Monthly Archives: April 2019

Khalik Allah’s BLACK MOTHER

I have a review of Khalik Allah’s visionary Black Mother at Time Out Chicago. I’m reproducing it in its entirety below.

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Toward the end of his recent film The Image Book, director Jean-Luc Godard quotes Bertolt Brecht in saying: “In reality, only a fragment carries the mark of authenticity.” This is a fitting epitaph to a film, and a career, characterized by its radical, collage-like approach to juxtaposing image and sound. It would have been equally appropriate, though for very different reasons, for this quote to appear in Black Mother, a visually astonishing and deeply spiritual love letter to Jamaica made by the acclaimed American filmmaker and photographer Khalik Allah. While The Image Book primarily uses clips from other films to illustrate the misrepresentation of the Arab world in the West, Black Mother uses fragments of footage Allah shot by himself in his mother’s home country of Jamaica, on a variety of film and video formats (Hi8, miniDV, Super 8, 16mm and high-definition digital) over a span of 20 years. Chicagoans will have a chance to see the kaleidoscopic result, which is best experienced on a large screen, when the film receives its local premiere run at the Facets Cinematheque from Friday, May 3 through Thursday, May 9.

Although Allah’s mother does appear in the film, the title is a reference to the notion of Jamaica as an ancestral homeland, a place the director has visited since the age of three and which he puts on screen in a captivating fashion. Black Mother is cleverly structured into three sections—referred to as “trimesters”—that speak volumes about both the history and present of Jamaica, including its painful legacy of colonialism. The film relentlessly avoids clichéd images of Jamaican culture (reggae, weed and Rastafarianism are barely acknowledged) and eschews the norms of documentary filmmaking. It’s a highly personal and visually dense cinematic essay in which sound and image are deliberately out of synch —only one shot in the film’s sublime final chapter, of Allah’s late Jamaican grandfather, features a subject speaking live on camera. An ambitious and dreamlike visual-aural fugue, it represents a clear evolution from Allah’s first feature, Field Niggas, in training a benevolent camera eye on a variety of dispossessed subjects, including sex workers. As in the films of Pedro Costa, Allah gives a voice to the voiceless while solidifying his own unique cinematic language.

For more information about Black Mother’s Chicago run, including ticket info and showtimes, visit Facets Multimedia’s website.

 


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Decaf Don (Alonzo)
2. The Blues Brothers (Landis)
3. 3 Faces (Panahi)
4. Late Spring (Ozu)
5. 3 Iron (Kim)
6. Days of Heaven (Malick)
6. Hotel By the River (Hong)
7. Before Sunset (Linklater)
8. Her Smell (Perry)
9. Infinite Football (Porumboiu)
10. Breathless (Godard)


Daniel Kremer’s OVERWHELM THE SKY

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Overwhelm the Sky, a new 3-hour microbudget mystery-drama shot in gorgeous black-and-white ‘Scope, is by far the best of the three features I have seen by San Francisco-based filmmaker Daniel Kremer (though I liked the other two of his that I’ve seen, namely Raise Your Kids on Seltzer and Ezer Kenegdo, quite a bit). It might even be a masterpiece. The earlier films are loose and wild, but Overwhelm the Sky, even while considerably longer, feels the tightest and shortest. If anything, this is one instance when a long movie could have stood being even longer (in particular, I would have loved seeing more of the intriguing character played by Alanna Blair). The shaggy-dog plot involves a radio talk-show host being sent down a series of Existential rabbit holes after the murder of a friend whose body is discovered in Golden Gate Park. The ambitious Kremer has long been working in undeserved obscurity at the relative fringes of the indie film scene — he is currently working on his eighth feature-length film — but I’m hoping that Overwhelm the Sky, which recently had its World Premiere at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, is a game-changer for him.

