NOTES FROM THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
I’m currently attending the Toronto International Film Festival and will write my regular notes starting the week of September 19th.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song and the adorable Marcel the Shell with Shoes On stay with us for one more week.
We also have one brand new film, here for a run, Alex Pritz’s The Territory, as well as a glorious restoration of one of all time great, cinematic masterpieces: Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy: Blue, White, and Red.
The Territory is a documentary I saw a couple of months ago in my search for Doctober films, and I knew immediately that we needed to have such a compelling, urgent, and stunningly beautiful doc on our screens. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker known for his visually stunning work (mother!, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, The Fountain), The Territory has lush cinematography that beautifully captures the urgency and necessity of its story. The story, set in Brazil in the Amazon rainforest, follows the Uru Eu Wau Wau people and their desperate fight to keep their home and preserve the forest they’ve cared for for generations as that forest is under perpetual and increasing threat from farmers and ranchers who prefer to steal the land, cut down the forest, and use the land for themselves.
The film also follows a Brazilian environmentalist, Neidinha Bandeira, who, risking her life along with the Uru Eu Wau Wau, has allied herself to their cause. The Uru Eu Wau Wau with Bandeira work to photographically document the illegal encroachment into the forest, and the film’s footage is thus captured by Bitate, the young leader of the Uru Eu Wau Wau, and others with him, as much as it is by director-cinematographer Alex Pritz himself.
It’s a story as full of pain as it is full of beauty — the pain of the land theft, the beauty of the forest and of the fight of the forest caretakers. And it is a story that resonates outward and touches us, too, though miles away from the Amazon rainforest. It’s a reminder of the pain of our history, the ways in which land has been stolen time and again from Indigenous peoples, and it’s a reminder that violence and evil in one part of the world reach us, too, for the fate of the rainforest is quite literally linked to our global fate.
Don’t miss the film on the big screen.
The brand new 4K Janus restoration of Polish auteur writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy is a programming dream come true. I’ve been in love with movies my whole life, but there are a few film experiences that mark moments of transcendence and awe, moments when my understanding of what cinema could do and be, expanded in ways that took my breath away: Kieslowski’s trilogy, made of up three films, Blue, White, and Red, is one of those essential moments. It perhaps sounds overly dramatic to say so, but I believe I could document my cinematic life in terms of “the time before” and “the time after” I encountered Kieslowski’s work. For the series expanded my notion of cinema itself: of what a camera could do, of how color could be rendered on screen, of what devastation and glory cinematic music can achieve, of what actors can do given the chance, of how narrative structure can stretch and bend, of the purity of emotion cinema makes possible, of what vast and complex meaning can be made through the cinematic art form.
Each film–Blue, starring Juliette Binoche; White, starring Julie Delpy and Zbigniew Zamachowski; Red, starring Irene Jacob–can potentially stand on its own. Each film tells a separate story, follows a separate character, and each film has a profoundly unique tone. Each film, too, follows a separate thematic line; the films are roughly based on the French national motto, “liberty, equality, fraternity,” and each narrative offers a reflection on the meaning and significance of each: Blue reflects on liberty, White on equality, Red on fraternity.
But the films are intimately connected, too, and each becomes richer in the context of the whole. Kieslowski wrote the trilogy in the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain, when he was released himself, as a filmmaker from government censorship, and when unity in Europe was newly possible but still deeply fragile. The films reflect that same sense of new freedom, but a freedom dearly bought and perhaps easily lost again, and that same sense of hopeful but fragile unity. In the narratives of each of the three films, characters of the other two films move in and out of the background, and there is a sense, once you’ve seen all three films and recognize all the characters and all the stories, that no story and no character is independent of the other — though the main characters of each have no idea of their interconnectedness. Until, perhaps, the very end with the final film, Red, when something, which I won’t give away, brings all the characters together.
Three Colors: Blue, White, and Red is, quite simply, a profound work of art. I’d urge you, if you can, to see the trilogy while it’s here this week: Blue plays on Friday, White on Saturday, Red on Sunday, and then the trilogy repeats one more time on the weekdays (with a couple of extra opportunities to see matinees of Blue). It’s a unique, perhaps once in lifetime, opportunity to see these gorgeous films on the big screen.
Finally, we have one very special event this Saturday, August 27, 2:55 pm: we have the wonderful documentary Living Wine, a doc that follows stories of a small group of natural winemakers in Northern California, detailing their reasons for embracing natural wine and showing us the winemaking process itself, particularly in the midst of the new threats of climate change and wildfire. Immediately after watching the film myself, I was itching to taste some of the wines from the film, and so Pickford patrons will have just such an opportunity! Nomad Charcuterie and Wine, located just across the street from us, has curated several wines featured in the film, and they’ve invited Pickford patrons to join them after the film for a wine-tasting. Bring your Living Wine ticket, and you’ll get $5 off your Nomad order. It’s going to be fabulous!
What a great week for the movies. See you there, friends!
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song and Bodies Bodies Bodies stay with us for one more week — I’m delighted by the love Hallelujah is getting! There’s no one quite like Leonard Cohen, is there? And it’s been great fun to me, too, to see the reaction to Bodies Bodies Bodies. While the critical reaction to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, the critics that dislike it really dislike it, and the ones that love it really love it. There’s something deeply fascinating to me about a film that has such passionate responses, either way. One of the things I do miss about teaching film at the college is seeing my students argue over films; the films that most deeply divided them were often the films that provoked the best discussion. Films like The Florida Project, Stories We Tell, and Meshes of the Afternoon led to far-ranging vigorous discussions about character, narrative, genre, filmmaking ethics, and the like. Bodies Bodies Bodies, too, I think provokes similar kinds of questions, “what makes a good protagonist?” “does a protagonist need to be lovable?” “is a twist ending a cheat? (is it a twist ending at all?)” “is this a horror film?” “what are the markers of a horror film and who decides?” “how much does casting play a role in our response to a character?” All questions that don’t necessarily have easy answers — but that’s part of the fun.
