtitles, North American Premiere
French director Claire Simon, a prolific maker of fiction and documentary films, unites the two forms in her surprising latest, a precise, enveloping portrait of the complex romantic relationship between epochal experimental novelist and filmmaker Marguerite Duras and her much younger, homosexual partner, Yann Andréa. Dramatized as a pair of dialogues based entirely on transcripts from a 1982 interview between Andréa (played on screen by Swann Arlaud) and journalist Michèle Manceaux (Emmanuelle Devos, an expert interrogator and a mesmerizing listener), Simon’s film underlines the sexual imbalances and power plays that defined their fraught love life while maintaining the mysteries and ambiguities that marked Duras’s singular artistic corpus.
“Just a Movement,” Vincent Meessen, 2021, Belgium/France, 110m, Mandarin, French, and Wolof with English subtitles
In the late ’60s, Niger-born Marxist intellectual Omar Blondin Diop became a central organizer and communicator of anti-colonialist political theory as a student in France and as a researcher in Senegal. Diop died at the age of 26 in prison after being arrested by the Senegalese government, his suspicious death considered by many to be a likely assassination. He’s left an impression on generations of audiences with his appearance as a Maoist revolutionary in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film “La Chinoise,” and it is this film that serves as the backbone text, providing aesthetic and thematic inspiration for Vincent Meessen’s freewheeling yet highly disciplined documentary — a film about its own making as much as it is a visual evocation and recapitulation of Diop’s political philosophies.
“Nature,” Artavazd Peleshian, 2020, France/Germany/Armenia, 63m, World Festival Premiere
Legendary Armenian visual essayist Artavazd Peleshian’s first feature film in nearly 30 years is an epic return to his major theme: humanity in harmony and conflict with the natural world. Sublime and terrifying, the forces of Nature are captured in a relentless montage of found disaster videos — of capsizing icebergs, inky black dust clouds, ferocious winds, pitiless floodwaters. Rendered in stark black and white and subject to the distinctive mode of montage that Peleshian has developed over six decades, these images take on an uncanny mix of timelessness and immediacy, imparting an overwhelming experience of nature’s vast, destructive processes of regeneration, and of humanity’s precarious existence amid constantly unfolding catastrophe.
Screening with: “2 Pasolini,” Andrei Ujică, 2021, France, 10m, Italian with English subtitles, World Premiere
Andrei Ujică’s 2 Pasolini follows the Italian auteur and his theological advisor, Don Andrea Carraro, on a trip through 1960s Palestine to scout locations for his 1964 biblical masterpiece “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.” Through candid archival footage and surprising juxtapositions, the film tracks both Pasolini’s journey and Christ’s — across the desert, to the shores of a raging sea, and beyond.
“A Night of Knowing Nothing,” Payal Kapadia, 2021, France/India, 96m, Bengali and Hindi with English subtitles
Through a series of letters read aloud to an absent lover, we learn about the fears, desires, and philosophical identity of a young woman named L, a student at the Film and Television Institute of India. Through these words, and via the documentary images collected by her and her peers of contemporary Indian youths engaged in university life, writer-director Payal Kapadia has constructed a brilliantly fragmentary work of witnessing. A Night of Knowing Nothing — winner of the Golden Eye award for best documentary at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — is a testament to the inseparability of life, film, politics, and dreams, while functioning as an essential portrait of the ongoing struggle for resistance from discrimination.
“Outside Noise,” Ted Fendt, 2021, Germany/South Korea/Austria, 61m, German and English with English subtitles, North American Premiere
The latest feature from Philadelphian micro-independent treasure Ted Fendt (“Classical Period,” NYFF56) finds the filmmaker, writer, projectionist, and translator in a contemplative mode, shooting for the first time abroad. With his customary mix of narrative restraint and intellectual curiosity, Fendt follows a small group of young women through Berlin and Vienna over the course of several months, particularly Daniela, who has just returned from traveling in New York and is dealing with a bout of insomnia. Shot on 16mm and glowing with natural light, Outside Noise — co-written by Fendt and his two lead actors, Daniela Zahlner and Mia Sellmann — is an authentic depiction of the tremors and pleasures of the in-between years of our early thirties.
