Ephraim Asili’s The Inheritance
Ephraim Asili’s The Inheritance

Film at Lincoln Center announced the Currents section lineup for the 58th New York Film Festival taking place September 17 – October 11. The new Currents section includes 14 features and 46 short films, representing 28 countries, and complements the Main Slate, tracing a more complete picture of contemporary cinema with an emphasis on new and innovative forms and voices.

Opening Night of Currents is Projections alum Ephraim Asili’s first feature, The Inheritance, a powerfully dynamic hybrid film that documents the history of Philadelphia-based Black liberation group MOVE alongside dramatizations of the filmmaker’s own experiences in an activist collective. Asili has also selected Ivan Dixon’s seminal satire The Spook Who Sat by the Door, about a Black nationalist who infiltrates the CIA, to be added to NYFF58’s Revivals section.

Feature highlights include a pair of films by the unfailingly original Heinz Emigholz—The Last City and The Lobby, making its World Premiere; John Gianvito’s Her Socialist Smile, a multimedia meditation on Helen Keller’s often overlooked activism around labor rights and progressive causes, also making its World Premiere; The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror, legendary Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz’s previously unfinished fever dream, completed by his widow, Valeria Sarmiento; Luis López Carrasco’s Hi-8-shot The Year of the Discovery, a critical reconstruction of a pivotal year in Spanish history; Nicolás Zukerfeld’s There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse, also a World Premiere, which uses a collage of images from the work of Raoul Walsh to reflect on memory and the medium of cinema; and Allison Chhorn’s deeply personal The Plastic House, about processing life after death and the healing power of nature.

Shorts highlights include new work by NYFF Main Slate alumni Jafar Panahi, Sergei Loznitsa, Guy Maddin, and Dominga Sotomayor, as well as Akosua Adoma Owusu, the recipient of FLC’s 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist award; and the return of the popular New York Stories program, showcasing short work from local voices including program regulars Ricky D’Ambrose, Sarah Friedland, Jay Giampietro, and Lewie and Noah Kloster, whose Shots in the Dark with David Godlis is a tender portrait of the beloved NYFF house photographer and his CBGB street photography roots. Other festival alumni debuting new shorts include Ayo Akingbade, Ute Aurand, Ismaïl Bahri, Sofia Bohdanowicz, Burak Çevik, Mary Helena Clark, Alexandra Cuesta, Kevin Jerome Everson, Riccardo Giacconi, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Phạm Ngọc Lân, Laida Lertxundi, Simon Liu, Steve Reinke, Ben Rivers, Sylvia Schedelbauer, Ana Vaz, and Andrew Norman Wilson.

“Throughout its history the New York Film Festival has made room for work that challenges the cinematic status quo, from the thematic showcases of the early years to recurring programs like Views From the Avant-Garde and, most recently, Projections,” said Dennis Lim, NYFF Director of Programming. “Currents is the latest—and the largest—incarnation of this category of programming. It takes a bigger-tent approach to encompass different forms of experimentation and innovation, and it represents our belief that the most vital work in any art form is often to be found among its most daring risk-takers.”

Films & Descriptions

FEATURES

Opening Night
The Inheritance
Ephraim Asili, 2020, USA, 100m

Pennsylvania-born filmmaker Ephraim Asili has been exploring different facets of the African diaspora—and his own place within it—for nearly a decade. His feature-length debut, The Inheritance, is a vibrant, engaging ensemble work that takes place almost entirely within the walls of a West Philadelphia house where a community of young people have come together to form a collective of Black artists and activists. Based partly on Asili’s own experiences in a Black liberationist group, the film interweaves a scripted drama of characters attempting to work towards political consensus with a documentary recollection of the Philadelphia liberation group MOVE, which was the victim of a notorious police bombing in 1985. Asili’s film is an endlessly generative work of politics, humor, and philosophy, referencing the legacies of the Black Arts Movement and featuring Black authors and radicals, members of MOVE, as well as poets Ursula Rucker and Sonia Sanchez.

Fauna
Nicolás Pereda, 2020, Mexico/Canada, 70m
Protean filmmaker Nicolás Pereda always takes viewers on zigzag narratives whose complexities belie the sedentary nature of the characters at their center. His alternately ticklish and dark-toned latest feature mixes realism and light absurdity in the story of a young television actress who joins her estranged brother and new boyfriend—also an actor, though he has yet to graduate from bit player—to visit her family at her parents’ rustic home in the Mexican countryside. There, the couple deals with culture clash and familial rivalries, but Pereda has a metafictional trick up his sleeve that reveals the grim intimations of violence bubbling under the community. Fauna, taking its title from one of its characters, is a clever and entertaining inquiry into performance and the stories we tell.