But on to our newest films! A few notes:
Medusa: Is this my new favorite film of 2022? It just may be. It’s a little bit But I’m a Cheerleader, a little bit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and maybe a dash of Jesus Camp. It boasts an incredibly stylish production design with surreal greens and pinks and fabulous costuming that mirrors characters and character arcs. And, narratively, it’s a film that walks a tantalizing line somewhere between fable and real life. It’s been alternately called a horror film, a thriller, a satire, but it doesn’t quite fit any of those categories. It’s certainly not like any horror, thriller, or satire that I’ve ever seen, and it left me thrilled at its inventiveness. It’s also a film that, while grounded in a compelling central character and in a clear narrative arc, insightfully and incisively touches on provocative themes. It’s ultimately about religious control, particularly as that intersects with often violent patriarchal values, and it’s about the ways in which women and girls are often complicit in that control and in those values — until they become outsiders and lose access to power and must face their own repressed desires and needs. And while the film is set in Brazil, it very much feels like it’s holding up a mirror to many aspects of the U.S., its socio-political and cultural trends. It’s a deeply engaging film that will also certainly leave viewers deeply reflective.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: At last! Here’s a film I’ve been hoping to get on our screens for some time, and we’ve finally found a spot for it! Marcel, part-live action, part-animated, with wonderfully meticulous, creative stop-motion effects, is perhaps the perfect family-friendly film to celebrate as the summer comes to a close. It follows the story of Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate), an impossibly cute, 1-inch shell, who lives with his grandmother-shell and his pet lint, Alan. Marcel’s life takes a turn when a documentary filmmaker comes to live in the house in which he’s staying, and Marcel decides, with his new filmmaker-friend, to track down his long-last family of other shells, who scattered and disappeared when the house’s previous owners moved out. It’s a genuinely sweet and adorable film, often laugh-out-loud funny and accessible to younger viewers and yet also containing a deeper narrative that appeals to all ages and gently touches on issues of loneliness, family, friendship, home, and belonging.
My friend Jeffery Overstreet, a film critic and film/writing professor at SPU, who loves Marcel with every fiber of his being and who has been championing the film far and wide, has a beautiful review of the film here that really taps into what makes the film so special. I’d highly recommend giving it a read: https://www.lookingcloser.org/blog/2022/07/10/making-marcel-the-shell-my-new-mentor/
A few notes about our special events this week: Shortbus with livestream Q&A with director John Cameron Mitchell, Isle of the Dogs, and Venice, Infinitely Avant-Garde:
Shortbus w/ John Cameron Mitchell, on Thursday at 7:30 pm, is part of our exciting new limited series, Shock and Awe: The Films of the Dubya Years, a series curated by Brandon David Wilson and a series for which we are partnering with another arthouse, L.A.’s American Cinematheque.
And one of the absolutely delightful aspects of this second and final entry in the series is Shortbus will be followed by a live Q&A with director John Cameron Mitchell!
Brandon and Mitchell (who also directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch) will be in person at American Cinematheque in L.A., and we’ll get to participate in their conversation in real time as it will be piped directly to our screens, so Brandon and Mitchell’s conversation will go out to two audiences simultaneously, in Los Angeles and right here in Bellingham, Washington.
And it will, of course, be fascinating to revisit Shortbus, a 2006 film that had a recent restoration. Brandon says, of the film, “Five years after turning his iconic rock musical into a feature film, John Cameron Mitchell released his follow up film that in his own words was “everything we needed to get through a second term of George W. Bush.” Shortbus, which was developed through workshops for years before it was shot, is the kind of film directors dare themselves to make but, at some point in the process either lose their nerve or compromise into oblivion. The film’s title refers to an underground salon in New York City that features art, song, and pansexual orgies. Like one of Robert Altman’s ensemble films, the characters are a disparate group of young New Yorkers who find themselves drawn to this space. The sex scenes are unsimulated which at the time of its release got a lot of attention. But unlike other films that seek to break the taboo of unsimulated sex, Shortbus didn’t use sex to shock or even titillate. The scenes of intimacy instead contribute to a bracing honesty. The sex merely reveals the characters the way musical numbers do in a good musical. Ultimately, it is only one element in a film that is an anthem for living and feeling deeply, even in the darkest of times.”
Mark your calendars for Thursday, August 25. Tickets for Shortbus/Q&A with Mitchell are available now: https://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org/shortbus-2006/
We’re also so pleased to bring Wes Anderson’s lovely stop-motion animated film, Isle of Dogs, back to our screens for Kid Pickford! Anderson never fails to disappoint, and it’s pure pleasure bringing this Pickford favorite back to Bellingham. As always, tickets are only $1 for Kid Pickford, and Kid Pickford showtimes are the third Saturday of the month at 1 pm, but Isle of Dogs is playing just once, so don’t miss it!
Finally, in our Great Art on Screen series, we have Venice, Infinitely Avant-Garde. If we can’t be in Venice in person to enjoy its rich history, its art, its film festival, and so many other pleasures, perhaps the big screen is the very next best thing. The film screens on Sunday, August 21 at 11:00 am.
It’s another great week for movies. See you there, friends!