For film programmer and curator Amanda Salazar of the San Francisco Film Institute and Petaluman Jonathan Marlow, FANDOR co-founder and currently chief strategy office of Kanopy, the on-demand streaming video service, it was their mutual love of experimental film and making it more accessible to audiences that led them to look back in time to the CAMERA OBSCURA Film Society (COFS). This eclectic organization was founded in the late 1950’s by Lawrence Jordan and Bruce Connor, together with a handful of other artists, and presented pop-up experimental cinema programs throughout San Francisco until 1962. Salazar and Marlow picked up the mantel and contacted Lawrence Jordan, who happens to live in Petaluma now, and got his permission to revitalize the organization. They will be presenting The Second Annual report of the reconstituted CAMERA OBSCURA over the weekend at Hotel Petaluma’s art gallery which has been converted into a pop-up screening room that seats 50. Lawrence Jordan will be in attendance on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. for the world premiere of his 2016 film Night Light , shot on film, and to introduce Werner Herzog’s short, Lessons of Darkness (1992), which screens before Night Light. The event kicked off on Friday evening (November 18, 2016) and picks up at noon on Saturday and runs through late-night Sunday. “Our intent,” says Amanda Salazar “is to create a salon and to start a dialogue about where cinema is at, where it is going, and its relevancy. We want people to feel free to drop in and see one film or to spend the weekend with us. ”
CAMERA OBSCURA day I : Friday, Nov 18
OPENING NIGHT: 7:00pm
CAMERAPERSON (2016) dir. Kirsten Johnson
– preceded by the short film – SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT (2016) dir. AJ Schnack
[feature courtesy of Janus Films | short courtesy of the filmmaker and Field of Vision]
— followed by —
opening night reception [Hotel Petaluma ballroom]
CAMERA OBSCURA day II : Saturday, Nov 19
12:00pm | [introduced by Canyon Cinema Director Antonella Bonfanti]
LA REGION CENTRALE (1971), dir. Michael Snow
– preceded by the short film –
THE WATERSHOW EXTRAVAGANZA (2016) [U.S. premiere], dir. Sophie Michael
[feature courtesy of Canyon Cinema | short courtesy of the filmmaker
— followed by —
4:00pm | [introduced by Camera Obscura Film Society co-founder Lawrence Jordan]
LESSONS OF DARKNESS (1992)
dir. Werner Herzog
– preceded by the short films –
NIGHT LIGHT (2016) [world premiere] dir. Lawrence Jordan [in attendance]
EDGE OF ALCHEMY (2016) [work-in-progress screening] dir. Stacey Steers
[feature courtesy of WHF GmbH | shorts courtesy of the respective filmmakers]
— followed by —
7:00pm | THE SON OF JOSEPH [LE FILS DE JOSEPH] (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Eugene Green
– preceded by the short film –
OH WHAT A WONDERFUL FEELING (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Francois Jaros
[feature courtesy of Kino Lorber | short courtesy of La Boîte à Fanny]
— followed by —
10:00pm | [introduced by Alamo Drafthouse SF Creative Manager Mike Keegan]
THE ASTROLOGER (1975) dir. Craig Denny
– preceded by the short film –
PLENA STELLARUM (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Matthew Wade
[feature courtesy of AGFA | short courtesy the filmmaker]
CAMERA OBSCURA day III : Sunday, Nov 20
1:00pm | IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE (2015) dir. Patrick Shen [prod. Brandon Vedder in attendance]
– preceded by the short film –
FLOWERS OF THE SKY (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Janie Geiser
[feature courtesy of the Cinema Guild | short courtesy the filmmaker]
— followed by —
4:00pm | Sunday SEA TO SHINING SEA (2016) [work-in-progress screening] dir. Maximon Monihan [in attendance]
– preceded by the short film –
EXILE EXOTIC (2015) [regional premiere] dir. Sasha Litvintseva
[feature courtesy of Bricolagista | short courtesy the filmmaker]
— followed by —
CLOSING NIGHT: 7:00pm | DARK NIGHT (2016) [regional premiere]dir. Tim Sutton
– preceded by the short film –
[TBA] (2016) [work-in-progress screening]
dir. ——– [in attendance]
[feature courtesy of Cinelicious Pics | short courtesy of the filmmaker]
— followed by —
closing night party [secret location TBA]
Details: Camera Obscura Second Annual Report is Friday through Sunday, November 18-20, 2016 at the art gallery of Hotel Petaluma, 106 Washington Street, Petaluma, CA, approximately 1.5 hours north of San Francisco. Screenings (“events”) are for members only. A single screening is $20; a full day membership is $50 and the full weekend, including a one year membership and subsequent Quarterly report screenings) is $100.
For more information: www.cameraobscurafilmsociety.com
Kid friendly alert: the programming is intended for adults
The 8th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival kicks off Friday, October 28th, and offers a weekend of exciting cinema
With 40 independent films from 18 countries, the 8th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF8) offers line-up of new independent films from the remote corners of the globe to homey Petaluma. This year’s festival is Friday through Sunday at Petaluma’s Boulevard 14 Cinemas and offers 15 full-length films and 25 shorts and the popular Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase with several filmmakers in attendance. There’s also Running Wild, Alex Ranarivelo’s new horse drama that was co-produced by Petaluma’s Ali Afshar and was shot in 2015 all around Sonoma County.
Organized by Saeed Shafa who founded the popular annual Tiburon International Film Festival in 2002, PIFF was created to support new indie filmmakers, great storytelling and international points of view. Since most filmmakers start our their careers by making a short film, Shafa has purposely paired all the feature films with at least one short film to demonstrate to the audience that short stories can be highly effective and so can new filmmakers.
Friday’s Opening film:
The festival kicks off Friday at noon with Hilary Linder’s compelling documentary, Indivisible (2016), which showcases real people at the heart of our country’s immigration debate and the Dreamer movement for immigrant rights. In a year in which election theatrics have supplanted substantive debate on the pressing issue of immigration reform, Linder gives us a a very relevant story that tracks three children who were been separated from their parents by deportation and became stuck in redtape which prohibited them from visiting their parents and their parents form visiting them. Against all odds, these kids remain hopeful and are working to promote reform. Screens with shorts “The Silence” and “Between the Lines.”
Saturday and Sunday evenings—Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase:
Now in its fourth year, the festival’s popular Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase has expanded to both Saturday and Sunday evenings. The program reflects Shafa’s commitment to our community’s talented independent filmmakers. The evenings allow the community to gather to meet these filmmakers and to see a number of short films all at once. This year, the program starts on Saturday with Alex Ranarivelo’s new feature length drama, Running Wild (2016), starring Oscar-nominated Sharon Stone. The film was co-produced by Petaluma’s Ali Afshar and was shot in 2015 in Petaluma, Tomales, Santa Rosa and Glen Ellen. The story revolves around the plight of wild horses during the drought. Recently widowed Stella Davis (Dorian Brown, FX’s “Wilfred”) faces foreclosure of her Double Diamond Ranch and works with convicts to rehabilitate a herd of wild horses that has wandered onto her ranch. The film screens Saturday at 6:15 PM with director Alex Ranarivelo and actress Dorian Brown in attendance.
Sunday Afternoon: Focus on Dance and Music
Randy Valdes was born in Cuba in 1986 and then relocated to Miami at age eight. His documentary A Todo Color (2015) tells the story of how, in the 1990’s, young Cubans turned to music as a source of inspiration and how Cuban musicians managed to disseminate their art and truths beyond Cuba. Through intimate interviews and fabulous concert scenes, the film explores the artists’ personal and creative journeys, how their influence defines the artistic language of the Cuban cultural Diaspora, and how each incorporates the influences of their newly adopted cultural environments into the ever-evolving phenomenon of World Cuban Music. Screens Sunday, 2PM with shorts Body & Sound (4 min) and State of Grace (5 min)
Bardroy Barretto’s musical feature Let’s Dance to the Rhythm (2015) brings some 20 legendary songs from the 60’s and 70’s to life in a spectacular tribute to Goan music that unfolds as a love story between a composer-musician, Lawtry (Vijay Maurya), and his protégé, Dona (Palomi Ghosh). Set against the backdrop of the jazz clubs of Bombay and Goa’s vibrant 60’s generation of musicians, the film is loosely based on a true story. Goan musicians contributed greatly to Bollywood’s melodious songs and compositions and this film gives these unsung heroes their due. Screens Sunday at 4 PM. (In Konkani with subtitles)
The 7th Petaluma International Film Festival is Friday, October 28, through Sunday, October 30, 2016 at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C Street, Petaluma. Tickets: All screenings $12; buy tickets during the festival at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas or online (click here) with a handling fee. Passes: All inclusive festival pass is $180 and a day pass is $60. (click here to purchase)
For full schedule and more information, click here.
Russian Bells will clang at Fort Ross’ Harvest Festival in a special Russian Bell concert with Percussionist Victor Avdienko—Saturday, October 15, 2016
The majestic sound of Russian bells will fill the air at historic Fort Ross this Saturday as San Francisco Symphony Percussionist Victor Avdienko performs a special concert for the 4th annual Fort Ross-Seaview Wine and Harvest Festival. Since the founding of Fort Ross in 1812 by the Russian-American Company, a trading and fur trapping firm, Russian bells have had a place of prominence. They were utilized both as signal bells at the fort’s two sentry boxes located diagonally in its Northern and Southern corners and, after 1824, as church bells in the belfry of the fort’s Holy Trinity–Saint Nicholas Chapel. On Saturday, the peal of six Russian bells will serve a purely musical purpose in America’s Second Secular Russian Bell Concert which will take place at the Visitor’s Center at 1:10 pm. The concert is produced by Mark Galperin, General Manager of Blagovest Bells of Novato, the sole promoter of Russian bells and bell-ringing in the U.S.
