Tonight, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will begin their impressive annual nonfiction showcase, Art of the Real. In its second year, the two week long program will screen some of the best new work from around the world, pay tribute to the decade-spanning excellence of French filmmaker Agnès Varda, and spotlight the art and history of reenactment. With a dedication to presenting an expansive and broad view of documentary filmmaking, Art of the Real opens with an Opening Night Shorts Program, featuring films from directors João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata, Eduardo Williams, and Matt Porterfield. Naomi Campbel, Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s hybrid debut film about a thirtysomething transgender woman trying to finance her sex-change operation, will also have its premiere tonight following the shorts.
With 34 films in playing, there’s certainly something in Art of the Real to satisfy everyone—from rare and previously unseen work from mid-1980s Derek Jarman and queer-cinema landmarks such as Ron Peck’s Nighthawks to Varda digital restorations and short films from the late Harun Farocki. So to get you excited for tonight’s opening, we’ve rounded up our 10 most must-see films playing from now until the 26th. Peruse out list and head uptown this evening.
THE ROYAL ROAD, dir. Jenni Olson
The docks of Oakland; roadside marker bells in Pasadena; the Spanish king Carlos III; expansionism in 19th-century America; the Franciscan mission-founder Junípero Serra; the Golden Gate Bridge; Casanova’s Story of My Life; Jules Laforgue’s “Solo By Moonlight”; William Wyler’s Roman Holiday. The essential San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson’s latest essay film is an associative, inquisitive meditation on love, remembrance, and California history structured around a trip down El Camino Real. The Royal Road riffs often and exquisitely on Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil—both films include key, lengthy discourses on Hitchcock’s Vertigo—but this movie’s voice, alternately dispassionate, confessional, and melancholic, is entirely Olson’s own.
ANDROIDS DREAM + NOVA DUBAI, dir. Ion de Sosa / Gustavo Vinagre
A drifting portrait of Spain’s economic crisis, and a sly reimagining of Philip K. Dick’s seminal cyberpunk novel, this beguiling second feature from Ion de Sosa promises to haunt. In the year 2052, a nameless man silently travels through semi-completed high-rise apartments and grocery stores, assassinating random civilians without warning. More intimate scenes of the city’s inhabitants socializing—but never discussing the elephant in the room—underscore the absurd context of his violence. As the story shifts to the openness of the countryside, all action is eventually and surprisingly rendered futile. U.S. Premiere
Gustavo Vinagre’s documentary unapologetically depicts a variety of gay fantasies—violent, incestuous, comic, romantic, degrading, or all of the above—against the backdrop of a contemporary, overdeveloped urban neighborhood. Though the men participating in these sex acts are unable to reclaim or slow the disappearance of their communal space, their insurrection is as much a radical meditation on desire as a repudiation of shallow, consumer-obsessed millennial gay culture. North American Premiere
BECOMING ANITA EKBERG + THE VANITY TABLES OF DOUGLAS SIRK, dir. Mark Rappaport
Becoming Anita Ekberg:
Did La Dolce Vita make Anita Ekberg a legend by giving her a 20-minute cameo, or was it the other way around? Through clips of both career-defining and forgettable roles, Mark Rappaport (From the Journals of Jean Seberg) traces the late Swedish actress’s ever-changing persona, noting the triumphs and limitations of being a sex goddess.
The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk:
Mark Rappaport probes the burdensome nature of beauty and bodily control through one of classical Hollywood’s most essential props: the vanity table. Employing clips from landmark films like Written on the Wind and All That Heaven Allows, the filmmaker delves into how Douglas Sirk, the master of melodrama and mise-en-scène, used this pejoratively named piece of furniture.
LANDSCAPE SUICIDE, dir. James Benning
For his career-long excavation of the American national character, James Benning found two of his most striking case studies in a pair of murderers whose crimes took place 30 years and more than half the country apart.Landscape Suicide, like many of Benning’s films, consists largely of footage of places, landscapes, and roads accompanied by—or paired with—speech. The speech, in this case, comes from the court testimonies of Bernadette Protti, who stabbed one of her California high-school classmates to death in 1984 over an insult, and Ed Gein, the infamous Plainfield, Wisconsin, killer who made trophies out of his victim’s bodies, read aloud by actors directly to the camera. Benning’s America is a country terrified equally by the wilderness to which it’s in thrall and the civilization it’s set up to keep that wilderness at bay—and nowhere in his work does that tension become more chillingly clear. New 16mm print courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum.
NIGHTHAWKS, dir. Ron Peck
Ron Peck and Paul Hallam raised funds for their groundbreaking feature debut piecemeal, relying in part on confidential gifts from gay public figures. No film had shown what it was like to be an openly gay man in 1970s London: the keeping-up of daily appearances; the tiring, often demoralizing work of club-hopping and cruising; and the difficulties of making—and finding—lasting romantic commitments. Nighthawks is, quite simply, a priceless artifact from a period in British history when love, for many, could only be found furtively and in the dark.
ESSAYISTIC ACTS: UNE SALE HISTOIRE + LAS MENINAS, dir. Jean Eustache / Juan Downey
Une sale histoire:
“I tried to tell [the story of Une sale histoire],” Jean Eustache insisted in an interview, “not as a story I’d lived, but as a film I wanted to make—like a scenario.” The story in question is told twice, once by the great actor Michael Lonsdale, and then again, very similarly, by Jean-Noël Picq, the man from whose life it allegedly came. It’s the sort of dirty secret that Eustache always felt compelled to make public: the confession of a peeping tom who finds a hole in the wall of a women’s toilet. Both tellers, it turns out, are addressing crowds of young women—a revelation that turns the movie into another of Eustache’s self-excoriating studies of male-female relationships. But Une sale histoire is also, among other things, a reflection on the sort of personal, confessional filmmaking to which Eustache kept being drawn. “When I tell a personal story,” Picq says, “it’s because I’m convinced it isn’t one—that the whole world understands.”
“We are looking at a picture,” Foucault wrote in a 1970 account of Velázquez’s Las Meninas, “in which the painter is in turn looking out at us.” The text from which that line comes is one of the chief ingredients of Juan Downey’s adventurous, essayistic reflection on the painting, which also involves a live-action restaging of the scene, a lecture from the great art historian George Kubler, and a step-by-step journey through the picture’s complex shiftings of perspective.
WILL YOU DANCE WITH ME?, dir. Derek Jarman
In 1984, Derek Jarman was doing research for his friend Ron Peck (Nighthawks, also showing in Art of the Real), who was working on a gangster movie to be set within London’s nightclub scene. The chief product of that research was this haunted, transfixing study of one night at a gay bar in East London’s Mile End district. Jarman was one of the earliest British filmmakers to experiment seriously with digital video, and in Will You Dance with Me?he found the format’s ghostly blurring of light and color perfectly matched to his subject. (The chiseled young man whom Jarman studies reverently in the movie’s last minutes would become an actor in his Super-8 work The Angelic Conversation.) “I don’t know that I’ve seen dance better filmed,” BFI curator William Fowler has said of the footage.
BLACK PANTHERS AND OTHER SHORT WORK, dir. Agnès Varda
A selection of short documentaries by Agnès Varda: Black Panthers is a casual, open-air portrait of a bustling “Free Huey” rally in Oakland that arose from Varda’s transformative encounter with the Black Panthers in 1968;Women Reply: Our Bodies Our Sex is a frank examination of how women are taking control over their bodies and lives; the exuberant Salut les Cubains is sourced from the vast cache of photographs Varda shot during her 1962 trip to newly post-Revolution Cuba; and Ulysse is a stunning essay film and a wide-ranging, concentrically expanding inquiry into history, memory, politics, and place.
WHAT FAROCKI TAUGHT + INEXTINGUISHABLE FIRE, dir. Jill Godmilow / Harun Farocki
What Farocki Taught:
A shot-for-shot remake of Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire, translated into English and shot on color Kodachrome. Every motion is exquisitely reproduced—from the self-inflicted cigarette burn at the beginning, to a woman reacting to evening news coverage of the Vietnam War by putting her head on her husband’s shoulder—though the precision is occasionally underscored by Godmilow superimposing Farocki’s original over her reproduction. In a short epilogue, Godmilow is interviewed about her project on the set, expanding her thoughts in a voiceover recorded later: “We don’t have a name for this type of film… it replaces the documentary’s pornography of the real.”
Among the most powerful antiwar films ever made, Farocki’s short unsentimentally traces the connections between the state, corporate interests, and scientific research by dramatizing the internal workings of the Dow Chemical plant in Midland, Michigan, surrounding the development of napalm. With the haunting refrain “A chemical corporation is like a set of building blocks. We let each worker have one block to work with. Then we put the blocks together to make whatever our clients request,” the film builds upon repetitions and news footage from Vietnam to illustrate the devastating consequences of a populace divided and disempowered by capitalism.
LIONS LOVE, dir. Agnès Varda
“It’s your story—you do it!” Lions Love, made during Varda’s sojourn in California, was one of the director’s boldest, goofiest reckonings with the American counterculture. Warhol superstar Viva floats into a precarious ménage à trois with James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the lyricists of the musical Hair. Gleeful, unabashed disrobings; stretches of poolside drifting; visits from Eddie Constantine and Shirley Clarke; the announcement, by way of the trio’s boxy TV, of the shootings of Andy Warhol and RFK: Varda captures it all with her usual mischievous humor, occasionally—in an early show of her gifts as a personal essayist—stepping in front of the camera herself. An NYFF ’69 Selection.
NAOMI CAMPBEL, dir. Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso
The title of Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s debut feature, a hybrid film centered around the struggle of Yermén, a thirtysomething transgender woman, to finance her sex-change operation, is at once odd and totally fitting. “I’d like to look like Naomi Campbell,” a young woman tells Yermén as the two of them sit in a Santiago hospital waiting room. “Be exactly the same.” Naomi Campbel is a savvy critique of the assumptions—about gender, class, and beauty—that inspire that sort of talk, but it’s also an imaginative embodiment of the trans-ness it celebrates: a documentary with the structure of a fictional character study, and a sleekly shot piece of digital filmmaking punctuated by pixelated, low-grade video footage shot by Yermén herself.