Geneva Anderson digs into art

Love Art? The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival is screening 6 new films about art, starts this Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rutger Hauer plays Pieter Bruegel in Lech Majewski`s "The Mill and the Cross" which transports viewers into the dense frieze of Bruegel`s 1564 masterpiece "The Way to Calvary." The film screens twice at SFIFF54. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival  (SFIFF54) which starts this Thursday and runs through May 5, always brings a wide range of exceptional foreign films to the Bay Area.  Organized by the San Francisco Film Society, SFIFF54 offers 191 films from 48 countries in 33 languages and a multitude of special events and visitors.  In this year’s the line-up are 6 new films about artists, art movements, and art collecting that are so innovative in both their storytelling and in the technology they employ to bring their stories to light that you won’t want to miss them.

Sharpening our eyes to the mysteries and techniques of painting by old masters are three special films that have already received rave reviews in critical circles.  Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog’s 3D descent into the Chauvet cave in the south of France, home of 30,000 year old charcoal images, the oldest art known to man leads the way, followed by Polish filmmaker Llech Majewski’s The Mill and The Cross which allows the viewer to actually live inside Pieter Bruegel’s bustling Flanders landscape as he creates his 1564 masterpiece The Way to Calvary.  Amit Duda’s Nainsukh examines 18thcentury Indian court artist and miniature artist Nainsukh amidst breathtaking dream-like shots of Indian life.

After seeing Lech Majewski`s "The Mill and the Cross" about Pieter Bruegal`s "The Way to Calvary", you will never forget the dozen or so characters whose life stories unfold and intertwine amidst the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. Image: Kunsthistorishes Museum Vienna

In terms of contemporary art, our own Bay Area filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution (WAR) profiles the war women artists waged  for  recognition in the old boy establishment art world through the stories of leading women artists.  The film has already been screened at the Berlin, Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals and has received rave reviews. Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 17 continues on a project that Barney, born in San Francisco, began as an undergraduate at Yale which explores the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity.  Barney has also been selected to receive this year’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award which honors a filmmaker working outside the traditional realm of typical narrative filmmaking.  Barney, who considers the screen an extended canvas, has been consistently innovational, merging film with sculptural works, uber athleticism and his own bizarre yet prescient radar.  Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou provides a fascinating and highly personal story of the life of fashion designer and art collector Yves Saint Laurent as told by his lover and business partner, Pierre Berge, who co-organized the famous three day “sale of the century” auction that raked in an astounding $484 million for the couple’s art collection.  What follows are capsule reviews of these films. Full reviews will follow when the films open in the Bay Area.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Director: Werner Herzog, USA, 2010, 95 min, documentary)

Renegade German filmmaker Werner Herzog again reaches remarkable heights in a film that literally goes underground to illuminate the place where it seems that art itself was born—the remarkable Chauvet Pont d’Arc caves in the South of

In Werner Herzog`s "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," the eclectic German filmmaker gains unprecedented access to film the fabled Chauvet cave in the South of France, home of man`s earliest art. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

France. He and a minimal crew were allowed into the extraordinary cave, named after French explorer Jean-Marie Chauvet, who in 1994 made a Tutankhamen-level art find–hundreds of pictures of animals drawn with detail and sophistication by early man an estimated 32,000 years ago.  Not only are its walls decorated, but the cave also contains the fossilized remains of animals now extinct and the cave floor is marked with the footprints of animals and early humans.  Highly subject to erosion, the cave is closed to the public. Herzog shoots in 3D to accentuate the massive, sculptural forms and brings to life what was captured previously in a series of static portraits.  He also interviews the various experts who are allowed down there with him: paleontologists, archaeologists, art historians, and a perfume specialist, who talks about the smells of resin and wood that might have prevailed way back then.  Herzog’s filmic voice is unmistakable and this grand project seems to have completely enthralled him.  At one point, he says that the positions of various legs in the ancient drawings are “proto-cinema” and as he crawls and points, we too feel the magic of this prehistoric artistry.  (Screens: Monday, April 25, 7 p.m. and Tuesday April 26, 9:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki Theatre)

 The Mill and the Cross (Director Lech Majewski, Poland/Sweden, 2010, 97 minutes)