“Prism,” Eléonore Yameogo, An van. Dienderen, and Rosine Mbakam, 2021, Belgium, 78m, French and English with English subtitles, World Premiere
Among the many ways that racism is deeply entrenched in our film culture is a technical one: The lighting for movie cameras has always been calibrated for white skin, with other production tools reflecting the same bias throughout cinema history. Three filmmakers collectively explore the literal, theoretical, and philosophical dimensions of that reality in this discursive, playful, and profound work of nonfiction. In a series of thematically linked, provocative discussions and interrogations, Eléonore Yameogo from Burkina Faso, Belgian An van. Dienderen, and Rosine Mbakam from Cameroon chart the making of their own film, while exploring the cinematic construction of whiteness and how this relates to power, privilege, and the myth of objectivity. An Icarus Films release.
“Returning to Reims,” Jean-Gabriel Périot, 2021, France, 83m, French with English subtitles, North American Premiere
In just over 80 minutes, filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot provides a fleet, thorough, and incisive sociological examination of the French working class over the past 70 years. Loosely adapting Didier Eribon’s 2009 memoir “Returning to Reims,” in which the author’s journey back to his hometown in northern France became a reckoning with his family’s history and politics, Périot weaves his own nonfiction tapestry, using decades’ worth of artfully deployed archival footage, film clips, and TV news reports to illustrate the rise, fall, and hopeful rebirth of the country’s proletariat, as well as how social identity is gradually constructed. Narrated by Adèle Haenel and structured in two distinct halves — the personal and the political — Periot’s sensationally edited film is an urgent reminder that the moral health of a nation is dependent on how it treats its citizens.
“A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces,” Shengze Zhu, 2021, USA, 87m, without dialogue, featuring Chinese and English text, U.S. Premiere
Documentarian Shengze Zhu, who was born and raised in China and studied filmmaking in the United States, contrasts mid-pandemic surveillance video of Wuhan’s empty streets with footage she’d captured before the COVID outbreak in this becalmed, wordless meditation on the vulnerability and resilience of urban spaces. Interspersed with her exquisitely composed images of life and hope along the Yangtze River are pieces of on-screen text translating the poignant, sometimes wrenching letters written to loved ones affected by illness and death. “A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces” is a work of dissolution and regeneration, architecture and landscape, a portrait of a city and a world in transition.
“Social Hygiene,” Denis Côté, 2021, Canada, 76m, French with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
The versatile and mischievous Quebecois filmmaker Denis Côté (“A Skin So Soft,” NYFF55) has made an absurdist comedy that’s incidentally perfect for the pandemic era. Constructed as a series of frank and often hilarious repartees between an insolent petty thief named Antonin and a succession of largely fed-up women—who range from sister to wife to lover to tax collector—Côté’s film situates its characters in elegant outdoor tableaux in the Quebec countryside, keeping a safe, proper, and humorous distance from one another as they verbally parry and thrust in static long takes. Unexpectedly traversing time, with characters appearing in either period or contemporary dress depending on the context of their conversation, “Social Hygiene” is a sly reminder that our present-day culture of moral confrontation was ever thus.
“Ste. Anne,” Rhayne Vermette, 2021, Canada, 80m, English and French with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
In her evocative, collage-like 16mm film, Rhayne Vermette immerses the viewer in the sounds, textures, and atmosphere of her native Manitoba to limn the outer edges of a twilight-toned narrative centering on a long-missing young woman’s unexpected return to her indigenous Métis community. Unbeholden to temporal or structural boundaries, Vermette uses Renée’s reappearance as the anchor point for a work of dreams and memory. Shot over the course of 14 months, incorporating scripted and improvised elements, “Ste. Anne” is as much a fragmentary portrait of the seasons as it is about the people whose lives are dictated in part by nature’s flow.
