film March 31, 2015 By Emma Anderson

Scene from Sembene!

Scene from Sembene!

sembene title1 Sembene!

Sembene! is a poetic documentary woven together through the perspective of narrator Samba Gadjigo, a Professor of African studies at Mt. Holyoke College and author of previous works about the life of Ousmane Sembene. Described as the father of African cinema, Sembene was the first director to create films of his countrymen with “their own identity, their own culture”, says Gadjigo, in contrast to previous depictions that created caricatures of the African identity. Senegalese-born and now American-based, Samba Gadjigo’s life was utterly inspired and driven by Ousmane Sembene’s representation of Africans, and through this film he navigates that admiration and understanding of the artist’s voice along with the wider historical importance of his work.

When Sembene returned to Senegal after an important time of artistic growth and education while working on the docks in Marseille, he had a clear vision to create work that gave his peers a voice to challenge a system designed to suppress. With no formal cinematic training, no budget, no precedent or context within which his work could be viewed, Semebene made art that was empowering to Africans such as Gadjigo, that challenged the political system and critiqued the social class.

Watch the video here.


film March 25, 2015 By Sophie Mollart

Wim Wenders and Sebastãio Salgado

Wim Wenders and Sebastãio Salgado

wenders header Salgado + Wenders
Filmmaker Wim Wenders returns this month with his Oscar-nominated documentary The Salt of the Earth, a striking exploration of the work of Brazilian photographer Sebastãio Salgado. In a directorial collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, Wenders accompanied the photographer across the globe, from the remote Siberian North to the desert plains of Namibia. Revered for his austere and haunting images, Salgado emerged in 1980s with striking portraits of migrant laborers; his work traces some of the most severe machinations of modern history – from the Rwandan genocide to the refugee crisis endemic across much of the Middle East.

Wenders was a long-time admirer of Salgado’s photographs and they struck up an easy friendship; he describes Salgado as a natural lover of people, who entirely immerses himself into the stories of his subjects: “I would walk with him through the city, and see him meet people he’d never met before, and two minutes later he’d have this closeness with them. It’s something in the optimism of his looking – he puts himself on the same level as other people, and that’s a rare gift. Most photographers want to have distance. He always goes close, his photography is never on a long lens, he’s always in the middle of things, never in the corner of the room.”

Salgado’s son Juliano echoes Wenders statements, describing his father’s ability to create effortless bonds: “One of the things that surprised me when we traveled together was how quickly he can establish a bond with someone who’s a complete stranger to him.

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film December 4, 2014 By Sarah Coleman

Susan Sontag. Photo: New York Times Co./Archive Photos/Getty/Courtesy of HBO

Susan Sontag. Photo: New York Times Co./Archive Photos/Getty/Courtesy of HBO

sontag header Regarding Susan Sontag
What has happened to the public intellectual? When Susan Sontag died in 2004, after losing her third battle with cancer, it seemed as though not only a majestic woman but a twentieth century tradition had died. Who in public life now has Sontag’s uncompromising verve, her endless curiosity, her willingness to plunge headlong into both intellectual theory and artistic practice?

Granted, during her lifetime Sontag could be the butt of jokes—and she could also be a bit of a pain. Her name was often invoked as a byword for “something intellectual you probably don’t understand,” used in movies from Bull Durham to Gremlins 2. She was tone-deaf after 9/11, insisting the hijackers had legitimate cause. Even the writer Wayne Koestenbaum, one of her most ardent fans, admits that “she represents grandiosity, I think, and it is a little comic…because it seems a bit of a pose.”

That quote, and many other revealing ones about Sontag, occur in Nancy Kates’ fascinating HBO documentary Regarding Susan Sontag (debuting Monday December 8), where we find out a lot about Sontag as both public figure and private individual. We learn about her huge intellectual appetite, her ambivalence about being gay and Jewish, and the beauty that made everyone from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Andy Warhol want to photograph her.

