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02/13/15 10:27am
02/13/2015 10:27 AM |

The Connection

Documentary Fortnight
February 13-27 at MoMA

There are more strong films screening in Documentary Fortnight 2015 than can be done justice here, so I’ll plug my favorites first: on February 15th and 21st, the distributor Milestone Films will present three programs’ worth of recently restored films by the late American director Shirley Clarke. The programs include Clarke’s remarkable feature-length The Connection (1962) and several of her lesser-known lovely shorts, throughout which she and her human subjects developed a style of direct address in which they would open up their lives to her as well as to future viewers.

The bulk of the Museum of Modern Art’s annual festival of nonfiction filmmaking will offer new films, many of which are also excellent. Its diverse selection traverses several genres, from politicized portraiture (Of Men and War and The Domino Effect) to self-reflective ethnography (Episode of the Sea and Cochihza) to novelistic, ensemble-based storytelling in which individuals’ actions impact their communities’ futures (Coffee: Chants of Smoke and Storm Children, Book One). These films and other series highlights share a great sensitivity to character, with emotional riches resulting from simple records of peoples’ struggles.

Several of the directors represented in Documentary Fortnight spoke with me about their works in the series.  Save for Jean-François Caissy, these filmmakers will also all appear at MoMA for post-screening public discussions.

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01/28/15 9:00am
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01/28/2015 9:00 AM |

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In NY Export: Opus Jazz (2010), one of this decade’s best New York City films, Jody Lee Lipes filmed the New York City Ballet as they danced the titular Jerome Robbins “ballet in sneakers” all around town, in stripped-down performances staged for the camera. For Ballet 422, which opens February 6, he again teamed with producer Ellen Bar, a former dancer and now the NYCB’s Director of Media Projects, for another intimate look at the company, this time with a focus on process. The film follows Justin Peck—then a 25-year-old member of the corps de ballet, now a soloist—as he choreographs and prepares a ballet for the company’s 2013 winter season. You can watch Ballet 422 twice in the time it takes to watch La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet once, but its 72 interview-free minutes are packed with engrossing glimpses of rehearsals, costume fittings, tech run-throughs, backstage downtime and patron gladhandling—all the component parts that go into assembling a ballet, here also assembled into a low-key narrative about art-making.

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