Her Name Was Europa
Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy, 2020, Germany, 76m
The aurochs were a breed of wild cattle indigenous to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Extinct since the early 17th century, these majestic, horned beasts have long held a mythological status, believed to embody supernatural powers. In the early 20th century, German scientists began a series of attempts to resurrect the species under the auspices of the Nazi regime; such experiments continue today in various forms. Berlin-based filmmakers Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy use this history to fashion a poetic and deadpan 16mm work of fanciful nonfiction that calls attention to itself as a constructed version of a strange reality.

Screening with Her Name Was Europa:
A Night at the Opera
Sergei Loznitsa, 2020, France, 19m
Digging once again into the deep archives of 20th-century audiovisual history, Sergei Loznitsa crafts this elegant, ironic mini-portrait of the galas of Paris’s Palais Garnier in the 1950s and ’60s. With his typically masterful use of montage and a minutely reconstructed soundtrack, Loznitsa revisits a sociopolitical microcosm that features adoring crowds and glimpses of Bardot, Cocteau, and Queen Elizabeth II amid the pomp and ceremony of Parisian high society.

Her Socialist Smile
John Gianvito, 2020, USA, 93m
For nearly two decades, John Gianvito has been carving out a unique space in American cinema with passion projects of expansive shape and political ambition, including The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, a documentary-fiction inquiry into the human toll of the Gulf War, and Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, a becalmed yet radical Howard Zinn–inspired reflection on American progressivism. In his new film, Gianvito meditates on a particular moment in early 20th-century history: when Helen Keller began speaking out passionately on behalf of progressive causes. Beginning in 1913, when, at age 32, Keller gave her first public talk before a general audience, Her Socialist Smile is constructed of onscreen text taken from Keller’s speeches, impressionistic images of nature, and newly recorded voiceover by poet Carolyn Forché. The film is a rousing reminder that Keller’s undaunted activism for labor rights, pacifism, and women’s suffrage was philosophically inseparable from her battles for the rights of the disabled.

The Last City
Heinz Emigholz, 2020, Germany, 100m

Five distinct cities across the world become the backdrops for a series of spiraling tête-a-têtes in Heinz Emigholz’s ambitious and surprisingly funny film, which moves him ever further away from his documentary origins and into the realms of the uncanny. John Erdman and Jonathan Perel, who appeared in Emigholz’s magnum opus of psychoanalysis and architecture, Streetscapes [Dialogue], kick things off as an archaeologist and a weapons designer discussing war and depression in Israel’s industrial city Be’er Sheva. From there, Emigholz introduces an expansive roster of deadpan performers in dual roles (including Young Sun Han, Dorothy Ko, Susanne Sachsse), interacting in Athens, Berlin, Hong Kong, and São Paulo, and wrestling with issues such as war crimes, racism, family, religion, sex, and cosmology. As Erdman, Emigholz’s surrogate, says, it’s a film of “social taboos, the paradoxical logic of dreams, an infinite round dance.”

The Lobby
Heinz Emigholz, 2020, Germany/Argentina, 76m
“There is no Here here.” A character simply named Old White Male (John Erdman) holds court in the lobbies of various apartment buildings in Buenos Aires and expounds with measured disgust on death, consciousness, and the state of contemporary human relations. The man’s mostly unsolicited remarks form an unsparing, stitched-together modern-day monologue that alternates between absurd and chilling, reasonable and grotesque. Filmed in Buenos Aires in October 2019, Heinz Emigholz’s spare continuation—and sardonic distillation—of certain themes explored in The Last City is morbid, confrontational, and hilarious.

My Mexican Bretzel
Nuria Giménez, 2019, Spain, 74m
Mid-century home movies in glorious color provide the narrative skeleton for a singular exploration of storytelling in Nuria Giménez’s first feature. Winner of the Found Footage Award at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, My Mexican Bretzel uses onscreen subtitles, taken from the diaries of one Vivian Barrett, to accompany and narrate silent images of her life with her husband Léon, a World War II pilot who damaged his hearing in a plane accident. As we follow the couple on their travels around the world, their story grows more unpredictable and perhaps improbable, and Giménez reveals her spellbinding film to be an imaginative cinematic sleight of hand.