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film January 22, 2014 By Sophie Mollart

From Godfrey Reggio’s <em>VISITORS</em>. Courtesy of: Cinedigm

From Godfrey Reggio’s VISITORS. Courtesy of: Cinedigm

visitors header2 Godfrey Reggio
Featuring a stream of up-close human faces (and one preternaturally inquisitive gorilla), against a stark black backdrop, Godfrey Reggio’s striking, trancelike new feature is in some sense a continuation of his Qatsi trilogy: Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). Spearheaded by Reggio, an indisputable cine-poet, in collaboration with the venerable avant-garde composer Philip Glass, it brings to mind the undeniable power of an unremitting gaze.

Glass’s unmistakable score serves as something far beyond the emotional punctuation we’ve come to expect from film music, instead providing a sparring partner to the images that Reggio describes as a kind of dance. “He’s writing a full symphonic score that covers the entire length and breadth of the film; Philip in effect provides the emotive narrative. His music doesn’t illustrate the image while its proceeding on a separate track – its like a dance partner, each partner has to create their own individuality, but together they make the trot, you can’t do one without the other.”

Their collaboration dates back to late-seventies, when Reggio was intent on pursuing the then little-known Glass to score his debut feature, Koyaanisqatsi. “He was a genius in my opinion, but he wasn’t acknowledged or accepted at that point. His music is polyrhythmic, it doesn’t illustrate anything, and it’s totally cinematic, you almost can’t miss how to edit it.

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Greenspace, film March 6, 2013 By Jordan Sayle

The Cuyahoga River on fire/First Run Features

The Cuyahoga River on fire/First Run Features

title97 Setting the World Ablaze

A warming climate isn’t the only source of heat these days. There is, in fact, another source of burning intensity. Organized groups of protesters amped up the temperature in their own fashion by taking to the nation’s capitol in a recent display of opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. As clarion calls to address climate change spread, it’s worth remembering that demonstrations and fights of resistance have stoked the environmental movement since its inception. These measures have succeeded in numerous cases throughout the years to protect communities from exposure to hazardous waste and to save endangered species or threatened ecosystems.

The ferocious fire that inspired the name of Mark Kitchell’s new documentary isn’t the sooty, pollution-fueling combustion of coal or the burning of rainforests. A Fierce Green Fire, now in limited release, is named rather for the life-sustaining inner flame that the conservationist Aldo Leopold once observed in the eyes of a dying wolf and for the corresponding zeal that has fueled the efforts of environmentalists for nearly five decades. The very same passion that was on display last month in Washington has fed the movement for generations through often bitter fights and against long odds.

In the time since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published and the Sierra Club was victorious in blocking the construction of dams in the Grand Canyon, activists have been busy responding to an evolving set of practices that threaten our land, wildlife, water, and air.

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Book, Features, Greenspace, film November 15, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

<em>The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History</em>/Chronicle Books/Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX

The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History/Chronicle Books. Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX.

dustbowlheader The Dust Bowl
The southern portion of the Great Plains was especially hard-hit during the Great Depression. Along with financial hardship, an environmental catastrophe of biblical proportions hung like a black cloud over the region. Severe drought in areas where the farmland had been overextended led in many cases to the drying up of an entire way of life and every conceivable thing around it. The Dust Bowl now gets the Ken Burns treatment with a new PBS documentary and an accompanying book. Burns and his collaborator, the producer and writer Dayton Duncan, consider this seminal event to be “the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history.” At a time when numerous other events are giving the Dust Bowl a run for its money in that distinction, Mr. Duncan spoke to PLANET about the lessons worth learning from this chapter in our past.
Can you describe your working relationship with Ken Burns and how you arrive upon chapters in American history that you decide to explore?

We’re both drawn to topics that are uniquely or quintessentially American. I have the best job in the world, because the films that I write and produce are about topics that I’ve suggested, from The West and Lewis and Clark to The National Parks and The Dust Bowl. I have a great interest in the connection between our land and our people, and how that interplay has affected our nation’s history.

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film November 13, 2012 By Chloe Eichler

postop115 DOC NYCdocnyc header DOC NYC
Now in its third year, the IFC Center’s DOC NYC is one of the most consistently absorbing and downright important showcases for documentary film. The buzziest entries this year are The Central Park Five, Ken Burns’ look at the 1989 “crime of the century” rape, and Alison Klayman’s portrait of Ai Weiwei, which PLANET profiled here. But the best thing about DOC NYC is its knack for finding lesser-known gems. The festival ends this Thursday, but there are still five standout films that are screening—some more than once—over the next few days.

