Renowned artist and filmmaker spent a year documenting human toll of a world in flux
The use of drone footage has become relatively commonplace in documentary films. But I've never seen drone video quite as eerily powerful as that in Human Flow, the new film from Chinese artist Ai WeiWei.
Typical drone shots glide over a landscape -- giving the feel of moving across a distance. In Human Flow, the feel is more like hovering above the Earth, as humans below move in a curiously graceful pattern. The distinction perhaps is subtle, but it's one of the filmmaking choices that mark an artistic sensibility at work. We rely on artists to provide us a perspective we haven't quite imagined before; WeiWei does this in his visually poetic film about the extraordinary tide of refugees adrift on the planet.
Kind of amazing we did 100 hours of footage, over 600 interviews in 40 camps, 20-some nations, locations. So it's quite a large [project]. But it's not large enough.
In my conversation with WeiWei I ask him why he felt it important to include these aerial shots.
"That point of view we can say is God's point of view because it looks down to see human as a kind of species on the surface of the planet," he tells me, as we sit at a banquette in his room at a Beverly Hills hotel. "To change your perspective, to look at things, is so important. It's about all human intelligence, it's about changing a perspective and to illustrate that perspective."
Note: Human Flow opened in Los Angeles on Friday (Laemmle Royal Theatre), as well as numerous other cities including Washington DC, San Francisco, Dallas, Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee. It's playing in New York at the Landmark West 57th Street (details here).
As Faces Places makes L.A. debut, she brings The Gleaners & I and Vagabond to the American Cinematheque
At the age of 89 filmmaker Agnès Varda remains wonderfully open to life, her sense of curiosity about people and empathy for them undiminished across the decades.
That is evident in her latest documentary, Faces Places (Visages Villages) co-directed by the artist/photographer JR, which takes the pair across France for a series of rencontres with ordinary people -- among them dock workers and their wives, a mailman, the last remaining resident of a series of row houses slated for demolition.
Varda "has continued to push herself creatively in ways that are bold, risky and utterly of a piece with the past of the medium she loves and has come to embody," wrote critic Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. “Faces Places is a film of sheer joy, its exuberance surpassed only by its tenderness and purity of purpose."
This documentary takes the shape of a road trip infused with equal parts whimsy, artistic experimentation and awe-inspiring monumentality.
The film expands to more cities in the U.S. on Friday, after opening in New York and L.A. earlier in the month (theater info here).
In her review, Hornaday compared Faces Places to some of Varda's earlier work, including her classic documentary The Gleaners & I (2000) and her narrative/fiction film Vagabond (1985). Both of those films screened at the American Cinematheque Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last Friday, with Varda in attendance. Like Faces Places, The Gleaners & I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse) also takes audiences on a perambulating, whimsical tour of France, introducing us to people often ignored in that country (and in ours) -- those who out of need or principle collect food wasted by farmers, restaurateurs, their fellow citizens.
Below are two brief videos of Varda at the Egyptian -- the first from her introduction of The Gleaners & I and the second from a Q&A after the screening moderated by Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson. (I have provided subtitles to assist with understanding Varda's English, a language she only began to learn well into adulthood).
Gotham announcement offers a forecast of possible awards season favorites
Awards season is rumbling to life with the announcement today of the Gotham Independent Film Awards nominations, providing a glimpse of documentaries to be reckoned with as 2017 heads to a close.
The Work directed by Jairus McLeary -- winner of the top documentary prize at SXSW -- earned a place among the five nominees for best documentary. The film -- centering on an intense four-day group therapy session at California's Folsom Prison -- opens theatrically in Los Angeles next Wednesday (October 25) and in New York next Friday (October 27).
This year offered a bountiful array of diverse, creative work that represents the very best from this community.
At age 87, Frederick Wiseman earned a nomination for his latest documentary, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. The 42nd documentary directed by Wiseman premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September, followed quickly by its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Ceyda Torun's film about the felines of Istanbul claimed four nominations for Critics Choice Documentary Awards
Kedi, the hit documentary about the charming street cats of Istanbul, is about to hop back into theaters. It will play for one day only -- October 29 -- in honor of International Cat Day.
Ceyda Torun's film will screen in more than 25 cities, including New York, L.A., Chicago and Houston [find complete info here]. During its theatrical release in the U.S. earlier this year, Kedi collected almost $2.8 mil.
...A soulful documentary that follows the wanderings of stray cats in Istanbul, Turkey -- and ends up saying something profound about the symbiosis between humans and animals.
Last week Kedi earned a leading four nominations for the second annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards, including best documentary and best director. What's more, the cast of cats are among the mammals that will share the honor for "Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary."
Limited series from embattled Weinstein Company earns recognition; so does Leah Remini's Scientology series
The International Documentary Association revealed the first batch of nominees in the running for the 33rd annual IDA Awards, widely considered among the most prestigious honors in the nonfiction film arena.
In the best limited series category, among the contenders are Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath from A&E Network, and Spike TV's TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, which explored the tragic case of Browder, a New York teenager who was arrested on a minor charge then imprisoned on Rikers Island for three years without trial.
The Browder series was produced by The Cinemart and The Weinstein Company -- currently teetering on the brink of collapse in the wake of a sexual harassment and assault scandal involving co-founder Harvey Weinstein. He was fired by the company eight days ago and on Saturday the Motion Picture Academy expelled him from the organization. But the IDA Awards nominations are just one indication of how difficult it will be -- at least in the short term -- for the entertainment industry to inoculate itself from traces of Weinstein.
The IDA initially recognized only two executive producers in its nomination for the Browder series -- Jenner Furst and Nick Sandow. After an inquiry from Nonfictionfilm.com, the IDA sent out a revised press release, adding five additional E.P.s: Shawn "Jay Z" Carter, Julia Willoughby Nason, Michael Gasparro, Sharon Levy, and Chichi Senior. Conspicuously absent from the list was Harvey Weinstein.
IMDB credits Weinstein among the series E.P.'s, but only for two of the series' six episodes. A number of the other nominated E.P.'s, including Furst, Nason and Jay Z, are similarly credited on IMDB for just two of the episodes. The embattled Weinstein Company has dropped Harvey Weinstein's name for all of its current shows, including Project Runway. Whether that explains his absence from the list of nominees for TIME is unclear at this point.
Weinstein and Jay Z appeared on the red carpet together for the premiere of TIME at the Sundance Film Festival last January, an event covered by Nonfictionfilm.com.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.