MERMAID WITH A MOVIE CAMERA: An Evening With Emilija Škarnulytė

SUNDAY, APRIL 21 – 7:30 PM
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
FILMMAKER IN PERSON!
(This event is $10.)

What hides behind the veil of infrastructure, invisibly regulated by larger systems of power? Emilija Škarnulytė’s work looks into core questions undergirding the current geological period, wherein human activity continues to produce un-ignorable, worldwide ecological problems. For ONE NIGHT ONLY, the globetrotting Lithuanian filmmaker and installation artist will be at Spectacle for a screening of recent works centered on industry and environment, shot in a variety of locations the likes of which she is clearly obsessed: power plants, underwater research stations, the Super-Kamiokande Neutrino observatory in Japan, or the island of Spitsbergen (located in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalsbard, where the Europe meets the Arctic.)

In her works, Škarnulytė is concerned with the phenomena of neoliberal capitalism so massively distributed across ecosystems that they redefine the traditional notions of thing/place, what cultural critic Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”. While playful – perhaps no more so than when she turns herself into a mermaid, or “woman-torpedo”, to swim into a decommissioned NATO submarine base in SIRENOMELIA – Škarnulytė’s short films interrogate the role of people to their new landscapes and (crucially) questions of what happens in the coming strata, after those roles have served their intended purposes.

“My work poses indirect questions. It could be seen as an archaeological expedition into the future, often into inaccessible places: closed empty nuclear reactors, submarine bases, power plants, mines. These places have no humans, there are only artefacts and remains left. Indirect questions are raised, analyzing human activity and invisible structures, trying to make them visible, though not through political activism, but on the basis of mythology… The geological structure remains, observing one stratum of the Earth after another, starting with aerial shots, approaching the ground, going underground, and moving to a microscopic level. It is an inner cross-section of the modern world, opening and flooding with the topics of human violence, desire, greed.” – Emilija Škarnulytė

Programmed in collaboration with Lukas Brašiškis (New York University).

ALDONA
2013. 12 mins.
Lithuania.
In Lithuanian with English subtitles.

In the spring of 1986, Aldona lost her vision and became permanently blind. The nerves in her eyes were poisoned. Doctors claimed that it was probably due to the Chernobyl power plant explosion. The film follows her through a daily sojourn to Grutas Park, touching both the past and the present.


HOLLOW EARTH
dirs. Emilija Škarnulytė and Tanya Busse.
2013. 23 mins.
Arctic Region.
In Lithuanian with English subtitles.

This film examines the dramatic changes to the arctic landscape due to the extraction of natural resources. The work combines archive footage, research material and landscape shots of active drilling sites in Norway and Sweden, presenting them conversely as tourist destinations associated with untamed wilderness and highly contested geopolitical territories at the forefront of debates on climate change.

SIRENOMELIA
2018. 12 mins.
Lithuania / Norway.
In Lithuanian with English subtitles.

Set in far-northern territories where Arctic waters meet rocky escarpments on which radio telescopes record fast-traveling quasar waves, SIRENOMELIA links man, nature and machine and posits possible post-human mythologies. Shot in a decomissioned and abandoned NATO submarine base in Olavsvern, Norway, it’s a cosmic portrait of one of mankind’s oldest mythic creatures—the mermaid. Performing as a siren, Škarnulytė swims through the decrepit facility while cosmic signals and white noise traverse the entirety of space, reaching its farthest corners, beyond human impact.

ENERGY ISLAND
2017. 24 mins.
In Lithuanian with English subtitles.

ENERGY ISLAND invites viewer for an immersive sensorial trip into the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania, now undergoing a decommissioning process. The images of contaminated ruins transform in the fire, light and shadow; the destruction of the industrial space consistently reveals how Cold War energy structures impact recent geopolitical processes and leave planetary threats over long periods of time. The project takes a geological approach – it reads things that compose this flat landscape as a stack of stratigraphic layers. The man­made space is understood as a sedimentary process and the infrastructures, as well as the mineral resources, are assessed as the key parameters defining a development of the project.

MIRROR MATTER
2018. 12 mins.
Lithuania / Switzerland.
In Lithuanian with English subtitles.

With this film, Škarnulytė links the past and future by exploring the memory of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino observatory in Japan, the Anti Matter Factory and The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The film consists of a fictional visual meditation about contemporary science from a retro-futurist perspective, opening with a shot of a digital rendering of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino observatory in Japan, which depicts water pools inside a cylindrical tube filled with mirrors, through which reflections of neutrinos are produced to achieve the speed of light. The slow-panning movement gives a sense of the immensity of the nearly 13,000 photo-multipliers inhabiting this strange vessel. Another sequence of shots imag(in)es the Hadron Collider at CERN, which is the largest particle accelerator and also the biggest scientific facility on the planet. As envisioned by the artist through LIDAR scans, the architecture produces a dynamic, transparent imprint in three dimensions.

EMILIJA ŠKARNULYTE is a visual artist and filmmaker. Poetic and yet informed by science, her films engage non-human temporalities, invisible architectures and systems of power, as well as processes of geoengineering. Škarnulytė studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and graduated at Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art. Recent group exhibitions include “Hyperobjects” at Ballroom Marfa, Texas; “Moving Stones” at the Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco and Paris; and the first Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art; as well as a new commission for Bold Tendencies, London and a solo show at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. She was recently invited to Berlinale Talent Campus and shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize.

LUKAS BRASISKIS is a PhD candidate at New York University in the Department of Cinema Studies. He is an active film curator and critic. In his current academic research, Brasiskis examines the history and theory of representation of the non-human in film and media, explores various aspects of contemporary eco-cinema (with an emphasis on Eastern European cinema), as well as investigates intersections of philosophy, cinema and contemporary art.

WIND FROM IRAN: Four by Kamran Heidari

So far, Iranian director Kamran Heidari’s 2012 documentary MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS is his only film to receive any exposure in the States, and even that has been fairly limited. Hopefully, this series, which presents the New York premiere of his  2014 documentary DINGOMARO and world premiere of his latest, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, can help remedy that. Born in 1977 near the city of Shiraz, Heidari began directing films after graduating from college.  Parallel to that work, he has built up a substantial body of work as a photographer. The four  films included in this series insist on the specificity of  Shiraz and the south of Iran. At the same time, they exist in a dialogue that acknowledges national boundaries as well as the power of culture to bypass narrow nationalism. NEGAHDAR JAMALI engages in a complex feedback loop between American and Iranian cinema, while DINGOMARO and, to a lesser extent, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS show how the power of the African diaspora’s music extends to Iran.

Programmed in collaboration with Steve Erickson. Special thanks to Garineh Nazarian, Maaa Film, and Mehdi Omidvari.


MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS
dir. Kamran Heidari, 2012
65 minutes. Iran.
In Farsi with English subtitles.

SUNDAY, APRIL 7 – 5 PM
THURSDAY, APRIL 18 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 20 – 7:30 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 27 – 10 PM

MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS (Kamran Heidari, 2012) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.

Paraphrasing a famous John Ford quote, this film profiles Negahdar Jamali, a director who lives in Shiraz and makes micro-budget Westerns in the desert outside the city. Having started out with silent Super-8 footage, living in poverty and spending all his spare money on this work, Jamali dreams of being accepted by his country’s film industry and being able to work on a much larger scale. However, the kind of movies he makes are too influenced by American culture, even if he has made sure that his Tarzan conforms to Islamic standards of modesty instead of appearing nude. Producers would prefer that he made actions films about the Iran/Iraq war, instead of setting films in Death Valley a century ago.

MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS falls into a tradition of reflexive Iranian movies about filmmaking and directors that includes Abbas Kiarostami’s CLOSE-UP and THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s SALAAM CINEMA, and A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE, Jafar Panahi’s THE MIRROR and most recently, Mani Haghighi’s PIG. It departs from them in that there’s very little roleplay on Heidari’s part here; the film presents itself as a Western of sorts while always remaining a documentary. MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS remains upbeat, even celebratory, for its first two thirds, as Jamali buys costumes for his films and talks about his plans to the camera. Then, life intrudes.

Ultimately, MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS strikes a more ambivalent tone than one would initially expect. Jamali has made a choice between art and his family, and he’s not very kind to his wife and son as a result. Indeed, his son calls Heidari a “fag” and “asshole,” apparently because this documentary’s project has taken so much time away from his father. In the film’s final stretch, Jamali provides pleasure to his community (he holds both rehearsals and screenings in the open air) but winds up as lonely and isolated as many heroes in American Westerns. MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS ends with an extreme long shot of Jamali riding alone on desert roads, to the tune of Ennio Morricone.

“His {Jamahli’s} minimalism and no-budget, semi- experimental films, like a crossover between the poorest of B westerns and Jack Smith, stands out as ultra primitive drafts of {Budd} Boetticher’s westerns, and, on the other hand, his individualism puts him is the same category as Randolph Scott’s laconic avengers.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

DINGOMARO
dir. Kamran Heidari, 2014
66 min. Iran.
In Farsi with English subtitles.
(Note: depicts animal slaughter briefly in the context of a religious ceremony.)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3 – 10 PM
THURSDAY, APRIL 11 – 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, APRIL 14 – 5 PM
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24 – 10 PM

Dingomaro is a wind that sweeps Iran from the African coast. It’s also the nickname of musician Hamid Said, adopted proudly to reflect his African heritage. A population of black Iranians live in the south of the country, having arrived both from voluntary immigration and slavery, but they’ve been almost entirely absent in the country’s arthouse films. (The recent HENDI AND HORMOZ, which played the Iranian Film Festival NY in January, is an exception.)

Heidari films Said, in the wake of his hit “Bad Shans” (“Hard Luck” in English), traveling around the province of Hormozan as he organizes a concert celebrating Afro-Iranian roots. This is his most joyful documentary. Sajjad Avarand’s cinematography – three different cameramen, including Heidari himself, shot the film – captures the region’s immense natural beauty without any of the ironic or melancholic undertones of MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS. (The two films’ endings rhyme exactly.) It’s a documentary that Jonathan Demme could have made.

However, it doesn’t focus wholly on music, never playing a song all the way through. As cheerful as it is, it’s not without drama, stemming from tension within families. But that gets defused at a father-son concert mixing hip-hop with older forms of Iranian pop. Racism is never expressed overtly in DINGOMARO, but the invisibility of black Iranian identity bites at Said. It’s the reason why he thinks his heritage needs to be explicitly pointed out and celebrated. When he meets up with his friend and fellow musician Carlos Nejad, Carlos says “our younger generation doesn’t even accept that they have African roots… I don’t even know why insist so much that you’re African.” While music is the main means by which DINGOMARO’s subjects assert their blackness, the film also shows ceremonies of the Zar sect, which mixes Shia Islam and indigenous African traditions in a manner akin to Santeria.


ALI AQA

dir. Kamran Heidari, 2017
82 mins. Iran/France/Switzerland.
In Farsi with English subtitles.

THURSDAY, APRIL 4 – 7:30 PM
MONDAY, APRIL 15 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, APRIL 19 – 10 PM
SUNDAY APRIL 28 – 5 PM

If I AM NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS is a mostly sympathetic treatment of male obsession, ALI AQA returns to the subject with a much darker tone. Instead of profiling an artist, Heidari chose Ali Aqa, a man devoted to the pigeons whom he keeps on the roof of his apartment building. Ali pays more attention to the birds’ health than this own; his wife points out that he’s willing to perform surgery on them while delaying an operation that he needs himself. Now 70, he looks like an aging biker or Grateful Dead roadie, with white hair past his shoulders and a full beard. But he turns out to be a rage machine. There’s a stereotype that some people’s love for animals is actually an expression of misanthropy and contempt for their fellow humans, and in Ali’s case it’s quite true. He’s diabetic and starting to have difficulty getting around, but does nothing to try and preserve his quality of life.

Around the 45-minute mark, something happens which alters one’s perception of Ali: he goes from being a grumpy old man to a danger to the people around him. And while Heidari obviously isn’t a passive observer, Ali and his wife show their awareness of the camera. The film becomes a reflection on the responsibility of documentarians towards their subjects. On the website of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Heidari revealed to Mark Baker that “Ali told us not to meddle with his personal life ever again, and even banned us from visiting his home for a while. But after some discussion with him, everything got back to normal and we resumed shooting.” A key moment is edited from the film, although after one has seen it, it’s quite clear what has happened. With this film, Heidari put his body (and camera) on the line in a way that raises the stakes considerably from the friendlier subjects of I AM NEGHADAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS and DINGOMARO.

ALI AQA evolved from Heidari’s interest in photographing pigeons. The project started out as a documentary about them, but he settled on depicting men who love the birds instead. While it respects Ali’s passion, one watches in dismay as the film reveals his enthusiasm devolving from a healthy hobby to something that detracts from his attention to his family. If I AM NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS had a similar underlying drama, ALI AQA raises it to the level of overt critique. But it makes one understand that Ali is trying to find something therapeutic in his pigeons that he can’t get from people, even if this is a largely failed quest.

NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS
dir. Kamran Heidari, 2019
67 mins. Iran.
In Farsi with English subtitles.

TUESDAY, APRIL 2 – 7:30 PM
TUESDAY, APRIL 16 – 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, APRIL 25 – 7:30 PM

NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS is named after a song by Ibrahim Monsefi, which gets played in several versions during the film. Near the end, its narrator says “how I lived and died is up to me.” Nevertheless, this fictional autobiography tries to reconstruct his life without turning it into a conventional narrative. The film begins with images of the skyscrapers of Bandar Abbas, the city where he was born, taken from a drone. Most of it consists of drifting camera movements, relying heavily on drones, that try to capture the perspective of a person walking slowly while high on heroin. Monsefi died of an overdose of that drug, possibly deliberately. After descending from the sky, the camera takes us to the room where he died.

Heidari and two other screenwriters created a voice-over told by the dead Monsefi. He starts the film by taking about his early life, bringing us to his childhood home and the Hindu temples where he first got a taste of the power of music. As the camera travels around Bandar Abbas, musicians perform Monsefi’s songs in the city’s streets. (It’s reminiscent of the great Brazilian singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso.) While not overtly concerned with race in the same way as DINGOMARO, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS still showcases the diversity of Southern Iran, emphasizing the coexistence of Islam and Hinduism and the presence of black Iranians.

Mixing elements of fiction and documentary, it tells the story of Monsefi’s life. If the voice-over moves ahead in a fairly linear manner, the images rarely simply illustrate his biography. Instead, the film takes many detours to enjoy the street life of Bandar Abbas and the pleasure of listening to Monsefi’s music. Real and fictional stories of musicians whose early promise – at his peak, Monsefi wrote poetry and acted in addition to his songwriting – vanishes in a haze of drugs may be very common, but NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS is formally unconventional enough that it never feels remotely like a BEHIND THE MUSIC episode. It uses home movie footage gingerly, but its most powerful moment is the ending, where a grainy video of Monsefi performing the title song disappears into flickering electronic snow.

STEVE ERICKSON is a film and music critic who writes for Gay City News, Cineaste, the Nashville Scene, Studio Daily and Kinoscope. He has written and directed 6 short films. His first foray into film programming was Anthology Film Archives’ Mehrdad Oskouei retrospective in February 2018.

KAMRAN HEIDARI was born in Gachsaran, near Shiraz, in 1977. He is a freelance documentary filmmaker and photographer, with an interest in street photography, graffiti and ethno-music. His work focuses on film and photography about the people of Shiraz (Fars Province) and the South of Iran. MY NAME IS NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS was screened at many festivals around the world, including the 2013 Busan International Film Festival and Rotterdam.

TRASHCANS OF TERROR

TRASHCANS OF TERROR
dir. Chuck Handy, 1985
72 min. United States.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3 – 7:30 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 6 – MIDNITE
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10 – 10 PM
FRIDAY, APRIL 12 – 7:30 PM
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 27 – MIDNITE

In the grand tradition of bringing you the freshest, hottest, most lost, most forgotten cinema on the planet Spectacle proudly presents – TRASHCANS OF TERROR. This homemade SOV sci-fi adventure from the depths of rural Oregon is a movie made for the burning S if there ever was one – complete with a backwoods buzzsaw blues soundtrack by Jimmy Lloyd Rea who at one point played with Canned Heat and Paul Revere & The Raiders.

Director Chuck Handy stars as Spider Leibowitz who encounters a lost bodybuilder named Kathy. The two hit it off and soon Spider is head over heels for this wandering powerhouse. Meanwhile across town, a shady military outfit is tracking a group of intergalactic trashcans bent on taking over the Earth and overpowering it’s inhabitants. To make things even weirder, when Kathy gets riled up she turns silver and gains superhuman strength. This comes in…Handy (YES!) during a bar fight (in an alley outside the bar) when Spider and Kathy have to take on a merciless gang of 21 street toughs (all played by Larry Frampton in various t-shirt and hat combos, credited 21 separate times) and rack up $37,000 in damages. Kathy obtains the power of “Yutz” at one point which is also helpful somehow. A showdown ensues between our heroes and the titular trashcans with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance!

If this description leaves you scratching your head it’s because TRASHCANS OF TERROR is very hard to pin down. A passion project, a sci-fi trashterpiece, a lost slab of magnetic madness – they truly don’t make them like this anymore. With the film slated for release for the first time ever later this year, now’s your chance to catch it like never before as we’ll be presenting an in-house restoration from the directors own master tape!

( poster by Otto Splotch )

ANALOG ROADSHOW: A Very Special Sunday With XFR Collective


SUNDAY, MARCH 17 – 5 PM
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
FACEBOOK EVENT

Calling all tapeheads! Do you have mystery MiniDV, Hi-8, or VHS assets languishing in storage? Unsure of what to do with these plastic treasures, or even what’s on them? Put your trust in radical archival group XFR Collective for a special one-night only event at Spectacle.

XFR Collective “partners with individuals and organizations to provide low-cost digitization services and to develop sustainable models for managing and providing access to audiovisual materials.” With their mobile tape transfer units, XFR has been popping up in venues all over town, ingesting and preserving now-defunct formats for special events that combine the best of a swap meet with a little experimental cinema exhibition. Think of it as Antiques Roadshow, for fans and collectors of analog video!

Here’s how it works: you, the audience, bring your mystery tapes to Spectacle. While XFR Collective is transferring the goods, sit back and enjoy a showcase screening of their best finds! When the evening’s transfers are complete, the veil is lifted and all participants can get a nice juicy eyeful of what turned up.

So bring a buddy, bring a beer, and bring that dusty unlabeled MiniDV tape you found at Goodwill, because you never know what’s going to happen when XFR Collective is on the scene!

Tape transfers start at 6pm, but get there early to grab a set and a spot in the queue!

( poster by Lauryn Siegel )

SURFER: TEEN CONFRONTS FEAR


SURFER: TEEN CONFRONTS FEAR

dir. Douglas Burke, 2018
California, 101 min.

SATURDAY, MARCH 16 – 10 PM
MONDAY, MARCH 18 – 10 PM
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20 – 10 PM
FRIDAY, MARCH 29 – MIDNITE
THURSDAY APRIL 4 – 10 PM
SATURDAY APRIL 6 – 10 PM
MONDAY APRIL 22 – 10 PM
THURSDAY APRIL 25 – 10 PM

ONLINE TICKETS
FACEBOOK EVENT

A young surfer confronts fear. He should be out on the waves, hanging ten with the spray at his back, getting tan under the burning sun. Who – or what – can help this young man, numb and nearly mute, gripped by a fear of death, a fear to act?

SURFER, a film directed, acted, scored, and shot by Douglas Burke and Burke International Pictures, might have an answer to this question. At turns a Californian mystic experience, a Biblical parable, and very nearly an adventure thriller, it is at its heart a sort of SURF REFORMED, where men approach faith with the help of the supernatural. Burke approaches the camera like the rhythms of the ocean, nodding to both YouTube how-to videos and Béla Tarr in the same rolling beat. He is less interested in getting the camera tripod out of the shot than he is in the elusive and crucial process of finding one’s élan vital. The waves of destiny grow bigger with each return to the water, as images of surfers guide our hero to his ultimate challenge. Will the teen confront fear? We intuitively know the answer.

Having made the rounds to Chicago Illinois Music Box Theater, Knoxville Tennessee General Cinema, and Cardiff Tramshed Cinema (UK), it has finally come to Spectacle for special screenings in March and April.


( UNAUTHORIZED FAN POSTER by Charles Gergley )

Agadmator Sent Me Here: The Music Videos of Stice

FRIDAY, MARCH 8 – MIDNITE
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
ONLINE TICKETS
FB EVENT


For just under a year, STICE has been churning out 2-minute music videos at an alarming rate. A truly alarming rate. Red flags have been raised, and the authorities should be contacted, if they haven’t been already. How is something this warped and on this consistent a schedule not either the recruitment efforts of a well-funded death-cult cabal or the cry-for-help webcam ramblings of a colony of Midwest preteens held hostage in a basement content mill?

Somewhere between HUMAN HIGHWAY and YTMND—with the barely-linguistic dream-logic of the “How is babby formed?” Yahoo Answers question thrown in for good measure—Stice is dial-up netscape nightmare fodder, your first grade friend who would make his Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 creations crash into a concession stand, zolo-horrorcore for the TikTok generation. This screening will feature their 9 music videos, including their micro-hit “Look at the Baton,” which continues to confound the chess-YouTube community. This screening will feature Stice members Jake Lichter and Caroline Bennett in conversation. 

MUBI Presents: CENTRAL AIRPORT THF


CENTRAL AIRPORT THF
dir. Karim Aïnouz, 2018
Germany, 98 mins
In Arabic & German with English subtitles.

TUESDAY, MARCH 5 – 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, MARCH 7 – 10 PM

MUBI’s latest Special Discovery is Karim Aïnouz’s award-winning CENTRAL AIRPORT THF, an intimate documentary that explores an iconic, now vacant Berlin airport currently being used to shelter refugees.

Berlin’s historic defunct Tempelhof Airport remains a place of arrivals and departures. Today its massive hangars are used as Germany’s largest emergency shelter for asylum seekers, like 18-year-old Syrian refugee Ibrahim. As Ibrahim adjusts to his transitory daily life of social services interviews, German lessons and medical exams, he tries to cope with homesickness and the anxiety of whether or not he will gain residency or be deported.
CENTRAL AIRPORT THF will be available to stream exclusively on MUBI starting February 8th. Watch here.
MUBI is a curated online cinema, streaming hand-picked award-winning, classic, and cult films from around the globe. Every day, MUBI’s film experts present a new film and you have 30 days to watch it. Whether it’s an acclaimed masterpiece, a gem fresh from the world’s greatest film festivals, or a beloved classic, there are always 30 beautiful hand-picked films to discover.

MIKE MADNESS: Three Films by Michael M. Bilandic


Does the phrase “New York microbudget indie” give you hives? Are you worn out from watching the same three sadsacks navigate “existential crises” and blather on about Artaud as they amble down Brownstone-lined sidestreets? Rest easy, weary cinephile, because Spectacle has a hotshot of free-wheeling macabre aimed directly at your jugular!

Cultural anthropology and low-budget unpredictability mix and mingle on the mean streets where writer-director Michael M. Bilandic has trained his jaundiced camera eye. Burned-out techno DJs, gangs of marauding teen rap-rockers, and a rollerblading drug dealer are just a handful of strange characters you’ll meet in this alt-teur’s cinematic Rolodex. Bilandic’s films are something of best-kept secret around these parts – produced the fringes of New York’s humble movie colony, these sui generis works beg to be celebrated.

These three feature films – HAPPY LIFE, HELLAWARE, and the spanking-new JOBE’Z WORLD – are untouchable works of rare art that mark this cool cat as one to watch. Think you can handle the multi-sensory stimulation of American independent cinema’s boldest visionary? Shed those presumptions and take a dip – the water’s fine!


JOBE’Z WORLD

dir. Michael M. Bilandic, 2018.
USA. 68 mins.

FRIDAY, APRIL 5 – 7:30 w/Mike Bilandic, Jason P. Grisell, Theodore Bouloukos, and others for Q&A
(This event is $10.)

TUESDAY, APRIL 9 – 10 PM
FRIDAY, APRIL 12 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 13 – 10 PM
TUESDAY, APRIL 23 – 10 PM

ONLINE TICKETS
FACEBOOK EVENT

The latest – and, arguably, greatest – from Bilandic and his stable of collaborators is a downtown elegy dedicated to the nitehawks, weirdos, and recluses that haunt the shadier corners of our fair metropolis. Combining the director’s trademark satirical sensibility with a ticking-clock suspense story, JOBE’Z WORLD charts one night in the life of the titular rollerblading pill-slinger (Jason P. Grisell) and his beastin’ cadre of tough customers. Jobe’s otherwise average workday takes a turn for the bizarre with a special delivery for master thespian Royce David Leslie, a larger-than-life A-list star heartily portrayed by Theodore Bouloukos (recently anointed by New Yorker critic Richard Brody as “a secret weapon of independent cinema!”). After Leslie’s livestreamed drug overdose goes viral, Jobe takes to the streets, evading paparazzo and police with mercurial swiftness and an armload of disguises. Spacey, succinct, and side-splittingly hilarious, here’s a chance to see one of the year’s best.


HELLAWARE
dir. Michael M. Bilandic, 2013.
USA. 73 mins.

SATURDAY, APRIL 13 – 7:30 PM w/Mike Bilandic, Keith Poulson and others for Q&A
(This event is $10.)

THURSDAY, APRIL 11 – 10 PM
TUESDAY, APRIL 16 – 10 PM
TUESDAY, APRIL 23 – 7:30 PM

ONLINE TICKETS
FACEBOOK EVENT

Local heartthrob Keith Poulson stars as aspiring photographer Nate, whose disgust with – and desire for – art-–world legitimacy leads him down the darkest alleys of the world wide web and into the thick of rural America’s rap-rock scene. After a bro-y photoshoot with a group of teenaged, would-be Juggalos, Nate achieves meteoric success as a documentarian of backwoods subculture – but at what cost? The tenuous nature of “authenticity” and a wicked examination of the contemporary art industrial complex dog our hero’s journey from poseur hanger-on to enfant terrible. The sinister nature of his sudden success – like the subjects themselves – is a mere stepping stone, sending Nate and his pals hurtling toward a schadenfreude-laden conclusion that scratches every bitter itch.




HAPPY LIFE
dir. Michael M. Bilandic, 2009.
USA. 73 mins.

SATURDAY, APRIL 20 – 10PM w/Mike Bilandic & cinematographer Sean Price Williams and others for Q&A
(This event is $10.)

MONDAY, APRIL 8 – 10 PM
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25 – 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, APRIL 28 – 7:30 PM

ONLINE TICKETS
FACEBOOK EVENT

“Culture is like a pendulum… statistically, it’s going to swing back in my direction.”

Bilandic’s first feature outing is a portrait of the artist as an aging trance DJ that predates the inevitable revival of this head-crushing dance genre by a good decade. Released in 2009 to considerable acclaim – including glowing reviews from Variety and the New York Times – the swift and scrappy dark comedy follows schlubby record store proprietor/mixmaster Keith as he attempts to save his business from the gaping maw of hyper-gentrification. Shot on bleeding, beautiful digital video by cinematographer Sean Price Williams, and executive produced by Abel Ferrara, HAPPY LIFE is a film about nostalgia that, in the ten years since its release, has matured into a document of a recent past gone by.



MIKE MADNESS MIDNIGHT: A YOUTUBE JOURNEY
dir. The Internet, 1989 – ????
USA. ???? mins.

SATURDAY, APRIL 20 – MIDNITE
ONE NIGHT ONLY!

ONLINE TICKETS
FACEBOOK EVENT

In addition to being among New York’s Finest [Directors], Michael M. Bilandic is world-renowned for his abundant gifts as a champion YouTube surfer and found web art curator. Who knows what’s coming up in the rotation with MB in the driver’s seat? Satiate your rabid curiosity for a paltry $5!

RADICAL OBSERVATION: The Films of Kazuhiro Soda


It’s no secret that the last twenty years have seen an explosion in disorientingly slick and overproduced nonfiction cinema. All the more reason there’s something revelatory about the films of Kazuhiro Soda, who spent many years producing docs for NHK, the biggest broadcasting corporation in his native Japan, before becoming a one-man-crew to follow an old classmate running for local office in the classic CAMPAIGN (2007). Soda makes crucial decisions on the fly after winning the trust of the people he’s interviewing; when those arrangements threaten to encroach on the drama onscreen, the filmmaker never hides his role in the proceedings. A prolific author, citizen journalist and cat-lover, Soda is an utterly one-of-a-kind documentarian, celebrated at festivals and seminars worldwide in the decade since CAMPAIGN. This spring, in addition to multiple opportunities to see his breathtaking new INLAND SEA, Spectacle is honored to host the maverick documentarian for a two-month retrospective of Soda’s “observational films”, including his deep dive into the University of Michigan’s massive football stadium THE BIG HOUSE (made in collaboration with a class of undergraduates, when Soda was a visiting professor.) Soda is infamous for his “ten commandments” of documentary filmmaking, which are as follows:

1. No research.
2. No meetings with subjects.
3. No scripts.
4. Roll the camera yourself.
5. Shoot for as long as possible.
6. Cover small areas deeply.
7. Do not set up a theme or goal before editing.
8. No narration, super-imposed titles, or music.
9. Use long takes.
10. Pay for the production yourself.

“Soda’s habit of never showing his subjects in humiliating or overexposed positions is less a lapse of documentarian duty than a gesture of respect; tellingly, the two subjects whom Soda chooses to film despite their discomfort and protestations are career politicians he visibly doesn’t much respect (and even then, it’s only their public demonstrations he records). It might be more accurate, however, to label this trait as a therapeutic device: it’s because Soda’s subjects feel at ease with the filmmaker that they open up to the camera as trustingly, gratefully, and cathartically as they do. Decorousness is an unusual virtue to celebrate in an observational filmmaker, but then much about Soda is unusual. Some other documentary filmmakers equal Soda in keenness, intelligence, and wit, but few come off as so genuinely caring and kind, able to shift from observer to assuager with such beguiling grace.” – Max Nelson, Cinema Scope

Special thanks to Laboratory X Films, Rock Salt Releasing and MUBI.

( poster by Luke Alexander Atkinson )

INLAND SEA
(港町)
dir. Kazuhiro Soda, produced by Kiyoko Kashiwagi. 2018.
122 mins. Japan.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

SATURDAY, MARCH 2 – 7:30 PM – KAZUHIRO SODA AND KIYOKO KASHIWAGI IN PERSON!
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
(This event is $10.)

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SUNDAY, MARCH 3 – 5 PM
TUESDAY, MARCH 5 – 10 PM
TUESDAY, MARCH 12 – 7:30 PM
MONDAY, MARCH 25 – 10 PM

INLAND SEA is Soda’s first film in black-and-white since student days at the School of Visual Arts – an idea suggested by his longtime partner and producer Kiyoko Kashiwagi, whose mother is from Ushimado, the fishing town profiled onscreen. What began as a casual stopover while Soda was shooting his epic documentary OYSTER FACTORY (coming to Spectacle in April) grew into its own stirring meditation on nature, industry and loss; it’s also a rich look into the farming of fish, Ushimado’s main stock and trade. The archipelago is an example of Japan’s shift to metropolitan centers of industrial power, while the film’s elderly protagonists (but especially the 84-year-old Kumiko, a fiery-tongued villager who spends every day near the ocean) typify the country’s aging, marginalized population outside the big cities. Soda doesn’t skimp on the texture of their disappearing way of life, but as he said at the film’s world premiere at the 2018 Berlinale, “I don’t make films that can be reduced to a simple catchphrase.” INLAND SEA is a vision of documentary that’s clear yet contemplative, rigorously made yet almost drunk with the earthy poetry of the sleepy port village’s bygone years.

“The scene in which one of the subjects briefly takes over the film – bringing the camera with her to finally tell a story she probably had never told anyone – was so calmly stunning, raw, and emotional. It didn’t feel forced or manipulated. It just seemed like something very naturally walked into the filmmaking. It’s an art of documentary filmmaking… A subtly moving and breathtaking documentary.” – Bong-Joon Ho, filmmaker (OKJA, THE HOST, MOTHER)

“With its sensitive approach and gentle curiosity, INLAND SEA approaches a certain timelessness. The generous and emphatic engagement that emerges from the film is both moving and beautiful.” – Andréa Picard, Artistic Director of Cinéma du Réel

“Primarily a work of simple and unapologetic humanism, happily in love with people. In the second half, the emphasis shifts to local gossip, chatterbox and unofficial guide Kumiko, an octogenarian of child-like enthusiasms whose garrulousness evidently exerts a powerful spell over the director. The fact that she passed away in 2015 during the editing process — the shooting took place back in 2013 — perhaps helps to explain her increasing prominence as the film unfolds, with Wan-chan and Soda taking more of a back seat, the eponymous sea only intermittently visible.” – Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter





CAMPAIGN
(選挙)
dir. Kazuhiro Soda, production associate Kiyoko Kashiwagi. 2007
120 mins. Japan.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

SUNDAY, MARCH 24 – 5 PM – KAZUHIRO SODA AND KIYOKO KASHIWAGI IN PERSON!
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
(This event is $10.)

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Shot in just 12 days, Soda’s breakout observational doc (which later won him a Peabody Award) film follows Kazuhiko Yamauchi, a mild-mannered former classmate of the filmmaker’s, hand-picked by Japan’s long-entrenched Liberal Democratic Party to run for a vacant City Council seat in a Tokyo suburb. Yama-san’s lack of political experience or camera-ready charisma isn’t a total liability; his tactic of choice is “bowing to everybody, even to telephone poles”, while apparatchiks and spinmeisters from the corridors of power descend on Kawasaki to steer the process (including Japan’s former Prime Minister, the eternally suave Junichiro Koizumi.) Even though it’s all too real, CAMPAIGN one-ups the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest and Sacha Baron Cohen for its rib-bruising spotlight on the circus of local political theatre.

“Appreciation of this film hardly depends on an intimate knowledge of or interest in Japanese politics; the candidate and his prospective constituents don’t manifest much of either. Instead Mr. Soda uses tried-and-true fly-on-the-wall techniques to create a real-life satire. CAMPAIGN may invite a certain skepticism about democracy, but it will surely restore your faith in cinéma vérité.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times

MENTAL
(精神)
dir. Kazuhiro Soda, production associate Kiyoko Kashiwagi. 2008.
135 mins. Japan.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6 – 7:00 PM – KAZUHIRO SODA AND KIYOKO KASHIWAGI IN PERSON!
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
(This event is $10.)

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After being diagnosed with “burnout” at the end of too many grueling work weeks, Soda became fascinated by alternative means of mental health treatment. MENTAL is a portrait of an outpatient psychiatric clinic called Chorale Okayama, founded by one Dr. Masatomo Yamamoto – the protagonist of the film, an elderly doctor working for essentially nothing. Chorale Okayama serves people with incurable mental disorders, who Yamamoto essentially believes can be nevertheless helped by a sympathetic community of listeners.

Soda structured MENTAL so that viewers would will feel like they’re stepping into the clinic just like he did for the first time, unaware of what he would find. It’s not the easiest film in his body of work to watch but is nevertheless an act of courage, looking beyond what the filmmaker calls “the invisible curtain” that separates the well from the unwell (a questionable dichotomy to begin with.) As Soda speaks with Yamamoto’s patients about their lives, struggles, hallucinations and dreams, MENTAL becomes an extraordinary cross-examination of taboo in Japan, to say nothing of the accumulated costs of trauma and, finally, the documentary form’s inherent potential for compassion.


CAMPAIGN 2
(選挙2)
dir. Kazuhiro Soda, production associate Kiyoko Kashiwagi, 2013
145 mins. Japan.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

SUNDAY, MARCH 24 – 8 PM – KAZUHIRO SODA AND KIYOKO KASHIWAGI IN PERSON!
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
(This event is $10.)

ONLINE TICKETS
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Soda’s sequel to CAMPAIGN is another showcase of Yama-San’s dedication to politics, but also sees him taking on a more cohesive electoral persona: this time running against the Liberal Democratic Party machine that propelled him to victory years before, with a strong anti-nuclear agenda in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown. Even if CAMPAIGN 2 picks up where the pyrrhic victories of the first film left off, it also complicates its goofier image: as Soda profiles other Kawasaki residents, candidates and dealmakers, he also shows us how his own celebrity has grown following (and because of) the first CAMPAIGN. The result is an absorbing survey of the relationship between Japanese politics and society, and a self-reflexive question of the role played by public debate in shaping mores on the ground.

“With people fretting over heightened radiation levels, to eat and to breathe is a matter of life and death – and Soda’s efforts in recording the quotidian around him makes perfect sense, as he captures images of masked commuters on train platforms and on the streets, signage about electric conservation, or even children playing in a park, bereft of the fear their parents might feel. Though at times protracted and repetitive, it’s a process which keeps track of a certain point in time when politics and real life converge – or, as seen in CAMPAIGN 2, how a disconnect remains between the two.” – Clarence Tsui, The Hollywood Reporter


THE BIG HOUSE
dirs. Vesal Stoakley, Sean Moore, Sarika Tyagi, V. Prasad, Britty Bonine, Alex Brenner, Catie DeWitt, Dylan Hancook, Daniel Kahn, Rachael Kerr, Audrey Meyers, Hannah Noel, Jacob Rich, Kevin Tocco, 2018
directed and produced by Kazuhiro Soda, Markus Nornes, and Terri Sarris
119 mins. United States.
In English.WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27 – 7 PM – KAZUHIRO SODA IN PERSON!
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
(This event is $10.)

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THE BIG HOUSE is the result of an undergrad course taught by Soda at the University of Michigan in 2016, alongside professors Terri Sarris and Abé Markus Nornes. U Mich’s campus boasts the the single largest football stadium in the United States (capacity: 107,601), the eponymous “Big House”, so Soda challenged his young co-directors to stick as closely as possible to his Ten Commandments while capturing eye-of-the-storm footage across two different game days – resulting in perhaps the most durable testament to his custom-developed technique. Given the filmmakers’ freedom to roam, THE BIG HOUSE is a riveting and frequently hilarious all-you-can-eat buffet of direct cinema that focuses on “everything but the game”.

While the film was shot during the 2016 election season, Soda et al do not conjecture any easy diagnoses about conservative politics or Midwestern identity. Their reluctance to directly insert politics into a sports doc is palpable, while the concurrent spectacle of football and pageantry are nearly superceded by the massive logistical coordination that makes it all possible. These ins and outs become their own discrete narrative arcs; what exhilarates is coming up for air among the cheering hordes, the ambient satisfaction of picking out real-life details while being swept up in a much bigger wave.

“We are social animals, social creatures. Sometimes we cannot endure being alone, and being individual—we have this also. We are being constantly invited to fascism. And what you see in Michigan Stadium is a demonstration of that. It feels so good when you lose yourself and feel like you are a part of a larger something. If you’re rooting for your team and wearing the same colors and singing the same song at the same time with 100,000 people, you feel good! I felt good too. Although I’m not from Michigan, and I’m Japanese. But when I was there shooting, I felt so good. Which was very scary too (laughs). And I felt a desire inside of me, to be connected with everybody else and to be lost in this crowd, to be part of this huge creature. The problem is that politicians are trying to use that, use this tendency that we have.” – Kazuhiro Soda, interviewed in Shingetsu

BLUE GOD 1 & 2 by carl1


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20 – 7:30 PM w/ Special Q&A and discussion with director carl1 and DP Sean Dahlberg led by artist Alex Ito
THURSDAY, MARCH 21 – 10:00 PM

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BLUE GOD 1: INTO THE DIRT, PINK
dir. carl1, 2016.
USA/Taiwan, 32 min.

Two young girls engage in a metaphysical conversation on the rooftop of their school. Together, they decide they are unwilling to accept the expectations of adulthood, and vow to escape society altogether. Filmed by three collaborators during the summer of 2015 in Taipei and Southern Taiwan, Into the Dirt, Pink is the first of a two part series about the birth of Blue God.

BLUE GOD 2: MY LETTER TENDERLY
dir. carl1, 2018.
USA/Taiwan, 60 min.

In the second act, the protagonists enter a series of dream worlds and alternate dimensions. Within this, a hummingbird, a leaf dance. Two flowers strike a deal with the moon and sacrifice a chicken. When the girls reawaken, they find themselves in the presence of a blue god and tasked with a new everyday.

carl1 (b. 1991 Fremont, California) is an NYC-based artist that goes by many names. Their practice includes sculpture, film and poetry, and is frequently collaborative, fragmentary and ongoing.