The filmmaking is so confident in Overwhelm the Sky that it’s astonishing: The paranoid atmosphere and discordant orchestral score put me in the mind of early Jacques Rivette, but the formal control, perfectly calibrated camera movements, always surprising but ineffably right compositions, and precision of the cutting, put me in the mind of (believe it or not) Paul Thomas Anderson. There were parts where I had no clue what was going on on a narrative level, but I didn’t really care because I was so caught up in how masterful the filmmaking was, and therefore felt I was in good enough storytelling hands that I trusted I could just wallow in the mystery of it all. It feels like the kind of film that will reveal more of its mysteries with subsequent viewings, but probably also isn’t a puzzle with one ultimate “solution.” It also features the best acting of any of the three films of Kremer’s that I’ve seen. Whereas it seems he works a great deal with improvisation in his films, this one feels more scripted (yet I recently learned that his same improvisatory methods were used).

There is currently no theatrical release scheduled for Overwhelm the Sky in Chicago but I hope it turns up on a big screen locally soon. It would be an ideal fit for Facets, Chicago Filmmakers or the Nightingale.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans (Dumont)
2. Cooley High (Schultz)
3. High Life (Denis)
4. Breathless (Godard)
5. The Mule (Eastwood)
6. Failan (Song)
7. Breathless (Godard)
8. Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (Klinger)
9. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
10. Within Our Gates (Micheaux)


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO Wins Audience Choice in Tallahassee!

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I am pleased to announce that RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO has won the Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Tallahassee Film Festival! This was our fourth award in eight festival screenings and I couldn’t have been happier about the response at this superbly programmed fest that is so close to my heart!

Our next screening will be at Chicago Filmmakers on Saturday, May 4 at 7:00 PM, which will be followed by a Q&A with yours truly moderated by critic David J. Fowlie. I will also be dropping announcements soon about our Michigan and New York City premieres – so stay tuned!


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)
2. Saint Frances (Thompson)
3. Memories of Murder (Bong)
4. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin)
5. High Life (Denis)
6. Wild Canaries (Levine)
7. Black Mother (Allah)
8. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
9. Buckjumping (Keber)
10. Bernadette (Psathos)


HAIL SATAN? and MIDNIGHT FAMILY at Doc10

My latest post for Time Out Chicago concerns my best bets for the Doc10 Film Festival.

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Entering its fourth year, the Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival has established itself as an annual highlight for fans of cinema. Focusing on vital new non-fiction features from around the globe, the festival kicks off at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square on Thursday, April 11 with the much-anticipated local premiere of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documentary Knock Down the House, and concludes on Sunday, April 15 with the sustainable-farm portrait The Biggest Little Farm. The rest of the lineup features a diverse array of movies, almost all of which will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. Most impressively, 60% of the films in this year’s lineup—programmed by Chicago International Film Festival doc programmer Anthony Kaufman—were directed or co-directed by women.

One of the most interesting films you can catch at this year’s Doc10 Film Festival is Hail Satan?, a witty and informative look at the meteoric rise in popularity of the non-theistic religious group known as the “Satanic Temple.” With unfettered access to the leaders of the group’s various nationwide chapters, including charismatic church founder Lucien Greaves, director Penny Lane crafts a deceptively simple work of political commentary that ultimately sympathizes with the “Satanists” as a group of merry pranksters who see their movement as a counterbalance to the repressiveness of other organized religions.

For those looking for something more aesthetically daring, Lukas Lorentzen’s Midnight Family offers an eye-opening expose of Mexico City’s private ambulance system through the lens of one particular family-owned company, which competes with other for-profit EMTs to provide urgent care. Director Lorentzen uses a combination of handheld and dashboard-mounted cameras to put viewers in the middle of the action in the exciting ambulance-run scenes, lending his film the feeling of a thriller. The unconventional approach earned Midnight Family the award for Best Cinematography at this year’s Sundance Film Festival—an eccentric but deserving choice.

For more information on this year’s Doc10 Film Festival, including the full lineup, ticket info and showtimes, visit the festival’s official website.


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