As deep grief and shockwaves make their way through our precious, vibrant, diverse and brilliant artistic community, please support this relief fund for the victims of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire.
Bring your preteen daughters to this uplifting, feminist tale about Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl who outmasters the town elders as she commands her tamed eagle to swoop in competition and capture foxes in the snowy backcountry. Both otherworldly and accessible, The Eagle Huntress takes us to remote northwestern Mongolia, to the ancient tradition of eagle hunting, where the Kazakh people tame wild eagles to hunt for food and fur. Over centuries, eagle hunting developed into an art form, with dramatic competitions proving eagle speed, obeisance and hunting prowess.
The film contains almost no plot, but this does not diminish the experience. Its style combines exceptionally vivid wildlife photography with observational ethnography, while emotionally functioning as a childhood fantasy. The beauty of this fantasy is its grounding in reality, a heartfelt sharing of an ancient culture and a celebration of family ties and the passing on of tradition. The unique subject, the gorgeous dance between human and bird, and the warm performances by native actors captivate and refresh the mind.
Actors Aisholpan Nurgaiv and Rhys Nurgaiv give warm and inspired performances.
Playing at an independent movie theater near you. Watch the trailer here.
Above: performance by the Church of Color and Light
Last night, Other Cinema hosted a gathering of witches, both embodied and bound in celluloid. The night began with a brewing of cups by the Church of Color and Light, a local ritualistic performance collective that uses overhead projection, dance movement, and incantation for audience involvement and transformation. One slithering spirit even abandoned a rubber snake in my lap. Soundtracked by the buzzing of flies, their cultus ceremony set tone for a spooky evening with intermittent camera flashes punctuating the dark.
Cohesively curated experimental film and video from past iterations of the Häxän Festival filled the remainder of the evening’s program. Häxän celebrates witchcraft and the personal occult from a feminine perspective, with all works curated and made by women. The program was strong yet scrappy, with a generous dose of silence and nudity. A couple of pieces veered too close to the works of experimental film great Maya Deren (unsurprisingly) and animator Lewis Klahr, to be truly original. But the lovely, ghostly Trapped Between Frames by Nazare Soares seemed outright possessed with its multi-exposed film frames trembling and twitching.
Trapped Between Frames by Nazare Soares
Saturn Return was the other standout. This homemade video set on a rocky Mexican outcropping featured creators Ale Bachlechner and Olivia Platzer in a smart and satirical take on astrology, self-help and the nature video. Creative costuming and absurd dialogue left us laughing at the enactments of a string of relationship breakups triggered by the unpredictable age of 29-1/2, otherwise known as the dreaded Saturn Return.
Saturn Return by Ale Bachlechner and Olivia Platzer
Photos by Kristin Cato
Above: Improvised multi-projection by the Trinchera Ensamble
San Francisco Cinematheque‘s Perpetual Motion series opened on Friday night at Gray Area to host a large crowd of live cinema enthusiasts. The series extends through December 7 and features both international and local artists who show up to create work in the moment. A growing arts movement, expanded cinema offers film experiences as live rather than prerecorded events. These may include multiple moving projectors, live manipulation of image and improvised audio tracks.
This premiere installment featured arc, the sentinels of West Oakland’s Black Hole Cinematheque, projecting layers of found film detritus. Jürgen Reble, on a rare visit from Düsseldorf, Germany, and the Trinchera Ensamble, with its eyepopping abstractions, rounded out the show. These pieces all come from the School of Art as Endurance Test with elongated TRTs (total running times) to form immersive aesthetic experiences. The chaotic yet repetitive confluences require audience surrender, as they aim for a kind of purifying transcendence. Either they (or you) pass the test or they (or you) don’t.
It was the second piece, Alchemie by Jürgen Reble, that most caught me with its ritualistic fury. It raised the stakes to fulfill the promise of a true one-off event with a higher level of unpredictability. In this piece, the film loop circled across our consciousness to the point of mania while passing through chemicals and agent-changing solutions. We saw orphaned, trance-gripped beings change from negative image to positive image to pure grain to obliteration.
The object of art being destroyed by the very act of its presentation isn’t new. Years ago, I witnessed a similar event: a loop of black leader film punctured and eventually destroyed by a sewing machine. However, this one featured haunted visages that glowed beneath unraveling streams of emulsion, faces of those seemingly lost in time and space under the spell of, or perhaps in communication with, sublime cosmic forms. It was enough to induce a mystical fever in those of us susceptible to such enchantments.
The next Perpetual Motion show takes place on October 11 with Ken Jacobs’ Nervous Magic Lantern.
On the surface, Grand Concourse tells the story of four individuals at an urban soup kitchen, and their struggles with God, love, and mental stability. Cathleen Riddley plays Shelly, a nun who runs a tight ship providing meals for the homeless, but who struggles to pray even five minutes a day. Enter nineteen year old Emma (Megan Trout), a new volunteer who brings complication to the lives of Shelly, hired help Oscar (Caleb Cabrera), and Frog, one of the regulars, an insightful man on the edge of mental illness. Kevin Clarke portrays Frog with a charming sensitivity, offering a full-rounded treatment of this vulnerable and likeable character.
Heidi Schreck‘s play is anything but feel-good, though the dialogue is playful and enjoyably real. In one of my favorite scenes, Emma relishes the features of her makeup kit, then refreshes her eyes and lips to shake off the unsavory feeling of her first night serving soup to the poor. It’s a delicate, yet telling moment. As we move further in, her actions signal a gentrifying, invasive force where forgiveness is simply not an appropriate response, even for a nun.
As such, at its core, Grand Concourse represents a deeply political play, but not in a conspicuous way. Its wider lessons seep in slowly as we witness the emotional wreckage left when privilege meddles with the underclass, unconsciously exploiting the needy, and the sincere. Without giving too much away, let’s just say, some of the best plays are about liars.
Show ends on August 21. Get tickets here.
The story begins with a corpse, and through this tragic lens, we learn about Mona Bergeron, a lonely vagrant, in a fictionalized investigation, through the eyes of all that crossed her path one winter in the countryside of France. After watching it twice, I am awed to discover such a brilliant and unusual film only now, after over 20 years of studying cinema. It belongs up there with the greatest of the greats, not only as a feminist film, but a masterpiece of storytelling, social commentary, and nuanced character.
Originally named Sans toit ni loi, “Without Roof nor Law”, the film, released in 1986, represents an early cross-genre experiment, mixing fiction and documentary styles, with a startling surrealist scene at the end. Ravishingly well-photographed, paced beautifully, expertly edited, the film is a stunning work. Mona meanders the countryside, small towns and graveyards with nothing but a backpack and a shredded tent. As we trace her journey in flashback, people in her story turn to address the camera as if being interviewed, to share their varied impressions of her.
Mona confesses to no purpose or worldview, other than her hatred for bosses and her belief that three is a crowd. She possesses a carelessness that allows her into places few others go. She exhibits sexual freedom, she accepts and turns down various invitations for help, she makes friends, and she unearths the long-dormant joy of an elderly woman. She also gets raped. The camera fixes on her every move, yet restrains from psychologizing or sympathizing, and depicts a hardy, unvarnished lifestyle of mere survival.
The film does, however, reveal plenty about the people who meet her and the worlds through which her movements pass. It adeptly teases out social beliefs that surround her and the self-constructed cages people live in. Yolande, a maid with a criminal no-good boyfriend, envies Mona’s freedom, as well as her fleeting yet tender relationship with a man, when Yolande discovers the two sleeping together in an abandoned chateau. A professor who studies tree disease adopts Mona as a car companion and views her as an aspect of her guilty conscience. An aspiring, wealthy graduate student despises her, simply for her outsiderness, as a potential threat to his status. When a Tunisian field worker takes her in, Mona enters a love relationship that is quickly undermined by circumstances. The Tunisian’s testimony about Mona has no words, delivered only through a heartbroken gaze into the camera.
This unspoken, unconditional love represents the feminist voice in the film, the one that allows Mona a space to exist outside the codes and strictures of society. Many of the town folk in the film reflect on the rarity of a sole woman wanderer. Indeed, with so few cultural prototypes of the female drifter, we can barely frame Mona, as she floats through the world, inured to overdetermined roles. While leaving her unframable, the film also shows us how precarious and short-lived this zoneless space can be.
Dogtown Redemption tells the story of the West Oakland residents who subsist recycling other people’s garbage. Specifically, it exposes the impoverished community that revolves around Alliance Recycling on Peralta Street. Many, if not most, of the recyclers are homeless, but the recycling center offers a regular, meager income and a binding sense of purpose to the most industrious among them.
Filmmakers Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush created the film over seven years. It reveals a complex picture of a delicate economic system that sustains an entire community, providing work opportunity to over 1000 people in the neighborhood. While it acknowledges a power imbalance between Alliance’s wealthy owner, Jay Anast, and the people who supply a constant flow of scrap material, it paints a picture of a friendly and productive relationship between them, and the foundation of a functional community. It also highlights dire repercussions when the business gets sued by the City of Oakland, in a political vendetta to shut the place down due to unconfirmed criminal activity.
Most importantly, the film investigates the lives of individual recyclers, their histories, their relationships, and their somewhat chosen lifestyles, to illustrate the problem of poverty as both individual and systemic. Jason Witt, a warm-hearted recycling high-achiever, lives in a tent on the edge of Highway 80 with wife Heather Holloman, has a seven year old boy who lives with grandparents, and practices karate as a black belt. Hayok Kay, former drummer in a punk band, moves in and out of shelters, and suffers grief over the recent death of her partner. Charismatic Landon Goodwin climbs out of his life on the street, develops a ministry and gets married.
We gain intimate access to their struggles with drugs, their heartbreaks, successes and failures. We learn that not only does poverty transcend race, but so does love. The lives of these collectors are multidimensional and relations between them are dedicated and intimate.
AMC Theaters Bay Street sponsored this free screening in Emeryville which was organized by local online journal The E’ville Eye and John Bauters’ campaign for city council. John Bauters brings specialized knowledge and experience to issues of homelessness. If elected, he promises to be an informed and caring advocate for the poor in Emeryville.
Dogtown Redemption screens again tomorrow, June 18 at the West Oakland Youth Center at 3:00pm, a valuable opportunity for locals to meet the filmmakers, and to discuss these issues with the community in which the film takes place.