The program will include a mix of traditional liturgical and contemporary secular “zvons” (peals) and improvisations—
“Perezvon”– a chain peal, from largest bell to smallest in order, used at the Blessing of the Water
Traditional Trezvons (three-part Russian bell peals)
“Festal Lenten Zvon”– a traditional Russian Peal from the famous belfry of the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin of the Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl Region, Russia
“Optina Zvon”– a peal from Optina Pustyn, the famous Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple Monastery for men near Kozelsk, Kaluga Region, Russia
“Krasnyj Zvon” by Vladimir Petrovsky
Percussionist Victor Avdienko has performed, recorded, and toured with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) for 20 years. He was brought up in San Francisco’s Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church on Geary Street but, during those days, he never heard authentic Russian bells played live there. Instead, he heard plenty of recordings of majestic Russian bells which always fascinated him. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with the San Francisco Symphony in the summer of 2014 was the first time authentic Russian bells were ever used for that very popular piece in the United States. Galperin organized the loan of those bells to SFS from San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. He had also lent Blagovest Bells’ 5-bell Russian demo peal to SFS for its Keeping Score Summer Institute in June 2009. The friendship between Galperin and Avdienko was solidified over their mutual love of bell music. Avdienko and Galperin’s first independent concert, America’s First Secular Russian Bell Concert was held at Fort Ross during the 3rd Fort Ross Harvest Festival.
Saturday’s outdoor concert at Fort Ross will occur rain or shine. In addition to Russian bells, the folk group Dolina will also be performing a number of traditional Russian and Cossak folk dances throughout the day.
To read ARThound’s 2014 feature article on SFS percussionist Victor Avdienko and the first Russian bells to play at Green Music Center’s famed Weill Hall, click here.
Details: The bell concert is 1:10 PM on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at the Fort Ross Visitor Center, Fort Ross State Historic Park. The concert is free but visitors must pay park admission of $20/car which includes entrance to the Fort Ross Harvest Festival. Fort Ross, is located 11 miles north of Jenner on Highway One and is the main tourist attraction between Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg.
The Fort Ross Harvest Festival is Saturday, October 15, 2016 from 10AM to 6PM and offers a full day of world-class wine tasting, a wine seminar featuring rare wines grown in the remote steep mountain top Seaview region, apple picking in a historic apple orchard, delicious local foods, historic crafts and music and Russian dancing, all set on the spectacular Sonoma Coast at Fort Ross State Historic Park. Entrance to the festival is $20/car and wine tasting tickets range from $40 to $90 depending on category of wine tasting.
With the onset of fall, Bay Area moviegoing options start to multiply like crazy. The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 6-16 2016, is hard to beat. The 39th edition offers a line-up of 200 films—winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto as well as an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a Bay Area stamp—all selected for our discriminating Bay Area audience by programmer Zoe Elton and her seasoned team. The legendary festival kicks off on Thursday evening, October 6, with two of Hollywood’s hottest fall films—La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash MVFF 2014) love letter to dreamers, artists, and Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and Denis Vileneuve’s (Sicario) riveting and thoughtful drama, Arrival, starring five time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who communicates with aliens in a bid to save the planet. Actually, in a move to satisfy everyone’s tastes, there are four films screening on Thursday evening, so add Mick Jackson’s Denial starring Rachael Weiss and Rob Nilsson’s Love Twice to the mix but they are not being billed as opening nighters. Special Tributes will honor Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman in a program that includes a screening of her new film with Dev Patel, Lion, and acclaimed filmmaker and author Julie Dash, who will appear in conversation following a screening of her recently restored Daughters of the Dust (1991). The festival closes with Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which tells the real life story of the struggle, imprisonment and 1960’s Supreme Court battle Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving experienced in one of America’s early interracial marriages.
The festival unfolds in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Mill Valley. For North Bay residents, getting there and parking is considerably more time efficient and cheaper than it is in San Francisco. If you want to go, pre-purchase your tickets now as this popular festival tends to sell out before it starts. There is ample choice right now but not for long. I recommend seeing films where the filmmaker or actors will be in attendance. Also, check the new program guide for Smith Rafael Film Center. Several of the festival films are screening there within the next two months and it doesn’t make sense to pay a premium to see them at the festival and wait in long lines unless there are special guests attending that make it worthwhile.
ARThound’s top picks:
Neruda/Spotlight Gael Garcia Bernal—Mon, Oct 10
The foreign film line-up is especially strong this year. Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Chile’s foreign language Oscar nominee, takes center stage in a special Spotlight presentation honoring Mexican actor-director-producer Gael Garcia Bernal. The drama is set in 1948 and Bernal plays a police inspector who is charged with finding the fugitive Communist politician and poet, Pablo Neruda, when he goes underground. In Larrain’s capable hands, the film morphs into a soulful exploration of Chile’s historical dance with heroes and villains and Bernal as the inspector becomes a key figure, obsessed with finding Neruda who has managed to make him his pawn. Bernal will appear in an onstage conversation covering his extensive career.
The Salesman—Fri, Oct 7 and Wed, Oct 12
I can’t remember when the festival last hosted an Iranian filmmaker but, over the year’s, we’ve reveled in their creativity, courage and unparalleled story-telling. This year, acclaimed Academy Award and Golden Globe winning writer-director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) will appear in person to answer questions after the two screenings of his new Tehran-set drama The Salesman. The film picked up Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at Cannes and was selected as the Iranian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Salesman is the suspenceful story of a young Persian couple who are part-time actors in Tehran in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Their relationship is strained after they move into a new flat and the wife is attacked while she is taking a shower. The flat’s previous occupant, a woman who was allegedly involved in prostitution, is never seen but her presence grows as the film progresses. At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini, the husband, won the award for Best Actor.
Lamb—Sat, Oct 8 and Tues, Oct 11
A rarity for MVFF is an Ethiopian film, in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Writer-director Yared Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was the first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection. The 37 year-old director made Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2015. The story revolves around an Ethiopian boy who loses his mother and moves in with relatives and becomes attached to a pet lamb, Chuni, as a way of dealing with loss and grief. He also takes up cooking which is unacceptable to his uncle who considers it girl’s work. The story hits close to home for the director. When he was just 10, Zeleke’s own father was imprisoned by the Derg regme (the ruling military Communist regime that was in power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) and his mother remarried and he went to live with his grandmother. Ultimately, Zeleke was reunited with his father and they lived together in the US but the happy days he had with both loving parents together were long gone. Filmmaker in attendance for both screenings.
Frantz—Fri, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 14
French director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) always stirs me with subtle demonstrations of his artistry and deep understanding of human nature. His latest film, Frantz, a romantic drama set in the aftermath of WWI in the small German town of Quedlingburg, is a layered portrait of grief. The story evolves from a strange graveside encounter between a young German woman (Paula Beer) grieving her fiancé and a Frenchman, Adrian (Pierre Niney), who also visits the fiancé’s grave to leave flowers. He claims to have been friends with her fiancé and, slowly, she begins to develop feelings for him. Shot in black and white, with brief interludes of color, the film is a loose adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby which itself was based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand. Niney, whose elegant face would have inspired Michelangelo, won a Cesar award for his outstanding performance in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014).
Mom and Other Loonies in the Family—Sat, Oct 15 and Sun, Oct 16
Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete’s Mom and Other Loonies in the Family revolves around a 94 year-old grandmother with dementia who relates her life story to her daughter. It’s a heartwarming recounting, told through flashbacks over four generations of crazies. She was a mother on the run who moved twenty-seven times—and the film spans all of the 20th century, meandering through epic moments in Hungarian and world history. Her “present” is a time that is infused with struggles, declining health and the confusing intervention of past events. Her past was committed to keeping the family together at any cost. The story is based on the filmmaker’s own family and stories related to her by relatives. Characters appear in archival footage and in well-known Hungarian films as if they were actually in those films. Eszter Ónodi shines as the reliable yet somewhat whimsical woman who moved too many times and just wants to stand on her own two feet. Her ninety four-year old demented self is played by Danuta Szaflarska who credibly plays the role by reverting to childlike responses.
Green is Gold—Sat, Oct 8 and Sun, Oct 9
I have a weakness for films that are set in Northern, California, where I grew up. Sonoma State University graduate Ryan Baxter’s first feature, Green is Gold, is set in rural Sonoma County and is a family bonds over pot business story that picked up the Audience Best Fiction Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for its poetic filmmaking and emotional truth. Ryan Baxter, the writer, director, editor and star, plays the older brother, Cameron, a black market potrepneur ( a real word I picked up at the Heirloom Festival) who is forced to take care of his younger brother, Jimmy (his real life brother, Jimmy Baxter) when their dad is imprisoned. Cameron tries to put some distance between the kid and the cannabis business, which involves considerable risk but high payoffs, but, soon Jimmy is knee deep in buds and the two find themselves embarking on a dangerous pot delivery journey that will either leave them rolling in dough or six feet under. Ryan Baxter, actor Jimmy Baxtor, and rest of cast and crew in attendance at both screenings.)
Unleashed—Wed, Oct 12 and Thurs, Oct 13
What if your pets turned into full-grown men? I couldn’t resist the whacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin). All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles.
Details MVFF 39:
The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on Thursday, October 6 and runs through Sunday, October 16, 2016. Buy tickets online now at http://www.mvff.com/. Most tickets for films are $14 and special programs starts at $25.
Interview: Zita Morriña, Programming director, Cuba’s International Festival of New Latin American Cinema
As I travelled to sunny Havana, Cuba last December for my first visit to the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, I had a myriad of questions about what goes on behind the scenes to bring over 650 films from 49 countries to Havana. Virtually unknown to most Americans, this 10 day festival, which is always held in the first two weeks of December, keeps getting bigger and better each year and is one of Havana’s and Latin America’s most anticipated annual events. I spoke with festival Programming Director, Zita Morriña, who has handled programming for the past 37 years.
