Israeli film

Film for Art’s Sake

Jarvis Cocker singing “I’m Still Here” in Six By Sondheim, which will screen at the Film Art Series kickoff celebration on Sunday, November 2 at 1 p.m.

Jarvis Cocker singing “I’m Still Here” in Six By Sondheim, which will screen at the Film Art Series kickoff celebration on Sunday, November 2 at 1 p.m.

For the past nine years, Howard Karren has been programming a series of films on the outermost tip of Cape Cod. At first, the Film Art series was a program of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), but this year, PAAM has teamed up with the Provincetown Film Society to co-produce the series at the Waters Edge Cinema (237 Commercial St., 2nd Fl., Provincetown). The series kicks off this Sunday, November 2 at 1 p.m. with a benefit reception followed by a screening of Six by Sondheim, a film Karren says perfectly suits the concept of the series, which has always been to show films about art as well as showing films as art themselves.

“I focus on trying to pick titles that are not that familiar… I like to choose stuff that there’s a good chance the audience will not have seen. So there’s a real sense of discovery in that regard,” Karren explains over lunch in Orleans.

The full series schedule is divided into three distinct but related sections, running through May 2015. Karren says while having a thematic arrangement is a useful tool in the curating process, it is also more than that. Each section speaks to the other and someone who attends the full season, or several films from each section at least, can see how the films reflect upon each other and how the vibrant post-screening discussions illuminate shared themes among all of them.

“These folks are not shy about expressing themselves,” Karren says smiling. “It’s a little like a book club in that way. I give my point of view, but that’s really only one voice among many. The thing that excites me is people’s enthusiasm because for me the whole series is a way fro film to be taken serious as an art form. So that’s very gratifying.”

Karren began the series because he says he was “feeling kind of isolated” in his passion for film on Cape Cod, after having lived in New York, a great cinema city. Karren’s background includes studying film theory and semiotics at Brown University, obtaining an MFA in film from Columbia University, and an accomplished career in film journalism, writing for and editing at Premiere Magazine, People, and New York Magazine. In addition to curating the series and working as a consultant to the Waters Edge Cinema, he also writes a column for the Provincetown Banner and co-owns Alden Gallery in Provincetown.


Hadras Yaron in Fill the Void, which screens on Wednesday, November 5 at 7 p.m.

The first part of the series, called “Part I: Women Transcendent,” includes films with great female leads, ranging from the quiet, graceful style of Yasujiro Ozu’s Early Summer (1951) to the Israeli film Fill the Void (2012) by first-time filmmaker Rama Burshtein about a woman in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Speaking about Fill the Void, Karren says, “The performances [Burshtein] elicits do not feel like they’re in a first film. You would not know it’s a first film.” It was apparently a film that was hard to make for a whole host of reasons, but Karren says the results are extremely moving and explore “the torment of not fitting into the structures and the rules and boundaries for what women are supposed to do.”

The second section, “Part II: Outsiders,” is just as what it sounds like and includes Lindsay Anderson’s bizarre 1971 film O Lucky Man, starring Malcolm MacDowell, The Tin Drum (1979) by Volker Schondorff, and Jacques Tourneur‘s 1942 thriller Cat People, among others. And the series finishes with “Part III: Art in the Mirror,” a group of films about art and artists that reflect back on themselves.

“These three parts speak to one another,” Karren emphasizes. “They are united in exploring what it means to be a movie that is a work of art and dealing with the subjects of that in one way or another.”

All screenings are listed here on Cape Cod Film Society’s regular calendar of upcoming film events. Full details about the series selections and ticketing information can be found here. Consider purchasing a a full season pass, which not only gets you into all of these great film presentations and discussions, but also supports the continuation of the Film Art Series. Tickets to this Sunday’s kickoff celebration are $35.

Film Festival Forays

I have spent the greater part of the past month preparing for and then going to two very different film festivals. I’ve been to a number of festivals, as a filmmaker with films in them, as an audience, and more frequently, as press covering festivals like the Provincetown International Film Festival and the Woods Hole Film Festival. As odd as it seems, some people like film festivals for everything but the films themselves. They want to go to the parties and hob-knob with celebrities. They want to be the first to see this or that new film by the hottest new director. For me, it is the opposite; I generally avoid all the parties and I make my itinerary based on what looks like it might be somehow special. More and more festivals are becoming the only place to see truly unique films in theatrical exhibition. In some cases, the films I’ve seen have never become available online–not through streaming, on video, or in theaters–even though they were exceptional.

I go to festivals to find hidden gems: films that go their own way and pull us along on cinematic adventures.

This year I attended the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (April 16-27) as well as the much smaller Independent Film Festival Boston (IFF Boston) in Somerville, Mass. (April 23-30). Although it was literally impossible for me to see everything at either festival, there were several films that I did see that deserve to be highlighted here. The idea is that when they do open, as I hope they will, (whether theatrically or via some other means of exhibition), you’ll know something about them and check them out.



Below Dreams

Leann and Jayden Miller in "Below Dreams." Photographer: Milena Pastreich

Leann and Jayden Miller in “Below Dreams.” Photographer: Milena Pastreich

When you see a lot of movies, as I do, it is rare that a new film actually surprises you. I knew nothing abut anyone involved with the film Below Dreams and only saw it at Tribeca because the description was somewhat compelling and it fit neatly into my schedule. Writer/director Garrett Bradley gives us a portrait of New Orleans that centers on the struggles of twenty-somethings trying to move ahead with their lives, navigating around the obstacles of race and class, as well as the realities of having made poor choices. There is Leann, a single mother of four struggling to support her family while also pursuing dreams of becoming a model. There is Jamaine, a young ex-con trying to reintegrate himself into society and find legitimate work, a process which means making visible changes. And finally, there is Elliot, a young man who has come to New Orleans from New York City searching for a girl and perhaps something else. Each of the three characters feels real and in fact, Bradley found these actors by posting casting calls on Craigslist–not looking so much for trained actors but for people whose lives mirrored those of the characters she’d created. But while Below Dreams is more character study than action-based narrative, it is not only the characters that draw you in. Bradley’s approach to filmmaking blends  an evocative soundtrack and poetic imagery with the hard edge of reality. The result is a moving portrait of youth that runs in stark contrast to the usual picture of this age group as vacuous and technology-obsessed. It’s also a film that deserves a big screen experience, so hopefully we will see it in theaters soon. Below Dreams is yet another bold new film that, along with Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin, reveals a cinematic revolution happening in New Orleans.


The Foreign Film Series Kicks Off January 28

When I first moved to the Cape, the discovery of Cape Cod Community College’s Foreign Film Series was a great coup for someone suffering cinema withdrawal after leaving one of the world’s great film communities – New York City – for an extraordinarily beautiful place that lacked enthusiasm for movies.

The series is a free program offered by the Department of Languages and Literature, so it’s somewhat surprising that the majority of films scheduled for this spring’s season are English-language films. Of the 13 weekly selections, 7 are in English, including 4 that are actually U.S. productions. Now, as I said, I am happy there is such a series here on the Cape, and I have included the entire schedule in my online calendar since it is the mission of the Cape Cod Film Society to advance film appreciation in this region, but it would seem the series programmer could use a reminder as to the need for foreign-language films to be shown theatrically here.

Be that as it may, there are some great films on the schedule. Most notably, Ingmar Bergman’s classic film Wild Strawberries (1957) is showing on Tuesday, April 1st. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to this film in high school, which I’m sure is a rare experience because the film’s themes and its formal approach differ strongly from what an American teenager would be used to. And yet this is a great example of the power of cinema: how a film can bring us to understand something outside our own lived experiences and make us better people. In Bergman’s film, an aging professor has a kind of existential crisis as he looks back on his life. The surreal dream sequences and a maddeningly quiet sound design, as well as masterful performances by Victor Sjostrom and Bibi Andersson make this one of Bergman’s finest films. It is also one of the first of his features to be shown and appreciated on the U.S.’s burgeoning arthouse film circuit of the late 1950s. Put this one on your calendar to see.

The second film that I would love to revisit is Venus, which features Peter O’Toole in one of his last starring roles. Again, the film deals with aging, but it does so in such a beautiful way, never reducing its main character to tired stereotypes, which in this culture vacillate between old fools and wise souls. O’Toole plays Maurice, a septuagenarian actor who is still very much a man in that he appreciates beautiful women and doesn’t always think with his brain. O’Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for that performance, but lost to Forest Whitaker, who also did an incredible job portraying Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

There are also a couple of films I haven’t seen, like the Turkish feature Watchtower, directed by Pelin Esmer, showing on March 11th, and the week before that, Off White Lies, an Israeli film directed by Maya Kenig. Both of these look promising as well.

It’s cold outside and probably will be for a while, so check out some of these films at CCCC. All films start at 3:30 p.m. and screen in Lecture Hall A in the Science Building at Cape Cod Community College, 2240 Iyanough Rd., W. Barnstable (Exit 6 off of Rte. 6). Parking is available in lots 5, 6, & 7 at CCCC. For more information call 508.362.2131 ext. 4453.