Weekly Roundup: Sundance Highlights, Berlinale Competition Lineup, and Spike Jonze’s Beastie Boys Doc

Your handy one-stop-shop for cinephile news, articles, and videos from the week that was.

News Roundup

Days (Tsai Ming-liang)

• The Berlinale has made what is likely their final major programming announcement. This year’s Competition lineup, which was selected by a new team of curators headed by Carlo Chartrian (Locarno’s former Artistic Director), seems like the best in years, featuring new works by VIFF regulars Hong Sang-soo (Claire’s Camera), Christian Petzold (Transit), Tsai Ming-liang (Stray Dogs), Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers), Abel Ferrara (Welcome to New York), among others.

• Terry Jones, the legendary Monty Python star, passed away a few days ago at the age of 77. For Vulture, Mike Sacks has re-published a candid interview with Jones from his 2014 book about the actor. 

Reading Roundup

Image result for Arabian Nights Gomes"
Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes)

• For Filmmaker Magazine, Abby Sun reports from Art House Convergence, an annual conference that brings together delegates from independent cinemas across North America (including some of our own VIFF staff). In Sun’s words, this year’s conference “was visibly going through a crisis that seemed to reflect similar unacknowledged, deeply rooted problems in independent cinemas.”

• Over the last few weeks, this Roundup has included numerous lists and essays counting down the best films of the decade. All of these, to date, have been by publications with a large roster of writers. Not so in this case: Nick Davis, Film Comment contributor and Associate Professor at Northwestern University, has been publishing short and sometimes quite long essays on his 100 favorite films of the decade–a herculean task, no doubt, but one that has yielded some vital writing, like this final entry on Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, Davis’ favorite film of the 2010s.

• “Rhythm is key throughout the film. Every moment is like a drumbeat that creates a hypnotizing, syncopated cadence.” On the VIFF Blog, Paige Smith writes about Marlon Riggs Tongues Untied, which plays The Cinematheque on Saturday. For our own extensive Black History Month programming, click here.

• For the past week, I’ve done my best to keep tabs on reports out of Sundance. Here are a few highlights from the festival, with some of the best coverage on these films to date:

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets:

At Film Comment, Nicolas Rapold interviews directors Bill and Turner Ross, whose new hybrid documentary gathers “disparate drinkers together in a bar whose hominess stands in for any roadside bar on the edges of Las Vegas.” 

Speaking about their approach to the material, the directors say: “There were no words on the page. We went in with a beat-by-beat thought process: in this part of the day, these are the things that we think we need to look for, and at this part of the day, this is what we would like to manifest. We tried to create a choreography unknown to the cast… certain people come in at certain times of the day, then they’re going to respond to that.”

Dick Johnson Is Dead:

Image result for dick johnson is dead"

Cameraperson director Kristen Johnson has followed up that landmark film with Dick Johnson is Dead, “a portrait of her still-alive father” that, according to The Film Stage’s Jordan Raup, “carries the same self-reflexive wit and vision as her prior film” while taking “it in a whole other direction.” In Raup’s description, Johnson confronts her father’s mortality through various sequences that “visualize what heaven may look like.” These creative ruptures are placed alongside more traditional moments of father and daughter engaging in “equal parts heart-wrenching and hilarious” conversations about his nearing end.

maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore:

Image result for maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore"

At Art Forum, SFU Film professor and Ho-Chunk filmmaker Sky Hopinka speaks to Jordan Cronk about his new film, which centers on the “Chinookan origin-of-death myth, in which two people decide whether or not someone’s spirit comes back after they die.” Hopinka says that his previous short film huyhuy, or “trade” in Chinuk Wawa, helped him “see [his] language in an unspectacular way, where it’s just the way that we talk… When I was ready to make a feature, it felt intuitive to return to the Northwest and see what we could do in this language and landscape.”

Trailer below:

The Nest:

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Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene director Sean Durkin returns with The Nest, “an immaculate, clinically devastating film,” in the words of The Playlist’s Jessica Kiang. In the film, Jude Law plays Rory, the patriarch of a seemingly happy family that will slowly disintegrate over the course of the film.

Kiang again: “The Nest is a somber, grown-up sort of movie, made with remarkable poise and maturity, and a level of craft so compelling it can be difficult to tear your eyes from the screen. And if it doesn’t have the catchy, religious-cult hook of Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, it has depth and resonance that arguably outstrip his 2011 Sundance Best Director winner.”

Never Rarely Sometimes Always:

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Arguably the most acclaimed film at Sundance this year, Eliza Hittman’s tongue-twistingly titled work is about Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), “an angry 17-year-old living with her family in rural Pennsylvania who,” writes Ela Bittencourt at MUBI, “[discovers] that she’s pregnant and then the decision to travel to New York City, with her cousin, Skylar (Taila Ryder) to get an abortion, without telling her parents.”

Bittencourt writes: “The camera keeps tighter on Autumn and Skylar, as they try to figure out how to use the MTA machines, how to get their oversized suitcase over the turnstile, how to pass a night in a city where you can’t sit in safer public places too long, before a guard will kick you out. And why did they pack so much? Hittman said in the Q & A that women often do, packing for an abortion as if they’re going away, an idea of alienation, of traveling, away from others and oneself, so beautifully encapsulated here, in every single detail of the girls’ journey.”

Trailer below: 

Viewing/Listening Roundup

• Spike Jonze’s new documentary Beastie Boys Story will have its World Premiere at SXSW in March. The first trailer for the film can be found below.

• In this expansive, not to mention nihilistic, discussion from IFFR, Pedro Costa (Vitalina Varela, VIFF 2019) expounds upon cinema today. Faced with what he sees as a dire contemporary landscape, the Portuguese director continually retreats to talk of his old favorites (Straub, Bresson, Ford).


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