The 37th edition of the festival received roughly 1500 films that were submitted from the region for consideration, the biggest year ever. The festival also seeks out prizewinners from Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto. Morriña and her team of four energetic programmers turn all of this into a 10-day program that runs in 14 historic theaters all across Havana. They also organize the festival’s awards program which involves juried competitions in eight areas and numerous awards, including best unrealized screenplay and even one for the best artistic design of the festival’s poster. I meet with Morriña mid-way through last December’s festival in a large house in the Havana suburbs, owned by the festival; it was raining cats and dogs and the place was absolutely chaotic, with a stream of very wet people coming and going. Confident at the helm, Morriña gave me the lay of the land.
What is the philosophy of programming? How many submissions do you get and what are your standards for what you accept?
Zita Morriña: This year, we had over 1500 submissions. Every year, we usually get over 1000 but after the digital system of film became more popular, we started getting many more submissions from all over the world. Our philosophy is to emphasize Latin films so the areas of competition are only open to Latin American films. Some are submitted and some are by invitation. We always open our submissions in January or February. Including me, We have five programmers here and we have a budget for travel that’s not very big, but allows us to go to the big festivals—Berlin, Cannes, San Sebastian, Rotterdam—and some that are not so big but which are important for Latin film. We go to the principal countries—Argentina, Chile Brazil Venezuela and sometimes Colombia—and then we will go to a festival in Lima, Peru, and two to three festivals in Brazil. We’ve also attended Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM) where they screen films. We invite the films that win the awards and get recognition. It’s always a combination of films we want and films they send us. This year, the majority is by submission not invitation.
How has the festival grown over the years in terms of participants?
Zita Morriña: In the beginning, the festival was more Latin American than international. In Latin America, almost all the countries have participated and that has just solidified and broadened. In the beginning, everything was in the contest. That worked for awhile but then it grew so much that the jurors couldn’t watch 40 or 50 films, so we decided to have separate contests and limit the number of films. We started with the fiction film category for the contest and, within that, created a prize for the first fiction film and the best short film. As we grew, and first films became more important, we created the contest for first films. This year, we have over 21 films full-length feature films, 21documentaries, 21 shorts, 21 first films, 21 animation and over 40 long and short features in fiction. We also have a script contest and we receive more than 100 every year.
Are you free to accept films of any subject matter?
Zita Morriña: Not for the contest. We decided that it would only for Latin American films or films with Latin American subjects. Outside the contest, we accept everything.
How is the jury selected?
Zita Morriña: It varies but it’s always a different jury each year. Sometimes, we select filmmakers who have received the award in the past. We try to make each jury a composition of many countries so there is balance.
What are you most proud of about this festival?
Zita Morriña: Our programming. We show the very best films produced in Latin America. This year in our “Gala” section we have a few films produced by Latin American directors that do not have a Latin American theme or subject per se, but we feel they are so relevant that they have to be shown. Our “First Film” category keeps better each year. These films are as good as or better than the other films we are showing. Over the years, we have had 500,000 people attending this festival and that’s very gratifying, very good.
This year, there are a lot of films addressing sexual and gender orientation. Is this intentional, to use film as a vehicle to explore these topics in Cuban society?
Zita Morriña: For the past five years, these themes have been very present in all the films throughout the world but, in Latin American films, we’ve have about 10 to 15 films that deal with homosexuality, trans, so forth. This is not a theme we are seeking; it comes to us. Our criteria has always been if the film is good we take it, never mind the topic. But, in our large panorama of subjects/categories, we do have one for diversity. There, we show films that address all sorts of topics beyond sexual and gender orientation like albinism.
I’ve seen an uncanny number of psychologically intense and dark films at this festival. Is this a characteristic of current Latin cinema?
Zita Morriña: Right now, yes it is. I think it’s a reflection of the social and political situation in Latin America right now that has given rise to this type of story. They are moving from the militant films that we saw up until the 1990’s to films that are more socially engaged and delve into heavy psychological issues that are often the result of the environment in these countries or of events in history.
Has new film technology presented any special problems here in Cuba? I attended about five screenings here where the audio did not work correctly or where they had to switch the film and show another that wasn’t scheduled due to technical issues. How are you tackling these issues so that the people are not disappointed?
Zita Morriña: Technology is one of our greatest challenges that will be solved only by time and money. Until about two years ago, cinemas in Cuba only screened 35mm and Blu-ray because we didn’t have any digital projectors. Last year, 2014, we introduced this technology in two theaters—Charles Chaplin and Yara. This year, we have fve theaters but, on the human side, we need to train our projectionists and technicians. Also, we need to improve film transport for receiving the films. There’s no Fed Ex here in Cuba; the films still have to come by DHL, which can take 10 to 15 days. Right now, a week into this festival, we are missing a film from the Dominican Republic, which is just 200 miles away but I still don’t have the film. And on the new technology side, there are problems everywhere but, here in Cuba, it’s triple. We have a film from Mexico, Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles, a very good film about the Mexican cartels, which we can’t get to open and play, so we can’t screen it. Naturally, we always ask that films be sent ahead of time so we can work these things out but sometimes they tell us that the only copy they have is at another festival and they end up carrying the film with them when come. Also, we don’t pay any fees for films and charging a fee is very common nowadays so we have to deal with that money factor which gives us a lower priority.
What are the awards─are they money or recognition?
Zita Morriña: Just recognition. One of our awards, however, a script award, has financial support from Spanish institutions so that we can give money to the writer so to develop their idea. There’s also a post production award we give that supports films that are already done but need to be finished, so we do give some money for that.
The Cuban cinema here has been fantastic. Does the festival, extend financial support through the Cuban Institute for Cinema, to commission any films?
Zita Morriña: No.
How does the festival survive financially?
Zita Morriña: (Outburst of laughter) We have this house, which is ours and a small full-time staff which is here year round. We have about 20 people including four programmers, the director and we have economic and administrative staff and maintain a video-library with copies of all the films that have been in the festival.
I met the American experimental filmmaker, Dominic Angerame from San Francisco and he told me that he’s been bringing films here for the past 10 years. How has it been collaborating with American’s over the years?
Zita Morriña: It’s been very easy. You know in our 7th festival, some 30 years ago, we had Jack Lemmon here and we opened our festival with Costa Gavras’ Missing (1982) about Allende and the missing or disappeared people. We awarded Jack Lemmon the Coral of Honor, so we have always been there collaborating and communicating. So now, let’s say, it is legal. The Academy (Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences) has been sending delegations here for years. Annette Bening came in 2010 with The Kids Are All Right. We’ve had Gregory Peck, Robert DeNiro, Chris Walken, Milos Forman and Spike Lee. Harry Belafonte came many times. The former president of the Academy, Sid Ganis, was here and was very supportive.
Are you ready for the onslaught of Americans that will want to attend this festival?
Zita Morriña: We are more or less ready but I’m not so sure about the country.
To read ARThound’s previous coverage of the 37th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema (Dec 3-13, 2015), click here.
Details: The 38th Festival of New Latin American Cinema is December 8-18, 2016 in Havana. Click here for information. Plan on securing plane and hotel reservations at least 2 to 3 months in advance of the festival. Once in Havana, festival passes can be purchased at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where the festival is headquartered, or, individual tickets can be purchased at various screening venues. Due to the immense popularity of the festival, purchasing a festival pass is advised.
A palm-sized white ceramic cup with two fine blue lines encircling its rim depicts colorful chickens tending their chicks and proud roosters amidst groups of rocks and flowers. At first glance, the cup appears to be a run-of-the-mill item that someone who liked chickens might pick up at a charity thrift shop and place in their kitchen window. But this is the renowned “chicken cup,” the most extraordinary type of early Ming multicolor porcelain in existence, which for centuries has been coveted by emperors, literati collectors and connoisseurs of Chinese art. It bears an imperial seal in a cobalt blue underglaze on its bottom indicating it was created during the reign of Ming Emperor Chenghua. Of course, it’s impossible to put a price on the priceless, but the 500 year-old Meiyantang Chenghua chicken cup, very similar, sold at auction in 2014 for $36.3 million. For the untrained eye, such are the surprises that await in the 150 objects on display at the Asian Art Museum (AAM) in their summer show, Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum (June 17-Sept 18). Those more grounded in Chinese art will revel in the nuances of the crème de le crème of Chinese Imperial art selected by Jay Xu (AAM director) and Li He (AAM associate curator), co-curators of this show.
Considered the world’s top collection of Chinese art, the National Palace Museum was founded in 1965 and contains hundreds of thousands of the Imperial family’s extensive collections of artworks, artifacts and palatial treasures. In order to protect them from the ravages of war, these treasures were relocated to Taiwan from the National Palace Museum, in the Forbidden City, Beijing, in 1947 and from other hiding places in China at other dates. The collection rarely travels outside Asia and roughly 100 of the paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, jades, bronzes and textiles have never before been seen in the United States. The other 50 were shown at the Metropolitan Museum in the spring of 1996 when Jay Xu was a young curator there.
The exhibit spans 800 years of Chinese history, covering Han Chinese, Mongol and Manchu periods from the early 12th century Song dynasty though the Yuan, Ming and early 20th century Qing dynasties. The structure is chronological, following the reigns of nine monarchs, eight male and one female, each of whom heavily influenced the artworks of their respective eras. The team at the Asian, in close collaboration with Taipei, has done a wonderful job presenting the many aesthetic currents that ran through Chinese imperial art as Chinese emperors expressed their personal tastes and embraced various foreign innovations and influences. Wall placards provide rich context and full Chinese translations, while the audio-guide and catalog provide even more information.
“This is not a typical blockbuster art show in its scale,” says Dr. Richard Vinograd, Christensen Professor in Asian Art, Stanford, “but it’s very rich in terms of objects and art forms that are included over a very broad span of time. The value of these objects can be distinguished between their pure artistic value and connoisseurs’ or collectors’ values, which are attached to Imperial patronage, transmission, and technical innovations embodied in the works.” Indeed, some of these artworks are like people you meet who, initially, may not seem very interesting but once you get to know them, become thoroughly engrossing.
