ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 24th Sonoma International Film Festival is March 24-28th—virtual, for the way we live now

SIFF2021 presents a dazzling choice of films, including a few obscure gems.  Czech-born artist Alfonse Mucha is the subject of a new documentary. Perhaps the most famous unknown artist in the world, he is a pioneer of the Art Noveau movement.  And, for design and science buffs, a fascinating documentary explores how neuroscience is providing a new lens through which to consider the built environment.  Image: Alfonse Mucha in a still from Mucha: The Story of an Artist Who created a Style, maxim film.

The 24th edition of the beloved Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) takes place virtually again this year from March 24-28, with over 100 films from 40 countries and three drive-in screenings. Having scrambled to offer the Eventive platform last year to a global audience that streamed some 4,000 hours of media in four days, SIFF is more than ready to roll this year. It’s the art films that keep ARThound enamored with the SIFF and Program Director, Steve Shor, along with Artistic Director, always provide engaging, informative films that often take us into bygone eras. Here are the films that caught my eyes this year:

Maverick Modigliani

Valeria Parisi’s Maverick Modigliani draws on interviews with historians, artists, curators and forgers. Image: SIFF

Maverick Modigliani (Maledetto Modigliani) delves into Italian-born artist, Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920).  Famous for his serenely seductive women with elongated features, Modigliani created artworks that were a synthesis of ancient and modern techniques and were fashionably hip in their day. Valeria Parisi’s documentary feature covers Modigliani’s life from when he left his home in Livorno in 1906 and arrived in Paris as a vivacious 21 year old dandy, determined to establish himself as an artist.  He began as primarily a sculptor and created tall stone heads—with the long, narrow noses that became his hallmark. He studied with Constantin Brancusi for a year and his radically simplified forms, evocative of African art, which was all the rage, had a powerful influence on him. Crushingly handsome, Modigliani was ensnared by Parisian life and, fueled by alcohol and drugs, he painted and seduced numerous women—notably poets Anna Akhmatova and Beatrice Hastings.  Many became the subjects of his languid portraits, rendered in bold flat colors, eyes without pupils. He married Jeanne Hébuterne, who he immortalized in over 20 paintings but never in the nude.  In a span of 15 years, he painted over 400 pictures, created magical stoneworks, and left a small archive of drawings before his untimely death at age 35 from tubercular meningitis. (2020, Italy, 97 min, in English and Italian) (Available to stream Saturday, March 26, 10 a.m.)

Mucha: The Story of an Artist Who Created a Style


A scene from Roman Vávra’s documentary, Mucha: The Story of an Artist who Created a Style, image: maxim film.

Czech director Roman Vávra’s stylized documentary, Mucha: The Story of an Artist who Created a Style (Svět podle Muchy) (2020), is about the life and reach of Czech-born art nouveau pioneer, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).  Shot in 2019, the film tells Mucha’s story from the perspective of his son, the writer and bon-vivant Jiří Mucha, with lots of re-enactments, animations, archival footage as well as paintings and photos. Mucha has slipped in and out of the limelight. His advertising posters immortalizing French actress Sarah Bernhardt became synonymous with Belle Epoque Paris. In the 1960s, his Art Nouveau posters attained cult status as the hippie movement rediscovered his vivid pictorial world. Mucha’s art has since become the inspiration for street art, psychedelic rock posters, and Japanese manga. What he considered his most important work is largely unknown outside of the Czech Republic. In 1920, at the peak of his fame, Mucha left Paris for a castle in Bohemia where for he holed up for 18 years, pouring his soul into his monumental Slav Epic— 20 huge canvasses, some more than 25 feet tall illustrating key events in the history and mythology of the Czech and Slavic people. Mucha conceived it as a monument for all Slavonic peoples. Instead, he was met with fierce criticism upon its completion.  In 2016, the cycle was at the heart of a major law suit that pitted Mucha’s grandson, John, against the city of Prague.  He argued that because Prague failed to build a permanent gallery for the artworks, which was a pre-condition of his grandfather’s gift, it never became the full owner of the Slav Epic, and that the works should be returned to Mucha’s heirs.  In December 2020, the court ruled in favor of the family. Shortly after that ruling, it was announced that the City of Prague had commissioned an appropriate gallery for the Slav Epic to be completed by 2026. (2020, Czech Republic, Germany, France, 100 min, Czech with English subtitles)

