143 Sahara Street directed by Hassen Ferhani
143 Sahara Street directed by Hassen Ferhani

Film at Lincoln Center announced the lineup of 16 features and 11 shorts for the seventh edition of Art of the Real, an essential showcase for the most vital and innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking. Original set to take place in April, Art of the Real will now take place over the course of two weeks from November 13-26, exclusively in the FLC Virtual Cinema.

The lineup features a number of films that examine the intimate and sometimes fragile relationships between people and their communities: Hassen Ferhani’s 143 Sahara Street, about the proprietor of a tiny Saharan café who is awaiting a seismic change in the local landscape; Ignacio Agüero’s I Never Climbed the Provincia, which collects the forgotten microhistories of the filmmaker’s neighborhood in Santiago, Chile; Luísa Homem’s Suzanne Daveau, a moving personal history of a mid-century geographer; Lisa Marie Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki’s A Shape of Things to Come, a portrait of life on the margins in the Arizona desert; and Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson’s Here for Life, a synthesis of doc interviews and experimental theater capturing the effects of gentrification on a group of Londoners.

Several films connect humanity to the flora and fauna that surround us, such as Sérgio da Costa and Maya Kosa’s Bressonian doc-fiction hybrid Bird Island, about the delicate bond between birds and their human caretakers at a Genevan sanctuary; Jessica Sarah Rinland’s elliptical examination of original versus copy through an array of animals and artifacts in Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another; Ezequiel Yanco’s La vida en común, about an indigenous community’s allegorical battle with a quasi-mythical beast; and Kaori Oda’s Cenote and Joshua Bonnetta’s The Two Sights, which explore the mystical energies of natural formations on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Outer Hebrides.

Art of the Real also features films that explore the fraught dynamics of labor and capitalism, from Jonathan Perel’s Corporate Accountability, which looks back at companies’ roles in brutally quashing worker organization during Argentina’s military dictatorship, to Elisa Cepedal’s Work, or to Whom Does the World Belong, which recounts Spain’s history of violently suppressing labor uprisings alongside images of the contemporary working class. Additional highlights include Pacho Velez and Courtney Stephens’s The American Sector, which traces the peculiar scattering of Berlin Wall fragments across the U.S.; Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati’s anthropological soundscape Expedition Content; and two feature debuts: Eloisa Soláas’s The Faculties, which reflects on the state of education in Argentina through the experiences of 12 students preparing for final exams; and NYFF alumnus Sky Hopinka’s małni—towards the ocean, towards the shore, a meditative, multisensory journey through the Pacific Northwest.

Finally, the festival will also showcase a shorts program with exciting new work from around the world, which will be made available to audiences for free.

7th Art of the Real Lineup

143 Sahara Street
Hassen Ferhani, 2019, Algeria/France/Qatar, 103m
Arabic and French with English subtitles
Ferhani’s sophomore feature trains its gaze upon Malika, an Algerian café proprietor whose remote establishment is nested within the endless sands of the Sahara. The café has just one table and its menu is restricted to tea and omelettes; but still the guests roll in, one by one, spending time with Malika and discussing politics, religion, and economics before disappearing once more over the dunes. But a petrol station being built nearby signals that Malika’s simple way of life could change greatly in the not-so-distant future… Ferhani’s film-portrait thrives on duration and tempo, patiently working through Malika’s memories and conversations to arrive at an immersive study of a woman and the veritable oasis where she passes her days.

The American Sector
Pacho Velez & Courtney Stephens, 2020, USA, 70m
English and German with English subtitles
The curious phenomenon by which dozens of fragments of the Berlin Wall wound up on display across the United States is the nominal subject of the latest from filmmakers Pacho Velez and Courtney Stephens. But their travels to document those fragments yield a stirring meditation on the multivalence of history and the very idea of monuments. Drawing from archival footage and interviews with the people the directors encountered on their road trip, The American Sector amounts to a rich (and frequently quite funny) examination of the repurposing of the past, the relationship between politics and public art, and the shifting nature of symbolism.

Screening with:
Prometheus
Haig Aivazian, 2019, Lebanon, 23m
This found footage film juxtaposes two defining moments of the Nineties in America—the Gulf War, and the Dream Team’s dominant performance in the 1992 Summer Olympics—as a means of examining hegemony, violence, and the role of the media.