Emperors’ Treasures opens with an exploration of Emperor Huizong (r.1101-1125 AD), who sought escape from the affairs of state through the arts and letters. His connoisseurship had a formidable impact on the study of antiquities in China and he collected over 6,000 paintings, thousands of antiquities and bronzes, many of which were lost when the Jin army, which he was once in alliance with, invaded in 1127. A brilliant and dedicated calligrapher, Huizong invented the “Slender Gold” style of calligraphy, unlike anything that preceded it, which had such unique energetic brushstrokes that they are often described as the legs of dancing cranes. Huizong was enamored by anthropomorphic rocks and stocked his imperial garden with them, giving them names which were engraved on them. A Daoist poem he composed, which is in the show, praises the form of a particularly unique rock. Equally fascinating is Huizong’s back story: he sired over 65 children.
The well-known but quiet Southern Song dynasty painting “Walking on a Path in Spring,” illustrates important unresolved issues that apply to many paintings of the Song period and beyond. This ink drawing on silk is by Ma Yuan, one of the more famous court-affiliated artists of the fourth Southern Song dynasty emperor, Ningzong (r. 1195-1224). It depicts someone strolling and twisting his beard, his view extending into a misty void. A smaller figure (lower left) seems to be following him and carrying something. A bird sits on a branch and another is in flight, directing the viewer’s eye to the imperial couplet in the upper right, for which there are a variety of translations.
“The most interesting question is: what is the relationship between the poem and the painting and which came first?,” says Richard Vinograd. Even for the painter Ma Yuan, whose work is well known, very little is known about his life or about the status of court-affiliated artists during this period, explains Vinograd. “We do know that Ma Yuan had a big impact with his own work and was part of a multi-generational family of artists that were active in the Song Dynasty. Their stylistic mode was important for centuries thereafter as a model for later artists to refer to or imitate.” Vinograd will speak about the exhibit at the Asian Art Museum on Saturday, August 25, and will further explore the relationship between painting and calligraphy appearing in early paintings.
Emperors’ Treasures gives ample evidence of the great diversity of Chinese culture, highlighting non-Chinese rulers who were exceptional leaders and introduced new practices. The Mongol, Kublai Khan, grandson of Gengis Khan, become China’s first non-Chinese emperor in the late 13th century and founded the Yuan dynasty. The history is fascinating: the Mongols came in from the northwestern steppes around 1237 and finally overtook China in 1276, toppling the Song dynasty in the South. They also invaded what was then Iran, so the world’s two oldest cultures were under one rule. This expansion and unification of China led to a massive influx of artisans and craftsmen from all over the vast Mongol empire and great cross-pollination which had reverberations even in Italian art of the fourteenth century. Unlike other emperors in the exhibit who created art, Kublai expressed his taste through administrative acts that supported the arts. His unsigned bust portrait, likely produced by a court painter, is executed in the style of most all Imperial portraits: it depicts a flat two-dimensional, forward facing, remote leader. In plain Mongol dress and headdress, with a hairstyle of three braided loops hanging from behind the ear, Kublai is presented unambiguously as the emperor of China but as something foreign at the same time.
Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) porcelain reflected the craze for fine cobalt blue pigment which came from Iran and was used prevalently in Islamic art. Another quite ordinary looking treasure, important not for its style but for its exquisite deep blue color, this rare wine cup and saucer set came from the porcelain center in Jingdezhen. There, artisans mastered the use of cobalt for monochrome glaze and underglaze decoration and developed a new decorative element which involved applying gold over the vivid blue. Originally, the cup and saucer were decorated with gold motifs which have long since fallen away. Residue reveals that plum branches surrounded the exterior of the cup; these were a symbol of faith and self-esteem and were an important motif in Yuan art.
The use of cobalt would reach new heights during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as would the fineness of porcelain explaining the enduring craze for Ming. Innovation in clay recipes allowed for vessels to become thinner and thus lighter. New body and glaze recipes produced a purer, more translucent white and a glossier finish which were even softer to the touch. The variation of shapes expanded too and Islamic influences crept into bottles, flasks, jugs, candleholders and boxes. Aside from the palm-sized chicken cup, several exquisite examples are in the exhibit, including a very large celestial globe vase with an imposing three-clawed, heavily-scaled flying dragon encircling the vase’s body. The vase’s neck and background are of delightful array of lotus flowers and leaves.
The richest art collection in Chinese history
Of the nine Imperial rulers covered in the exhibition, a stand-out is the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty, Qianlong (r.1736-1795), a contemporary of George Washington. He reined for 60 years and together with his grandfather, Emperor Kangxi, and his father, Emperor Yongzheng, created the last and most prosperous of Chinese feudal dynasties. Even though Emperor Qianlong was thoroughly versed in Chinese and composed some 40,000 poems and enjoyed calligraphy, he was not Chinese but was a Manchu, like his father and grandfather. All were masters at deploying culture through patronage but Qianlong became the greatest art collector in Chinese history, amassing a collection of art and jewels that had been acquired by China’s leaders since the first century BC. There is no agreement by scholars about the exact size of his collection but the catalog (p.16) gives one estimate of 490,000 by Tsai Mei-Fen, the chief curator of the Object Division of the National Palace Museum.
“If you look over the broad span of this exhibit,” says Richard Vinograd, “the later examples of porcelains or objects from the 18th century Qing dynasty are often tour de force examples of structure or interesting enamel decoration. Their innovative shapes begin to reference other kinds of objects and are quite interesting historically.”
During Qianlong’s reign, revolving vases appear to have been introduced under the supervision of Tang Ying, the gifted director of the imperial factory. The yellow reticulated vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design in Emperors’ Treasures is one of the most complicated pieces of porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, a feat of artisanship and technical virtuosity. Each component was fired individually to create an inner vase of exquisite design which rotates when the neck of the exterior vase is turned.
Interestingly, Quianlong’s seals and poetry appear on a number of objects from different eras in the exhibition. A short poem dated fall 1776 and his Imperial seals “be virtuous” and “eloquent and fluid” are carved on the base of a deep blue Song dynasty ceramic pillow, called a “ruyi,” (wish-granting wand) referencing its graceful mushroom-shape and the magical powers of mushrooms. There’s no easy re-write when it comes to composing on a ceramic pillow but Qianlong made an error that has become permanent─he misidentified the pillow as coming from the Ru kiln and it did not, proving that he was misinformed. He also carved an eight-line poem on the base of a particularly gorgeous celadon glazed ru-ware vase from the Northern Song dynasty praising its “fresh blue” glaze, its tiny “nail like” spur marks, its “radiating fragrance even with no flowers present,” and its ceremonial function of the Hall of Ancestral Worship. One of his beloved personal objects, a stacking, multi-storied red-lacquered box of treasures, with special compartments for 44 of his prized objects, is a design feat. It is small enough to be carried and yet contains an ingenious series of compartments and drawers, nineteen of which housed special pieces of jade dating from ancient times as well as a compartment for its own small catalogue recording the contents and their location within.
After closing in San Francisco, the exhibition will travel to Houston Fine Arts Museum, with a slightly different set of treasures.
Richard Vinograd lecture, August 27, 10:30 – noon: “Emperors as Patrons, Participants, and Producers of Paintings” Richard Vinograd, Christensen Fund Professor of Asian Art, Dept. of Art and Art History, Stanford University and an advisor to the AAM’s Society for Asian Art will explore Emperor’s Treasures by examining the relationship between painting and calligraphy in early paintings, examining ways that painting can be said to have poetic qualities or to be illustrating poetry, an unresolved issue which has led scholars to propose many answers. Through case studies of several of the rulers and works represented in the exhibition, he will explore the sponsorship, design and fashioning of paintings from the 11th through 18th centuries. Dr. Vinograd completed his dissertation at U.C. Berkeley in 1979 on the Yuan dynasty artist Wang Meng (1308-85) whose scroll “Thatched House on the East Mountain” (1343), is part of the exhibition. He spent two years in Taipei (1972-74) studying Chinese and combing the archives of the National Palace Museum. $20 general public; $15 Society members (after Museum admission). Register online here to be guaranteed a place, or pay when you arrive.
Exhibition catalogue: A 272 page catalog, edited by Jay Hu and He Li accompanies the exhibition. Each of the essays by leading scholars in Chinese art and history stands on its own. Extensive object descriptions by AAM associate curator He Li constitute an easily understood and enjoyable journey into Chinese dynastic and visual culture.
Details: Emperors Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Tapei closes September 18, 2016. The AAM is located at 200 Larkin Street near Civic Center. Parking is easy at Civic Center Plaza garage which offers a discount with your validated AAM ticket. (Get it stamped upon entry to the museum.) Hours: Tues-Sun: 10-5; Thursdays until 9 (end Oct 8); closed Mondays. Admission: General admission $20 weekday, $25weekend; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $15 weekday, $20 weekend; 12 & under are free. 1st Sundays are free thanks to Target. You can pre-purchase your tickets, with no processing fee, online here.
interview: curator Karin Breuer─“Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” at the de Young through October 9, 2016
Sixty years ago, Ed Ruscha, moved across country from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to study art at what would become Cal Arts. Ever since, the celebrated artist, now 78, has been exploring the West’s expansive cultural and physical landscape. “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” at the de Young Museum through October 9, 2016, examines Ruscha’s fascination with the Western United States, shifting emblems of American life, and the effects of time on this restless landscape. Ninety-nine of the artist’s prints, photos, paintings, and drawings fill the de Young’s Herbst exhibition galleries on the bottom floor, giving us an opportunity to see the originals of artworks we all know from prints and posters, including his mythic Hollywood signs and Standard gasoline stations.
“Ed Ruscha defies easy categorization,” says Karin Breuer, who curated the show and is curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, where she has worked for over 25 years, succeeding Robert Flynn Johnson. “He’s known as a pop artist, conceptual artist, surrealist and, early on, was identified with the West Coast pop movement, the so-called “cool school” of art. He’s adept at painting, photography, printmaking and has created wonderful artist’s books. He’s well known for using words as subjects in his imagery and letter forms.”
At the show’s press conference, I spoke with Breuer about Ed Ruscha and her framing of this expansive exhibit and our interview is below. I also spoke with Max Hollein, FAMSF’s new director, who headed Frankfurt’s Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection (2006-16) and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2001-16). After 15 years in Deutschland, this German headed West to helm FAMSF, the largest public arts institution in Northern California, and officially began work on June 1. His impressive skill packet includes overseeing the Städel Museum’s expansion and its digital initiatives platform which entailed collaborating with the tech industry to make the museum’s collections fully and pleasantly accessible online. Naturally, he’s quite interested in working with the Bay Area’s tech industry as well. I asked him what attracted him to the Bay Area─
San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, right now, it’s filled with so much energy. There’s a real transformation occurring as it moves to an even higher level and our two museums will be a part of this rising tide. Basically, museums are not places that you visit; they are gathering places. I want to make our museums even more welcoming and relevant and part of that is making our education efforts even stronger and more connected to the contemporary culture.
There’s no better welcome to the Bay Area for Hollein, who says he has loved Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood signs “for ages”, than a huge show exploring Ruscha’s wry and poetic take American contemporary culture.
Here is my conversation with the savvy Karin Breur whose long-standing dialogue with Ruscha and hard work have produced a show with depth that is a delight to behold─
Why frame this show around the “Great American West”?
Karin Breuer: It was an easy and purposeful decision. I wanted to reverse a trend I’ve observed in exhibits with artists of Ed’s caliber─staying away from their ‘regionalism’ for fear that leads to a provincial look at an artist’s work. Instead, I thought, why not examine this. He’s been an artist who by choice went to school in Los Angeles and has lived there for 60 years and has depicted aspects of the West often in his work. As I kept looking more and more at the work, I realized there’s a story there from the very beginning, when he came out to art school at the age of 18 and traveled West from Oklahoma, all the way up to today where he’s looking at his Western environment and observing change. The show contains works from 1961 to 2014, a huge expanse of time, but it’s not a catch-all retrospective.
Has he drawn on the Bay Area at all?
Karin Breuer: No, not at all; it’s mostly the Southwest that has been his focus and stomping ground. Last night, however, I heard him say that it’s only recently that he’s come to appreciate San Francisco and the Bay Area. He’s decided that it’s the most beautiful city in the world but, he said, it may be ‘too beautiful’ for him to handle as subject in his art. There was kind a stay-tuned aspect to that though. He’s created a very interesting portfolio of prints called “Los Francisco San Angeles” where he combines street grids from both cities into one image and I think that’s the one effort that he’s made so far to connect the two cities. These are not in the exhibit.
Do you have a personal favorite?
Karin Breuer: I always thought I did but, every time I walk into the galleries, I seem to change my choice. I’m still very much in love with “Pyscho Spaghetti Western” and it’s because it depicts a roadway with a lot of garbage, trash, and debris that he has treated as beautifully as a still life. I find that so evocative of not only his quirky subject matter but also of the West and how it’s changed since he first took to the open roads in 1956.
What is the FAMSF’s collecting relationship with Ruscha? When did you really start building the collection?
Karin Breuer: Our relationship goes back to 2000, when we acquired Ruscha’s print archive and we came into a collection of over 350 prints at that time. He continues to contribute to this: each time he makes a print and it’s published, we get an impression of that print. He’s very prolific and we love that. We now have about 450 prints, one drawing, and one beautiful painting. For the new de Young building, we commissioned Ed to create a tripych─two panels that would be added to his 1983 painting “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” which we already had in our possession. You will see a lot of these works in the galleries.
What was his reaction to the show’s concept?
Karin Breuer: I pitched it to him early on and he liked it and he lent us works from his personal collection and helped facilitate loans from private collectors. Now that the show is up, he’s been very positive. This is a very appropriate time for this show as its Ed’s 60th anniversary in California.
Do you know if he has a favorite word?
Karin Breuer: No, and I think if you ask him, you won’t get a straight answer either. There are some words that appear in different forms. The word “adiós,” for example, also “rancho” and “rodeo”…those are three words that appear in different forms in my show, that he took on the in the 1960’s. I wouldn’t say that he continues to use them but they percolate in his vocabulary.
When did his fascination with words begin?
Karin Breuer: I know that in college, he had a job in a topography workshop and later he worked as a graphic designer, so words have been a part of his thinking for a very long time. He keeps lists of words that have captured his attention in notebooks and has said that words have temperatures and when those words become really hot that’s when he uses them in his art.
Now that you’ve spent a lot of time with his work, what makes it so powerful for you?
Karin Breuer: I think it’s the sense of humor that is in almost every single image; it’s wonderful─very dry, very laconic. He’s that kind of a personality too. I never cease to be amazed when I see something new coming from him─he’s got such a fertile mind, always thinking, always looking and discovering, and then reacting. Some of his latest paintings feature exploded tire treads that are called ‘gators’ by truckers. He treats these as beautiful objects and they almost look like angels’ wings. I just think to myself, that’s really unexpected, brilliant.
What sparked your interest in becoming a curator?
Karin Breuer: I’m the curator of prints and drawings and the inspiration came in college. I was a college as an art history student during the Vietnam War and there was a lot of social protest on campus. I was scratching my head thinking what does art history have to do with this? The world is changing, am I doing the right thing? A beloved professor of mine showed slides of Goya’s “Los Caprichos” and “The Disasters of War” and the light bulb went off. I said to myself ‘prints!’…they can have a political impact and everyone can afford prints…this is a very democratic medium. So, I went to graduate school to focus on prints and drawings, a realm of socially relevant art history.
What about your career at the de Young?
Karin Breuer: I’ve been here 31 years. When I joined in 1985 as an assistant curator, it was a pretty sleepy institution, as many museums were back in the day. I stayed on and worked my way up, which is kind of unheard of in the younger generations now days, but the Achenbach has only had three professional curators (E. Gunter Troche (1956-71); Robert Flynn Johnson (1975-2007), including myself. We’ve changed dramatically and dynamically and I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled about Max Hollein’s arrival here. Already, his energy and enthusiasm are having an impact on us.
Details: “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” closes October 9, 2016. Hours: The de Young is open Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and on Fridays (through November 25) until 8:45 p.m. Admission $22; with discounts for seniors, college students. Audio guides: $8. The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. Street parking is available for 4 hours and there is a paid parking lot with direct access to the museum.
“Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life” at The Broad, Los Angeles—ARThound interviews guest curator Philipp Kaiser
The Broad’s first special exhibition, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, up through October 2, 2016, explores the art world’s long-reining chameleon of identity, Cindy Sherman. Representing all phases of Sherman’s four decade career, the exhibition features 120 of Sherman works, drawn primarily from the Broad collection, with a few key works from other lenders. Visitors are greeted with two massive floor-to-ceiling murals created by Sherman especially for The Broad, reproductions of images from her “Rear Screen Projections” from the early 1980’s. The show proceeds in loose chronological order and takes up almost all of the spacious first floor galleries. Highlights include a wonderful wall of Sherman’s well-known 8 x 10 inch black and white “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80) and, in a gallery featuring her classically composed “Historical Portraits,” there’s a lesser known Limoges porcelain tea set from the late 1980’s adorned with images of Sherman as Madame de Pompadour, Mistress of King Louis XV. Sherman’s only movie to date, “Office Killer,” the campy 1997 horror feature starring Molly Ringwald, plays in a small gallery. The exhibit concludes with Sherman’s newest work, created this year, shown in LA for the first time, which is inspired by silent film stars from nearly a century ago. On one hand, it is a rich survey of her work; on the other, it focuses on Sherman’s deep engagement with mass media, popular film, movie culture and the cinematic. What better place for these themes than LA, home of the movie industry.
There couldn’t be a more stunning backdrop for this exquisite tribute than the Broad itself, LA’s newest art museum, which opened in September 2015. Located in downtown Los Angeles on Grand Avenue, just next to Walt Disney concert hall, the Broad’s angular, honey-combed structure—the “veil”—and its striking central oculus, was designed by architects Diller, Scofido + Renfro, to the tune of $140 million. It showcases the 2,000 + contemporary artwork collection of philanthropists Eli and Edy Broad. At capacity at all times, the museum has become such an LA phenomena that its stand-by line has its own twitter account.
The Broads are Cindy Sherman’s most prolific collectors. She was the first artist that the couple collected in depth. At the June 2016 press conference for the show, Eli Broad recalled the first time that he and his wife encountered her work, at Metro Pictures in 1982. He was so impressed that he snapped up 20 photos, recalling they went “far beyond photography” and “reflected what was going on in society.”
Joanne Heyler, the museum’s founding director, explained that the couple essentially had a standing order for her work as it was created. “Their collection is the most comprehensive Sherman collection in existence, containing examples from every body of work she has made during her four decade career.”
Arthound jumped on the opportunity to interview guest curator Philipp Kaiser, former director of Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany and former senior curator of MOCA (Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art). The Swiss-born Kaiser works as an independent curator and art critic in Los Angeles and will curate the Swiss pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. In addition to putting together the most comprehensive exhibit of Sherman you are likely to ever see, Kaiser made sure the show’s finishing touches reflect LA culture too. Hollywood notables Jamie Lee Curtis, Molly Ringwald, John Waters, and others contributed to the audio tour (download the app online here.) The catalog features Sofia Coppola (who went to Cal Arts and wanted to be an artist) in a casual conversation with Sherman about Marie Antoinette and Sherman’s history portraits. Now, on to the conversation with Kaiser—
What is the origin of the title “Imitation of Life” and who picked it?
Philipp Kaiser: Cindy picked it. I encouraged her to go for a cinematic theme and she came up with this title which refers to the 1959 Douglas Sirk melodrama with Lana Turner. Identity is at the core of this film. On a formal level, Hitchcock and Sirk, were very influential directors. All the artists of the 70’s—the so-called pictures generation—were looking at these filmmakers. Douglas Sirk was a big fascination for David Salle too. What artists liked about Sirk was the theatricality of his work. For example, whenever there was an outdoor scene, it was lit in blue and the indoor scenes were yellow. Sirk came from theater and, when you look at Cindy Sherman’s “Rear Screen Projections,” you see she appropriated these from film. Hitchcock, of course, relied on theatricality.
Was this your first time working with Cindy Sherman? What surprised you about her personality?
Philipp Kaiser: Yes. We had a lot of interaction—this is all collaboration, ideas going back and forth and they are then honed. The ideal exhibition is a perfect collaboration between artist and curator. She’s very insightful and there’s such depth but I found her very funny too in her own special way.
Explain the flow of the show.
Philipp Kaiser: It’s loosely chronological beginning in the first gallery with the fashion photographs from 1983 to 1993 and then you go back to 1982 in the next gallery and there’s a sense of this back and forth throughout. When you get to the dark room we’ve created, you see it respects the different series and the narrative of her career but it was very important for me to show how much these series are linked together and to point out connections. Sometimes, when things are shown separately, you lose sight of this. There are very interesting ‘hinge pieces’ in between the different series that link them.
Can you give an example of a hinge piece?
Philipp Kaiser: There are many fashion photos that serve that purpose. In one of the last galleries, there’s this piece that she made as a commission, with an outfit provided from the Chanel archives. You see so clearly that this Chanel landscape has a lot to do with the society portraits and with the older ladies who are the supporters of these museums and institutions. Also, when you look at her “History Portraits” from the late 1980’s which were created when she was so successful, that next thing she did was these big landscapes of vomit. That’s a very reactive series.
How much does she rely on digital technology to enhance her images?
Philipp Kaiser: She started to use digital technology in 2000 and you can really see this in the Chanel piece where the backdrop is very artificially constructed. The background landscapes are photos that she took on the island of Capri and in Iceland in 2010 during a volcanoic eruption. She manipulated these and gave them a painterly feel. The clowns on the green walls, which look like a green screen, are obviously made with digital backdrop. She still does that─she take pictures and uses them for backgrounds but they are digitally manipulated.
Is she doing all this work herself with no assistants?
Philipp Kaiser: Yes, she prepares herself and takes the photographs herself but has help manipulating the photos from young, computer savvy kids.
How did you emphasize her rootedness in the LA film culture and Hollywood?
Philipp Kaiser: From the very beginning, it was clear that this presentation in LA, the heart of the filmmaking industry, had to offer a very distinct perspective on the work. This is the first big Sherman show in Los Angeles since MOCA’s 1999 retrospective and it was created for LA. This exhibition starts in 1975 and goes all the way up to 2016 and you can see the influence of film from the very beginning. When you look at the gigantic murals reimagined from her “Rear Screen Projections” and at her “Untitled Film Stills” series from early in her career, you see her fascination with movie culture and the cinematic in terms of the narrative on many levels. Her work is about representation and mass media and representation is most powerful in the movies, when different roles are played. And it all ends with her newest works, inspired by the stars of the last century’s silent era.
Has she shifted her position about whether or not her works are autobiographical or not and if so what do you think might account for that?
Philipp Kaiser: I don’t think they are autobiographical. Of course, it’s always Cindy Sherman but it’s not about the self portrait. She’s not suggesting that there is a real Cindy Sherman; it’s more about the hall of mirrors Cindy Sherman showing herself in a play of roles. One day, she appropriates the role of desperate housewife and the next day, it’s another role. That’s how identity is being constructed and tested.
And these are parts of herself or parts of a broader cultural self?
Philipp Kaiser: The work is about the cultural self. A lot of people ask me if Cindy Sherman’s work is so successful because of the selfie culture and I would say it’s just the opposite. Seflies are about narcissism and about showing off your body or some feature. Her work is about something else, cultural stereotypes in mass media. What is really interesting about the new work is that that the society portraits are about aging. This is the reality of the artist getting older and that’s very interesting. It’s self-referential and she will talk about herself but it’s not about her.
Do you view the arc of her work as a search for the self? Early on, it didn’t reveal much—it was a tightly controlled act of putting on all these other faces and experimenting with them. Later, it seems that she is coming more to terms with herself and with the aging process.
Philipp Kaiser: I wouldn’t say it’s about a search for the true self but showing off how many selves there are and how constructed we are. It’s also about how we find our identity, or define ourselves, in fashion which you see clearly in the fashion photographs. The history photos all address representation on a different level─they talk about history, class, aging. There are many different levels. It’s not a search for identities but rather an acknowledgement or acceptance that our identities are pluralistic. It’s also very interesting that in her latest work Cindy Sherman is posing as a silent screen actress. So the work gets older as she gets older. These are very self-confident portraits.
Do you think she will move away from these photo series that she is so closely associated with?
Philipp Kaiser: She’s mentioned several times that she wants to work on a second movie and that’s very interesting. Her first movie, “Office Killer” (1997), is here in the show.
How has she influenced younger generations of photographers?
Philipp Kaiser: She uses photography but actually her work is very performative and what we see in the gallery is a photograph or an artwork but the process to get there is performative. Many artists can relate to this post feminist deconstructive aspect where she really takes things apart. She has been highly influential for two or three generations of artists now.
Details: The Broad
Admission to The Broad is free, but admission to the special exhibition “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life” is $12 for visitors over 18. The show runs through October 2, 2016. It is recommended that visitors book tickets in advance online to ensure a specific entry date and time. For more information about ticketing: https://ticketing.thebroad.org/
If you go…Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. This experiential artwork has extremely limited capacity, accommodating one visitor at a time for about a minute, and requires a separate free timed same-day reservation which ticket holders are able to reserve, pending availability, after arrival at the museum at a kiosk in the center of the lobby. Time in the Infinity Mirrored Room cannot be reserved in advance of your visit. Due to the limited capacity of the installation, not all visitors are able to experience it, as the queue for viewings usually books up early in the day. This installation will be on view through October 2017.
Details: Travel to/from Los Angeles in one day
Air Transportation: Both Alaska Air and American Airlines operate nonstop flights from Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport to LAX. ARThound departed from Santa Rosa at 6 a.m. on an Alaska Air flight ($109 each way) and arrived in Los Angeles at 7:30 a.m. I flew back at 8:30 p.m. and arrived in Santa Rosa at 10:15 p.m. Short-term parking was $14 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.
Los Angeles ground transportation is easy: Upon arriving at LAX, I walked outside the terminal and took an “LAX FlyAway” bus from the curbside for $9 to Union Station. FlyAway buses depart every hour and go to all terminals and take roughly one hour to get to Union Station. At Union Station, I took the metro. I purchased a TAP card and loaded it up with $10 for the day, which left me with plenty of money for my next visit to LA. I used the online LA Metro Trip Planner to pre-plan getting from Union Station to The Broad and from the Broad to the Getty Center in Santa Monica and back to LAX in the early evening. Each metro ride is $1.75 and transfers to buses are allowed. I took the Metro Red Line to Pershing Square Station, exited and walked roughly .25 miles to The Broad, and arrived just before it opened.
I departed The Broad at noon in order to also visit the Getty Center in Santa Monica. Using public transportation required a metro ride and a bus ride and took almost 1hour and 45 min. I arrived at the Getty Center at roughly 2:40 PM which gave me 2.5 hours to see two shows before their 5:30 p.m. closing time. I saw Cave Temples of Dunhuang (closes Sept 4) and Robert Maplethorp: The Perfect Medium (closes July 31). The Dunhuang exhibit featured three scale replica caves, a virtual immersive 3-D experience that guides you into the 8th century Mogao site, and an exhibit of documents and artifacts discovered in the Library Cave along with paintings and sculptures from other caves that shed light on the history of Buddhism.
On the way back from the Getty, I took a 5:30 p.m. bus from the Getty Center to downtown Santa Monica and caught the Santa Monica FlyAway to LAX, arriving just in time for my flight. The Santa Monica FlyAway will be discontinued effective September 6, 2016 which means a taking an alternative route. Ample bus service is available.
The 11th annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20, 2016, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s all about connecting with Petaluma’s small-town charm and wonderful cuisine—bite by glorious bite. Taste is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved professional theater, which opens its 44th season in September with The Most Happy Fella, a heartwarming musical romance set in the Wine Country. If you’ve ever attended one of Cinnabar’s remarkable performances on the old schoolhouse atop the hill, you know what a treasure Cinnabar is. This year’s Taste features over 80 Petaluma restaurants and food, wine and beverage purveyors at 42 locales scattered across Petaluma’s historic downtown. Over 60 musicians and dancers will be performing too, offering just as promising an entertainment menu (full performance schedule here). This culinary walking tour draws people from all over the Bay Area and $40 gets you 10 generously portioned tastes of your choosing.
“We have more new restaurants here than some towns have restaurants,” says Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder. “Taste will guide you through the dozens of eateries that call Petaluma their home. It’s a great day to wander around eating, sipping and hearing music with friends or family. There’s something delicious at every turn.”
Recently, I was invited to attend two “mini Tastes” along with a number of the North Bay food writers. Together, we visited eight downtown gems that represent Petaluma’s ever-changing food landscape─ Quinua Cocina Peruana, Out to Lunch Fine Catering, The Shuckery, Supreme Sweets, Thai River, Speakeasy and The Big Easy, Sonoma Spice Queen and Corkscrew Café and Wine Bar.