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Fashion, film September 20, 2012 By Aiya Ono

Shirt by A. Sauvage

Shirt by A. Sauvage

ASAUVAGEHeader A. Sauvage
Few fashion houses have a a mantra like D.E.– Dress Easy, and a film showcased at the Sundance Film Festival.. The orchestrator behind it all: Adrien Sauvage, founder of the House of A. Sauvage. In 2011, Sundance film Festival showcased This is Not A Suit, a sort of existential enquiry about the designer and his collection, reminiscent of Absurdist plays such as those by Samuel Beckett. The film features Sauvage in a room in solitude, as a voice over explains,“the art of D.E.”

The film is also the title of an ongoing project that involves Sauvage dressing those close to his heart–from filmmakers and musicians like Spike Jonze, Terry Gilliam, and Eliot Sumner, to sports veterans like Sauvage himself, who was a professional basketball player during his youth. Changing focus from sports to the art of Savile Row at 20, every representation of Sauvage’s brand is striking. His methodology of creating suits according to activity (for example, what is the perfect suit for grabbing a cup of coffee?), the presentation of his collection, both still and in motion, and the words used to string all elements together–Sauvage is a creator who knows what he’s doing and it comes through in everything he does. Sauvage’s aim is to create a timeless existence, unconfined by seasons and trends. As the voice over states in This is Not A Suit, Sauvage indeed “constructs his own time” and this is what makes his brand so seductive.


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Art, film June 15, 2012 By Sophie Mollart

Marina Abramović. Photo Credit: David Smoler

Marina Abramović. Photo Credit: David Smoler

header14 The Artist Is Present
Over the stretch of her thirty-year tenure as performance art’s matriarch, Marina Abramovic has unceasingly pushed the boundaries of the corporeal. In the Spring of 2010, the Museum of Modern Art housed a retrospective of her performances to date, as a troupe of young artists re-enacted highlights of her earlier work. The centerpiece of the show, The Artist is Present, is explored this month in a new documentary. Evolving from a previous performance – Nightsea Crossing – in which she and Ulay, her former lover and collaborator, would sit silently, eye to eye, hour upon hour. This time, Ulay was to be replaced by whoever should wish to partake, as the audience was invited to silently commune with Abramovic for the duration of their choosing.

Filmmaker Matthew Akers originally approached the prospect of filming Abramovic with a healthy skepticism: “I had been to school for sculpture and I’d never witnessed great performance art so I was suspicious. When I met her she was incredibly charming, we hit it off right away, but I told her, if we do this, you can’t have any editorial control, that means if I find out stuff that’s less flattering to you, you’re going to have to let me use that. She said – listen little baby – she calls everyone little baby – you can have total control, I’ll give you the keys to my apartment, don’t worry – and about a week later she gave me the keys to her apartment.”

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film May 9, 2012 By Sophie Mollart

<em>Patience (After Sebald)</em> screening at Film Forum from May 9

Patience (After Sebald) screening at Film Forum from May 9

patienceheader Patience
It has been suggested that the Rings of Saturn – fragments of dust, ice crystals and meteoric debris that rotate the sixth planet from the sun – once formed a moon that wandered into the planet’s gravitational pull, was shattered by its tidal effect, and set consequentially into a perpetual orbit.

German-born writer W.G. Sebald’s most well known work follows a similar course – an accumulation of dispersed fragments, a spiritual homelessness that accompanies his pursuit for the location of the self in space. Transplanted to the east coast of England in 1970 – it was in the Suffolk countryside where Sebald formed his work of meandering, elliptical power.

Documentary filmmaker Grant Gee, best known for his film Joy Division, celebrates Sebald’s journey in his new work Patience (After Sebald). “In Sebald’s book Austerlitz, a character compiles old family photographs, images of places and locations in his past, in the hope of unlocking the secret of his trauma. He does this playing a game of patience – or solitaire, in English. I connected to that idea, using structure and montage in order to unlock something.’’

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