Director Andrew Bujalski discusses his career in the event of the tenth anniversary of his debut Funny Ha Ha.
As much as the filmmakers whose films it designates may have grown to hate it, the label mumblecore is pretty much indelible at this point. And while their resentment towards the term is understandable (it doesn’t have quite as romantic a ring as Nouvelle Vague, does it?), it nevertheless refers to the most creative and influential wave of films to come out of the US independent scene since the early ’90s. In this regard, it should be considered a badge of honor.
The film that started it all was Andrew Bujalski’s debut feature Funny Ha Ha. Produced in 2002, it spent three years accruing word of mouth on the festival circuit before receiving a theatrical release. When it finally did, it quickly turned into a small sensation. Shot on a shoestring budget with a cast of non-professionals, the film’s lo-fi aesthetic and highly naturalistic, unsensational portrayal of early adulthood was met with overwhelming critical enthusiasm and helped turn attention to the work of a number of other young, similarly inclined filmmakers.
Bujalski’s following two featuresMutual Appreciation and Beeswax, released in 2006 and 2009 respectively—confirmed his early promise and established the direction of the35-year-old director. This year marks the tenth anniversary of his debut and a newly restored 35mm print is traveling across the country to celebrate the occasion.
Giovanni Marchini Camia It’s been ten years since you made Funny Ha Ha. When did you last see the film?
Andrew Bujalski In January. There was a new print, which I’d never seen before. I wanted to take notes on the colors in case there’s any reason to make another print down the line, so I watched it with an audience in Berlin. It was a strange experience, because it had been a few years. At the time that I made it, I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me that anyone would have any trouble finding their way into it. I thought it was a very straightforward story told in a very straightforward fashion. But watching it again this year, I thought, Wow, this is completely personal and completely particular and completely peculiar. It kind of amazes me how lucky I was that people did find it.
GMC I feel that your films are the type that viewers will relate to differently depending on what stage of their life they’re in when they watch them.
GMC So watching Funny Ha Ha in 2002 and 2012 could be a completely different experience. Have you noticed such a development with audiences?
AB Yeah. I mean, I would assume so; I haven’t done a thorough scientific survey of everybody who’s watched the movie. Although, just last week I was in Boston, and I was having a drink with a couple of old professors of mine and they were saying that they saw it differently now, because now they have kids who are in their early 20s. (laughter) It was a different experience for them to watch the movie thinking it was about their kids.
Miguel Gomes talks about his latest feature Tabu, which has been the talk of this year’s arthouse circuit.
Miguel Gomes’ first two featuresThe Face You Deserve in 2004 and Our Beloved Month of August in 2008—piqued the interest of critics through their whimsical filmic tributes and meta-cinematic experiments, with some flagging the Portuguese director as an auteur worth keeping an eye on. This initial enthusiasm was validated by the premiere of his next film in the main competition at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Standing out as the most stylistically intrepid entry in an otherwise rather timid selection, Tabu was awarded the Alfred Bauer Prize for a work of particular innovation and went on to take the international festival circuit by storm, generating a torrent of acclaim that has consistently seen it ranked among best films of the year.
Split in two chapters—“A Lost Paradise” and “Paradise” (borrowed, along with the title, from F.W. Murnau’s 1931 Tabu)—the film is initially set in present-day Lisbon, where Pilar, a lonely spinster leading an emotionally vicarious existence, spends her days advocating human rights and worrying about her increasingly senile neighbor Aurora. The death of the latter initiates the second part, which is set in an unnamed African colony and is narrated by Aurora’s former lover Gian Luca, recounting their youthful love affair whose tragic end coincided with the fall of the Portuguese empire.
More than a simple exercise in style, the film touches on deeper issues, for example drawing parallels between one’s inevitable loss of innocence and youth to the contemporary psyche of Portuguese society and its relation to the legacy of colonialism. Still, whether Tabu does more than scratch the surface of these issues is open to debate, which is why I wanted to get the director’s take while he was in town for the film’s screening at the New York Film Festival.
