Series Preview: Art Of The Real Tests The Boundaries Of Documentary Filmmaking

Featured Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)
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Film Society of Lincoln Center's inaugural film series Art of the Real - a showcase for nonfiction films that pushes the farthest boundaries of documentary filmmaking, is for me, one of the most exciting film series I have had the privilege to be part of, even by New York standards.

It's only been the last couple of years that I've been writing about film seriously, realizing that the medium can go much further than just mere entertainment and that freeing from the dominant narrative structure can be exhilarating.

What started out as a simple question that if there was an adequate name to describe the current crop of shape-shifting postmodern cinema pulled me into the very depth of the cinematic rabbit hole, left me exhausted and confused and exhilarated at the same time. As I was reminded watching Film Socialisme (Godard), Sans Soleil (Marker), Fontainhas Trilogy (Costa), Koker Trilogy (Kiarostami), Tren de Sombras (Guerín), Tabu (Gomes), A Man Vanishes (Imamura), and Two Years at Sea (Rivers) that I am just scratching the surface of this great artistic medium. At the same time, I feel glad and relieved that there is so much more to explore.

It was Lucien Castraing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's Leviathan screening at New York Film Festival in 2012 where everything clicked for me. Watching the film I noticed French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux, whose visceral art films happen to be some of my very favorite film watching experiences, sitting in the audience. Castraing-Taylor and Paravel turned out to be good friends of Grandrieux. And the subsequent discussion I had with Castraing-Taylor and Paravel (my interview here) reaffirmed for me that there could be much more to film as an art form than a mere telling of story with moving pictures.

Curated by Dennis Lim and Racheal Rakes, and presented in collaboration with the 2014 Whitney Biennial, along with the focus on the Sensory Ethnography Lab, I have no doubt Art of the Real's enthralling lineup will delight serious, adventurous film lovers' senses and help expand their minds.

The series include last year's festival favorite Manakamana (read Kurt's review from TIFF here), works by renowned experimental filmmakers/documentarians - Thom Andersen, Harun Farocki, Robert Gardener, Alain Cavalier, Raymond Depardon, James Benning and more.

The series runs April 11 - 26. For tickets and more information, please visit Film Society of Lincoln Center website.

Read on for some personal highlights from the series (with an assist by Ben Umstead)

Benjamin Umstead contributed to this story.


A girl narrator, the friend of a 13-year old Filipino boy named Lukas, whispers to him softly and gives a loose, elliptical narrative to this all together dreamlike, strange film. The narrator tells him that it's the beginning of the film and he doesn't know it yet, but he will fall in love with an actress later in the film. One night, Lukas is told that his father is tikbalang (half-man, half-horse). In turn, his father abandons his family and disappears across the river. There is a film crew in town, casting roles and everyone in town is in a buzz. So goes Lukas the Strange - part documentary, part narrative, part free-association visual essay, part...

Lukas thinks he inherited some super powers and needs to test his abilities. He can run fast, he can jump high. He is bullet proof and has scars to prove it. Meanwhile, his father has settled in a neighboring town. He earned a scar when he crossed the river but left his memories behind. The river has magical powers like that. There are videotapes that the narrator girl collected from the river. It contains grainly black and white footage of the actress the narrator talked about in the beginning. Lukas watches and falls in love (at least he tries to masturbate to it).

Shot on 35mm in full frame format, the rural Philippines in rainy season has never been more beautiful. The faces of none actors with out of synch sound (or just made up sound to push along the narrative) gives the film its light, playful tone. This is perhaps the dreamiest, strangest film about a boy entering manhood. Folklore, improvisation, formal rigor...this is good stuff, very much akin to Weerasethakul films.

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