M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity


M.C. Escher, image courtesy Adrian Curry (Kino Lorber Team)

M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity is the story of Dutch graphic artist M.C Escher (1898-1972). Equal parts history, psychology, and psychedelia, Robin Lutz’s entertaining, eye-opening portrait presents the man through his own words and images and delves into the deep waves of math and art he conjured.  Escher’s diary musings, excerpts from lectures, and correspondence are all voiced by British actor Stephen Fry as Escher’s woodcuts, lithographs, and other print works appear in both original and playfully altered form. We hear Escher align himself with scientists and mathematicians, often trashing his own skills as a draftsman. Two of Escher’s sons, George (92) and Jan (80), reminisce about their parents while musician Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash) talks about Escher’s rediscovery in the 1970s. This doc has been praised highly for its innovation, for finding clever ways to show the audience, visually, just how Escher’s style evolved and the principles behind that evolution.  (2020, Netherlands, 81 min, multiple languages with English subtitles)

Built Beautiful


The question of beauty is something that science has shied away. Built Beautiful introduces the new field of neuro-aesthetics which may give us the ability to peer into realms of the human experience that were once thought to be totally abstract and intangible. Image: SIFF

Mariel Rodriguez-McGill’s Built Beautiful explores the interface of design and science in the emerging field of neuro-aesthetics which seeks to understand the neural mechanisms behind the appreciation of design. The documentary features leading experts on neuro-aesthetics from around the world elaborating on ideas presented at the Ux+Design/2019 conference (co-sponsored by Genetics of Design) held at Tufts University. A core area of research is determining how and why beauty plays an important role in our well-being and how subliminal responses to one’s built environment will influence the future of design. It’s an exciting evolutionary approach to art appreciation, a realm of human experience that was once thought to be totally inaccessible to science.  While filming, Rodriguez-Gill discovered that several elements of cities remained the same no matter where they were in the world. At one point in the film, students in schools in Oxford, UK, and Denver, Colorado, were asked to draw a home. Each student drew buildings containing what neuroscientists call the primal form—human facial features unconsciously drawn into renderings of nonhuman objects. (2020, US, 77 min, English)

Drive-in Screenings:

Celebrate cinema at Sonoma Parkway on their 40 foot screen, with FM transmission to car radios, special video introductions by SIFF sponsors, gourmet food, non-alcoholic beverages, and one gift bag per car. Every car present will be eligible to win a door prize of two tickets in the main cabin of Alaska Airlines. Tickets are $75/car with a $25 discount given to pass holders.

Opening Night: Six Minutes to Midnight, (Wed, March 24, 6:15 pm) (Andy Goddard, 99 min, English)  A spy thriller set days before WWII at an Anglo-German finishing school on the south coast of England, involving a teacher, a headmistress and 20 teen girls, daughters of the Nazi high command. Stars Judi Dench (Casino Royale), James D’Arcy (Broadchurch), Jim Broadbent (War and Peace), and Eddie Izzard (Victoria & Abdul).

Friday Night at The Drive-In: Spacewalker, (Fri, March 26, 6:16 pm) (Dmitriy Kiselev, 140 min, Russian, dubbed in English) A look at the Soviet side of the space race, set in the Cold War 1960’s as two Russian astronauts, Pavel Belyayev, a seasoned war veteran and Alexey Leonov, a hot-headed test pilot, part of the Voskhod 2 mission in March, 1965, prepare to step into the unknown on the first space walk.

Closing Night at The Drive-In: The Comeback Trail (Sat, March 27, 6:15 pm) (George Gallo, 104 min, English) An American crime comedy. Two movie producers (Robert De Niro, Emile Hirsh) who owe money to the mob (Morgan Freeman) set up their aging movie star (Tommy Lee Jones) for an insurance scam to try and save themselves. They wind up getting more than they ever imagined.

Details:

SIFF is Thursday, March 24th  to Sunday, March 28, 2021.  Tickets: $12/film.  Passes: SIFF’s Virtually Everything Pass is $175 and includes SIFF Saturdays, a monthly virtual screening on the last Saturday of every month throughout the year.  SIFF Drive-Ins: tickets are $75/per vehicle; passholders receive a $10 discount/one vehicle maximum.; SIFF’s First Responder Passis $25.  Show appreciation for the staff at Sonoma Valley Hospital and the Community Health Center by underwriting their access to SIFF.

March 14, 2021 - Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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