Artful Non-Fiction

“The past 15 years has seen a sea change in documentary culture: filmmakers have grown more adventurous as audiences have woken to the possibilities of the art,” writes filmmaker Robert Greene (Actress) in an article for BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine in September 2014. Author Scott MacDonald writes about the phenomenon as well in his latest book Avant-Doc: Intersections of Documentary and Avant-Garde Cinema. (MacDonald will visit Cornell Cinema to engage in discussion with filmmaker Amie Siegel on February 26, following a screening of DDR/DDR, a film MacDonald includes in his book.) In addition to documentarians creating “a more cinematic brand of nonfiction filmmaking,” there are artists, formerly ensconced in the “art world,” who are embracing the possibilities of the documentary form. The series begins with a trilogy of films by Italian artist Yuri Ancarani, each artfully showcasing a highly specialized profession, and will be followed by Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our Daily Bread, “an unblinking, often disturbing look at industrial food production from field to factory” (NY Times); two films by Irish artist Duncan Campbell, who was just awarded the Tate Gallery’s 2014 Turner Prize; an intimate portrait of actress Brandy Burre’s (The Wire) struggle to balance art and domesticity in Robert Greene’s Actress; a visually stunning ethno-fictional work that juxtaposes a highly religious Dutch fishing community with the filmmakers’ attempt to document them in Episode of the Sea; an epic and important look at contemporary Ukraine through the camera’s lens in Maidan; and artist Sharon Lockhart’s Goshogaoka, a visually charming portrait of a Japanese junior high girls’ basketball team. Three filmmakers will present their work in person as part of the series: Wang Wo will discuss his experimental look at contemporary China, Outside, while ethnographic filmmaker and Cornell Associate Professor J.P. Sniadecki will screen his latest, The Iron Ministry, which offers another view of contemporary China via its massive rail system. Experimental maker Ben Russell will screen his first feature-length film, Let Each One Go Where He May, which follows two brothers undergoing the same journey in Suriname that their ancestors took 300 years prior. The series reveals the expansiveness of the documentary form, and demonstrates that “we are no longer living in a world dominated by documentary orthodoxy. Storytellers and artists now routinely view nonfiction as a viable way to express themselves; experimentation with fiction/nonfiction ambiguities is now common practice. Simple reportage is dead, formal play is in and audiences are watching, with an eye to what has happened over the past 15 years, to see what comes next.” (Robert Greene, director of Actress)  Cosponsored with the Atkinson Forum in American Studies.

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