Bird Island
Sérgio da Costa & Maya Kosa, 2019, Switzerland, 62m
French with English subtitles
Set in a bird sanctuary outside Geneva, Sérgio da Costa and Maya Kosa’s film slyly blends documentary and fictional elements in its examination of a small, delicate ecosystem where humans are as in need of care as their avian charges. Closely observing the specialists’ routines—which involve nurturing and caring for the birds, and raising the mice on which some of them will feed—the film takes on the solemnity of Bresson, with its deadpan voiceover and stately organ music. By turns dryly comic and quietly contemplative, Bird Island locates both profound comfort and sorrow in these interspecies interactions, as the human caretakers find satisfaction in their work and resign themselves to their unrequited affection for their animal companions.

Screening with:
Sound Garden
Jeamin Cha, 2019, South Korea, 30m
Korean with English subtitles
In this meditation on ecology, commodification, and mental health management under late capitalism, scenes of farm-grown trees being transported to a new life in the marketplace are interspersed with interviews with female South Korean mental health counselors.

Cenote
Kaori Oda, 2019, Japan/Mexico, 75m
Spanish with English subtitles
Oda’s sophomore feature trains its focus on the titular natural sinkholes, found in the northern regions of the Yucatan Peninsula, which served as sources of water for inland Mayans and took on a mystical aspect as thresholds between mortal life and the beyond. Oda’s Super 8mm camera immerses us in these sinkholes, locating a subterranean world of shadow and luminescence, an aquatic soundscape, and the immaterial reverberations of lost histories and forgotten memories swirling out of human sight only to be conjured again by an odd beam of light slicing through the darkness.

Corporate Accountability
Jonathan Perel, 2020, Argentina, 68m
Spanish with English subtitles
The history of Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship, extending from 1976 to 1983, is also a history of complicity: one in which wealthy capitalists and corporations collaborated with the far-right death squads of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance to crush dissent and worker organization. Jonathan Perel’s film is a sustained examination of the involvement of these companies—both domestic and multinational, and many still extant—in the arrests, torture, deaths, and disappearances of tens of thousands of their own workers. Images of factory buildings and corporate headquarters, shot from the inside of Perel’s car, lend the film the tense air of a conspiracy thriller, but its rigorous structure methodically details a history that is all too real, and all too present.

Expedition Content
Ernst Karel & Veronika Kusumaryati, 2020, USA, 78m
English, Mid Grand Valley Dani, and Dutch with English subtitles
In 1961, filmmaker Robert Gardner organized a Harvard-Peabody expedition to Dutch New Guinea to study the Hubula people, bringing with him a small group of colleagues including author Peter Matthiessen and anthropologist/heir Michael C. Rockefeller. Drawing upon the 37 hours of audio recordings Rockefeller made during this journey, Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati’s film both explores and upends the power dynamics between anthropologist and subject, and image and sound. In this nearly imageless film, the aural takes precedence over the visual, immersing the audience in the complex interplay of voices, encounters (and impasses) of language, and the mysterious textures of recorded sound.

The Faculties
Eloisa Soláas, 2019, Argentina, 82m
Spanish with English subtitles
Soláas’s feature debut is a vérité chronicle of final examinations at Argentina’s public universities, in which students from a wide array of disciplines—botany, anatomy, astronomy, law, physics, music—prepare for, worry about, and ultimately partake in oral tests. Soláas trains her focus on a diverse and disparate group of 12 such students, capturing the intensity, nerves, and pressure bound up in their by turns dramatic and absurd experience of the examinations. A singular work of observation and pathos, The Faculties offers a thought-provoking meditation on the contemporary state of education and marks an auspicious debut for Soláas.

Here for Life
Andrea Luka Zimmerman & Adrian Jackson, 2019, UK, 87m
A collaboration between the filmmaker Andrea Luka Zimmerman and the theater director Adrian Jackson (whose company, Cardboard Citizens, produces and stages plays for and by London’s homeless population), Here for Life poses a fundamental yet endlessly knotty question: how can we possibly live together? Zimmerman and Jackson gather 10 Londoners to discuss their own experiences of being affected by and resisting gentrification, and their hopes, passions, and everyday struggles. An uncommon work of nonfiction that synthesizes testimonial documentary and avant-garde theater to stirring effect, Here for Life grounds itself in the political acts of listening, reflection, and mutual understanding. A Grasshopper Film release.