Giovanni Marchini Camia Tabu is a very nostalgic film, not least towards cinema. As it stands out from most contemporary cinema, I was wondering how you would position your own work in relation to that of your contemporaries.
Miguel Gomes For me it’s very difficult to make a generalization. I know that I’m a Portuguese director making films in 2012. Even if there is a connection—as in the case of Tabu with a cinema that does not exist anymore, like silent films and like classical American cinema too—even if I know that these films existed, that there is a strong connection with this kind of cinema, I’m aware that I’m doing a film nowadays, a contemporary film.
Now you can start planning your week.
Ever wondered what would happen if a Dominatrix killed her client and then stuffed him? Well, then head to The Brick theater and watch The Taxodermist to find out.
Starting today and going on through Saturday, Yvonne Meier’s legendary performance piece The Shining will be hosted by New York Live Arts. Grab a flashlight and venture out into a maze made of 350 refrigerator boxes!
At Williamsburg’s Spectacle Theater, choreographer and filmmaker Yanira Castro will discuss the research and creative process that went into making her latest project, The People to Come, for which she sought the help and input of the community.
Director Ted Kotcheff discusses his rediscovered Australian film classic Wake in Fright.
“It’s a friendly place. Nobody worries who you are, where you’re from. If you’re a good bloke, you’re all right. You know what I mean?” These friendly words offered upon arrival in the outback backwater of Bundanyabba serve as an introduction to hell in Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright, an Australian film that despite receiving overwhelmingly positive critical reception when it premiered at the 1971 Cannes film festival has been all but impossible to see for the last forty years. Now, a new restoration by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia offers an opportunity to see this long-lost gem of Australian cinema.
In true Conradian fashion, the supposedly sophisticated John Grant arrives in town full of contempt for its yokel inhabitants—whose life seems to consist exclusively of binge drinking, gambling and fighting—only to be seduced by their savagery and readily turn into as depraved a beast as the worst of them. With stunning cinematography and truly remarkable performances, the film offers an unsparing portrayal of the Yabba, as the residents affectionately call the town, as well as the darkest recesses of the human soul. Though superficially comparable to the ‘hicksploitation’ wave of the 1970s—from Deliverance to The Hills Have Eyes —it offers a far more nuanced and terrifying study of its protagonists than these films with which it is regularly grouped. In fact, if there is one blessing from its disappearance, it’s that—by being re-released now—it transcends and subverts this established genre that the film actually preceded.
Ted Kotcheff went on to direct other, more immediately successful films, such as the first installment of the Rambo series, First Blood. I met with him on the evening that the restored version of Wake in Fright celebrated its American premiere at New York’s Film Forum. In a genial mood and not without manifest pride, he recounted the film’s incredible four-decade journey from distributors’ pariah to reinstated classic before discussing the themes and style that make his film as trenchant and haunting today as it was at the time of its original release.
Giovanni Marchini Camia I wanted to ask about the history of the film. There are various accounts of why it disappeared for so long. What is your take?
Ted Kotcheff Well, you know, when a film fails at the box office—which it did—the people who distribute who are only interested in profit lose interest. The film didn’t do well in Australia, which is where it was made. I think the Australians perhaps took affront to the way Aussie males were depicted in the film.
Letourneur discusses her film La vie au ranch, a film that observes, in fine detail, the flowering and dissolution of a group of young women.
Released in her native France in 2010, La vie au ranch is the first feature-length film by 33-year-old Sophie Letourneur. Following a number of short and medium-length films that have garnered her awards from festivals across Europe, her debut feature continues her preoccupation with the theme of friendship among young women, frequently drawn from her own experiences.
In La vie au ranch, Letourneur turns her camera to a group of college girls living in a cramped apartment in Paris. A seemingly carefree and tight-knit life of parties and next-morning hangovers quickly reveals a deep-seated dissatisfaction in the protagonist Pam who, over the course of the film, grows increasingly detached from the friends she has had since high school, eventually escaping from Paris’ suffocating familiarity for the bohemian utopia of Berlin.
