April is the month at Northwest Film Forum I’m going to make sure I come myself, as we kick off four solid weeks of some of the finest international cinema of the year. As a curator, you rarely find yourself with such consecutive cinematic riches, and I know audiences get them even less frequently.
This Friday we’re showing Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a carefully controlled, beautifully photographed crime drama about police and prosecutors grimly locating a buried body during one long night in the Anatolian steppes. Much like the exquisite Silent Light, this film grabbed me from its very first image. Ceylan is a filmmaker whose work I’ve been following for a while, having screened two of his previous features. I keep trying to convince him to come to Seattle for a retrospective, so I hope we’ll be able to make that happen for his next picture.
Friday the 13th seems like an appropriate date to start the real-life terror lived out by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi in This is Not a Film. It is more of a cinematic object than a film, and is certainly one of the bravest works of cinema I’ve seen
In the movie, Panahi clandestinely (while banned from filmmaking for 20 years and being sentenced to six years in prison by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s draconian government) tries to explain the film he’d like to make, using a smuggled camera sent into his apartment. The cloak-and-dagger didn’t end inside his home: in order for this extraordinary document to find its way into world, colleagues of Panahi had to smuggle the sucker out in a cake! While there is deliciousness in the taste of this urgent work of art, the bitterness of a world-class filmmaker unable to fulfill his ambitions saturates the palette of the film with the grief of people subjugated by an oppressive regime. I left the cinema in tears and with a great appreciation that I can make the films I want to.
One of the legendary screenings in our recent history was Bela Tarr’s epic Satantango, complete with a Hungarian goulash intermission! The maestro returns to our screens (in what appears to be his final effort) with The Turin Horse. Tarr first heard about the horse in question in a story from 1889: the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stepped out of the house where he was staying in Turin in Italy and saw a coach driver mercilessly whipping his collapsed horse. Nietzsche rushed in to stop the violence and ended up sobbing with his arms wrapped around the animal’s neck. Taken back to his rooms he lay silent on his bed for two days, said a few words, and then didn’t speak again for the ten years until he died.
Tarr’s camera hones in on the horse of the story, running with it relentlessly, swinging alongside the travelers in the film, closing up to their faces blinded by the rain. It is life on celluloid and I’m extremely excited to share it with you.
Finally we have an important visitor arriving at the end of the month, all the way from Austria: Michael Glawogger, one of the most exciting documentary filmmakers working today. We’re bringing Glawogger to screen and talk about his astonishing globalization trilogy.
The films we’re presenting are collage-like compositions that offer fragments filmed in many parts of the world, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico. Glawogger poetically combines beautiful and crude subjects, breathtaking landscapes and life stories in his documentaries. Despite the themes he discusses, Glawogger claims that he is not interested in directing political films. There are no voice-overs or explanatory captions; instead the director depends on interesting compositions and angles of view for storytelling, capturing the colors and nuances of the world. Alongside Megacities and Workingman’s Death, we’re giving a week’s run to his most recent film Whores’ Glory (2011), a cinematic triptych on prostitution in the developing world.
While he’s in town, I also invited Glawogger to present a film that had greatly inspired him. So many of the filmmakers we bring are cinema lovers like we are, and this is a great opportunity to share their favorites with audiences! For your viewing pleasure, Glawogger chose Werner Herzog’s first-rate Fata Morgana. Filmed in a number of different places in Africa, including the Sahara Desert and Kenya, it creates a visual poem of an alien visit, by Herzog and the three members of his crew, showing scenes of (to them and likely to us) a mysterious, heretofore unknown world. We’ve brought the print, via Herzog’s brother Lucki, all the way from Germany, and I really hope you’ll enjoy this rare program.
Yes, world cinema is knocking at our doorsteps and demanding we open our eyes. Writ large on our screens throughout the month of April, I think it’s the month I most proud of in my entire career of film programming. You’ll find me at the cinema after many of the screenings, so stop by and say hello. I’d love to hear what you think.