“The Tale of King Crab,” Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, 2021, Italy/Argentina/France, 99m, Italian and Spanish with English subtitles, North American Premiere
This rich, engrossing fiction feature debut from documentary filmmakers Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis takes storytelling itself as its subject. Based on a legendary figure about whom the filmmakers first heard while making their previous collaboration, 2015’s “Il Solengo,” this rousing, bifurcated tale follows the improbable adventures of Luciano (a bewitching Gabriele Silli), a village outcast in late-19th-century rural Italy. In the film’s first half, set in the countryside near Rome, his life is undone by alcohol, forbidden love, and an escalating quarrel with a local aristocrat; in the second, Luciano is in the distant Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego, hunting for a mythic treasure with the help of a compass-like crab. Rigo de Righi and Zoppis have created a highly unconventional narrative of redemption, alternating images of grandeur and folkloric idiosyncrasy. An Oscilloscope Laboratories release.
Program 1: Acts of Seeing
“Day Is Done,” Zhang Dalei, 2021, China, 24m, Mandarin with English subtitles, North American Premiere
A miniature portrait of a family’s multiple generations, “Day Is Done” follows a young film student — on the eve of his departure to study in Russia — as he accompanies his parents on a rare visit to his grandfather in Inner Mongolia. Delicately observed and minutely detailed, Zhang’s film captures the subtle harmonies and discordances of the different generations occupying, for a brief time, the same space and the same moment of calm.
“38,” Daniel Chew and Micaela Durand, 2021, USA, 23m, World Premiere
Vivid interruptions of sound and images fragment the psychic landscape of a 38-year-old woman who becomes obsessed with the social media presence of the young woman who broke up her relationship. The latest entry in Chew and Durand’s ongoing examination of the embodied experience of our hybrid online-IRL existence, “38” mines contemporary life’s nuanced exchanges between longing and looking, voyeurism and the desire to be seen.
“ELLE,” Luise Donschen, 2021, Germany, 14m, English and Japanese with English subtitles, World Premiere
Hovering between the commonplace and the mysterious, “ELLE” follows a father and daughter on an early spring visit to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens. At once highly formal and thrumming with life, the liminal space of the Garden becomes the stage for a series of fleeting encounters, which director Luise Donschen explores with a precise sensitivity to the seen and the unseen.
“Sycorax,” Lois Patiño and Matías Piñeiro, 2021, Spain/Portugal, 21m, Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles, North American Premiere
Mother of Caliban and imprisoner of Ariel, Sycorax remains offstage for the duration of The Tempest, dismissed by Prospero as an evil sorceress. In this collaboration between Lois Patiño and Matías Piñeiro, she becomes the central subject, as a director (played by Piñeiro regular Agustina Muñoz), with the help of local women from a village in the Azores, attempts to give a face and voice to this silenced character.
Program 2: Critical Mass
“Do Not Circulate,” Tiffany Sia, 2021, Hong Kong, 17m, World Premiere
The timeline and vertical aspect ratio of social media set the formal parameters for Tiffany Sia’s essay film, which follows the image trail of a single event in Hong Kong from the 2019 protests. Reckoning with this event, a relentless voiceover reframes archival media salvaged in the midst of disappearance and erasure, drawing upon a traumatic media memory, summoning ghosts and occult forces alongside disinformation and rumor.
“Dreams Under Confinement,” Christopher Harris, 2020 USA, 3m
Frenzied voices on the Chicago Police Department’s scanner call for squad cars and reprisals during the 2020 uprising in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as Google Earth tracks the action through simulated aerial views of urban spaces and the vast Cook County Department of Corrections, the country’s third-largest jail system. In Christopher Harris’s “Dreams Under Confinement,” the prison and the street merge into a shared carceral landscape.
“In Flow of Words,” Eliane Esther Bots, 2021, Netherlands, 22m, Bosnian, Croatian, English, and Serbian with English subtitles, North American Premiere
In Eliane Esther Bots’s film, three interpreters for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia share their experiences with translating the testimony of witnesses and victims of genocide. But how can an interpreter — who is so physically and vocally central to the tribunal’s proceedings — remain an objective medium for testimony? How can they provide a simple conduit for meaning, stripped of the original voice’s incommunicable sounds of grief, sympathy, and anger?
“All of Your Stars Are but Dust on My Shoes,” Haig Aivazian, 2021, Lebanon, 18m, English, Arabic, and French with English subtitles
Provocatively scrambling geography and chronology, Haig Aivazian’s densely associative montage writes a history of illumination as it intersects with the technological evolution of state and police control. From New York to Paris to Beirut, from the origins of whale oil lanterns to the era of predictive policing, this video assemblage accounts for the use of light and visibility in the service of social management, and creates space for a counter-optics of opacity and resistance.
“Kindertotenlieder,” Virgil Vernier, 2021, France, 27m, French with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Through television news bulletins, “Kindertotenlieder” revisits the 2005 riots in France, sparked by the deaths of two teenagers from the Parisian banlieue of Clichy-sur-Bois, who were killed during a police chase. Here, the static formal conventions of TV news — vox pop interviews, B-roll of burning cars, outraged neighbors — slowly reveal a subtler narrative beneath the surface: one of neglect, oppression, and ethnic and class divisions.
Program 3: Free Form
“Personality Test,” Justin Jinsoo Kim, 2021, South Korea/USA, 8m, Korean with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
A walk in the woods, an encounter with an animal, a body of water. On the soundtrack, a woman’s voice responds to an internet personality quiz, while grainy, inkjet printouts — animated and collaged by the filmmaker — approximate the imagined scenes. Distortions in the reproduction of word and picture accompany the blur of memory and fantasy, past experience and desire.
“Dog Star Descending,” Aykan Safoğlu, 2020, Germany/Turkey, 12m, German with English subtitles, North American Premiere
Images and objects warp under the scrolling gaze of a scanner bed. Photographs, shredded and reassembled, spark reminiscences in the artist’s voiceover, which relates the intertwined stories of a family trip to the island of Imbros and of his education at a bilingual German-Turkish public school. The coiling timeline of present experience overlaps with other stories detailing the complex intersection of these two cultures, and of personal and intergenerational memories.
“Homage to the Work of Philip Henry Gosse,” Pablo Martín Weber, 2020, Argentina, 22m, Spanish with English subtitles
Pablo Martín Weber’s video essay forges a link between the creative abundance of computer imaging and artificial intelligence and the speculative cosmologies of Philip Henry Gosse, a 19th-century naturalist and advocate for science. Just as Gosse became obsessed with reconciling the geological record with the Biblical account of the Earth’s creation, Weber attempts to understand the digital image’s new world of infinitely malleable data.
“(No Subject),” Guillermo Moncayo, 2021, France/Colombia, 29m, Spanish with English subtitles, North American Premiere
A film about a zookeeper and his renewed relationship with his estranged daughter is fragmented and interrupted by the filmmaker’s own voice, reading an email to his sister about the roots of this story in their own shared history with an absent father. Through memory, dreams, and fiction, “(No Subject)” probes the various ways of representing the past in order to process and break free of it.
Program 4: Still Life
“The Capacity For Adequate Anger,” Vika Kirchenbauer, 2021, Germany, 15m, U.S. Premiere
A collage of ephemera both personal and public, “The Capacity for Adequate Anger” traverses the distance between present and past in an examination of the artist’s relationship to class identity. Through voiceover and flashes of imagery — family photographs; the ’90s media representation of AIDS; Marie Antoinette; a gender-ambiguous anime character — Kirchenbauer’s autobiographical video contemplates the sociological dimensions of emotions from shame to envy to rage, and what forms of political agency they make possible or impede.
“A Human Certainty,” Morgan Quaintance, 2021, UK, 21m, U.S. Premiere
Voices from the past haunt “A Human Certainty,” whose entangled threads link its multifarious narratives of suffering: a recent break-up; the romantic sweep of mid-century pop music; Weegee’s crime-scene photography; and images taken by the artist’s grandmother, a spirit medium, on her travels in Asia and Africa. Here, Quaintance’s montage becomes a codec for assembling these disparate threads, and for making sense of mortality and loss in all its forms.
“Home When You Return,” Carl Elsaesser, 2021, USA, 30m, World Premiere
Superimposing the stories of two women — the filmmaker’s late grandmother and the amateur filmmaker Joan Thurber Baldwin — “Home When You Return” explores the psychogeographies of mourning through a variety of modes, from documentary to melodrama. Emptied and put up for sale following its matriarch’s passing, the family home becomes the site of a winding tour through polymorphic representations of the past in media and memory.
Program 5: Pattern Language
“Cutting the Mushroom,” Mike Crane, 2021 USA, 22m, World Premiere
An email correspondence between the filmmaker and a mysterious online art dealer in the Baltic develops into a strangely intimate exchange about art and authenticity, media of questionable provenance, digressive Wikipedia research, and — to borrow the title of Hans Richter’s 1947 film — dreams that money can buy.
“Estuary,” Ross Meckfessel, 2021, USA, 12m, World Premiere
Inescapable forces intersect in Ross Meckfessel’s “Estuary” when the increasingly unreal landscape of everyday life is invaded by the hyperreality of computer graphics and AI social-media influencers. The analog and the digital vie and blend with each other as Nature, dissected and repackaged, reemerges in pixel form.
“The Canyon,” Zachary Epcar, 2021, USA, 15m
The boxy architecture and cordoned greenery of luxury housing developments populate a series of uniform urban spaces, which Zachary Epcar depicts as a sequence of precise frames, stock gestures, and preprogrammed phrases, drifting into entropy. What wayward flows, what eruptions of energy, can be found beneath the flat surfaces and grid-like structures of The Canyon?
“Reach Capacity,” Ericka Beckman, 2020, USA, 15m, U.S. Premiere
In “Reach Capacity,” the rapacious world of the urban real-estate market takes on the form of a playfully obsessive, yet violently deterministic system. Combining mechanical musical numbers, digital objects, and board-game parameters, Ericka Beckman converts lower Manhattan into a giant Monopoly board upon which real-estate speculators and contracted labor compete for dominance in a programmatic dance. To see the future, follow the money.
Program 6: Camera Lucida
“Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical,” Rhea Storr, 2020, UK, 10m, World Premiere
The music, movements, and oral histories of Junkanoo — a distinctive Bahamian cultural medium in the form of a street carnival — set the rhythm of Rhea Storr’s video. Located in this vernacular tradition is an emergent Black radical imagination, one that envisions an Afrofuturism of the present, which the film reworks and remixes.
“Strange Object,” Miranda Pennell, 2020, UK, 15m, U.S. Premiere
Aerial photographs from 1920 of a colonized territory in the Horn of Africa provide the material for Miranda Pennell’s essay film, a meditation on image-making, erasure, and the writing of history. The abstract patterns, blurry forms, and disorienting scales of these photographs and their warped transposition into descriptive text testify to an expansive project of imperial capture, a doubling of the world in imagery and language.
“To Pick a Flower,” Shireen Seno, 2021, Philippines, 17m, North American Premiere
Shireen Seno’s video essay explores the transformation and commodification of nature through archival photographs from the American colonial occupation of the Philippines in the first half of the 20th century. These images testify to what the voiceover calls “the sticky relationship between humans and nature and their entanglements with empire” — an ambivalent dependence on natural resources that drives the colonial project and implicates photography, with its concurrent processes of preservation, transmutation, and destruction.
“South,” Morgan Quaintance, 2020, UK, 28m
Superimposing the working-class movements of Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s and South London in the 1980s, “South” draws upon alternative media archives and cultural ephemera to form a creative diasporic geography of anti-racism and liberation — one that poses the question of how to forge relations and solidarity across time, cultural divisions, and intra-class antagonisms.
Program 7: New Sensations
“May June July,” Kevin Jerome Everson, 2021, USA, 8m, North American Premiere
Kinetic and fragmentary, “May June July” is a document of the summer of 2020, distilled through Kevin Jerome Everson’s distinctively contrapuntal audiovisual assemblage. It is also a dance film: the camera enacts balletic encounters, first with a roller-skater in the street against a sonic background of protest chants and drumming, then among flowers and fireflies against the inky black of night.
“Grandma’s Scissors,” Erica Sheu, 2021, Taiwan/USA, 6m, U.S. Premiere
Guided by the words of her grandmother, the filmmaker explores the synesthetic properties of memory. Images give way to haptic experience via a range of textures — of sea, celluloid, paper, and pencil traces, of raindrops drifting in and out of focus — linking the arts of textiles and montage into a shared artisanal tradition.
“Blind Body,” Allison Chhorn, 2021, Australia, 15m, Khmer with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
As abstract shapes come into focus, dim memories surface. With “Blind Body,” Allison Chhorn offers an impressionistic portrait of her grandmother Kim Nay, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge. Partially blind, Kim spends her days in a mostly sonic and textural world, in which the sound of rain, the voices of Khmer radio, and distant birdsong summon the sensations of a lost homeland.
“If I could name you myself (I would hold you forever),” Hope Strickland, 2021, UK, 8m, North American Premiere
Wake and soil, skin and voice: Hope Strickland’s film locates a legacy of slavery and colonial exploitation beneath the archive’s official chronicle, in the deep historical memory of the body. “If I could name you myself (I would hold you forever)” sings an alternate history of resistance — familial, elemental, and sensuous.
“What is it that you said?,” Shun Ikezoe, 2021, Japan, 20m, Japanese with English subtitles, World Premiere
The sun’s path outside the window. The slow cycle of the seasons. A dead cat found behind a curtain. A neighbor yelling while dreaming. Images, sounds, spoken and written text try to correspond, gently interrupting each other. Shun Ikezoe’s “What is it that you said?” tracks the quiet movement of light and time, marking the progress of a year of small movements and intimate, imperfect exchanges.
“In and Out a Window,” Richard Tuohy, 2021, Australia, 16mm, 13m, U.S. Premiere
The literal frame of a window overlooking a small garden becomes the scene through which Richard Tuohy’s film exploits the myriad plastic potentialities of the cinematic frame. Immersive and stroboscopic, “In and Out a Window” offers its own variations on cinema’s mechanical segmentations of space and time, opening up a portal to undiscovered dimensions and new phenomenologies.
“Night Colonies,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2021, Thailand, 14m, Thai with English subtitles, North American Premiere
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Night Colonies” is a microscopic rumination on the unobserved passage of time. Humming fluorescent lights illuminate a bedroom at night, drawing Chiang Mai’s subtropical nightlife into a tiny, intimate, and temporary cohabitation — a buzzing and bustling ecosystem of insects and lizards, nested within the human domestic space.
Program 8: Vibrant Matter
“earthearthearth,” Daïchi Saïto, 2021, Canada, 35mm, 30m, U.S. Premiere
The hand-processed celluloid of “earthearthearth” explodes with oranges, purples, and aquamarines, transforming the sweeping desert mountain ranges of the Andes into a world of green-gold dawns, vermilion sands, and dense, granular atmospheres. Accompanied by an undulating improvised soundtrack by Jason Sharp, Saïto’s film depicts an alien, irradiated world that is at once interior, cosmic, and fiercely material.
“Tonalli,” Los Ingrávidos, 2021, Mexico, 16m, U.S. Premiere
Drawing on the ancient Nahuatl concept of the animating soul or life force, “Tonalli” engages the ritualistic powers of the cinema, summoning fire, flowers, and many moons into a frenetic and mesmerizing in-camera collage. Here, amid thickly swirling images and textured abstractions, the gods of creation and fertility manifest, dissolving into iridescent colors and dense, corporeal rhythms.
“Fictions,” Manuela de Laborde, 2021, Mexico/Germany, 16mm, 22m, North American Premiere
Fictions conjures representations as if imagined from the perspective of the plant world. ‘Lithic’ lifeforms made out of ceramic and organic matter were filmed in motion by a mobile of film cameras. Layered in Laborde’s superimpositions, these objects become performers alongside other images — sunlight through jungle flora, scintillating film grain — interacting in their own fictive world of pulsating matter.
“Six Seventy-Two Variations, Variation 1,” Tomonari Nishikawa, 2021, USA, 16mm, 25m, World Premiere
In this live projection performance for 16mm film, Tomonari Nishikawa explores the material specificity of the cinematic apparatus through a real-time manipulation of its physical elements. Scratching directly onto the emulsion of a looping filmstrip in the midst of projection, Nishikawa creates animated abstractions in a pattern of horizontal lines, and also generates the film’s score, a percussive throbbing of noise.