John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection

The Film Society of Lincoln Center today announced the fifth edition of Art of the Real, an essential showcase for the most vital and innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking, taking place April 26 to May 6. The 2018 lineup features a host of brilliant new works and exciting artist spotlights, including one world premiere, eight North American premieres, and seven U.S. premieres, with many of the filmmakers in person.

“In addition to a lineup packed with ambitious first features, premieres, and festival favorites from around the world, this year we are thrilled to spotlight a group of remarkable artists who work with documentary aesthetics and practices in formally exciting ways,” said Film Society of Lincoln Center Programmer-at-Large Rachael Rakes, who organized the festival with Director of Programming Dennis Lim. “By bringing these artists and their works, typically exhibited in gallery contexts, to the cinema, we are acknowledging the intimate, focused environment that the theater and its audience offers.”

The Opening Night selection is the North American premiere of Julien Faraut’s John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, an essayistic found-footage ode to the capricious tennis legend. Closing Night is the World Premiere of Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s hallucinatory Empty Metal, which investigates personal politics in an apathetic world of mass surveillance and pervasive policing.

Highlights include the North American premiere of Infinite Football, Corneliu Porumboiu’s hilarious portrait of a Romanian bureaucrat attempting to change the rules of the game; the U.S. premiere of Sergei Loznitsa’s Victory Day, which documents Berlin’s annual gathering to commemorate the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis in World War II; Jake Meginsky & Neil Cloaca Young’s portrait of a radical jazz icon, Milford Graves Full Mantis, with Graves and the directors in person; Irene Lusztig’s fascinating Yours in Sisterhood, which features modern women reciting and reacting to letters about feminism sent to Ms. magazine in the 1970s; Karim Aïnouz’s Central Airport THF, a chronicle of a year in the life of asylum seekers in the titular German airport, originally built as a symbol for Hitler’s Germania; a tribute to late Mexican director Eugenio Polgovsky; and a special event featuring a performance lecture by Nicolás Pereda.

New works by familiar names at the festival include Wild Relatives from director Jumana Manna (A Magical Substance Flows Into Me), which documents the complex path taken to protect endangered seeds amidst climate change; black-and-white maritime vérité doc Inland Sea by Kazuhiro Soda (Oyster Factory); I Remember the Crows by Gustavo Vinagre (Nova Dubai), a deeply personal and illuminating portrait of the director’s collaborator Julia Katharine, filmed in a single all-night marathon session; and Once There Was Brasília from Adirley Queirós (White Out, Black In), a visually inventive rebuke of Brazil’s structural racism. The lineup also features several standout works by first-time filmmakers: Luise Donschen’s Casanova Gene, an utterly captivating visual exploration of desire; Gürcan Keltek’s poetic Meteors, which captures a critical political moment in Turkish-Kurdish conflict; and Juliana Antunes’s Baronesa, filmed with an almost exclusively female crew and cast of nonprofessional actors.

Art of the Real will also host a series of “Artist Spotlights,” four presentations and career-spanning conversations with visual artists whose work resonates with nonfiction filmmaking. Featured participants are Hiwa K, who will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the New Museum this May, and will present works from his recent “Pre-Image” series, among others; Amar Kanwar, who will present two works from his celebrated The Sovereign Forest series; Steffani Jemison, who will present her singular film and audio works, which merge politics, poetics, and aesthetics; and Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, presenting a survey of their recent immersive audiovisual works.

FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS

OPENING NIGHT
John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
Julien Faraut, France, 2018, 95m
French with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Jean-Luc Godard once said, “Cinema lies, sports doesn’t.” Julien Faraut’s sophisticated and witty found-footage ode to tennis legend John McEnroe takes this maxim as its point of departure. An essayistic investigation into the poetics of athletics, the film is composed largely of 16mm footage of Johnny Mac competing in the 1984 French Open—clubbing magisterial aces while bickering to no end with umpires, ball boys, and courtside cameramen alike. In the Realm of Perfection inventively renders its subject as both a brilliant athlete and a complicated man utterly alone in his greatness, fueled by, as the film/tennis critic Serge Daney wrote, “the eternal injustice of which he and only he is the victim.” An Oscilloscope release.

