It doesn’t get much hotter than this! A short film by Chris Bolton that captures the art of fire breathing at 2000 frames per second and truly does offer “a rare glimpse into a world outside the human perception of time.”
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Their goddess of love is a very fascinating and complex idea. She is in fact goddess of all the luxuries which are not essential to survival. She is the goddess of love which, unlike sex, is not essential to propagation. She is the muse of the arts. Now man can live without it but he doesn’t live very much as man without it. It is strange that one would have to go to an apparently primitive culture such as Haiti to find an understanding in such exalted terms of what the essential feminine – not female – feminine role might conceivably be – that of being everything which is human. Everything which is more than that which is necessary. Taken from this point of view, there is no reason in the world why women shouldn’t be artists. And very fine ones.
—Maya Deren (1917-1961) describing the Vodou spirit Erzulie.
The experimental filmmaker was the first person to win a Guggenheim Fellowship for film. She used her grant to travel to in Haiti during the 1940s, immersing herself in Vodou rituals. Her 1953 book Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti introduced many Western readers to the complexity and depth of Vodou for the first time.
Photo of Maya Deren by bswise (Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
-Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Greenland’s First Dawn
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"No matter what the weather is, we always have a will to live."
~Kaaleeraq Mathaeussen, Inuit fisherman
In a village of 4,000 people in northern Greenland, the sun rises for the first time after 43 days of total darkness. Juxtaposed against the beauty of this landscape of limited light, Return of the Sun explores the plight of an Inuit fisherman who finds himself adapting to the changing climate. Although his livelihood and that of his Inuit community is changing, the film shows their spirit remains rooted in kindness and of possibility.
Proposition 8 encapsulates so many elements that intrigued me: a story of love, of struggle, loss, and redemption. It just so happens that the main antagonist to those seeking equal rights in California was the Mormon church. And, well, I grew up Mormon myself. I served a Mormon mission to Venezuela and my entire immediate family are Mormons. So, not only was I going up against very powerful political powers, but I was literally critiquing the very culture that I grew up in. So it was a unique experience for me. On one hand, I offered a ‘insiders’ knowledge into the workings of the church’s political dealings, and on the other, it was a cathartic examination of my own past. The church itself was very dismissive of us and refused an interview. We tried for months to offer them a chance to tell their side of the story. They told us, ‘We just want to ignore this and hope it all dies down.’
—Steven Greenstreet, from his interview with ReadysetDC
With all the discussion swirling about the filmmaker’s controversially titled Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street, it’s intriguing to learn that he’s also the director and producer of 8: The Mormon Proposition, a very good documentary that was selected for last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The Purest Bicycle Rider
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
How many of us have passed by a stranger on the street or sat near a person on a bus or a train so many times but we’ve never really known much more about that person than the judgments and stories we’ve created in our heads? For some Bostonians, this documentary makes that introduction. The film does a lovely job of introducing Louie the bike rider and shows you his passion for one thing — riding bicycle.
If any of you Bostonians see this, comment or drop us a line if you recognize Louie. I’d love to hear what you think.
Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Finds Beauty on the Street
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
"The wider world that perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with. The point is fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization."
Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham is a personal hero, and I’m not that interested in fashion. I’m inspired by who he is as a person. I keep a photograph of him tacked up in my cube with the caption "I’m looking for something that has beauty."
Cunningham is compelled by clothing — not the celebrity status or pedigree of the wearer. He champions lively personal style wherever and whenever it captures his highly-trained eye. On Sundays, I like to soak up his weekly "On the Street" feature in The New York Times. Now he’s the subject of a new documentary, Bill Cunningham New York. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year.
The documentary reveals Cunningham’s incredible work ethic and the ferocious joy of his work. Now in his 80s, he spends his days riding around Manhattan without a helmet on a beat-up bicycle. His film-loaded camera is always at the ready (no, he does not shoot digital), cocked to shoot someone’s interesting hat or low-rider pants.
In the evenings, he tours New York’s society circuit, snapping photos at charity benefit functions. He never eats the food at these events, and even refuses to accept a glass of water. He says this would compromise his objective stance.
While fashion has been the driver of Cunningham’s life and career, he describes his own personal style as dreary. While working, he wears a signature royal blue workman’s jacket. For years, he lived in a monk-like studio above Carnegie Hall stuffed with filing cabinets for all of his negatives. It didn’t even have a bathroom (it was down the hall). More recently, he has relocated to a bigger apartment. He asked to have the appliances and counters removed to make room for his files.
Bill Cunningham found his passion and calling in life. And because he did, he’s given a gift to the rest of us. Here’s a reminder from Cunningham to pay attention to what we see, and to look for beauty in our everyday encounters: ”Fashion comes from everywhere. It’s all here and the streets are speaking to us.”
Alec Soth’s Photographs Capture Our Desire to Run Away
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
"It’s not really about running away. It’s about the desire to run away."
Growing up in Minnesota, photographer Alec Soth fantasized about having a secret cave-like hideout where he could escape from the world. Now in his early 40s, Soth’s captivation with retreat and solitary adventure is revealed in a new documentary, Somewhere to Disappear, which screened Monday night at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.
Filmmakers Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove drove over 20,000 miles with Soth in 2008 and 2009, capturing his quixotic search across America for monks, hermits, survivalists, and others living a mostly solitary off-the-grid existence. One of the film’s most endearing subjects is a middle-aged man named Clyde Garth Bowles. He lives on a self-created compound in the California desert where he cares with great tenderness for horses, birds, and other animals. “My spiritual theory is my life,” he says.
Soth prefers to travel by car when working, rather than fly into a location. It ups his chances of stumbling upon a serendipitous moment. He also speaks in the film of his longing “to feel carried” when he’s on the road — a reminder that there’s only so much we can plan. But, when we set an intention on the steering wheels of our lives and give way to mystery, we’re gifted with transcendent moments of beauty we couldn’t orchestrate on our own.
The photographs Soth made from these travels are part of a body of work published in Broken Manual. As Soth drove across the country, he kept a list of things he wanted to photograph taped to his car’s steering wheel. It’s a way, he says, of “transforming these ideas in my head into some sort of path in the world.”
For Soth, the film is as much a meditation on a longing to run away as it is about our ultimate need for meaningful human connection. “I don’t want to move my family, and go live in a cave,” he assured the audience.
Cinema as a Moral Compass
by Susan Leem, associate producer
"We are a storytelling species, and we have always used our stories to teach one another how we should live, and how we should not."
— David Gushee, "Teaching virtue at the movies in 2011"
In a recent article from the Associated Baptist Press, David Gushee, a professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, highlights four recent films, including The Fighter, that have narratives with accounts of moral virtue. This is a fresh way for me to share and evaluate new films.
I want more meaningful categories with which to talk about films rather than discussing whether it goes on the holiday viewing list or is an Oscar contender. Though I trust Roger Ebert’s judgment implicitly, the number of stars doesn’t tell me anything about how to live well or how to treat other people. Gushee’s language does.
What four films come to mind that have provided you with some teaching moment in the shape of a moral compass?