Notes From The Program Director | Week of April 28th, 2023
Notes From The Program Director
Week of April 28th 2023
I’m writing to you this week from Toronto, Canada, where I am attending theHot Docs Festival, North America’s largest documentary film festival and one of the richest sources for our own Doctober Film Festival. Over the next week, my Doctober co-programmer, Jane Julian, and I will be packing in as many film screenings as we can, looking for the best of the best among the 200+ titles available at Hot Docs, and ideally, finding some perfect films for Doctober 2023.
In the midst of a documentary feast here in Canada, however, I wanted to give a shout-out to one of the best narrative films of 2023, opening at the Pickford this week: Kelly Reichardt’sShowing Up.
And oh, Kelly Reichardt, how do I love thee? SO DAMN MUCH. This new film -- starring Michelle Williiams, Hong Chau, John Magaro (whom you may remember fromFirst Cow), and others, including Judd Hirsch -- is everything you might hope from a Reichardt film in its humanity and patience and nuance but also not quite like anything she's done before.
It's been designated in some quarters (including IMDb) as a "comedy," but that's not quite right, even though the film is laced with dry humor in a way I've not seen Reichardt do before. It's not really a laugh out loud film though it's also very far from the relentless parching intensity of aMeek's Cutoff or from the brutally sad desperation ofWendy and Lucy. This story is much gentler than those while also offering the same elliptical but piercing commentary on the folly and beauty of the human world. Here, the setting is among artists and in and around a rather bohemian art school in the Pacific Northwest, and Michelle Williams's character is a sculptor trying to get her work together in time for an upcoming show and constantly running into obstacles, both aesthetic and personal.
Williams and the other artists in the story are those who take their art very seriously, but they are also those who in their daily lives may be alternately profound or silly or inconsistent or selfish or compassionate, depending on the day or the hour. I couldn't quite tell if Reichardt was gently mocking art school and art students or celebrating them, but I think it's maybe a little bit of both, and as such, perhaps a wry reflection on her own work as a filmmaker. For in terms of the film's perspective, it doesn't indicate whether the characters' art is any good at all, and that's really not the point -- art is, the film seems to say, simply, a very human effort towards something profound and something personal. The meanings and relative profundity are left up to us. It’s a film I haven’t been able to shake since seeing it, and like all Reichardt films have done for me, burrowing into my heart and soul and leaving a mark. It’s wonderful.
I’d also recommend to you the interview Marc Maron did recently with Reichardt on hisWTF podcast. Maron talks to Reichardt about each of the films in her filmography, moving through them chronologically (much like filmmaker Francois Truffaut famously did in his week-long conversation with Alfred Hitchcock), and unearthing wonderful tidbits about filmmaking and art and life. The conversation, ultimately, is wide-ranging, deep, funny, and reflective, all the things the very best interviews consist of, leaving listeners the richer for it. And I suspect, like me, you may want to go watch or rewatch all of Reichardt’s films afterwards!
Next week, May 5, as I’ll be traveling back from Toronto, there won’t be a newsletter, but I’ll be back with more cinematic tidbits and reflections on May 12.