Cornell Cinema’s Mary Fessenden sat down with the Ithaca Times to talk about the upcoming fall 2016 line-up of films, lectures and events. As usual, it’s an embarrassment of riches, and we weren’t able to cover everything by a long shot. So pick up a CC FlickSheet or for more information visit cinema.cornell.edu.
Ithaca Times: We start on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 withdigital restorations of Orson Welles’ “Falstaff film,” Chimes at Midnight with an introduction and Q and A with Larry Jackson ’70, a former studio executive and Welles’ collaborator, and then Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl. People may not be as familiar with Sembène as they might be with Welles.
Mary Fessenden: Both of these titles are screening as part of our semester-long series “A Celebration of Janus Films,” which is marking its 60th anniversary in 2016. Janus was the first dedicated theatrical distributor of foreign art house cinema and has amassed a collection of over 800 films. For this series we put together over a dozen of them, mostly drawn from their most recent digital restorations, including Chimes at Midnight and Black Girl. Last year we showed a documentary about the late Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, who made over a dozen politically charged films over the course his career. He was the first African filmmaker to achieve international recognition and is considered the father of post-colonial African cinema. Black Girl, made in 1966, was his feature debut. As the Janus website points out, the film is a “layered critique on the lingering colonialist mindset of a supposedly postcolonial world” and tells the story of a young Senegalese woman who moves to France to work for an upper class white couple, who treat her more like a possession than an individual. As you can imagine, the film still resonates today amid the Black Lives Matter movement. I highly recommend it.
IT: Tell us about theIthaca premieres ofNikolaus Geyrhalter’s Homo Sapiens (Sept. 6 and 8) andTerrence Davies’ Sunset Song(Sept. 7 and 9).
MF: Readers may be familiar with Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s previous documentary, Our Daily Bread, a disturbing look at industrial food production, which featured stunning cinematography to reveal its story. His new film, Homo Sapiens, is another wordless assemblage, this time of beautifully composed fixed shots of abandoned, man-made structures, now being overtaken by nature. Humans are nowhere in sight. The film, a documentary, has a post-apocalyptic feel, and leaves the audience time to ponder what we, as a species, will leave in our wake. It’s being shown as part of an “Eco Docs” series. Terrence Davies’ Sunset Song kicks-off our Contemporary World Cinema series and it should absolutely be seen on the big screen, given its ravishing depictions of rural Scotland in the early 1900s. The story is told through the eyes of a young woman who has a powerful connection to the land that sustains her through both love and loss during World War I. But Davies, an acclaimed British director, suffuses the film with a melancholy mood and a poetic frame that sets it apart from other epics about this period.
IT: Let’s talk about all the digital restorations for September. I’m unfamiliar with Seijun Suzuki’s 1966 gangster film Tokyo Drifter(Sept. 8) but you’re also showing Suzuki’sBranded to Kill(Sept. 11), Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar(Sept. 12) and Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (Sept. 28 and Oct. 1), which I’ve never seen on the big screen, and Blue Velvet (Sept. 29 and Oct. 1).
MF: The digitally restored pair of ‘60s Suzuki titles and the animated sci-fi classic Fantastic Planet are part of the Janus series, and I think you’d really like the Suzukis. He’s known as the Japanese New Wave’s “bad boy,” and these films are considered two of his best, both set amid a world of crime, excessively stylized with a pop-art aesthetic and offering a wild ride. Tokyo Drifter is described by Janus as “equal parts Russ Meyer, Samuel Fuller, and Nagisa Oshima.” I was blown away when I first saw Fantastic Planet, so I can’t wait to see the digital restoration! It should play well this election season, as it makes a strong argument against conformity and violence. Both of the American classics, Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (celebrating its 30th anniversary), deal with Freudian themes, so it should be fun to see them within a couple weeks of one another. Johnny Guitar is showing in conjunction with Professor Sabine Haenni’s American Cinema course, as is Samuel Fuller’s widescreen House of Bamboo, showing in a new digital restoration on Oct. 17, a nice companion to the Suzuki films.
IT: This sounds like quite the evening: Bang on a Can Composers Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe: Collaborations with Filmmaker Bill Morrison on Sept. 14.
MF: Lucky for us, the Jewish Studies Program and the department of music are bringing the composers to campus for a concert of their work in Sage Chapel on Sept. 15, and they have generously agreed to visit Cornell Cinema the night before to talk about several of their collaborations with archival filmmaker Bill Morrison, whose work has shown at Cornell Cinema on many occasions. Morrison is known for his collaborations with great composers and musicians; he’s worked with Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas, and Steve Reich, to name a few, but no one more than Michael Gordon. Ithaca audiences may have seen one of their collaborations, Light is Calling, at the Light in Winter Festival at the State Theater in 2007, where the Bang on a Can All-Stars performed. We’ll be showing this film along with seven other varied shorts and talking to Michael and Julia about their process.
IT: We can’t cover all the September premieres, so recommend two for us.
