Film series: Doc Spots

Student working on film projector

Image from the film Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters

Bill T. Jones in rehearsal, from the film CAN YOU BRING IT: BILL T. JONES AND D-MAN IN THE WATERS

Every semester Cornell Cinema is proud to exhibit some of the best of recent documentary work. Fall 2021 is no exception. Ten of these dozen films are also Ithaca premieres. 

Always popular are our music documentaries, where the pleasures are as much aural as visual. Besides the chance to revisit Questlove’s hit, Summer of Soul, on the big screen (with an introduction on September 9 by Professor Steve Pond, who this semester will be teaching Rhythm and Blues to Funk: Black Popular Music Before Hip Hop), you can also catch Edgar Wright’s tribute to the quirky and highly influential The Sparks Brothers

Three other music docs will be Ithaca premieres:

Sisters with Transistors, narrated by Laurie Anderson, brings to life the neglected history of women electronic music trailblazers, beginning in the 40s and ranging across Europe, the U.K. and the U.S., constructed entirely from archival footage. A post-screening panel will feature Cornell faculty members Kevin Ernste (Director of the Cornell Electroacoustic Music Center); Judith Peraino (Music) and Trevor Pinch (Science & Technology Studies).

Los Hermanos/The Brothers: The engaging story of two brothers—a violinist and a pianist/composer–separated by the Cuban embargo, who after years apart reunite for a U.S. tour and a recording session. “A joyful U.S. tour featuring Aldo’s blood-pumping compositions that meld jazz, classical and Latin music.” (KQED, San Francisco Public Media)

Todd Haynes’ first feature documentary, The Velvet Underground dives into the game-changing music of the legendary band. Born out of the NYC underground music scene and Andy Warhol’s Factory, the band’s sound was born of the collaboration of Lou Reed and John Cale. Haynes’ approach mirrors the experimentalism of the Underground, with frequent split screens. The Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections acquired a Velvet Underground archive in 2015 that is the largest archive of Velvet Underground material held by an institution according to the library’s rare and manuscript curator, Katherine Reagan. Professor Judith Periano (Music), who teaches a graduate seminar on the archive, will discuss it and the film in conjunction with our October 19 screening.

Other Ithaca premieres include two films that delve into the creative process.

Being a Human Person follows the legendary surrealist Swedish film director Roy Andersson as he goes about creating his latest dream-like essay on the human condition About Endlessness (also screening this Fall.) The Daily Telegraph raves “The Willy Wonka of dreamlike absurdism opens his factory door for an unmissable golden ticket tour.”

Choreographed by Bill T. Jones, D-Man in the Waters premiered in 1989 at the height of the AIDS epidemic and quickly established itself as one of the most important artistic responses to the crisis. Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters follows a group of college students as they restage the dance in 2016, and includes archival footage of the original and interviews with the creators. The film is “full of vitality and energy, a testament to the power of art in the face of tragedy.” (LA Times)

An eclectic trio of premieres rounds out the series.

The first “stars” Gunda, a sow. Viktor Kosakovskiy’s Gunda follows her and her piglets, chickens, and cows in meditative black and white, the only soundscape the sounds of the farmyard in a unique immersive experience that “feels like an advancement of the nature documentary form.” (Indiewire)

North by Current documents a rural landscape of people in filmmaker Madsen Minax’s Michigan home town, beset by the opioid crisis and economic distress, filtered through the director’s memories and his family’s home movies. Minax will join us via Zoom for a post-screening Q & A.

The makers of The American Sector traverse the United States to investigate over sixty remnants of the Berlin Wall now displayed across this country, forming a tapestry of encounters that say as much about the U.S. as about the Wall itself. The screening will be preceded by the short doc Civil War Surveillance Poems, Pt 1 which will be presented in person by its maker, Mitch McCabe.

And be sure to check out the two documentaries that are screening as part of Spain: Inside/OutThe Silence of Others and The Hidden City—and the classic documentaries showing as part of Celebrating 50+ Years of Cornell CinemaNo Maps on My Taps, Farrebique & Biquefarre, and Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses.

Related films

image from the film Sisters with Transistors

Sisters with Transistors


image from the film Being a Human Person

Being a Human Person


image from the film Los Hermanos/The Brothers

Los Hermanos/The Brothers


image from the film The Sparks Brothers

The Sparks Brothers


image from the film Gunda



image from the film The Silence of Others

The Silence of Others


image from the film Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters

Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters


image from the film The Hidden City

The Hidden City


image from the film North by Current

North by Current


image from the film The American Sector

The American Sector


image from the film The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground


image from the film The Rescue

The Rescue