On May 22, Brian Hu and FQ’s editor B. Ruby Rich moderated a virtual conversation celebrating fifty years of Asian American film. With FQ special dossier contributors Lan Duong, Viola Lasmana, Josslyn Luckett, Melissa Phruksachart, and Oliver Wang.
At one point in Alexander Kluge’s News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx — Eisenstein — Das Kapital (2008), the director quizzes the German essayist Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, born in 1929, on the images produced in that fateful year of the stock-market crash. Enzensberger, who laments his own difficulties in writing lyric poetry on the economy, recalls newsreels showing the destruction of mountains of foodstuffs and commodities that could no longer find a market. This emblem of capital’s irrationality was indeed used to great effect at the beginning of Joris Ivens’s tremendous fresco of Stalinist industrialization, Komsomol (1933).
Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s recent film The Infiltrators uses a bold mix of film forms to tell the true story of a group of young undocumented activists who intentionally detain themselves in a South Florida immigration detention facility. Styled as a heist film, Ibarra and Rivera weave together verité footage, testimony, and reenactment to produce a compelling argument against immigration detention. In Diana Ruiz’s interview, Ibarra and Rivera discuss the ways in which The Infiltrators problematizes extractive modes of documentary film and how the project’s requisite reenactment brought about unexpected results. They also discuss the creative and political dimensions of “undocumented storytelling,” which relates to the filmmakers’ enduring commitment to depicting fully dimensional representations of immigrants and Latinx experiences.
Patricia R. Zimmermann and Caren Kaplan explore the “coronavirus drone” genre.
Best known for his prolific output and ability to work at the intersection of Hollywood and art cinema, Steven Soderbergh makes films that present diverse subject matter and formal styles. His 25 movies include the 1989 independent hit, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, social problem films (Erin Brockovich, 2000; Traffic, 2000; Che, 2008), deconstructions of genre (The Limey, 1999; Solaris, 2002; Haywire, 2011), digital video improvisation (Full Frontal, 2002; Bubble, 2005), and star-studded blockbusters (the Ocean’s trilogy 2001, 2004, 2007; Magic Mike, 2012).
After its screening at the Sundance film festival in January 1995 and its release later that summer, Todd Haynes’ Safe elicited much commentary by critics and film scholars on the film’s cinematographic techniques (few close-ups, many long takes) that distance spectators from the plight of the protagonist, Carol White, as she struggles with the increasingly horrifying symptoms of environmental illness, and thus render difficult, if not altogether impossible, sympathetic identification with her.
Contagion begins with a black screen and a cough; someone somewhere is sick–and spreading it–but we cannot see who. Characters spend much of the rest of the film staring into monitors, feverishly studying computer-generated models of the mysterious virus or digital video of its victims, but however hard they look, their screens reveal only biological explanations for the epidemic. They inevitably exclude macroeconomic and social forces, which are even harder to picture than the microscopic disease but causally every bit as important.
Girish Shambu on how film culture might rethink film evaluation to raise the visibility and value of films made by women.
In Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980), Filipina star Nora Aunor plays the titular character, who grows infatuated with Gardo (Phillip Salvador), a B-movie actor and stuntman. Bona gives up the comfort of her middle-class home, leaving behind her family and boyfriend, to live with Gardo in a Manila slum. She dedicates her life to serving Gardo full-time, in spite of the many abuses to which he subjects her. Illustrating the imbalance of their relationship, Bona bathes her lover every night, ensuring the water is always warm enough for his liking, even after he brings other women home for his sexual adventures. At the end of the film, after being told by Gardo that she should leave his home, Bona gives him one more bath—this time with boiling water. Bona watches her lover scream in agony as she carries out her vengeance with the same serenity with which she had formerly carried out his bidding. Balancing highly emotional scenes with a quasi-documentary depiction of decaying Manila streets, Brocka reconfigures film melodrama into a defiant political act.
Marina Razbezhkina is a well-known Russian documentary filmmaker, educator, and founder of the largest independent documentary school in the country. Her very original approach to documentary, which combines intimate proximity to the protagonist with raw observational aesthetics, revolutionized the Russian film landscape and became the trademark of her school. Her students most often work as a one-person crew with a lightweight hand-held camera shadowing their protagonists up close. This “hunt for reality,” as Razbezhkina terms the practice, usually results in deeply engaging observational documentaries that completely absorb the viewer into an unfamiliar reality. In this interview Razbezhkina talks about the beginnings of her career, explains the origins and the core of her filmmaking method, and discusses the changing role of documentary in the modern world.