Our approach to art history will never be the same after this enthralling film by Lech Mjaewski which invites the reader to literally enter the mind of Flemish master Pieter Breugel and glean the deeper meaning of his 1564 painting “The Way to Calvary.”  A first that we can only hope sets a precedent, Majewski uses Breugal’s preparatory drawings, computer generated blue-screen compositing, 3D imaging, a huge painted backdrop as well as on location shooting to invite the viewer into the craggy landscape where all the rituals of daily life unfold.  What you’ll learn is that against the backdrop of the brutal Spanish Inquisition, Breugel had to be clever and he imbedded his work with a series of symbols that tell a compelling crucifixion story.  There are more than 500 figures in the panoramic painting, including an array of villagers at different stations in life and the red-caped invading horsemen who butchered and then suspended them on huge wheels for all to see.  Rutger Hauer plays a Breugel who imparts wisdom about life and art that makes us hunger for more.  Charlotte Rampling delivers a Virgin Mary whose suffering is palpable. The film is based on Michael Francis Gibson’s novel bearing the same name. (Screens: Saturday, April 23, 12:30 p.m. SFMOMA, Wednesday, April 27, 9 p.m. Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)

Nainsukh (North American Premiere) (Director, Amit Dutta, India, Switzerland, 2010, 82 min, in Hindi and Punjabi with subtitles)

Amit Dutta has established himself as one of India’s most talented experimental filmmakers whose works oscillate between Indian mythology and highly personal narrative.   Nainsukhis Dutta’s second feature film and it very poetically explores

Amit Dutta`s NAINSUKH playing at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21 - May 5, 2011.

the life and art of Nainsukh, the 18th miniature painter from Guler in the northern hills of India who became the court artist of Rajput Princes of Jasrota.  Shot on location in Jammu and Kashmir, Dutta re-constructs Nainsukth’s miniatures through compositions set in the actual ruins of the Jasrota palace and its surrounding landscape.  Nainsukh, played by Manish Soni, a well-known miniature artist, trains at his father’s celebrated painting workshop.  In 1740, he moves on to create delicate masterpieces that elaborate on daily court life with a palpable naturalism he gleaned from Mughal painting.  Because he was given rare entry into the common routines of the prince’s life, and was able to accompany him on such activities as tiger hunts, Nainsukh was able to translate all this into a body of art that far exceeded the normal artistic output of the day which was produced in workshops.  The film reveals how Nainsukth renders his figures in very individual and personal ways with exceptional vitality and truthfulness absent the idealized beauty typical of royal court paintings.  The film’s slow meditative pace pulls you into another era.  (Screens: Friday, April 22, 9:15 p.m. at New People, Sunday, April 24, 2:30 p.m. Sundance Kabuki and Sunday, May1, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley)


!Women Art Revolution (Director: Lynn Hershman Leeson, USA/Canada, 2010, 83 min, Documentary)

“!Women Art Revolution” “WAR” is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary about women artists who spearheaded the feminist art movement and a shocking visual primer  for the oft-repeated statement “Well behaved women seldom make

Women artists like Shirin Neshat whose provocative works about women and Islam catapulted her to fame in the early 1990`s are the subject of Lynn Hershman Leeson`s documentary "!Women Art Revolution" playing at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. Image: San Francisco Film Society.

history.”  “WAR” tracks early feminist artists like Judy Chicago, Nancy Spero, and the Guerilla Girls through a montage of archival footage, much of it taken by Hershman Leeson herself over the past 35 years.  The conclusion: women artists have been doing important work all along but they have been ignored, underrepresented, sidetracked and underpaid in the art world’s male-dominated upper echelons.   Impact:  marginalization, no one knows much about the pioneering women artists who decided to challenge the system.   Hershman Leeson, who spoke to me from her San Francisco studio, said she made the film “to show a history that’s never been written or documented, that makes the known history obsolete.”   The film establishes the importance of this movement in contemporary art but is really addressing the broader cultural history of America, the history of freedom of expression and equality starting with late 1960’s and going forward—it really shows the prejudices that fuel discrimination.”

