Category Archives: shorts

#Cinelove: 2015’s Memorable Documentary

I’ll dispense with the musings of year’s end, looking back, etc… and cut straight to the point to offer up the most memorable non-fiction films I saw this year.  My list cuts a wide spread across styles and subject matter, but I think the common denominator is that all the filmmakers approach their subjects with a pure desire to tell the story.

Democrats
Camilla Nielsson goes behind-the-scenes of the political process in Zimbabwe in this expertly crafted film about the making of a constitution. She and her editor manage to take a potentially dry subject and make it fascinating, absorbing, and touched with humanity.

Last Days of Freedom

Still from Last Day of Freedom.

Still from Last Day of Freedom.

The most memorable film of the year for me was this incredible short. Made by two artists, the film combines visceral animation, intricate sound design, and an intimate story in this emotionally powerful journey.  It’s the heart-breaking recollections of a man who discovers his brother has committed murder and must decide what to do. Being that I run a short documentary festival, I suppose it’s not surprising that it’s at the top of my list.  But it truly rivals any feature for a full, powerful experience. (Directed by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman)

Heart of a Dog
I don’t love personal films and I don’t love dogs, so it was utterly surprising to me that I was enraptured by Laurie Anderson’s touching essay film. It’s not a traditional narrative, but instead washes over you with imagery, animation, music and, of course, Anderson’s lulling narration.
Cartel Land
In Cartel Land, sometimes you just can’t believe what you’re watching. Director Matthew Heineman says the film unfolds the way that he discovered the story and you can only imagine what it was like to be him as the filmmaker. Cartel Land’s incredible access gives you a different view of the fight against the Mexican drug cartels and gives thought to a big question: who is the good guy?

Spartacus and Cassandra
Ever fall in love with a film?  I felt myself doing just that while watching this impressionistic fairytale. Two Roma children are taken in by a young trapeze artist in a circus on the outskirts of Paris, and while it touches on hard aspects such as parents, legality and education, it also celebrates love and imagination. (Directed by Ioanis Nuguet)

Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his The Act of Killing is quieter, more intimate, and in my mind, even more powerful.  It’s one man’s journey to confront his brother’s killers during genocide in Indonesia. It’s also a testament to the fact that social impact films can be cinematically beautiful.

Tocanda la luz
Charming and thoughtful, this verité film follows the ebbs and flows of life for three blind women in Havana. The women share their lives, fears, loves, and struggles for independence with us. (Directed by Jennifer Redfearn)

P.S. –  I define #cinelove as “to fall in love with a film in that way where it captures your heart through its beauty & humanity.”

– Karen Cirillo

Americana: History Viewed Through Artifacts

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66 Scenes of America

The new Winter/Spring Flaherty NYC series That Obscure Object of Desire , curated by filmmakers Pacho Velez and Sierra Petengill, continues tonight with the Americana program.

I spoke with Velez and Petengill about their entire series, which I’ll publish soon, but in the meantime, some thoughts on tonight’s program to whet your appetite.

Q: What about using objects to tell a history?

Sierra: There’s something interesting happening in the program – the Jorgan Leth film is an older piece, but we’re viewing it in 2015 – the gap between the year of the making and the year of viewing changes it. We’re also showing Real West, which is just made and returning to a historical place, or to recreate a historic time. They’re both historical films, but from very different ends of the spectrum.

Q: Can you elaborate on the idea of Americana buttressing national ideas of mobility and entrepreneurship? How do we see that through the Americana films?

Pacho: One of the concrete objects through which we understand these ideas and perpetuate these ideas of America – the notion that we can travel all over it geographically, and also the idea of social mobility that’s implicit through that geographical travel. This “can do it” American value. These things are abstract. How do you codify these ideas? What are the objects that contribute to fetishizing these ideas? Cars; the open road and highways; the single family home; fast food – all of which make appearances through these films.

I just watched 66 Scenes of America again for a class I’m teaching. There’s a scene inside of it, a very famous scene, where Andy Warhol eats a hamburger. There’s the Burger King logo and the Heinz ketchup bottle, things that make me reminisce about my childhood. I’m sure at the moment it was shot, it didn’t feel like a very nostalgic gesture. When one reads about Pop art, it’s often posited as ‘new,’ ‘contemporary,’ ‘in the moment,’ clearing away past artistic ideologies (abstract expressionism, cubism, Social Realism, etc). But, of course, the mass advertising culture that Pop was mirroring has now been with us for so long, and is in many ways being displaced by the online digital world, so that certain icons of pop have started to make me feel nostalgic, or sentimental for ‘the way things used to be.’ Modern consumer gestures have aged in their own way. They’ve gained a kind of sentimentality, gained a historical nostalgic that I imagine Pop artists would be horrified at.

Check out the Americana program if you can.   The series runs every other Tuesday at the Anthology Film Archives in New York.

We Walk Their Path

This weekend, the OneMinutesJr. awards were announced and “We Walk Their Path,” by Amar, won the One Minute of Freedom award. The film was produced during a workshop I facilitated in Zaatari, the Syrian refugee camp in the north of Jordan.

There are so many stories from that trip – tales of kids uprooted from their homes, remembrances of lost items and childhood adventures, consistent declarations of an eventual return to Syria. All the kids in the workshop lived at Zaatari, some having been there a year and a half already. The majority came from Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria, just north of the border with Jordan. At the time of the workshop, in January 2014, the Zaatari camp hosted about 85,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria.

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I had facilitated workshops in over 20 countries at this point, so I was no stranger to challenging work environments. In addition to the physical containment (our movement was extremely limited) and the emotional impact (of witnessing life in the camp), there was the hurdle of general inexperience. Most of the seventeen participants of the workshop had never held a video camera before and their image-taking experience was mostly limited to mobile phones. The ideas behind creating imagery were fairly distant for them. But while they didn’t outright grasp the concepts of filmmaking, their imaginations never lacked.

As you can imagine, there are many stories to be told. But, for now, a focus on Amar (first name only, for security’s sake) and his tale of war.
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The State of the Short? (Part 1)

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Image: Bob Sascha

DOCNYC has expanded their panel lineups this year and I was excited to see that they were devoting a day to short documentaries: “All About the Short.” I’ve been focusing on short documentaries for a while now in my programming.*  I love the short form for its capacity to break new boundaries, to experiment with form, to be able to live outside the art vs. social impact mode that features sometimes get stuck in.  So I’m always pleased to see more attention being given to short films, especially if it means there are more opportunities to watch them and ANY opportunity for filmmakers to actually get paid for their work.  But the first two panels of the day gave me pause about the state of short non-fiction filmmaking and the market it lives in today: it seems to be all about “content” for websites – there was very little talk about artistic approach (and seemingly little interest from the audience either).  I am thrilled that the market is expanding for a form I’ve always championed, but does it have consequences for the form as an artistic endeavor?  And is it elitist to be concerned about that?  After all, I’m not the one worrying about getting paid.

First up was “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Short Filmmaking But Were Afraid to Ask.” The panel, moderated by Jessica Edwards (short filmmaker, producer and writer of Tell Me Something), included two filmmakers (Heidi Ewing and Lucy Walker) who are known for their feature films but have also made many shorts and two people in producer/acquisitions roles (Adnaan Wasey, POV Digital, and Jeff Seelbach, AJ+). Continue reading