Ouvertures
The Living and the Dead Ensemble, 2020, UK/France, 132m
The first film from The Living and the Dead Ensemble—a collaboration among artists and performers from Haiti, France, and the United Kingdom spearheaded by artist Louis Henderson and curator Olivier Marboeuf—Ouvertures traces a reverse chronology of the life of revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture from his imprisonment and death in France at the hands of Napoleon’s forces, to Port-au-Prince, where, in the present, a group of young actors translate, rehearse, and debate their Creole production of Édouard Glissant’s play Monsieur Toussaint. The film becomes a meditation on the politics of collective authorship and translation, creating a space in which the ghosts of Haiti’s colonial past return to address its present.

The Plastic House
Allison Chhorn, 2019, Australia, 46m
Australian filmmaker Allison Chhorn allows the viewer to feel time passing, seasons changing, and life moving on in this tactile, lovingly crafted cinematic experiment that doubles as a personal emotional exercise. Economical yet expansive, and largely wordless, The Plastic House takes place almost entirely inside and around her Cambodian family’s dilapidated greenhouse, where she oversees inspiring regrowth despite the sometimes harsh natural elements. Chhorn filters and displaces her fears about her parents’ deaths onto an intensely moving narrative of ritual, physical labor, and isolation.

Screening with The Plastic House:
See You in My Dreams
Shun Ikezoe, 2020, Japan, 19m
An affecting homage to the filmmaker’s grandmother, See You in My Dreams recounts her intimate life experiences from first love to marriage to raising children, and her evolving sense of self. Her recollections are paired with ethereal images of a stand-in for her younger self rendered through the textures of black-and-white Super 8mm film, bringing to spectral life what could have been their lost home movies.

Slow Machine
Joe DeNardo & Paul Felten, 2020, U.S., 72m
The thriller genre is exploded and reassembled in DeNardo and Felten’s funny and alluring work on paranoia, surveillance, and performance. Featuring an intriguingly eclectic cast (including the experimental theater performers Stephanie Hayes and Scott Shepherd, the musician Eleanor Friedberger, and Chloë Sevigny), Slow Machine follows an actress (Hayes) whose intimate relationship with a shadowy NYPD-affiliated operative ends abruptly and disastrously, leading her to hide out in a country house otherwise occupied by a band preparing their new record. But la vie bohemienne proves almost as anxious and tense as life in the city… Deftly lensed in 16mm and unfurling as a digressive, tantalizingly off-kilter mystery, Slow Machine is a fascinating work pitched at the intersection of American independent cinema and the avant-garde theater of Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group.

Screening with Slow Machine:
Hard, Cracked The Wind
Mark Jenkin, 2019, UK, 17m
In Mark Jenkin’s deliriously arch gothic, an aspiring Cornish-revivalist poet buys an antique writing case engraved with her initials, and finds inside it a haunted unfinished poem and the ghost of its previous owner who coerces her to finish it. Jenkin resurrects the past, namely his native Cornwall’s endangered language, using his trademark scratchy, hand-processed black-and-white photography and post-sync sound, conjuring an atmosphere and time out of joint.

There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse / No existen treinta y seis maneras de mostrar cómo un hombre se sube a un caballo
Nicolás Zukerfeld, 2020, Argentina, 63m
Nicolás Zukerfeld’s third feature is a wry, surprising work of filmmaking-as-criticism that begins as a kind of supercut of moments from the work of pantheon Hollywood auteur Raoul Walsh. This rhythmically entrancing parade of images traces a mysterious and amusing arc across the director’s vast oeuvre—but at the halfway mark, the film reinvents itself as an idiosyncratic, essayistic investigation into memory, cinema, and their shared mutability. There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways… reimagines cinema as a medium for the generation and transmission of ideas, and the results are by turns humorous, stimulating, and thrilling.

Screening with There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse:
Stump the Guesser
Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, 2020, Canada, 19m
Surreal superimpositions, Dutch angles, strobing abstract animation, and thunderous title cards collide in this tale of a carnival mindreader who finally meets his match, told as a raucous hodgepodge of tropes derived from Soviet silent cinema. Expanding Guy Maddin’s strange universe alongside frequent collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson, Stump the Guesser is a bizarrely humorous and modernist dystopian fable packed with incest, guessing milk, real crabs, and more.

The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror
Raúl Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento, 2020, Chile, 64m
This latest dispatch from beyond the grave by the late legendary Chilean director Raúl Ruiz (completed, as ever, by his widow, the filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento) takes as its basis an abandoned 1967 effort by Ruiz, begun well before his exile from Chile after Augusto Pinochet’s brutal seizure of power in 1973. Working from the ethereal, surrealistic, Poe-like images that Ruiz left behind, Sarmiento has reconstructed the story her husband had wished to tell: that of a sickly literature professor haunted by the memory of his wife (who has recently committed suicide) and attempting to carry on as normal despite the ever-weakening boundary between his dreams and waking life. The Tango of the Widower is paradoxically both an early Ruiz film and a radically contemporary experiment, at once the birth of a new work and the resurrection of a work that never was.

The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin)
C.W. Winter & Anders Edström, 2020, USA/Sweden/Japan/UK, 480m
Five seasons, four parts, eight hours: the dimensions of C.W. Winter and Anders Edström’s film are as incommensurable as its central figure. Tayoko Shiojiri, a vegetable farmer who works and cares for her ailing husband in a small village north of Kyoto, Japan (and who is also Edström’s mother-in-law), is the nominal core of this monumental work, a matriarch whose labor the film observes through precise tableaux, dense sonic collage, and sequences that bend all conventional distinctions between fiction and documentary. Through the film’s workday duration, time itself becomes the subject: in its incremental movement at natural, epochal, and human scales, and through the slow passage of a rural way of life that is fading into the past. A Grasshopper Film release.

The Year of the Discovery
Luis López Carrasco, 2020, Spain, 200m
Shot on Hi-8 videotape entirely within a typically smoky Spanish snack bar in the city of Cartagena in Murcia—with occasional interruptions from the archive in the form of propagandistic news bulletins and exuberant TV commercials—Luis López Carrasco’s second feature excavates the forgotten histories of 1992. In this pivotal year, Spain celebrated both the Olympic Games in Barcelona and the quincentenary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas—and ushered in a new age of neoliberalism and economic restructuring. Through one-on-one interviews, complex split-screen compositions, and subtle manipulations of time, The Year of the Discovery offers a vivid counternarrative to the official history, one in which industrial labor’s toll on the body and the brutal fracturing of communities testifies against a national mythology of progress.

SHORTS

Program 1: Remains to Be Seen
73 min

Apparition
Ismaïl Bahri, 2019, Tunisia/France, 3m
Held up to the light and explored by the artist’s hands, an archival photograph taken on Tunisia’s day of independence in 1956 becomes the site of a tactile exploration of history, enacting a process through which impressions of the past, once hidden, reappear and fade.

A Revolt Without Images
Pilar Monsell, 2020, Spain, 14m
Tracing the history of a women-led uprising in the Spanish city of Córdoba in 1652, Pilar Monsell’s film resurrects an event for which there exist neither names nor faces nor images. From empty historic ruins to a gallery of women’s portraits and the museumgoers who gaze upon them, the film ponders the question of how to rematerialize a history of resistance in the present—a history continually under threat of erasure.

UNTITLED SEQUENCE OF GAPS
Vika Kirchenbauer, 2020, Germany, 13m
Through an assemblage of vignettes employing various imaging techniques, from infrared to home video fragments, Vika Kirchenbauer’s personal essay film explores that which remains outside the realm of the visible. Meditating on trauma-induced memory loss—in collective and public histories, as well as individual experiences of violence—UNTITLED SEQUENCE OF GAPS draws nuanced and lyrical connections between the elusive nature of the color spectrum and that of subjective trauma.

This Day Won’t Last
Mouaad el Salem, 2020, Tunisia/Belgium, 25m
A refracted self-portrait in the form of a video diary, This Day Won’t Last veers from nightmare to fantasy to the banalities of everyday life, as the artist finds himself caught between an unstable present—the status of queer people in post-revolutionary Tunisia, his complicated relationship with his family—and an uncertain future.

Hidden
Jafar Panahi, 2020, France, 18m
A sly mini-remake of his last feature, 3 Faces (NYFF57), Jafar Panahi’s new short film follows the filmmaker, his daughter, and her theater-producer friend to a remote Kurdish village to visit a woman, a preternaturally gifted singer, whose traditional family refuses to allow her to perform publicly. What they find there is both beautifully surprising and richly allegorical: a secret to be kept hidden that is nevertheless yearning to break free.

Program 2: Free Radicals
67 min

King of Sanwi
Akosua Adoma Owusu, 2020, USA/Ghana, 7m
A companion piece to Pelourinho: They Don’t Really Care About Us (NYFF57), King of Sanwi continues Akosua Adoma Owusu’s exploration of Michael Jackson as a global pop icon. Here, Michael’s long affinity with the African continent—from the Jackson 5’s arrival in Senegal in 1974 to Michael’s coronation as an Ivorian king in 1992—is captured in vibrant, fuzzy archival video, made visceral by Owusu’s funky audiovisual collage and richly material direct animation effects.

– force –
Simon Liu & Jennie MaryTai Liu, 2020, Hong Kong/USA, 9m
Placid views of Hong Kong merge with dizzying, semi-abstract digital animations—avatars in a parable about control. A mesmerizing, menacing voiceover—part body politic regulator, part cyberpunk travel guide—both promises order, accountability, and satisfaction, and threatens trouble, polarization, and tears. A fire has been started, movement has gone on to reach multiple points of no return.

To the Harbour
Anonymous, 2020, Hong Kong, 18m
Shaky, low-resolution footage of the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests and the island city’s watery skyline serves as the setting for this lyrical, anonymously made film, which takes the shape of a dialogue between two voices—a man’s and a woman’s—as they ponder the city’s precarious present and its possible futures.

Trust Study #1
Shobun Baile, 2020, USA, 15m
In English and Urdu with English subtitles
Hawala, an ancient informal money transfer system, is a subject of a dialogue unfolding in silence via onscreen text, against the backdrop of lurid off-set color images from an old Pakistani tourist guide. During Operation Green Quest, a post-9/11 investigation by U.S. intelligence into terrorist financing sources, the transit of people and money demanded new conduits of trust, new modes of encryption. Sometimes the unofficial route is more reliable.

Ekphrasis
Riccardo Giacconi, 2019, Italy, 18m
Extending the artist’s research into the complex genealogy of South Tyrol, a province that’s home to Italy’s German-speaking population, Riccardo Giacconi’s film offers a minute, zoomed-in examination of historical photographs, uncovering the markers of an insidious ideological undercurrent—sometimes oblique, sometimes overt—sustained through neo-fascist symbolism, rituals, and terrorist activity into the present.

Program 3: Letters from Home
91 min

Malembe
Luis Arnías, 2020, Venezuela/USA, 12m
Through its rhythmic montage and mix of observational and surreal imagery, Malembe forges oblique linkages between the United States and Venezuela, conveying the strange dissociation of being uprooted, of living between places. As a knife cuts through sky, through snow, and through fruit, quasi-ethnographic footage—with its conventional markers of music, food, ritual—joins with home-movie auto-portraiture of a New England winter, communicating a sense of dislocation at once vertiginously queasy and absurdly comic.

Notes, Imprints (On Love): Part I
Alexandra Cuesta, 2020, USA/Ecuador, 19m
Alexandra Cuesta’s film collects sketches, texts, and minor epiphanies. Summery landscapes, lakeside reveries, desolate construction sites and diners, blighted strip mall suburbia, sunny autumns—these fragments accumulate into a portrait of domesticity and love that nonetheless betrays a quiet unease, with the camera becoming a tool for the exorcism of specters.

Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995
Ute Aurand, 2020, Germany, 4m
In Aurand’s signature diaristic form, roses in bloom, farm animals, Orkney landscapes, and scenes of the late filmmaker Margaret Tait having tea are rendered through expressive Bolex movements as well as the director’s active camera, and punctuated by abstract swaths of saturated and shifting colors. The film is an homage to Tait, whom Aurand visited in Orkney.

Correspondence
Carla Simón & Dominga Sotomayor, 2020, Spain/Chile, 20m
In patchwork epistolary form, a correspondence between two filmmakers unfolds in images, sounds, and words, as they report on their lives, exchange pictures, and describe their dreams. The recent deaths of elder relatives raises the question of maternity and the futures of their families, their countries, and their art. Is it possible to make films and have children?

Claudette’s Star
Ayo Akingbade, 2019, UK, 6m
The young artists portrayed in Ayo Akingbade’s Claudette’s Star map trajectories between the UK, Nigeria, and India and ponder myriad divergent artistic forms—the Black British artist Claudette Johnson’s portraits; the late baroque and neoclassical works at London’s Royal Academy—while a decelerated version of Derrick Harriott’s reggae hit the “The Loser” plays on the soundtrack. What emerges is a euphoric portrait of artists contemplating art and navigating a route between tradition and innovation, creation and interpretation.

Episodes – Spring 2018
Mathilde Girard, 2020, France, 30m
The episodes in Mathilde Girard’s film assemble a group of Parisian twentysomething artists and students into a kind of musical round: a loose harmony of dreams, concepts, memories, and conversations. Each of these links one character to the other through a set of common references—Schopenhauer, Pasolini, Serge Daney—as well as shared spaces, political affiliations, and physical and emotional experiences.

Program 4: There Are Other Worlds They Have Not Told You Of
67 min

Labor of Love
Sylvia Schedelbauer, 2020, Germany, 11m
Stroboscopic color fields and partial images—crashing waves, cascading blood cells, firing neurons—accompany a lulling voiceover, which guides the viewer on a journey of haptic sensation. Spiraling through infinite portals within portals, a hallucinatory descent through mutating forms and exploding energies, Labor of Love offers a unique, multidimensional experience, a vertiginous sensation of proprioception that bends our coordinates of time and space.

Look Then Below
Ben Rivers, 2019, UK, 22m
Third in a suite of collaborations with science fiction author Mark von Schlegell that includes Slow Action (NYFF49) and Urth (2016), Ben Rivers’ Look Then Below blends 16mm cinematography and computer-generated imagery to transform the areas in and around Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset, UK, into a new anthropocenic landscape, forever transformed and transforming. Vermillion skies, iridescent oceans, irradiated vegetation, and ruined ancient palaces lead the way to a subterranean space of glowing mystery.

Figure Minus Fact
Mary Helena Clark, 2020, USA, 13m
Marbled end pages, spectral bouquets filmed in day-for-night blue and hunting camera night vision, stingrays in an aquarium touch pool. Mary Helena Clark’s disjunctive montage encodes a diffuse succession of physical and emotional sensations—intimacy, loss, euphoria—in a subjectless portrait of mourning. Here, an affective space opens up in which visceral vulnerabilities are felt across various forms: bodies and objects, animate and inanimate alike.

While Cursed by Specters
Burak Çevik, 2020, Turkey, 10m
Burak Çevik’s film reworks the stark black-and-white compositions of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s 1984 film Klassenverhältnisse (Class Relations) in which German locations stand in for the imagined country of Kafka’s unfinished novel, Amerika. Here, however, depopulated interiors and desolate outdoor spaces carry the phantasmic traces of humanity—voices, shadows, photographs, cars—but never let them appear, suggesting a world in which all connections to the social have come untethered.

In the Air Tonight
Andrew Norman Wilson, 2020, USA, 11m
A ghost story, a simulation, a message unspooling from a fax machine: In the Air Tonight recreates the apocryphal narrative of the origins of Phil Collins’ anthemic ’80s mega-hit, via the voiceover of an “artist friend” nicknamed Slipperman, who narrates a lurid backstory against exquisitely montaged footage evoking shimmering cocaine-fueled LA nightlife, slo-mo moonlit waves, and the glossy black hood of a Ferrari.

Program 5: The Medium Is the Message
96 min

An Arrow Pointing to a Hole
Steve Reinke, 2020, USA/Canada, 28m
In this wry confessional video, Steve Reinke appears—shirtless and lavishly tattooed—in a basement, playing archival clips and delivering arch disquisitions on his filmmaking and the ways in which images represent his engagement with the world. Mortality, desire, empathy, and horror all feature as subjects of Reinke’s idiosyncratic erudition, which mutates from sincerity to irony to provocation.

Single Copy
Hsu Che-Yu, 2019, Taiwan, 22m
When three-year-old conjoined twins were separated in Taiwan in 1979, the surgery was broadcast live on television, in just one of a series of mediations through which their bodies were represented and mythologized. Blending real and fictive iterations, filmmaker Hsu Che-Yu collaborates with the lone surviving twin, now 43, digitally scanning his body, recreating moments from his life, and revisiting his small role in a 1997 film.

Letter From Your Far-Off Country
Suneil Sanzgiri, 2020, USA/India, 17m
Drawing upon a rich repository of images—from digital renderings of Kashmir’s mountains to the textured materiality of 16mm hand-processing and direct animation techniques—Letter From Your Far-Off Country maps a hidden vein of shared political commitment and diasporic creative expression, linking a poem by the Kashmiri American writer Agha Shahid Ali, interviews with the filmmaker’s father, and a letter addressed to Prabhakar Sanzgiri, a leader of India’s Communist party and a distant relative of the filmmaker.

Once Removed
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 2019, Lebanon, 29m
An exploration of personal and historical trauma, collective memory, and supernatural transference, Once Removed guides us through a slideshow of archival images belonging to 31-year-old historian Bassel Abi Chahine as he relays the history of the Lebanese Civil War and memories from his past life as a fighter in the People’s Liberation Army and the Progressive Socialist Party militia.

Program 6: Here and Elsewhere
83 min

Extractions
Thirza Cuthand, 2019, Canada, 15m
The parallels between Canada’s industries of resource extraction and the metaphorical “mining” of indigenous women’s bodies for children in the contemporary adoption industry form the basis of Thirza Cuthand’s personal essay film. Drawing on memories of her own life and her family history, Cuthand interrogates—both incisively and compassionately—our widespread complicity in capitalism’s inescapable forces and colonialism’s insidious legacy.

Aquí y allá
Melisa Liebenthal, 2019, Argentina/France, 21m
Through digital interfaces, maps, and archival materials, Melisa Liebenthal jumps between past and present, here and there, to trace the complicated path of her family’s migration from 1930s Berlin to pre-revolutionary China to Buenos Aires, where the filmmaker was born. The material world, scanned and converted into data, becomes material again, scrambling the concepts of location, national origin, and home.

Sanfield
Kevin Jerome Everson, 2020, USA, 20m
Shot at Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi, Sanfield continues Kevin Jerome Everson’s extensive project of portraying the labor and expertise of Black Americans. Here, through the arcane exercises and activities of the trainees and technicians of the 14th Flying Training Wing, Everson weaves together miniature portraits of resilience and nuance within a hierarchical order that is always just offscreen.

Apiyemiyekî?
Ana Vaz, 2019, Brazil/France/Portugal/Netherlands, 27m
Through dynamic superimpositions and collisions of sound and image, Ana Vaz reanimates an archive of hundreds of drawings made by the Waimiri-Atroari people of the Brazilian Amazon. Now in the care of literacy educator and indigenous rights activist Egydio Schwade, these materials provide vital firsthand collective documentation of the violent oppression, land expropriation, and genocide of native Amazonian peoples under Brazil’s military dictatorship.

Program 7: Code Unknown
81 min

Humongous!
Aya Kawazoe, 2020, Japan, 11m
A playground, a swing set, a rush of water, a sensation of drowning: in Aya Kawazoe’s elliptical Humongous!, ethereal sounds and images from childhood intrude on a young woman’s daily life, enveloping her in an ambient, oceanic blue. When the past takes the shape of an immense force, how can we escape its pull?

The End of Suffering (a proposal)
Jacqueline Lentzou, 2020, Greece, 14m
A cosmic intervention into a young woman’s panic attack offers a striking proposal: to abandon the Earthly penchant for narrative and logic and embrace a more Martian perspective—of the planet of love, not war, where dreaming is the only reality. An emotional lifeline in the form of an absurdist interplanetary dialogue, The End of Suffering (a proposal) transforms fear and distress into a new explosion of color and song.

Point and Line to Plane
Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2020, Canada, 18m
Wandering through museums in foreign cities, a woman searches for a recently departed friend through art he might have enjoyed—including the vivid, otherworldly abstractions of painters Wassily Kandinsky, whose 1926 essay lends the film its title, and Hilma af Klint. Continuing her collaborations with actress Deragh Campbell as her alter ego, Sofia Bohdanowicz uses narrative cinema and crisp 16mm cinematography to reprocess autobiographical material through a semi-diaristic mode that locates the vast inner dimensions of the everyday.

The Unseen River
Phạm Ngọc Lân, 2020, Vietnam/Laos, 23m
A confluence of two love stories: one in which a woman reunites with her former lover after 30 years; the other, where a young couple visits a monastery seeking a cure for insomnia. Between streams of past and future, the river offers an oneiric site where timelines intersect.