Two of our tastings took place within the newly restored Hotel Petaluma, which I recommend you get take a peek at during Taste. The restoration isn’t quite complete but the lobby is finished and is so harmoniously appointed you’ll find yourself wanting to plop down and have a drink. The spacious formal dining hall, with its tall ceilings and pastel blue plaster walls, fired my imagination, taking me back to times spent in Europe. Its places like this and our beloved Petaluma Seed Bank and historic Cinnabar Theater that coax me to invite friends to Petaluma. And then there’s the food!
The newcomers to Taste of Petaluma are previewed first; then the tried and true─
Quinua Cocina Peruana
Out to Lunch Fine Catering
Speakeasy and The Big Easy
Sonoma Spice Queen
CorkScrew Wine Bar
Taste of Petaluma Details:
The 11th Annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20, 2016 from 11:30 AM to 4 PM. Ticket packages are $40 and consist of 10 tasting tickets, good for 1 taste each. Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the event from 10:30 AM onwards at Helen Putnam Plaza. Only 1500 tickets will be sold. Advance Tickets can be purchased online here (with surcharge) and must be picked up on the day of the event. Advance tickets can be purchased in person until Friday, August 19, 3 p.m. at the following venues in Petaluma—Blush Collections (117 Kentucky Street), Cinnabar Theater (333 Petaluma Blvd. North), Gallery One (209 Western Ave.), and Velvet Ice Collections (140 2nd Street, Theater Square). All Advance tickets need to be picked up at WILL CALL at Helen Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. North) after 10:30 AM on the day of the event.
All participants receive a plastic wine glass. You can purchase more tickets throughout the day for $4 each.
Parking Alert: Parking downtown is 2 hours. Just a couple blocks out of downtown there are no restrictions. The Theater Square garage has unlimited, free parking. The Keller St. garage is 4 hours, except for the top floor which is 10 hours. Parking tickets are $50. Be forewarned and read the signs.
Interview: Israeli director Gilad Baram talks about “Koudelka Shooting Holy Land,” his debut doc on Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka, screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this week
Czech-born French Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka’s images from Gypsies (1975) and Exiles (1988) documented the Roma and displaced populations across Europe in a way that grabbed people and pulled them right into the images. Koudelka shed light on previously unknown worlds of mysticism, delight, sadness and ways of being which pierced our souls and upon which we too could pin our own dreams. Koudelka’s commitment to his subjects was hard earned; he lived and traveled with his subjects for decades, and the trust they gave in return is evident in these intimate images. His arresting images from the streets of his native Prague during the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 are what catapulted him initially into the elite Magnum circle.
Recently, Koudleka, now 79, has focused on panoramic landscapes and turned his lens on the Holy Land to explore how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has left its mark on the landscape itself. Accompanying Koudelka on this assignment was young Israeli photographer Gilad Baram, a student at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, who gradually turned his own lens on Koudelka to produce a fascinating documentary portrait of a man whose images are world famous but about whom very little is known. Baram worked as Koudelka’s assistant for four years, accompanying him on seven separate visits throughout Palestine and Israel. His duties were to provide Koudelka’s travel arrangements, logistical support and translation. Every day, they would worked from about 7 am until the light faded, an experience that changed Baram’s life. His film, Koudleka Shooting Holy Land (German/Czech Republic 2015) screens twice at 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 36), which kicked off Thursday at the Castro Theater and runs through August 7 in venues throughout the Bay Area, including San Rafael.
I spoke with Baram on Wednesday and he opened up about all aspects of his remarkable experience with Koudelka. One of the challenges that any filmmaker faces in making a film about an artist of this caliber is to find a way to channel that individual’s gift without pandering to the iconization of the artist or his work. Baram pulls this off through a series of artistic choices, producing a riveting portrait that reveals Koudelka’s way of working, his soft-spoken personality and his accumulated wisdom as well as the stunning images that result. For those of us who are photography buffs, the chance to see the divided landscape up close, with Koudelka maneuvering, crawling, waiting and offering the rare comment as well as the goods─those precious contact sheets and the resulting prints─is a revelation.
Koudelka Shooting Holy Land screens Monday July 25th at 4 pm at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, and at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley, on Sunday, July 31, at 1:55 pm. Filmmaker Gilad Baram in attendance at both screenings for post-screening Q&A.
What brought Koudelka to the Holy Land and how did you come to be his assistant?
Gilad Baram: It began in 2008, when Frédéric Brenner, a French Jewish photographer, who was famous for documenting Jewish communities world-wide, was gathering this group of 12 big names in the world of photography to come to Israel to explore different aspects of the country. They would be given this extended and very generous period of time and resources to create their own body of work that was, afterwards, intended to become a group exhibition, a kind of huge fragmented portrait, and a book, that would travel around the world. It came to be “This Place,” which premiered in Prague, continued to Tel Aviv and was recently exhibited in Brooklyn.
In the beginning, Koudelka declined Brenner’s offer to participate in this group project but was ultimately persuaded to come on this exploratory visit to Israel. He accidentally bumped into the Wall in East Jerusalem and something quite profound happened in him. Once he realized that this arouses this deep personal experience in him, he came to the conclusion that there was something he could do there.
I do know that this was his first time in Israel and Palestine and that, like he is usually, he was very suspicious of any project that was fully funded and this large in scope. Frédéric had made a deal with my photography department to choose students who would assist these photographers. I was the first student picked out and Josef was the first to arrive and we were put together completely by chance. It was in February 2009. We shook hands and had a short conversation and agreed to meet at 7 a.m. the next morning. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Do you recall your first encounter with Koudelka’s work and your impressions?
Gilad Baram: Yes, clearly. It was 2005, in the library of my art school. It was my first year there and, by accident, I opened the book Gypsies (1975) and was blown away. I immediately connected with his photographs and his way of photographing, which I later learned is inseparable from his way of living. Back then, I was fascinated with this and thought I too will become this nomad photographer who goes around and discovers the world, and who tends more towards the underdog. Four years later, suddenly I’m in the lobby of a hotel in Jerusalem shaking hands with the guy who made these great photos and we set off on this incredible adventure, which neither of us anticipated. I never imagined this would become a film.
How did your first day of work go?
Gilad Baram: I discovered that Josef Koudleka does not need an assistant but what he does need is someone to drive him around who can communicate in the local language and a little company now and then. He was very reserved at the beginning. He is and has always been a lone wolf and a very wise one. In the past 30 years or so, as his way of photographing has evolved, he uses these locals in the various places he visits to enable him with maneuvering the terrain. In each place he goes now days, Magnum has arranged someone for this purpose who meets him. It became quite apparent to me that we would not become friends. He was on a mission and that was his priority. He was, most definitely, not interested in talking too much.
How did the idea for the film come about?
Gilad Baram: As I said, I had no intention to make a film. At the very beginning of our journey, on the second day, when we were traveling up the West Bank, we stopped the car and he went out. I too got out and took my camera with me. He started photographing and then turned to me and said ‘you’re not going to hang around with this camera while I’m photographing, so please leave it in the car’. I obeyed but I was upset. I didn’t understand how a photographer could say that to another photographer, let alone a student. When we arrived at the second place, I took my camera out of the car and just did it again. This time, he turned me to and didn’t say anything but just walked away. That’s when it started. It was this combo of me realizing that Josef Koudelka doesn’t need an assistant and if I wished to survive this adventure, I’d have to do something for myself and by myself. As he was walking away, I interpreted it as ‘you have a certain permission’.
Later, in the car, he made a kind of agreement with me–I would be allowed to photograph but I would not be allowed to show them to anyone, not even my colleagues at school and, if I wanted to do anything with these photos, I needed to have his permission. He also mentioned that he should have full access to my material in case he was interested in it. I had no option but to say OK. It happened that my camera was the Canon 5D Mark II, which had full video mode, and, very soon, I began using that. I’m not sure he even noticed because I wasn’t directing the camera to him at first. But it soon became very clear that he was the most interesting thing around. I think he thought that I would not be quiet in the car, so he’d ‘let the children play’ so he could get on with his work and I would have something to do. That was the dynamic in the beginning. Clearly, it changed throughout time.
How did this video you were taking on the sly evolve into a film?
Gilad Baram: The dynamics changed. Between each of his visits, there was more or less half a year that passed. Between his first and second trip, I started to look at the material and after the third and fourth trips, I realized that this massive accumulation might be of interest to other people too. That’s when I began thinking to myself that perhaps there’s a statue that is hidden in this huge chunk of marble and I need to start carving it out. It was a very frustrating process. In the beginning, when filming, I was restless and was running around like crazy with my camera. I couldn’t really position myself because he was moving constantly. Watching that footage, I knew immediately it was bullshit and that, if I’d like to attempt depicting him and his work, I would need to change my approach. It hit me that I should try adopting the way that he looks at the world. I started slowing down and developing a visual language that was more connected to still photography and less to the moving image, establishing my camera on a tripod and allowing Koudelka to move in the compositions, which was key. I was bridging the moving image with the still image in a way. Once I started down that path, it was a long process of trials and errors, watching him and learning. This film is a result of this process.
He’s a visual storyteller who has always stood on his own and I’m curious about how he reacted to you embellishing this with a film which he probably perceived of as unnecessary.
Gilad Baram: The first thing I showed Josef was this timeline I had made with a mass of material. He was not impressed. Yet, he said I should go on. I don’t think he realized how serious I was; that only came at a later stage. Our initial verbal contract was still binding but things evolved from him letting me distract myself by filming to keep out from under his legs, to him becoming a part of it. We reached an extreme when, during his last visit, he actually asked me when he should be entering the frame. That went too far and I knew something was starting to go wrong. I realized that when he was not taking me that seriously, he was actually genuine. Also, there was something quite crucial about me filming with the 5D Mark II that was in fact a still camera but also had a full frame video mode. Josef didn’t feel there was an estranged object around him, which enabled him to feel more at ease as the apparatus was familiar to him. Koudelka does not give interviews, he does not attend openings frequently and doesn’t want any distraction from his work; he is all about the photography. He probably perceived of this film as a major disturbance while I was following him in Israel and Palestine. His way of dealing was to put it off and to say ‘just show me the result in the end.’ It became very evident that I was going through with this film during his last visit and that was when he changed his behavior in the way I described and, subsequently, those segments do not appear in the film.