Screening with:
Notes, Imprints (on Love), Part 2: Carmela
Alexandra Cuesta, 2020, USA/Ecuador, 6m
The second part of Alexandra Cuesta’s diaristic diptych focuses on the filmmaker’s own grandmother through the prism of her garden, her music, and her reflections on a life well-spent.

I Never Climbed the Provincia
Ignacio Agüero, 2019, Chile, 92m
Spanish with English subtitles
Master filmmaker Ignacio Agüero continues his series of intimate, Chris Marker–like cine-essays with this chronicle of the neighborhood in Santiago, Chile, where he has lived for more than half a century. Quietly mixing observational street photography with ad hoc interviews with friends and neighbors, the filmmaker locates the forgotten microhistories of the buildings, businesses, and people in this small corner of the world, while also meditating on the shadowy legacy of Chile’s military dictatorship. What emerges is a sense of Agüero’s inclusive and capacious curiosity about people and the world, driven by a regard for cinema as a space as communal as it is personal.

małni—towards the ocean, towards the shore
Sky Hopinka, 2020, USA, 82m
English and Chinuk Wawa with English subtitles
The debut feature by Sky Hopinka (a Ho-Chunk Nation national and a descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians), extends the seductive, multisensory experience of the artist’s acclaimed short films into a double portrait of two of Hopinka’s friends, Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier. As they meditate on life, death, and rebirth, Hopinka drifts alongside them through the rich natural, mythological, and historical landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, and locates a distinctive form of poetic documentary that is as attuned to the uncanny immediacy of the present as it is to other, less directly perceptible ways of being in the world.

A Shape of Things to Come
Lisa Marie Malloy & J.P. Sniadecki, 2020, USA, 77m
Solitude is explored enigmatically in Lisa Marie Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki’s portrait of Sundog, a bearded 60-something man who lives alone in the Sonoran Desert. We watch Sundog as he goes about his daily routine, living just beyond the limits of society as we know it: hunting for food, communing with animals, and growing increasingly preoccupied with the appearance of government surveillance towers near his home. Patiently probing the tension between nature and civilization, A Shape of Things to Come gives its subject space enough to live his idiosyncratic life. The result is a mesmerizing film that feels as much like a tone poem as a work of ethnography.

Suzanne Daveau
Luísa Homem, 2019, Portugal, 115m
Portuguese and French with English subtitles
Portraiture and history, testimony and geography cohere to absorbing effect in Luísa Homem’s interview-based micro-epic. The film’s titular subject, a French geographer and adventurer born in 1925, recounts her own life, covering her student years during World War II, her subsequent field research in Africa and Portugal, her loves, her family, her feminism, and her reflections on modernity. Homem strikingly weaves together interviews, archival photos, and home movies to arrive at a complex and immersive portrait of a modern woman perennially fascinated by the world around her and consumed by an insatiable hunger for knowledge.

Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another
Jessica Sarah Rinland, 2019, UK/Argentina/Spain, 67m
English, Spanish, and Portuguese with English subtitles
An enigmatic and richly detailed meditation on the thingness of things, Jessica Sarah Rinland’s film investigates the ambivalent relationship between original and copy through a mysterious array of objects and animals: howler monkeys reintroduced into a national park in Rio de Janeiro; tusks salvaged from a shipwreck and then molded and recast; countless replicas of Greek and Egyptian artifacts. Captured in intimate close-ups and with vivid sound, these obscure acts of preservation and replication are rendered ritualistic, almost devotional, replacing unstable and ephemeral originals with duplicates that attain a kind of mystical perfection.

Screening with:
Bugs and Beasts Before the Law
Bambitchell, 2019, Canada/Germany, 32m
This essayistic work examines the history and legacy of “animal trials” in medieval Europe—in which animals and other inanimate objects were put on trial for various offenses, ranging from trespassing to murder—to meditate on the origins of legal practice and our notions of justice.

The Two Sights
Joshua Bonnetta, 2020, Canada/UK, 90m
English and Gaelic with English subtitles
Gathering sounds and images from the land and seascapes of the Outer Hebrides, Joshua Bonnetta’s lush, eerie film is a compendium of ghost stories, weird tales of premonition, and supernatural lore told by the islands’ inhabitants. Throughout, the film’s richly textured images, captured on 16mm stock, complement a dense audio track layered with the sounds of nature, machines, and the human voice, creating a remarkable synesthetic experience of the environment and its embedded oral histories. The result is both a vivid, haunting portrait of a place and an absorbing exploration of the uncanny limits of the human senses. A Cinema Guild release.

La vida en común
Ezequiel Yanco, 2019, Argentina/France, 70m
Spanish with English subtitles
The desert plains of Northern Argentina provide the immersive setting for Ezequiel Yanco’s lyrical and closely observed hybrid documentary about an indigenous community’s allegorical struggle with a rampaging puma that’s terrorizing its livestock. Pushing Jean Rouch’s style of “ethno-fiction” into the realm of the fable, Yanco portrays a land of mythic beasts and legendary creatures. A band of children and dogs roam the community’s government-built modernist constructions and the surrounding landscape in search of the cat, telling stories about the birth of the universe along the way.

Screening with:
Canada Park
Razan AlSalah, 2019, Palestine/Canada, 9m
Google Maps, Wikipedia, and early 20th-century colonial landscape photography provide the material for this absorbing techno-meditation on the status of Palestine and the notion of the “Holy Land.”

Work, or to Whom Does the World Belong
Elisa Cepedal, 2019, Spain/UK, 65m
English, Spanish, and German with English subtitles
The dystopian reality of the modern-day working class is unpacked in Elisa Cepedal’s second feature, which recounts the history of the miners’ strikes in Asturias in the 1930s—which were violently suppressed by Franco’s military just two years before the start of the Spanish Civil War—alongside images of everyday life in the present: at supermarkets, classrooms, bingo halls, car repair shops, churrerías, and cinemas. A powerful work of montage that places the plight of Spanish labor in the first half of the 20th century in fascinating and at times jarring juxtaposition with our own fraught contemporary moment, Work, or… is a compact yet robust political documentary and a stirring call to action.

Screening with:
All Other Things Equal
Anya Tsyrlina, 2019, Switzerland/Russia, 19m
Russian with English subtitles
Tsyrlina’s radical found footage film subjects frames and sequences taken from Soviet propaganda about women’s equality to a cinematic archaeology, unearthing a sensuous and discreetly subversive movement within the material’s interstices and ellipses.

Shorts Program

Speculative Presents
The shorts in this program present striking takes on contested histories, changing landscapes, and precarious futures, and reckon meditatively with such matters as environmental degradation, spectres of industrialization, and collective traumas. Using techniques and modes of science fiction, creative staging, animation, and tinting, these films are pockets of memory and resilience, as well as evidence of creative possibility for future worlds.

Becoming Alluvium
Thao Nguyen Phan, 2019, Vietnam/Spain, 16m
French with English subtitles
In Phan’s latest poetic and eclectic work, resplendent watercolor animations and understated images of daily life meld to yield a meditation upon Vietnam’s turbulent history through the figure of the Mekong River.

Field Resistance
Emily Drummer, 2019, USA, 16m
Our ecologically fraught present gives way to dystopian visions in Emily Drummer’s documentary-cum-science-fiction, which examines environmental devastation in Iowa as a means of thinking through the antagonism between nature and humanity.

Missing Time
Morgan Quaintance, 2020, UK, 15m
An investigation into individual and collective amnesia, Morgan Quaintaince’s film draws from stories of alien abductions, hypnosis, and decolonization to map the role of forgetting in the production of the self.

A Thousand-Year Stage
Daphne Xu, 2019, China/USA/Canada, 35m
Mandarin and Chinese regional dialects with English subtitles
Xu’s film spotlights the local residents and migrant workers of Xiongan New Area (a Chinese “megacity” in the making) as they grapple with urbanization and perform choreography amid the region’s many non-places. Sweetly sentimental karaoke numbers and the materialized anxiety of a landscape on the brink of radical transformation movingly ground the abstract forces that shape this modern world.

We Have Always Known the Wind’s Direction
Inas Halabi, 2019, Palestine, 12m
Arabic with English subtitles
Fragments of landscapes and voices cohere into a rich exploration of the unrepresentable in this film about the possible burial of nuclear waste in the South of the West Bank and the invisible networks of power that control the region.

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