While the subject matter is hardly original, it is its treatment that makes La vie au ranch stand out. Demonstrating subtle tact and a keen sense of observation, Letourneur gradually constructs a compelling portrait of her characters through highly naturalistic dialogues and situations, which perfectly convey the characters’ emotional conflicts without resorting to sensationalism or ponderous sentimentality. Beyond successfully capturing a very defining transitional stage in a young person’s life, this deceptively simple film also addresses broader issues pertaining to the representation of femininity in cinema.
La vie au ranch is screening through Thursday, October 25 as part of BAMcinématek’s current series on the young French cinema group ACID. Although Letourneur was meant to be present for her film’s US premiere, the advanced stage of her pregnancy forced her to cancel her visit to New York. Fortunately, I was able to speak with her on the phone, learning about the extremely protracted and painstaking pre-production process that lent the script its striking authenticity and about the role gender politics play in her filmmaking.
Translated by Giovanni Marchini Camia.
Giovanni Marchini Camia At the end of the credits you included the message “with nostalgic recollection of the group that we were.” To what extent is La vie au ranch based on your personal experiences?
Sophie Letourneur The initial drive to tell this story is linked to events that really happened, that is, to my departure from a group of friends. As for the characters, they’re completely based on people from my life.
Start the week in a gallery, end it covered in glitter and blood.
The lucky members of the New Events Museum can enjoy a private, curator-led preview of the upcoming three-floor exhibition of Rosemarie Trockel’s art Cosmos. Not a member and not intending to become one? Not to worry, the exhibition opens to the public the next day, the curators just won’t be there to show you around.
The storm has passed and there’s plenty of reasons to get back out there.
With the city recovering from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy last week, countless residents are still in dire need of help. For those with the time and resources, the Gothamist has compiled a really useful list of volunteer and donation opportunities. Check their recommended links at the bottom of their article for more ways to lend a hand.
As paradoxical as it may sound, a great way you can support the city’s recovery is by treating yourself to a nice meal. Eater lists numerous restaurants across the city that are donating part of their revenue and accepting food donations to help those hit worst by the storm.
Finally, don’t forget about New York’s myriad cultural opportunities and that the art community also relies on your continued support to pull through this misfortune.
Despite playing a pivotal role in Latin America’s Cinema Novo and enjoying cult status amongst cinephiles, Glauber Rocha’s films are still notoriously hard to get a hold of. Head over to MoMA tonight for a taste of the director’s subversive genius in Der Leone Have Sept Cabeças.
Fans of The Who should check out the BAMcinématek, where the series of films spawned by the Brit rockers’ music is screening until Nov 15. First up: the mod classic Quadrophenia in 35MM.
Few filmmakers have been as prolific and influential as Jean Rouch, the late anthropologist, ethnographer and godfather of cinéma-vérité.
Anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch (1917 – 2004) is one of those paradoxical figures in film history. His work has received exuberant praise, he is consistently hailed as one of the most innovative and influential filmmakers of his time, and yet, few have actually seen his films, which to this day remain very difficult—in many cases impossible—to get a hold of. This is especially true outside of his native France and only a fraction of his oeuvre has received distribution in the English-speaking world. Anthology Film Archives has partnered with the French Institute/Alliance Française to offer New Yorkers a retrospective of Rouch’s work throughout November. Assembling a remarkable selection of shorts and features, it provides an extremely rare chance to explore the work of one of cinema’s most eclectic and inventive pioneers.
A week full of events to delight the lit and film oriented.
Franklin Park is hosting a reading series tonight at 8pm, featuring Lynne Tillman, J. Robert Lennon, Stephen O’Connor and Seth Fried. The event is free and there will be special drinks prices and a trivia competition—check out their Facebook page for full details.
Jean Rouch’s films The 15-year-old widows and The Human Pyramid will screen at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise at 7pm, featuring an introduction and Q&A with James Toback, film director and the screenwriter of Bugsy.
Spoiled for choice in NY? Let us introduce some discipline.
Can’t get enough of David Lehman? Then come see him present his former student, Tracy K. Smith, at the New School’s Poetry Forum. Winner of of a slew of poetry prizes, including the 2012 Pulitzer, Smith will be reading some of her poems and discussing her work.