I poured over some 140 hours, with Elisa Purfürst, the dedicated editor and co-writer of the film, and there was a point when I came to Paris with a short edited version to show to him and to those close to him and that was a crucial moment. He realized that I was going through with this. The reaction of those around him was crucial as well. They expressed their appreciation of what they had watched and said they never imagined that he and his work could come across so honestly. That was a very moving and important moment. Josef just asked me one question─ what I had learned throughout our time together and in making this film. The first thing that came to mind was that I learned how to look, I mean on many different levels. In the photography sense, there was looking at composition, light, locations, and so forth but also how to look at something I was taught not to turn my gaze on. This time with Josef opened a window for me and allowed me to really take time to look and for what I saw to resonate. That was my answer to him. After that, it was carte blanche. He later on was very generous and gave me access to his contact sheets and I basically went through all of them, from his early days until now. That was incredible.
You made a number of shrewd choices regarding how to weave this all together. It was very satisfying to wait with him for all the elements to fall into place, to suffer through the various distractions, to experience him maneuvering in for the shot. Also, hearing his voice and how and what he communicated gave me the feeling that I knew him a bit. You also honored the time it takes to really look at a photo. After taking us along on a shoot, you gave us a further sense of his artistry by showing his contact sheets and the images he ultimately selected. He has this keen internal radar for the line of sight which becomes so evident when we can see the various stills that resulted from his shifting his lens just a few fractions of an inch.
Gilad Baram: The challenge of sculpting this mass of material was to have someone wise and observant dig into it with me, Elisa Purfürst. Our mission was to depict his work and way of working without falling into the traps that come with the territory and to really give the photos the space and life that they need. Also to manage with the few words that he did say to convey his way of thinking, something that you cannot decipher from just watching him. We also wanted to reveal parts of his biography where it was extremely important to understand why he does what he does and why he reacts to things in the way he does. We went through many versions of the film and it was never right until it was right.
In the film, we see him returning to places he’s already photographed and he brings his old photos with him. What is he striving for?
Gilad Baram: This was a complete surprise and a certain revelation, something that when looking at his photos, before I knew him, I never thought that was part of his process. He studies deeply his own photographs and when doing so, he also studies changes in the landscape. He takes what he feels are his best images with him back to a location and tries to perfect them. When he reaches the point, where he feels he can’t do it any better, or things have physically changed to prevent that, he calls it quits and goes on to the next. The kind of sensitivity you need for that, for knowing when to draw the line requires complete commitment and intuition.
Over the course of his life and career, his photos have also evolved. The photos that he made when he was younger are, of course, different than those he makes today. Those projects up to and including the 80’s have to do mainly with people or depicting people, while his work since has to do with landscape. However people are still present as these landscapes he photographs are affected by man. In a way, this is even more of a profound statement as it is a very subtle way to learn about human beings. I think this shift has two aspects. One is the need in an artist’s life for change, not to repeat oneself. This, I believe, played quite a major role in his picking up this panoramic format after years of photographing in 35mm and in turning his gaze towards landscape rather than the human figure. The other is what happens to all of us, which is aging. Josef described the work created in the first part of his career as endlessly chasing a moment, spending all his time running after something which is all the time disappearing and will not exist anymore. What happened in the second part, and is still happening, is waiting; he is now waiting for the moment. These are is two sides of the same coin you know. That’s a lovely thing to realize about him and about photography in general.
Having studied his images from this series so intently, is there one single image that speaks to you, or even haunts you?
Gilad Baram: Josef came as foreigner, as so many photographers before him and many have fallen into the traps that are present in this extremely complex and crazy place. Somehow he managed not to. I admired his wisdom to manage to look so widely at this place and I try to adopt this way of looking. There is no one single image but the entire body of his work made in Israel and Palestine that I find incredible. I believe it will have importance in the history of photography of the Holy Land because it shows this extremely well-known theme in a completely different light and from a completely different angle. When people see his work, they respond to it because it is different.
Koudelka’s brief quips in the film about the Wall as a cage and prison are profound. Do you too share these deep feelings?
Gilad Baram: I could identify with what he was saying and found that he expressed himself simply but wisely. Yet, there’s a big difference between us, I mean beyond the age gap. There’s this historical personal background that Josef carries with him from growing up behind the Iron Curtain. When someone carries something like that with him for 70 years, they carry a scar and there’s also a lot of anger and frustration and that definitely manifested itself.
It was an extremely intensive time. Each of his visits was about a month long. Every day we worked all day and we’d finish knackered physically and emotionally. It was rather depressing walking these areas for an entire month. Through traveling with him, I learned that I too did grow up with a wall about me. While it’s not intended for me, it’s there and, even if people choose not to see it, it is still present in their minds. Being Israeli, I also felt a certain sense of responsibility and I got extremely upset. I often had this incredible urge to defend as well as to give explanations and counter arguments but, as we met more and more people and saw more, these counter arguments of mine became weaker and weaker.
I understand you saw more of the Wall than most Israeli’s see. Had you visited before? What did it mean for you?
Gilad Baram: Previously, I had been to some protest demonstrations in the village of Bil’in, a few kilometers east of the Green Line, which was the first time I had really entered the West Bank. I was participating as well as photographing but very soon realized that I don’t connect too much with this form of protest. These demonstrations didn’t seem the best way of expressing oneself. That was my basic knowledge of the West Bank. It was during the long journey with Josef that I really discovered what the West Bank is, not mediated by TV or any other media. This was something that not too many Israelis get the opportunity, or chose, to do. It changed my life and changed my perception of what Israel is and what it is doing and what the other side looks like and is doing and how this huge monstrous wall, which is invisible to many, affects peoples’ lives on a daily basis. We had this incredible opportunity to explore this wall-fence-de-facto border which now stretches over 800 kilometers and we really did explore all of it.
He was shooting with a film camera; did he ever ask you about your camera, or if he could try it.
Gilad Baram: No, not at all. Josef finds it very hard to relate to anything but his own creation. It’s not ego; it’s that his world is so full of his photography and his concentration on his own work that there is just no space for much else. This applies to me, my camera and also to the work of others and it seems to have always been this way. There is this story that Josef tells about Henri Cartier-Bresson and the very early stages of their friendship, soon after Josef arrived to Paris. Bresson helped him a lot, took him under his wings. Bresson asked him for his help going through contact sheets and helping him select some photos. Josef said he did it once but then went to Bresson and declined to do it again. He said that he realized that it did not interest him so much and that, mainly, he did not want to be influenced in any way, so he just had to say no. Back then, of course, you would not imagine anyone saying no to Henri Cartier-Bresson. This is something I believe made Bresson appreciate Koudelka all the more.
What I experienced is that Koudelka knows very well what fits him and what doesn’t and when to draw the line. He is not super interested in what others do either. With regard to equipment, he is curious but he has the sense of what he should pick up. He shoots in black and white and will not change that. This is the way in which he sees the world through the view-finder. He is trying out the formats that interest him but he doesn’t yet feel that he has completely gotten down to the very bone of the panoramic format and he is probably the foremost photographer in the world who has studied this format so deeply. He feels he has some things yet to explore. The minute he doesn’t feel this, he will stop and move on. I think his biggest concern is to feel that he repeats himself.
I have to ask about his energy level…for a man approaching 80, he seems so engaged, alert and vital.
Gilad Baram: When a person has a mission in life, a passion, and a kind of clear destiny, it seems to come with a motor. Josef’s motor is to get up in the morning and to go photograph. We started when he was 72. Now he’s 79 and still he’s the most restless and alive person I know. He does not stay in one place for more than a month. This is in him and how he is. We talk on the phone every few weeks and he’s this waterfall of activity. On the other hand, he stands in sun or rain for hours, waiting for a photograph. This is one of the beautiful contradictions that make this man who he is. He’s restless yet so committed and dedicated. It’s all about the next image and what it takes to get it.
What is next for you?
Gilad Baram: Film just grabbed me and I’m working on two films right now while continuing with my photographic practice, which is very different from Koudelka’s. My photography started out as purely documentary. It evolved into an exploration of digital environments with and through photography in an attempt to comprehend the impact of the Internet and big data on the photographic image.
As for the films, both relate somehow to my life at present. The first continues to explore the theme of the creative process. This time, together with the artist Adam Kaplan, I’m looking at the failure of this process through the fascinating and dramatic story of a feature-length fiction film made by the Israeli army in the late 90’s and censored just a few weeks before its release. The second project deals with my current place of residence, Germany, and with German teenagers and youth. It is an attempt to look into the profound change of perception among the upcoming German generation in relation to the sense of guilt and remorse which dominated and shaped German society for decades after WWII. Two very different projects yet both are very relevant for me at this point in my life.
Koudelka Shooting Holy Land screens Monday July 25th at 4 pm at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, and at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley, on Sunday, July 31, at 1:55 pm. Filmmaker Gilad Baram in attendance at both screenings for post-screening Q&A. General Admission tickets $13; click here to purchase. Advance purchase is recommended.
Several other films about the arts are part of the 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 36), which kicked off Thursday evening at the Castro Theater and runs through August 7 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Oakland and San Rafael. This year’s festival offers 67 films from 15 countries and 52 premieres. Six films come to the festival fresh from Sundance and six films have won awards at other film festivals.
For those North of the Golden Gate, the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center will offer 14 screenings beginning on Friday, August 5 through Sunday, August 7. Click here for information and to purchase tickets for the San Rafael segment. Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended.