These three documentaries by Chantal Akerman form a part of her loosely defined “directional” series; films with titles denoting direction and dealing with subjects of borders and displacement. This month, thanks to Icarus Films, we are excited to present the first three films of the series: FROM THE EAST (1993), SOUTH (1999) and FROM THE OTHER SIDE (2002).

Don’t wait for the next shot; the next shot will happen. – Chantal Akerman

dest_banner FROM THE EAST
aka D’Est
Dir. Chantal Akerman, 1993
France/Belgium, 110 min.


Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and “before it was too late”, Chantal Akerman made a journey from East Germany in late summer, across Poland and the Baltics, to deepest winter in Moscow, “filming everything that touched me”. Tracking across city streets, landscapes, and faces, the film also takes us inside the private spaces of the countries’ inhabitants, where they peel potatoes, watch old TVs or stoically stare down the camera.

Akerman takes satisfaction in the demanding nature of her films. Most directors feel complimented, she has said, when viewers say they are not aware of passing time: “But with me, you see the time pass. And you feel it pass. You sense that this is time that leads towards death… I’ve taken two hours of [your] life.” – Film Comment

While taking a minimalist approach to its form, FROM THE EAST is rich in content, with fascinatingly culturally specific settings, music and images creating an entertainingly retro and unexpectedly moving experience.

South_banner1 SOUTH
aka Sud
Dir. Chantal Akerman, 1999
France/Belgium, 70 min.
In English.

MONDAY, MARCH 17 – 10:00 PM

Chantal Akerman originally planned to make a meditative film on the American South. On June 7th, 1998 in Jasper, Texas, only days before filming began, James Byrd, Jr., a black man aged 49 was brutally murdered by three white men. Byrd, after being severely beaten, was chained to the back of a pickup and dragged three miles down an asphalt road. What was left of his body was dumped in front of a black cemetery.

SOUTH is a quiet portrait of the town of Jasper and its residents. Rather than focusing on the aftermath of the killing on national politics or the murderers themselves, Akerman centers on the environment of Jasper and the people affected by Byrd’s death. Akerman was allowed to film Byrd’s funeral and the ceremony is a considerable segment of the film.

Akerman writes, “How does the southern silence become so heavy and so menacing so suddenly? How do the trees and the whole natural environment evoke so intensely death, blood, and the weight of history? How does the present call up the past? And how does this past, with a mere gesture or a simple regard, haunt and torment you as you wander along an empty cotton field, or a dusty country road?”

SOUTH is constructed of static shots and long pans along country roads interspersed with interviews with townspeople. The structure of the interviews feel somewhat naïve if one were to focus more acutely on the politics of the racially motivated murder. Through what could have been a lack of probing, the interviewees talk uncomfortably around issues, and Akermans’ concern with not interfering obstructs deeper analysis.

Nonetheless, Akerman is a tourist and an outsider, and she seems aware of this. SOUTH could be considered a contribution to a cinema, including Alain Resnais’ fictional HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR or Alexander Kluge’s BRUTALITY IN STONE, that attempts to recognize human suffering while being critical of its representation. Though, as a documentary, the film raises slightly different questions. Is it possible in documentary to construct representations of someone’s pain, and if so, is this ethical?

ftos_banner1 FROM THE OTHER SIDE
aka De l’autre côté
Dir. Chantal Akerman, 2002
France/Belgium/Australia/Finland, 99 min.
In English, Spanish and French with English subtitles.

MONDAY, MARCH 17 – 7:30 PM

FROM THE OTHER SIDE looks at the situation of Mexican immigrants at the border between Agua Prieta, a Mexican border town in the state of Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona, the city on the other side. The first half of the film is set in Mexico. Between static and tracking shots of desert landscapes and the border wall, Akerman interviews people who plan to or have attempted to cross the desert into the US, including a young boy in an orphanage. She quietly interviews an older couple whose son died in the desert when his group lost their way.

Similar in structure to her earlier film SOUTH, and stylistically reminiscent to FROM THE EAST, FROM THE OTHER SIDE feels perhaps the most active. By physically crossing the border and filming on both sides, we experience Akerman’s and our own ease of travel between, as well as witness the shift into the militaristic and racially skewed reality existing in Douglas, Arizona. While in Douglas, Akerman interviews a Mexican consulate, the sheriff and paranoid white locals.

Through Akermans’ signature steady gaze, she “insists” – we have no choice but to look, think, settle into the image, and to let the image settle in; in a way the length of the shots summon respect for the person on the screen. In one scene, per his request, a man reads a pained statement among his traveling companions in a cafeteria. He tells us why his group is migrating and what the journey has been like for them. Akerman says, “You have to be really like a sponge when you make a documentary.” FROM THE OTHER SIDE urges the viewer to be porous.



Dir. Martina Kudláček, 2006
USA, 97 min.

Screening with ARABESQUE FOR KENNETH ANGER (Marie Menken, 1961, 5 min.)

SUNDAY, MARCH 16 – 5:00 PM
FRIDAY, MARCH 28 – 7:30 PM

Special thanks to Icarus Films.

Martina Kudlácek, director of the critically acclaimed IN THE MIRROR OF MAYA DEREN brings us the story of Marie Menken (1909-1970), one of New York’s outstanding underground filmmakers, who inspired and worked with renowned artists Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger and Gerard Malanga, and became known as “the mother of the avant-garde.”

Originally an abstract painter and collage artist, Menken produced nearly two dozen experimental shorts, gracefully using a hand-held Bolex camera to create rhythmic patterns of light, color, form and texture, and compose exquisite visual poems. Rich in excerpts of Menken’s work, the film also features the rare and fascinating footage of “The Duel of the Bolexes” she conducted with Andy Warhol on a New York rooftop.

The large, loud and tempestuous Menken, whose volatile relationship with husband Willard Maas reportedly inspired Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, became a Warhol superstar making memorable appearances in THE LIFE OF JUANITA CASTRO and THE CHELSEA GIRLS.

Featuring interviews with Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Gerard Malanga, Peter Kubelka, Alfred Leslie, Billy Name, and THE CHELSEA GIRLS star Mary Woronov, and music by John Zorn.

Text courtesy of Icarus Films.



Dir: Anand Patwardhan, 1994.
133 min. India.


Presented in partnership with Icarus Films, a distributor of innovative and provocative documentary films from independent producers around the world. Description courtesy of Icarus Films.

In the politically polarized world, universal ideals are rare. In India, as in many regions, the vacuum is filled by religious zealousness. Minorities are scapegoats of every calamity as nations subdivide into religious and ethnic zones, each seemingly eager to annihilate the others, or to extinguish itself on the altar of martyrdom.

But why? FATHER, SON AND HOLY WAR explores in two parts the possibility that the psychology of violence against “the other” may lie in male insecurity, itself an inevitable product of the very construction of “manhood.”


TRIAL BY FIRE, a reference to the ordeal Hindu god-king Lord Rama tested his wife Sita’s fidelity with, looks at the communal fires which have consumed India in recent years. “Sati,” a rite by which Roop Kanwar was thrown on her husband’s funeral pyre; the upper castes’ “purifying” fire rituals and the communal fires that ravaged Bombay after the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya are set against a small group of fire fighters: a Rajasthani woman who, against the odds, condemns Sati; a Muslim woman who battles gender discriminatory laws; and a band of Hindus and Muslims who march for communal harmony in the riot-torn streets of Bombay.


HERO PHARMACY examines “manhood” in the context of religious strife. The Hindu majority has been raised on stories of marauding Muslim invaders who raped their women, destroyed their temples, and forced religious conversions. Today, some Hindus demand revenge for crimes committed centuries ago. They reject non-violence as impotence and set out to be “real men.”

In this context, the Muslim minority – despite fears of genocide – will not take things lying down. They too are driven by the imperative to be “real men.” The result is carnage.

Is violence inherent in the human condition? Historically, people have co-existed for over 50,000 years in relative harmony. Wars began less than 5,000 years ago. But today the “macho” man rules in every land. Where do we go from here?

“Rampant machismo is never a pretty sight, and this two-part video contains a lot of excruciating imagery and some brutal truths: these are not pretty pictures… For showing to courses on current Indian politics, on religion and ethnicity, on women’s issues, the sociology of violence, or popular culture, FATHER, SON AND HOLY WAR is powerful stuff, but the faint of heart should be forewarned of its harrowing content.”—Gail Minault, Journal of Asian Studies

“FATHER, SON AND HOLY WAR, through a careful layering of images, views and counter-views takes you far beyond the generally superficial vision of Indian politics that the standard television documentary delivers.”—Pervaiz Khan, London Film Festival

Spirit of Freedom Prize Winner, 1995 Jerusalem Film Festival
Best Investigative Documentary, 1995 National Awards (India)
Special Jury Prize Winner, 1995 Bombay Film Festival
Special Jury Prize Winner, 1995 Yamagata Documentary Film Festival
1995 Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Special Jury Prize Winner, 1994 Vancouver Film Festival



Dir: Travis Wilkerson, 2002.
53 min. USA.

MONDAY, JULY 1 – 10:00 PM
SUNDAY, JULY 21 – 10:00 PM

Courtesy of Icarus Films

AN INJURY TO ONE provides a corrective—and absolutely compelling—glimpse of a particularly volatile moment in early 20th century American labor history: the rise and fall of Butte, Montana. Specifically, it chronicles the mysterious death of Wobbly organizer Frank Little, a story whose grisly details have taken on a legendary status in the state. Much of the extant evidence is inscribed upon the landscape of Butte and its surroundings. Thus, a connection is drawn between the unsolved murder of Little, and the attempted murder of the town itself.

Butte’s history was entirely shaped by its exploitation by the Anaconda Mining Company, which, at the height of WWI, produced ten percent of the world’s copper from the town’s depths. War profiteering and the company’s extreme indifference to the safety of its employees (mortality rates in the mines were higher than in the trenches of Europe) led to Little’s arrival. “The agitator” found in the desperate, agonized miners overwhelming support for his ideas, which included the abolishment of the wage system and the establishment of a socialist commonwealth.

In August 1917, Little was abducted by still-unknown assailants who hung him from a railroad bridge. Pinned to his chest was a note that read 3′-7′-77″, dimensions of a Montana grave. Eight thousand people attended his funeral, the largest in Butte’s history.

The murder provides AN INJURY TO ONE with a taut, suspenseful narrative, but it isn’t the only story. Butte’s history is bound with the entire history of the American left, the rise of McCarthyism, the destruction of the environment, and even the birth of the detective novel. Former Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett was rumored to have been involved in the murder, and later depicted it in Red Harvest.

Archival footage mixes with deftly deployed intertitles, while the lyrics to traditional mining songs are accompanied by music from William Oldham, Jim O’Rourke, and the band Low, producing an appropriately moody, effulgent, and strangely out-of-time soundtrack. The result is a unique film/video hybrid that combines painterly images, incisive writing, and a bold graphic sensibility to produce an articulate example of the aesthetic and political possibilities offered by filmmaking in the digital age. [ICARUS FILMS]

“One of American independent cinema’s great achievements of the past decade.” —Dennis Lim, Los Angeles Times

“An astonishing document: part art and part speculative inquiry, buzzing with ambition and dedication. Takes us from the 19th century to the eve of the 21st, from Butte as land of frontier promise to Butte as land of death and environmental destruction. He wields avant-garde graphics and archival ephemera like a lasso, and his shots of modern-day Butte are allusive still-lifes that defy time and place. This is stirring, must-see stuff.”—Austin Chronicle

“A deft, ambitious exercise in old-school socialist agitprop crafted with the precise mulitmedia flair of a corporate Powerpoint presentation, Travis Wilkerson’s AN INJURY TO ONE retells the gritty class struggles of the previous century through smoothly contemporary digital means.”—The Village Voice

“The most exciting documentary of the season. Passionate, persuasive, and beautifully designed, AN INJURY TO ONE is a model of coherent political filmmaking as convincing in its liberalism as its formalism.”—The New York Sun

“Wilkerson’s austere technique radically responds to the paucity of contemporaneous documentary accounts, performing a powerful act of historical archaeology and reclaiming for the working class its status as subject, not a footnote, of historical events. Wilkerson makes these ghostly historical agents palpable and vocal, asserting the relevance of their story to struggles of today and tomorrow.” —Sundance Film Festival



(aka D’Est)
Dir: Chantal Akermam, 1993.
110 min. France.
In French with English Subtitles.

Presented with Icarus Films


From footage gathered in the course of her travels throughout the former eastern bloc, Akerman created FROM THE EAST (D’Est), a still, solemn depiction of the twilight of Soviet society. The film’s pace and rhythm carry a unique message about a way of life that is now lost. By stepping away from the large political narratives of the Cold War and relying solely on the power of images and sequences, she created a film that will forever serve as the antibody to all easy generalizations about communist society.




Dir: Wolter Braamhorst & Guus van Waveren, 1998.
USA. 46 min.

TUESDAY, MAY 7 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, MAY 24 – 10:00 PM

Ducktators is a unique look at the use of cartoons during World War II.

American propaganda during the war had to obey one golden rule: it had to be entertaining. Cartoons proved to be an excellent way to deliver propagandistic and educational ideas in a seemingly innocuous manner to the general public and armed forces alike. Ducktators not only offers a rare glimpse at forgotten cartoon material from this moment in history, but goes further to reveal insights about the psyche of the public at that time.

The film blends documentary war footage with animated material and music from the period. The attack on Pearl Harbor, for instance, is intertwined with a Japanese cartoon about the attack. As the 1940s was the period during which the American cinema was most heavily attended, the screening of these cartoons every week guaranteed that most Americans would be exposed to the messages.

Among those interviewed in the film are Sody and Bob Clampett, the wife and son of animator Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones.

“Legendary animator Chuck Jones, together with the wife and son of cartoonist Bob Clampett, plus historians and scholars discuss these extensively excerpted works as seen in their proper context.” – Booklist

Description courtesy of Icarus Films.


Dir: Jiayin Liu, 2009.
132 min. China.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Special thanks to Icarus Films

Also featured as part of Big Shot Movie Club‘s How To… April series


In Oxhide II, a family sits together at the table making dumplings. The repeated movements and collective concentration are mesmerizing as the action unfolds in real time. A static camera cuts only eight times, moving around the table in forty five degree angle intervals, giving new perspective to the landscape of knives, vegetables, bowls and busy fingers that inhabit the exaggerated wide screen. A mother, father, and daughter (played by director Jiayin Liu and her parents) adeptly prepare the filling and stuff the dumplings over the course of more than two hours.

Through the mundane and understated, the intricacies of a family dynamic become apparent resulting in a meticulously formalist film that is also surprisingly warm and personal.

“Oxhide II is unpretentiously inventive, quietly virtuosic.” -David Bordwell

“A direct, honest, miniature epic.” -Daniel Kasman, MUBI Notebook