CLOSING NIGHT
Empty Metal
Adam Khalil & Bayley Sweitzer, USA, 2018, 83m
World Premiere
“I used to look forward to a complete societal collapse. I felt ready for it. I used to think the end of the world and the apocalypse were the same thing. Now I know the difference.” Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s first feature as co-directors, Empty Metal takes place in a world similar to ours—one of mass surveillance, pervasive policing, and increasing individual apathy. The lives of several people, each inhabiting extreme poles of American social and political consciousness, weave together as each attempts to achieve some kind of forward motion, sometimes in contradiction, and always under the eye of far more controlling powers. Filled with energy, rage, and the smallest measure of hope, Empty Metal is a new kind of political film for these extraordinary times.

All That Passes by Through a Window that Doesn’t Open
Martin DiCicco, USA/Qatar, 2017, 70m
Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Russian with English subtitles
New York Premiere
The Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway, known as the “Iron Silk Road,” sought to create the fastest route between Asia and Europe by running new track through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey (and ignore existing track in Armenia). Martin DiCicco’s serene documentary follows the laborers building the line as they work or hang out, giving them space to talk about their lives, country, beliefs, and regrets. The film, which won the Visions du Reel Best First Film Award, doubles as a stunning document of Central Asia’s unique geography.

Baronesa
Juliana Antunes, Brazil, 2017, 70m
Portuguese with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Juliana Antunes’s debut feature offers an evocative, rigorously composed glimpse at life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. Baronesa follows friends Leidiane and Andreia as their conversation flows freely across backyards and within cramped quarters, addressing the facts of life: family, drugs, sex, death. With its almost exclusively female crew and nonprofessional cast, Baronesa is structurally simple yet multilayered in its resonance, recalling the films of Pedro Costa as it establishes Antunes as a formidable new voice in Brazilian cinema. Winner of the Audience Prize at the 2017 FIDMarseille festival.

Braguino
Clément Cogitore, France, 2017, 49m
Russian patois with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
The director of Neither Heaven Nor Earth (ND/NF 2016) offers a look at the conflict between two families of “Old Believers” living in an extremely remote region of the Siberian taiga. Uninterested in anyone’s rules but their own, the families are not only threatened by each other and wild animals but also by environmental change.

Preceded by:
Divieto 2
Alex Tyson, USA/Italy, 2018, 12m
World Premiere
Monitoring the volcanologists, miners, and shopkeepers near the peak of Mount Etna in Sicily, Tyson generates an ever-expanding tableau of the volcano’s natural and manufactured landscape.

Casanova Gene / Casanovagen
Luise Donschen, Germany, 2018, 67m
English and German with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Donschen’s ravishing, eclectic feature debut veers radically from fiction to observational documentary to single-subject interview to landscape and back again. Exploring desire in a singular fashion, Donschen presents an investigation into the mating habits of finches; a portrait of a dominatrix, her clients, and her hypnotherapist; a conversation with John Malkovich, in the midst of an onstage role as Casanova; woozy, enigmatic, alluringly staged scenes in a bar; the goings-ons of a monastery; and assorted other phenomena, all richly captured on 16mm by cinematographer Helena Wittmann. An invigorating hybrid whatsit, Casanova Gene is a funny and seductive look at seduction, organized according to the ineffable logic of desire itself.

Central Airport THF / Zentralflughafen THF
Karim Aïnouz, Germany/France/Brazil, 2018, 97m
Arabic, English, and German with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Berlin-based Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz (Futuro Beach) returns with this impeccably photographed documentary chronicling a year in the lives of asylum seekers in Berlin’s historic Tempelhof, a former airport built by the Nazi government as a symbol for Hitler’s Germania. The irony is not lost on Aïnouz or his subjects—Ibrahim, an 18-year-old from Syria, and Qutaiba, a 35-year-old from Iraq who was forced to flee before he could graduate from medical school. Today, the airport has been repurposed into an emergency medical headquarters: an ad hoc village for those waiting to be deported or granted residency. Central Airport THF is a moving portrait of displaced people as well as a treatise on our malleable relationship to architecture.

Fail to Appear
Antoine Bourges, Canada, 2017, 70m
New York Premiere
Isolde (Deragh Campbell) is a support caseworker in training trying to get a handle on the protocols, norms, and material constraints of her new vocation. She’s assigned to the case of Eric (Nathan Roder), a withdrawn, sullen man charged with petty theft, with whom she must forge enough of a relationship that he’ll show up for his impending court date. Bourges’s Toronto-set debut precisely renders the mechanics and kinks of the Canadian legal system and social services, conferring an element of documentary reality on a droll, touching narrative, which has an elegantly unembellished style that verges on the Bressonian.

I Remember the Crows / Lembro mais dos Corvos
Gustavo Vinagre, Brazil, 2017, 82m
Portuguese with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Filmed in a single all-night session, the latest from Gustavo Vinagre (Nova Dubai, Art of the Real 2015) is an extended interview with his friend and collaborator Julia Katharine, a Japanese-Brazilian trans actress-filmmaker whose insomnia keeps her awake long enough to candidly spill stories of her childhood, family, romances, desires, self-destructive impulses, and—above all—love of cinema. Vinagre invests himself in Julia’s tales as a quiet but attentive insider as she speaks at length of her insecurities, her desire to divulge honestly and still engage her audience, and the various films that have shaped her identity, from Terms of Endearment to The Birds to Querelle. A deeply personal and immediate confessional that will readily call to mind Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason and Jean Eustache’s Numéro zéro, I Remember the Crows observes a psychological fulfillment from its subject and director inconceivable in any other time and place.

The Image You Missed
Donal Foreman, Ireland/France/USA/UK, 2018, 73m
English and French with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Foreman tries to understand the father he hardly knew, the Irish-American political filmmaker Arthur MacCaig, who passed away in 2008, in his singular essay film. Though he was largely based in Paris, MacCaig made documentaries on the conflict in Northern Ireland—including 1979’s The Patriot Game—and left behind a vast visual archive that Foreman analyzes in search of familial affinities. Through this footage—powerful, direct images capturing the Troubles in all their complexity—Foreman comes to know his father on a more profound and moving plane. The Image You Missed is an enthralling historical exhumation that erases the boundary between the personal and the political.

Infinite Football / Fotbal infinit
Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2018, 70m
Romanian with English subtitles
North American Premiere
The hilarious and politically incisive new film from Romanian New Wave master Porumboiu finds him spending time with Laurențiu Ginghină, a bureaucrat whose budding career on the pitch was cut short in 1987 by a slide tackle that fractured his fibula. Ginghină now dreams of radically revising the beautiful game’s rules in order to cut down on injuries and, in his mind at least, revolutionize the world’s most popular sport. Porumboiu’s portrait of this goofy and self-assured would-be revolutionary is a follow-up to The Second Game (which opened the inaugural edition of Art of the Real in 2014) and a clever parable for the obstacles faced by utopian thought today.

Inland Sea / Minatomachi
Kazuhiro Soda, Japan/USA, 2017, 122m
Japanese with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Kazuhiro Soda continues to monitor changes to the Japanese fishing industry in the black and white documentary Inland Sea, set in Ushimado, the same village as his expansive Oyster Factory (Art of the Real 2015). Mrs. Koso is an elderly fishmonger who shuffles through the streets hawking fish, and Mr. Murata (affectionately called “Wai-chan”) is an 86-year-old fisherman who still takes his boat out daily. Through a mix of vérité shots and direct conversations, Soda shows that these tenacious residents are so much more than remnants of a dying way of life.

Meteors / Meteorlar
Gürcan Keltek, Netherlands/Turkey, 2017, 84m
Kurdish and Turkish with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Gürcan Keltek’s poetic first feature captures a critical moment from the Turkish-Kurdish conflict via otherworldly black and white images, largely filmed with disarming immediacy by Southeast Turkish locals. Meteors repurposes this archival footage and combines it with intimate interviews and oneiric scenes of life in Southeast Anatolia to yield a panoramic view of Turkey in a moment of existential and political upheaval; the reverberations of the fight for Turkey’s future find expression in mountains dotted by rams and hunters and chaotic city streets littered with debris and protesters alike. Transcending fiction and nonfiction to arrive at a political truth somewhere in between, Meteors is a transfixing work featuring a cosmic ending not to be missed.

Milford Graves Full Mantis
Jake Meginsky & Neil Cloaca Young, USA, 2018, 91m
New York Premiere
An experimental jazz icon who has played with Albert Ayler, Giuseppi Logan, and Sonny Sharrock, Milford Graves is now the subject of a documentary as radical as his music. With a variety of formats, the film mixes interviews about Graves’s craft with impromptu backyard kung-fu sessions, archival performances, and glimpses of his eccentric home studio. Graves talks about the practices and technologies that have driven his work, from recordings of heartbeats to concepts of energy related to Chinese medicine. Even if you’re unfamiliar with his work, you’re sure to find Graves’s passions infectious and captivating.

Once There Was Brasília / Era uma Vez Brasília
Adirley Queirós, Brazil/Portugal, 2017, 99m
Portuguese with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Continuing the Afrofuturist docufiction of White Out, Black In (which screened at Art of the Real in 2015), Adirley Queirós’s Once There Was Brasília takes on the legacies of Brazil’s structural racism and the 2016 coup against Dilma Rousseff. W4, a disgraced intergalactic agent, is given the opportunity to acquire land for his family by traveling to earth to assassinate Juscelino Kubitschek, the president who founded Brasília, on the day the city was to be inaugurated. Instead, he ends up in Ceilândia (a suburb founded for Brasília’s black population) on the verge of Rousseff’s impeachment. Funny and visually dazzling (the cinematographer is filmmaker Joana Pimenta), Queirós’s film continues in the bold tradition of Brazilian underground cinema.

One or Two Questions / Unas preguntas
Kristina Konrad, Germany/Uruguay, 2018, 237m
Spanish with English subtitles
North American Premiere
What is peace? What is justice? Why should these two concepts be mutually exclusive? These hard questions are posed by Swiss documentarian Kristina Konrad’s epic document of Uruguay’s 1989 amnesty referendum, a vote to determine whether members of the police and military accused of crimes during the country’s 12 years of junta rule could be prosecuted after they were controversially granted impunity in 1986. Working from a wealth of U-matic tapes, Konrad follows two TV interviewers as they talk to common citizens on the street about how they’ll vote and what peace and justice mean to them. One or Two Questions is an engrossing, powerful, and frequently funny look at democracy in action.

Such a Morning
Amar Kanwar, India, 2017, 84m
New York Premiere
In this thoughtful meditation on modern existence, a well-off math professor gives everything up to live in a train car. Amar Kanwar’s dialogue-free film tells its tale through intertitles, letters, and minimal on-screen action. As the ascetic professor goes about his daily routine or just wanders around inside the car, Kanwar proves himself a master of light and shadow, making every small gesture into a simple, powerful image. Originally the centerpiece of an installation at Documenta 14, Such a Morning questions what it means to be truly in the moment.

Victory Day / Den’ Pobedy
Sergei Loznitsa, Germany, 2018, 94m
Russian, German and English with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
The latest from the versatile Loznitsa (My Joy, Maidan) documents the annual gathering at the Soviet Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park, a commemoration of the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis in World War II. Victory Day captures the final preparations before immersing us in a choreographed spectacle marked by unfettered kitsch, pride, shame, reflection, and celebration—a curious form of Russian patriotism away from Russia itself. With his typically patient, incisive eye, Loznitsa homes in on the contradictions and ecstatic strangeness of the ways history is used to forge a sense of community, yielding a complex work at once funny and profound.

Wild Relatives
Jumana Manna, Germany/Lebanon/Norway, 2017, 70m
English, Arabic, Norwegian with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Following her debut feature, A Magical Substance Flows Into Me (Art of the Real 2016), Jumana Manna has created a profound meditation on resilience in an era defined by displacement, climate change, and war. Wild Relatives documents the complex pathway of seed distribution between Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and the Global Seed Vault deep inside Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Manna’s beautifully photographed, itinerant documentary starts in the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)—a Lebanon-based gene bank of unique landraces and cereals, headquartered in Aleppo until 2012—and weaves through an intricate network of genealogists, refugees, farmers, and depositors as they safeguard endangered seeds through traditional and innovative agricultural methods.

Yours in Sisterhood
Irene Lusztig, USA, 2017, 101m
U.S. Premiere
In the 1970s, Ms. received several thousand letters to the editor detailing all manner of injustices—from discrimination at work to failed relationships—as well as criticisms of the magazine’s feminism. The staff responded to some, but the overwhelming majority of them went unpublished. Starting in 2015, Irene Lusztig returned to the sites where some of the letters originated and recorded women of all ages reciting them directly to the camera. The readers also respond with their own commentaries. These fascinating vignettes cohere into a remarkable study of the way things have and haven’t changed for women.