MF: NUTS! (Sept. 15) tells the mostly-true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire in Depression-era America with a goat-testicle impotence cure and a million watt radio station. Filmmaker Penny Lane employs animated reenactments, interviews and archival footage to illustrate the story of a man whose “inventions,” including junk mail and infomercials, eventually prompted the federal government to create regulations against them. The film won a Special Jury Award for Documentary Editing at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and had its theatrical premiere at New York’s prestigious Film Forum. Penny Lane, who previously made the great found footage film, Our Nixon, is super smart and funny, and a great storyteller, so this will be a very fun night!
Under the Sun (Sept. 19) is another fascinating documentary that we’re showing as part of our “Dispatches from the Korean Peninsula” series, cosponsored with Cornell’s East Asia Program, and it offers a chilling account of life in Pyongyang, North Korea. Made by Russian director Vitaly Mansky, who gained access by agreeing to have the North Korean government monitor every aspect of the “documentary,” he nevertheless managed to capture the fraud behind the set-up of the idyllic life of an 8-year-old girl who cheerfully participates in school pageants and is doted on by her well-off, patriotic parents. The Hollywood Reporter described it as “both surreal and sinister … like watching a real-life version of The Truman Show.”
IT: October premieres includeStrange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island (Oct. 4 and 6). Don’t Blink: Robert Frank (Oct. 5 and 7), about the photographer who documented beats, vagabonds and the Rolling Stones, Eva Hesse (Oct. 6 and 8), Hockney (Oct. 7 and 11), Ixcanul (Oct. 13 and 15), Chevalier (Oct. 14 and 16), Citizen Kochwith filmmaker Tia Lessin ’86 (Oct. 17), Seoul Searchingwith filmmaker Benson Lee via Skype (Oct. 24), an evening with Media Artist Jesse McLean (Oct. 26), and Spirits’ Homecoming(Oct. 31).
MF: The first four films you mention are screening as part of an art documentary film festival, taking place from Oct. 4 to 11, overlapping with Cornell’s Fall Break to entice community members to come up to campus during a relatively quiet time! Each film will be offered twice and they’re all wonderful. People are likely familiar with photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank and painter David Hockney, but perhaps not so much with sculptor Eva Hesse, who died at a young age, but left an amazing body of work (made from Latex, fiberglass, and plastics) that helped establish the post-minimalist movement. The film utilizes entries from Hesse’s journals and her personal story is a compelling one: she was born in Germany in 1936, left the country with her sister a few years later as part of the Kindertransport rescue effort of Jewish children, was later reunited with her parents in the U.S., and eventually returned to Germany with her artist husband for a residency during which her work blossomed. Architect Todd Saunders is responsible for the “strange and familiar” sculpture-like artist studios and Fogo Island Hotel on Newfoundland’s rugged coastline, part of a local effort to turn the area into a geo-tourism destination to sustain it now that the cod fishing industry no longer can. After seeing it, you’ll want to plan a trip!
Two more filmmakers visit in October: Academy Award-nominated filmmaker/producer Tia Lessin, who graduated from Cornell in 1986, will present two of her political films—Citizen Koch (2013) and Where to Invade Next (2015); the latter, showing on Oct. 18, was directed by Michael Moore (produced by Lessin), and he’ll join Tia for the post-screening discussion via Skype, schedule permitting. Media artist Jesse McLean will present a program of five short pieces, including her most recent, which will have its U.S. premiere as part of the New York Film Festival’s Projections program shortly before she comes to Ithaca. Much of her collage-like video work grapples with both the power and the failure of the mediated experience to bring people together.
IT: October also means Halloween, and this year, you’re showing the silent film classic Nosferatuwith original score performed live by The Invincible Czars at Sage Chapel (Oct. 13), Fritz Lang’s Destiny with live piano accompaniment by Dr. Philip Carli (Oct. 27), Best of the Fest 1 shorts with a Halloween Costume Parade (Oct. 29) and a rare screening in Ithaca of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Oct. 29 and 31) with a pre-show costume party.
MF: The Invincible Czars are based in Austin, Texas and are known as the Alloy Orchestra of the South. They’re touring the Northeast this fall so we’ll have the pleasure of hosting them in Sage Chapel with their original score for F.W. Murnau’s classic horror film,Nosferatu, perfectly timed to get everyone in the mood for Halloween! They’re known for incorporating a bit of classical music into all of their scores (in this case it’ll be Bela Bartok’s Six Roumanian Folk Dances) and dressing in costumes appropriate for the film. Music for this score is written for a slew of instruments, including electric guitar, violin, keyboard, music box, synthesizer, bass clarinet, flute, glockenspiel, bass guitar, lots of percussion and voice! Just two weeks later we’ll host the incomparable Dr. Philip Carli performing a more traditional, but always dazzling, piano accompaniment to a new digital restoration of Fritz Lang’s early, but little-known, masterpiece, Destiny. Both of these events are cosponsored with the Wharton Studio Museum as part of Silent Movie Month in Ithaca.§
More information about these films and others can be found at our website (cinema.cornell.edu), which also includes links to trailers, ticket prices, a parking map and information about our cosponsors. Our fall season has to end early this semester due to scheduled renovations in the theatre, so we’re hoping people will come early and often to make the most of all we’ve packed into just twelve weeks!