August 22, This Year
Graham Foy, 2020, Canada, 15m
The discovery of a specific date for the end of time prompts humanity to adopt a new ethos of understanding and accepting the world in advance of the calamity: an embrace of routine, living in the moment, a deeper appreciation of the cycles of death and birth that had seemed invisible for so long.

Program 8: New York Stories
97 min

Drills
Sarah Friedland, 2020, USA, 17m
Friedland’s nonfiction dance film filters America’s present-day anxieties through the auditory and kinesthetic patterns of preparatory exercises. Reimagining the government-produced Cold War–era social guidance film, Drills reworks contemporary lockdown and active shooter drills, the 1917 Boy Scouts of America manual, and corporate office meditation guides in ways that subtly interrogate the procedures we follow to anticipate the future.

Object Lessons, or: What Happened Whitsunday
Ricky D’Ambrose, 2020, USA, 15m
D’Ambrose returns to NYFF with an oblique yet penetrating fable about the sociological connective tissue between the scene of a young woman’s murder and much larger ideological and institutional forces—a far-right, xenophobic political party, the estate of a New York art dealer—mapped out across a wordless audiovisual collage of legal documents, archival materials, and upstate location footage.

Shots in the Dark with David Godlis
Noah Kloster & Lewie Kloster, 2020, USA, 7m
Between 1976 and 1980, young Manhattan photographer David Godlis documented the nocturnal goings-on at the Bowery’s legendary CBGB, “the undisputed birthplace of punk rock,” with a vividly distinctive style of night photography. Lewie and Noah Kloster bring his photos to life with electrifying immediacy, bolstered by black-and-white watercolor animation, a rollicking soundtrack, and voiceover narration by Godlis himself.

Wild Bill Horsecock
Oliver Shahery, 2020, USA, 17m
Shahery’s studied, clear-eyed documentary vignette follows Hayes Johnson, a swaggering country-singing busker and DIY porn performer in Nashville, as he moves through the city over several days, navigating personal and professional fallout from multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. The film refrains from passing judgment on its subject, instead regarding Johnson—and the consequences of his actions—with an ethos of quiet, observational interest.

The Chicken
Neo Sora, 2020, USA, 13m
On an oppressively hot November day in New York, a Japanese immigrant hosts his visiting cousin, helps his pregnant wife prepare for their move to Chinatown, and makes a rash decision to butcher a live chicken for dinner. Beneath its sun-dappled 16mm images, Neo Sora’s deceptively breezy short articulates an incisive critique of a populace at increasing odds with their surroundings.

In Sudden Darkness
Tayler Montague, 2020, USA,13m
Buoyed by captivating performances and understated period detail, In Sudden Darkness observes the small moments of a young girl and her working-class Bronx family during the 2003 citywide blackout. Tayler Montague captures the memory of adolescent feeling and a sense of place with rare precision, while readily sustaining a mercurial ambience of uneasy suspense, humor, and profound joy.

The Isolated
Jay Giampietro, 2020, USA, 15m
The Isolated is a seemingly up-to-the-minute documentary that follows Jay Giampietro’s come-and-go meetups with a lonely New Yorker who pines for connections—human and digital—during the city’s COVID-19 shutdown. Giampietro, with his eye for the eccentric and his peerless sense of timing, nimbly renders a pandemic-struck New York City in all its humanity, horror, and occasional hilarity.

REVIVALS

Ephraim Asili Selects:
The Spook Who Sat by the Door
Ivan Dixon, 1973, USA, 102m
An iconoclastic work of American political cinema whose polemical power has only grown with time, Ivan Dixon’s second and final feature, an adaptation of Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel of the same title, endures as an incisive portrayal of Black militant struggle in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the convulsive 1960s. Lawrence Cook stars as Dan Freeman, a secret Black nationalist who becomes the first Black member of the CIA; his deep state colleagues are none the wiser to the fact that Freeman is playing them, exploiting his own tokenization to learn the guerrilla tactics he’ll need to take his real fight to the next level. By turns a satire and a serious political thriller, The Spook Who Sat By the Door is a visionary film of ideas whose urgency and precision feel utterly contemporary.

Share this article ...

Subscribe for Blog Updates

Sign up for our latest updates.

Please follow us to get updates online.