Regarding Susan Sontag | The New York Review of Books: A 50 Year Argument
Although cinema as such started with documentaries (at least, the Lumiere brothers’ cinema), when people hear our program’s name, Non-Fiction, they think of a book shelf. This involuntary association, we suspect, is the most accurate image that unites the films chosen for this year’s program. Among them, you’ll find a confession of love to the most important «book institution», the New York Review of Books, by a devoted reader Martin Scorsese; a life story of the critic and thinker Susan Sontag; Dior’s diaries in a film about how Raf Simons is trying to step into his shoes; and animated Ralph Steadman’s illustrations that represent gonzo no less than Raoul Duke’s hat in Hunter Thompson’s crazy stories. Bjork may be the only one out of place here: her hi-tech performance rather belongs to the iTunes Store.
However, allusions to books aside, the films in the program have one more common ground: they use culture as a key, a prism through which they look at the world and perceive it. No matter which world: that of the high fashion, that of New York intellectual.
These films are too few in number to represent today’s non-fiction cinema as a whole. Still, they are among the most remarkable in the whirlpool of festivals from New York to Toronto, and they do prove that today, real stories are often more interesting than imagined ones, and that their interpretation is every bit as artful.
Alena Bocharova, Kirill Sorokin, creators of the BEAT Non-fiction Film Festival
Ralph Steadman is all but a model hero for a film. Excellent storyteller, artist and caricaturist, he is famous for his artwork for Hunter Thompson’s books (including the psychedelic classics Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The film itself is a report of his meeting with another specialist in gonzo-style — Johnny Depp, who acts as an interviewer and a ringleader in this expedition into old times’ memories. The audience is invited to see images of the great era fly past before their eyes.
At first, Steadman sets out with Thompson to Kentucky Derby, then they go to Kinshasa to see a historic boxing event — Mohammad Ali against George Foreman, the fight that was called the Rumble in the Jungle. Then he goes shooting with Burroughs inevitably meeting some fishy adventures: drops of paint splash the screen and turn into magnificent animation pieces that remind us of another Steadman’s work — illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. This character has a lot
to tell us apart from being Thompson’s companion, though rare archive footage of Steadman squabbling with Thompson is still the major bait for the fans.
The film is directed by Charlie Paul, founder and creative director of London Itch Film company. He started as an artist and animator, in 90-s he became one of the most called-for advertisement directors in Britain. His award list includes a great number of prestigious international awards including BAFTA. For No Good Reason is his directorial debut, though he’s already had some experience as a clipmaker — one of his works is the video for Kaiser Chiefs’ song Oh My God.
After von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark Bjork refused to appear in films, so this one is as much of a star-role as Bjork’s fans can expect. Her performance has got enough magnetism to turn Biophilia into a real event. Luckily it is far more than just an occasion to film Bjork.
British filmmakers Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton turned Bjork’s last concert in Alexandra Palace into a dazzling audiovisual performance where a choir from Iceland meets cutting-edge animation, digital lightnings and thunderclouds, landscape collages combined with rare footage, and live performance recordings mix with phantasmagoric machinery based on the mobile application of the same name that recently became a part of MoMa collection.
Nick Fenton is a British filmmaker, editor, and BAFTA laureate. Among his works there are low budget comedies and a Tribeca festival triumpher, documentary The Arbor; but first of all he is known as the author of full-length musical films: Heima (2007), a film about Sigur Ros, Arctic Monkeys in Apollo (2008), All Tomorrow’s Parties, a documentary about the legendary music festival. Bjork: Biophilia Live (2014) is his directorial debut.
Peter Strickland, director and script writer, was named by The Guardian «one of the key British filmmakers of his generation». His first short film Bubblegum was chosen for the competition for the 1997 Berlin Film Festival. His full-length debut Katalin Varga, filmed in Transylvania within 17 days with the money inherited from his uncle was awarded the Silver Bear at 2009 Berlin Festival. And his 2012 work, Berberian Sound Studio — a delicate homage to giallo films — was appreciated not only by giallo fans.
Ōīņī: Dior č ˙ / Dior and I
Raf Simons has just been appointed Creative Director for Dior fashion house and now he has less than eight weeks for a new womenswear collection which usually takes eight months to prepare. Prior to this job, Simons worked for Jil Sander menswear line famed for its minimalism, but he has never dealt with haute couture womenswear. What may seem to be a purely professional intrigue, Frederic Tcheng managed to turn into a thrilling story of fashion industry backstage, adding a good deal of human condition that you’ll never find in a fashion magazine.
Raf Simons is the perfect hero for a film — a real sweetie. You can’t stop from falling in love with this man who sends handwritten thank you letters and insists that the future is more romantic than the past. In the interview for Vogue asked about his impression of the film, Raf Simons says: «I tried to look inside myself and inside my fears. The film gives the same strange feeling of intimacy that I always sensed at Dior itself. As soon as you enter the building you get a feeling that you have come home, to your family».
Frederic Tcheng is a french director, producer and editor focused mostly on fashion industry. An engineering graduate, he went to New York to study at the Film Division of Columbia University. In 2009, he worked as a co-producer, assistant cinematographer and editor for Valentino: The Last Emperor, shortlisted for Oscar’s «Best Documentary Feature». Dior and I, shown in the competition at Tribeca Film Festival, is his second directorial work, the first being the film about Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
Nancy Kates’ documentary Regarding Susan Sontag is an impressive outlook on the life of one of the most keen and paradoxical thinkers and cultural critics of the second half of the twentieth century — from her private life to her sparkling and daring articles on arts and politics. This picture made with care and delicacy does not claim objectivity but is full of undisguised admiration of the hero.
Showing the way Sontag developed into a significant figure in politics and feminism, director of the film, Nancy Kates, didn’t miss the private dimension of her life — the film has archival footage, interviews with friends, colleagues and lovers, we hear the voice of Sontag and her words read by Patricia Clarkson specially for this film.
This picture is an amazingly true, witty and memorable portrait punctually showing its model’s view of things. The first moments of her literary fame and her last romance are equally important for the story of the woman whose critique on photography, architecture, politics and terrorism is still being read with undiminishing interest. The film is directed by Nancy Kates, an independent filmmaker from San Francisco. A Harvard graduate, she went to Stanford to study cinematography; her degree work Their Personal Vietnam won the Student Academy Award and was shown at a number of prestigious film festivals like Sundance and South by Southwest.
This film of Martin Scorsese and his long-time collaborator David Tedeschi is a declaration of love to one of the oldest strongholds of intellectual thought — New York Review of Books, founded half a century ago as a response to dispiriting (as the founders insisted) state of things at the book department of New York Times. Since that time this medium has been believed to be one of the most important phenomena in American cultural and political life. Rewinding a long chain of debates, publications and ideas expressed on its pages by various people — from Truman Capote to Susan Sontag (her On Photography was first published here) — Scorsese skillfully combines his archive findings with high-end footage of the nowadays editor’s office.
Actually it’s a variation on the September issue. A bit more intellectual, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. As The Independent has put it, «The literary Gangs of New York get the Martin Scorsese treatment». And although its heroes express their ideas with words, not guns, their arguments and collisions were no less furious.
What arouses interest to this film is that Martin Scorsese acts not just as one of the most influential directors of the present, icon for cinephiles, «Oscar» and «Golden Globe» winner, Cannes and Venice laureate, but also as a first-class historian with an incredible sense of time. This talent of his has already revealed itself in a row of sensational documentaries, such as A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies and a pivotal work on the history of the Italian cinema My Voyage to Italy.
David Tedeschi is a noted editor, repeated Emmy nominee and longtime documentary collaborator of Martin Scorsese. A 50 Year Argument is his directorial debut. His next project is Scorsese’s yet untitled 1970’s rock’n’roll documentary series for HBO.