Shorts Program

TRT: 73m

A Moon Made of Iron / Una luna de hierro
Francisco Rodriguez, Chile/France, 2017, 28m
North American Premiere
Four Chinese workers died at sea after jumping from their boat in the hopes of reaching Chile. This film explores their story, mixing impressionist images of the sea with straightforward interviews.

La Libertad
Laura Huertas Millán, USA/Argentina, 2017, 29m
Spanish with English subtitles
Continuing the groundbreaking anthropological work of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, Laura Huertas Millán follows a group of indigenous weavers who use a pre-Spanish loom to create their work. The women and men onscreen discuss what freedom means to them—be it the decision not to marry or what it is to be wealthy.

Optimism
Deborah Stratman, USA/Canada, 2018, 15m
U.S. Premiere
A multilayered portrait of the residents of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, who live in perpetual winter and hibernal darkness.

TRIBUTE

Tribute to Eugenio Polgovsky (1977-2017):
Tropic of Cancer (Mexico, 2004, 52m)
Mitote (Mexico, 2012, 53m)
One of the best documentary filmmakers of his generation, Eugenio Polgovsky died suddenly last year. Art of the Real pays tribute to him with this double bill of medium-length works: Tropic of Cancer, a pointed dispatch from the deserts of inland Mexico, where impoverished families use homemade traps and weapons to hunt snakes and birds amid arid brushland, a state of existence that might as well be prehistoric; and Mitote, which weaves through the hunger strikers, wrestlers, soccer fans, and shamans at El Zocalo, Mexico City’s vast main plaza, evoking a hallucinatory, vérité snapshot of the nation.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS

Artist Spotlight: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
Approx: 90m
In their work, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, who live between NYC and Ramallah, synthesize sound, image, text, installation, and performance practices. Their exhibitions, films, and audio works engage with politics and create hyper-sensory audiovisual landscapes rooted in the real; these immersive new worlds then suggest an escape from or alternative to colonial and extractive narratives and discourse. This event will share some of the duo’s recent single-channel audiovisual works, followed by a discussion with the artists.

Artist Spotlight: Steffani Jemison
Approx. 90m
Multimedia artist Steffani Jemison’s videos, performances, scores, and installations seamlessly merge politics, poetics, and aesthetics. This program spotlights her urgent and sublime body of work, featuring several of Jemison’s videos from the past decade, many of which concentrate on the black male body in contemporary America, as well as her recent sound work, and will culminate in a career-spanning discussion with the artist.

Artist Spotlight: Hiwa K
Approx: 75m
Iraqi-born, Germany-based artist Hiwa K has created a body of work over the past 15 years that combines autobiography, oral histories, pedagogies, and multiple modes of encounter. His videos, performances, and installations often include people from his past and present life, from estranged family members, to recently acquired friends and strangers at a political rally. As a primarily self-taught artist, he creates work that inherently critiques the art education system and the professionalization of the field. Endemically social, and often tender and funny, the works together trace the artist’s own diasporic path. Coinciding with a solo exhibition of the artist at the New Museum, this screening and discussion highlights a few of the artist’s key works from the past decade.

Artist Spotlight: Amar Kanwar
Approx. 90m
Artist and filmmaker Amar Kanwar has spent his career chronicling India’s political shifts and the dramatic changes to its landscape, focusing especially on those most vulnerable to the effects. Kanwar’s series The Sovereign Forest focuses on the state of Odisha in East India, a locus of conflict, power grabs, and major development. This program features two core works from that project: The Scene of Crime (2011, 42 min), composed of a series of visual “maps” that document the landscape of Odisha in minute detail, serving as a memorial to the local land and lives lost to industrialization; and A Love Story (2010, 6 min), a tender love letter to the region’s lost landscape. Kanwar will discuss his films following the screening.

SPECIAL EVENT

Nicolás Pereda’s The Private Property Trilogy
Approx. 40m + Q&A
In this interactive performance, Nicolas Pereda will explain his relationship to C.B., an amateur archaeologist, activist, artist, and the creator of the Mining Museum in La Union, who lives in the Sierra de Catorce (one of the highest mountains in Mexico), as interview footage plays behind him. It’s a fascinating look at creativity and those who truly go their own way.

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