The film isn’t angry or bitter in its approach—it instead profiles a determined and very intelligent group of women who love what they do and used their resources shrewdly to get attention.  History isn’t what happened in the past; it is what later generations choose to remember.  Thanks to Hershman Leeson for this vital work documenting women’s candid stories of WAR.  Hershman Leeson, whose works are in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, chairs the Film Department at the San Francisco Art Institute and is internationally acclaimed for her pioneering work in new media technology. (Screens, Saturday, April 23, SFMOMA and Monday April 25, 8:40 p.m., Pacific Film Archive)

Drawing Restraint #17 (North American Premiere) (Director Matthew Barney, Switzerland, 2010, 32 minutes)

Drawing Restraint continues on a project that conceptual artist Matthew Barney began in 1987 while an undergraduate at Yale which explores the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity.  Barney’s theory is that

Matthew Barney`s "Drawing restraint 17" is set in Basel`s Schaulager Museum and makes its North American premiere at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21 - May 5, 2011. Image: Huge Glendinning, courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York.

encumbrance can be used to strengthen an artist’s output, much as resistance is used by athletes to build muscle.  Barney’s latest film in the series uses the architecture in and around Basel, Switzerland as a key player in the film.  Basel is home to the Schaulager Museum for which the piece was commissioned.  Split-screen sequences incorporate Goetheanum, a center for the study of “spiritual science” (designed in the 1920’s by architect/thinker Rudolf Steiner), a woman digging in soil rich with worms and a tram ride to the Schaulager Museum (designed by (Herzog & de Meuron).  The main action occurs inside the museum where Barney portrays an artist supervising the construction of a sculpture made form rotting wood beams.  This site becomes a metaphoric wormhole.  (Screens: Saturday, April 30, 5 p.m. Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)  Combined with this year’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award  presented by critic and curator Glen Helfand, who will also interview Barney before the audience.  Admission to the interview and screening is $25.

Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou (Director: Pierre Thoretton, France, 2011, 100 min, in French, Documentary)

When iconic designer Yves Saint Laurent died of brain cancer in June 2008, at the age of 71, he left behind a substantial fashion legacy: he had popularized the pantsuit for women as well as the safari jacket, had democratized fashion by offering more affordable prêt à porter (ready to wear) lines, and had launched Opium, a scandalous perfume that many women considered their second skin in the 1980’s.  He also left behind one of the world’s greatest art collections, 700 plus pieces ranging from Egyptian artifacts to important works by Brancusi, Matisse, Degas, Manet, Duchamp, Ingres, Warhol, and many other leading artists assembled over 50 years with his lover and business partner Pierre Bergé.

In Pierre Thoretton`s "Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou" screening at SFIFF54, Yves Saint Laurent discusses his impressions of Andy Warhol`s 1974 portrait of him and its place in his sumptuous art collection.

Pierre Thoretton’s Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou tells Laurent’s story and the story of the couple’s great art (and furniture) collection through both historical and present-day footage.  As Bergé bids farewell to the collection in the famous three day auction orchestrated by Christies at Paris’ Grand Palais on February 23-25, 2009, you’ll see and hear how the couple lived and acquired their collection which they displayed in their exquisite homes in Morocco, France and England.   Mondrian’s 1922 painting “Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black,” which inspired the designer’s groundbreaking 1965 Pop Art chic day dress wasn’t his when he designed the dress but Saint Laurent acquired it later.  In Studio 54’s heyday, Saint Laurent befriended artist Andy Warhol who did his portrait sans the signature glasses.  A very rare early 3 foot tall sculpture in wood by Constantin Brancusi “Madame LR,” was thought to be one of roughly 30 known wooden Brancusis executed between 1913 and 1925.  Throughout the film, it’s clear that Laurent was inspired by beauty in many forms but happiness was illusive.  The film culminates in the frenzy of the famous three day auction of the collection that brought in $262 million on its first night with the Brancusi fetching a record fetched $36,792,835, the Mondrain $27, 191,525 and Matisse’s “Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose” $45,264,579.  (Screens: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 and Thursday, May 5 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)

SFIFF 54 Details:

Complete program information:

Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Pacific Film Archive

When: April 21 to May 5, 2011

Tickets: $8 to $13 regular screenings, $20 to $25 for Matthew Barney screening and on stage discussion at Persistence of Vision Award.  Purchase

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment