Monday, February 08, 2016

INDEX: INTERVIEWS (2006-2016)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016 marks the 10-year anniversary of The Evening Class, a project I started a decade ago to help reinvent myself after a prolonged hospitalization and career collapse. Little did I know what awaited me when I set up this blog and applied myself to writing about film. I'm fond of saying that my world is made up of conversations and The Evening Class confirms same in unfolding fashion. The index that follows chronicles those conversations for easy reference and is, admittedly, a continuing work in progress, which I will update as time (and broken links) allow.

At this celebratory juncture I want to thank Karen Larsen of Larsen Associates for being the first publicist to grant me press credentials. At a time when blogs were suspect by local festivals, her challenge to prove myself by doing the work was a welcome initiation. I'd also like to thank David Hudson whose own traveling project The Daily did so much to grant me credence during those early years. The Blogosphere itself deserves a big shout-out for providing a community of cinephiles to share insights and perspectives, most notably Girish Shambu whose consummately educated site has been the water cooler where so many of us gathered to discuss the fine points of film coverage. Those were certainly exciting days a decade ago when "blogathons" served to rally the community. All that has rapidly changed, of course, such that I find myself aligning temperamentally with a recent note by San Francisco blogger Brian Darr of Hell on Frisco Bay: "Sometimes I wonder about the utility of an amateurly-put-together, ad-free site with an outdated design in today's era of feeds and streams and an increasingly video-centric online culture." And yet The Evening Class chugs along with a respectable readership, for which I'm sincerely grateful. Thanks are due as well to all the publicists and editors who have placed faith in my writing over the years and the wide array of contributors to the site, too many to single out here, though I will give a special shout-out to my partner-in-crime Michael Hawley who has remained my main festival previewer even as he has branched out to his own site film-415.

There's no telling what the next decade might bring. Who knows if the filmic landscape will continue to support blogs such as mine; but, I'm heartened to know that—even if not—I've earned enough of a reputation to write elsewhere for various online and print venues. Thank each and every one of you for helping my journey of reinvention to be such a rich and rewarding one. Long live cinema!!

A

Megan Abbot
Lotfi Abdelli
Sean Abley
Jeff Adachi / The Slanted Screen
Jeff Adachi / You Don't Know Jack (The Jack Soo Story)
Chantal Akerman (Fandor / Keyframe)
Oskar Alegria
Lisandro Alonso / Liverpool
Lisandro Alonso / NWFF
Tavo Amador
Brecht Andersch
Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman & Roman Coppola
Milena Andonova
Dominic Angerame
Chad Archibald
John Arellano
Michael Arndt (SF360)
Darren Aronofsky / The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky / The Wrestler
Guillermo Arriaga
Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain & Tahar Rahim

B

Joel Ballanger
Don Bachardy
Jennifer Baichwal & Edward Burtynsky
Alison Bailes
Andrew Bailey
Adam Bakri & Waleed Zuaiter
Steve Barretto
Richard Barrios
Joel Wayne Bartron
Gregory Bayne / Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man
Gregory Bayne & Christian Lybrook
Robert Beavers, Pt. 1
Robert Beavers, Pt. 2
Mark Becker, Pt. 1
Mark Becker, Pt. 2
Adrian Belic, Pt. 1
Adrian Belic, Pt. 2
Jed Rosenthal Bell
James Benning
Amy Berg
Aurora Bergere
Matías Bize
Jeffrey Blitz & Reece Thompson (SF360)
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Carlos Bolado
Richard Bolisay
Uwe Boll
Icíar Bollaín
Ernest Borgnine
Scott Boswell
Caroline Bottaro
Danny Boyle
Alice Braga
Alejandro Brugués
Rama Burshstein & Hadas Yaron
Kerem Bürsin
The Butcher Brothers
Eric Byler

C

Alex Cameron & Roy Molloy
Juan José Campanella
Bruce Campbell & Joshua Grannell
John Canemaker
John Carney, Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (SF360)
Michael Cerenzie
Park Chan-wook
Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Hye Seung Chung
Larry Clark
Bonni Cohen & Richard Berge
Jeffrey Cohlman
Peter Conheim
Francis Ford Coppola
Susan Weeks Coulter
Phil Cousineau
Mark Cousins
David Cronenberg & Viggo Mortensen (Greencine)
Francis "Oggs" Cruz
Alan Cumming
Elisha Cuthbert

D

Olivier Dahan
Viola Davis
Ninetto Davoli (Fandor / Keyframe)
Karen Day
Dodo Dayao
Thomas Dekker
Álex de la Iglesia
Bavo Defurne
Guillermo Del Toro
Arnaud Desplechin
Kirby Dick
Chris DiVecchio
Jack Donner
Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
Samuel Douek
Jonathan Duffy
Bruno Dumont (MUBI)
Mark & Jay Duplass

E

A.J. Eaton
Atom Egoyan
Fernando Eimbcke (Fandor / Keyframe)
Andrew Ellis
Thomas Elsaesser (MUBI)
Thomas Elsaesser (on photogénie)
Thomas Elsaesser (on the "painterly" in films)
Matthias Emcke & Til Schweiger
Heinz Emigholz, Pt. 1
Heinz Emigholz, Pt. 2
Carlton Evans

F

Jamaa Fanaka
Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton
Peter X. Feng
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Nancy Fishman & Joshua Moore
Ari Folman
Isabel Fondevila & Shae Green
Jodie Foster
Etyan Fox
William Friedkin (MUBI)
Javier Fuentes-León
Chris Fujiwara

G

Diamanda Galás
Patrick Galloway
Colin Geddes
Jacob Gentry & Chad McKnight
Ted Geoghegan & Travis Stevens
Bahman Ghobadi
Em Gift & Liz Franczak
Amos Gitaï
Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Danny Glover
Amos Goldbaum
Dayna Goldfine & Daniel Geller (Fandor / Keyframe)
Michel Gondry
R.W. Goodwin
Robert Gordon (Cineaste)
Joshua Grannell / All About Evil
Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Pt. 1
Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Pt. 2
Joshua Grannell / Addams' Family Values
Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Midnight Mass 2009
Joshua Grannell / Return to Grey Gardens
Joshua Grannell / Thundercrack!
Joshua Grannell / Welcome to the Dollhouse
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders & Elvis Mitchell
David Gregory
Ted Grennan
John Greyson
Dylan Griffith, Collin Armstrong, & Samantha Simon
Daniel Gruener
José Luis Guerín
Tom Gunning (on photogénie
Patricio Guzmán (MUBI)

H

Andrew Haigh
Jason Hall
Ole Jørgen Hammeken
Lance Hammer (SF360)
Gadi Harel
Adam Hartzell
Ian Harvie
Molly Haskell
Todd Haynes
Michel Hazanavicius
Chris Hegedus & Nick Doob
Benjamin Heisenberg (Fandor / Keyframe)
Jack Hill
Brook Hinton
Rainer Hoffmann
Zac Holtzman (Dengue Fever)
Heddy Honigmann
Ted Hope (Fandor / Keyframe)
Michael House, Pt. 1 (SF360)
Michael House, Pt. 2
Michael House / Revealing Mr. Maugham
Hao Hsiao-hsien (Bright Lights Film Journal)
Marc Huestis
Tatiana Huezo

I

Diana Lee Inosanto


J

Annice Jacoby
Ivan Jagirdar & Anuj Vaidya
Dee James (Mom)
Richard Jenkins
Cristián Jiménez & Diego Noguera
Dave Jones
Doug Jones
Mike Jones
Shirley Jones & Ben Mankiewicz

K

Peter Katz / Already Gone
Peter & E.L. Katz / Popskull
Charlie Kaufman
Kumakiri Kazuyoshi
Dave Kehr
Matthew Kennedy (on Joan Blondell, Pt. 1)
Matthew Kennedy (on Joan Blondell, Pt. 2)
Matthew Kennedy (on Marie Dressler)
Larry Kent
Peter Ketnath
Jeff Key
Özer Kiziltan & Onder Cakar
Cédric Klapisch
Chris Kraus
Peter Krause
Marco Kreuzpaintner & Daniel Brühl
Kiyoshi Kurosawa

L

Pablo Larraín
Elliot Lavine / Hollywood Before the Code: Deeper, Darker, Nastier (Fandor / Keyframe)
Elliot Lavine / Not Necessarily Noir
Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski
Tim League & Mike Keegan
Ang Lee & Tang Wei Grace Lee
Herschell Gordon Lewis (Greencine)
Richard Linklater
Laura Linney
Miguel Littin
Ernesto Livon-Grosman
Jennifer Loeber, Aaron Hillis & Brian Cassidy
Matt Losada, Elijah Wolfson & Hector Jimenez
David Lowery
Gytis Luksas
Michael Lumpkin
Kristy Leigh Lussier & Jim Lile

M

Mike Magidson
Don Malcolm / The French Had A Name For It
Don Malcolm / Don Murray: Unsung Hero
Neil Marshall
Joshua Marston
Carl Martin
Craig McCall
Tom McCarthy / The Visitor
Tom McCarthy / Spotlight
Melinda McDowell-Milks (Fandor / Keyframe)
Sir Ian McKellen
Dolissa Medina
Deepa Mehta
Ursula Meier
Dominic Mercurio
David Michôd
Jim Mickle
Tsai Ming-Liang
Elvis Mitchell
John Cameron Mitchell
Daisuke Miyao
Anita Monga
Dito Montiel & Jake Pushinsky
Crystal Moselle
Amir Muhammad
Saskia Mulder

N

Joel Nagle & Amadeus Serafini
Rola Nashef
Oscar "Papeto" Ruiz Navia, Rodrigo Vélez & Arnobio Salazar Rivas"
László Nemes & Géza Röhrig
Johnny Tri Nguyen & Thanh Van "Veronica" Ngo (VCinema)
Chon Noriega
Jehane Noujaim & Karim Amer
Antonio Nuić
Dennis Nyback (SF360)


O

Carlo Obispo
Michel Ocelot
Meghan O'Hara
Steven Okazaki
Jenni Olson
Stephen Olsson
Luis Ortega
Robert Osborne
Robert Osborne / 31 Days of Oscar, 2007
Robert Osborne / 31 Days of Oscar, 2009
Robert Osborne / Summer Under the Stars
Robert Osborne & Charlie Tabesh

P

José Padilha
Chris Paine
Steve Pandola
Rithy Panh
Vincent Paronnaud
Stephen Parr
Joanne Parsont
Elizabeth Peña
Jason Perdue
Cassandra Peterson
Jay Pickett
Bill Pohlad
K.C. Price

Q

James Quandt, Pt. 1
James Quandt, Pt. 2

R

Paul Rachman & Steven Blush
Seth Randal
Lawrence Rinder
Emily Rios @ Jesse Garcia
Alex Rivera (SF360)
Alan K. Rode
João Pedro Rodrigues & Alexander David
Jonathan Rosenbaum
Eli Roth, Pt. 1
Eli Roth, Pt. 2

S

Sirak M. Sabahat
Walter Salles
Stephen Salmons, Pt. 1
Stephen Salmons, Pt. 2
Diana Sanchez
Joshua Sanchez
Im Sang-Soo & Lee Jung-jae
Hugo Santiago (Film International)
Hubert Sauper
Richard Schenkman
Richard Schickel
Markus Schleinzer
Eric Schlosser
Barbet Schroeder
Brooke Sebold, Benita Sills, Clair Farley & Mark Farley
Noah Segan / All About Evil
Noah Segan / Deadgirl & Someone's Knocking At the Door
Steve Seid re Gabriel Figueroa
Steve Seid re David Goodis
Steve Seid / Exit Interview
Ulrich Seidl
Albert Serra & Mark Peranson
Steven Shainberg
Yoav Shamir
Dana Shaw
Wayne Shellabarger
Joel Shephard
Joel Shepard / SFFCC Marlon Riggs Award
Joel Shepard / New Filipino Cinema 2013
Chen Shi-Zheng
Jason Silverman
Alissa Simon
Charlie Siskel
Abderrahmane Sissako (Cineaste)
Scott Slonim
Steven Soderbergh
Fernando Solanas
Carlos Sorín
Christopher & Kate Statton (SF360)
Konrad Steiner, Pt. 1
Konrad Steiner, Pt. 2
Raleigh Stewart
Mink Stole / All About Evil
Mink Stole / Out At the Wedding
Edward Millington Stout, III (SF360)
Mark Sumner
Sun Blood Stories

T

Charlie Tabesh
Bill Talen & Savitri D.
Yen Tan & Alessandro Calza
Quentin Tarantino
Belá Tarr (Greencine)
Jeremy Teicher & Alexi Pappas (Fandor / Keyframe)
Kimberly Theidon
Jacques Thelemaque & Diane Gaidry
David Thomson on Marlon Brando
David Thomson on Nicole Kidman
David Thomson on "Passionate" Film Criticism
David Thomson on A Thousand Decisions In the Dark
David Thomson on Peter Morgan & The Deal
Marisa Tomei
Pablo Trapero
Cody Tucker
John Turner
Tom Tykwer

U

Paolo Cherchi Usai (Fandor / Keyframe)
Sean Uyehara (SF360)

V

Kate Lawrie Van de Ven
James Vanderbilt (Fandor / Keyframe)
Marijn van Kreij & Jason Morales
Francisco Vargas
Francis Veber
Diego Vega
Federico Veiroj
Agustí Villaronga & Isona Passola
Christian Volckman
Peter von Bagh
Zach Voss / SVFF 2013 Sponsor Reel
Zach Voss / View From A Pedal Buggy

W

Andrucha Waddington
Jan Wahl (Eat Drink Films)
Patrick Wang
John Waters
Noel B. Weber
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Apichatpong Weerasethakul / Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Forest Whitaker
Hutt Wigley
Linda Williams
Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen & Amy Seimetz
Michael Winterbottom (SF360)

X

Y

Fawn Yacker & Lauren Sterling
Chi-hui Yang
Ruby Yang (SF360)
Lev Yilmaz

Z

David Zeiger
Andrey Zvyagintsev (Cineaste)

Friday, February 05, 2016

BAMPFA: CINEMA MON AMOUR—The Seventh Seal (1957)

In her introductory remarks for the opening night program of Pacific Film Archive's inaugural season at the new Barbro Osher Theatre, Senior Film Curator Susan Oxtoby expressed her excitement and pleasure in sharing the new facility with the public. "I look forward to all of the memories that we're beginning in this cinema starting tonight," she beamed.

Oxtoby explained that she and fellow curator Kathy Geritz wanted the first season in the new venue—which extends through April—to be reflective of all the strengths of what the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) has been doing over the years from day one at the original venue. "Our programming," she relayed, "is informed by the extraordinary connections that we have to the UC Berkeley campus community, be it faculty members or the many students that we've worked with over the years. It brings a great richness to our work. Our work here in the film department is also very much informed by all of our deep connections to the international community of film archives. Many of the programs that we bring and put on screen come in from archives overseas and we're very fortunate to be able to showcase such a broad representation of the history of cinema and contemporary film."

Oxtoby and Geritz wanted a year-long film series that would celebrate cinephilia and created the series "Cinema Mon Amour (For the Love of Film)", which in its first week kicks off with Barbro Osher's selection of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), but which also honors the past directors of PFA—Sheldon Renan, Tom Luddy, Lynda Myles, and Edith Kramer—by inviting each to host a program. "In this way," Oxtoby offered, "we'll actually be able to understand more about our history as an institution."

Looking ahead, "Cinema Mon Amour", which is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, will soon be bringing in Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, thereby setting a template for the series that will celebrate local celebrities and international filmmakers who will select works and talk about why these films are important to them.

With regard to Barbro Osher's selection of The Seventh Seal, Oxtoby offered that we would be seeing a freshly-struck print out of Stockholm with new subtitles out of Los Angeles and that this brand-new print—generously underwritten by Jenny and Mark Lundner—would remain in the archive for future screenings for decades to come. The popularity of The Seventh Seal has necessitated two added screenings, the first of which has already sold out.

Barbro Osher, Honorary Consul General of Sweden, approached the podium next and playfully posed to her audience, "How many of you have wished to have your own movie theater? And I'm not talking a small home entertainment center but a real movie theater on the site of a world-famous university? This is a dream come true."

Calling out to Edith Kramer in the audience, Osher shared the honor with her, saying that Kramer helped Osher's career gain sure footing at this "august university" and, of course, PFA. She recalled how they would sneak out for cigarettes inbetween films. They can't do that anymore and she misses those cigarette breaks and her conversations with Kramer that taught her so much about film and film archives. Kramer's burning interest and dedication brought Osher into PFA in a totally new and much deeper way.

"So why did I pick Ingmar Bergman?" Osher elucidated. "Well, you understand that this was a must. He is the biggest filmmaker in Sweden. I have other love stories with Jan Troell, Roy Andersson and others; but, Ingmar Bergman is absolutely the master, and The Seventh Seal is the mark of his mastership. It cost next-to-nothing to make. The nature presented is from the southern tip of Sweden and is very dramatic and well-suited for the silvery filmmaking that you will see. It's also a story of life and death and everything inbetween, including family love."

Linda Haverty Rugg approached the podium next. A professor in the Department of Scandanavian at UC Berkeley, Rugg has written extensively on Ingmar Bergman and offered insight on The Seventh Seal. "I've thought about this film a lot," she began, "I've even written about it. I taught it many times at Berkeley and usually I have three hours to cover the film, but tonight I have about 10-12 minutes. So I'd better get cracking.

"When Bergman turned his attention to what was going to become The Seventh Seal, he was actually best known internationally for comedy. He had won a prize for a romantic comedy at Cannes in 1956 for Smiles Of A Summer Night. In Sweden, by contrast, one of Stockholm's most prominent cultural critics had blasted Smiles Of A Summer Night, saying that he was 'ashamed' to have seen it. As was often the case for Bergman's career, it was foreign acclaim that spurred him on to daring experimentation. Appreciative audiences in art theaters—very much like this one—in France, the United States and around the world helped him find the support that he needed to make films like The Silence (1963), Persona (1966) and the one we're going to see tonight—The Seventh Seal.

"The first time Bergman submitted a manuscript for The Seventh Seal—which he originally entitled The Knight and Death—the producers at Svensk Filmindustri turned it down. But then when he won at Cannes, Bergman tells this story, quoted from his autobiography Images: My Life In Film:

" 'I flew down to meet the head of Svensk Filmindustri, Carl Anders Dymling. We sat in a hotel room in Cannes, completely overcome and confused, selling copies of Smiles Of A Summer Night at bargain basement prices to all kinds of horse traders. I set the refused manuscript for The Seventh Seal down in front of him and said, "It's now or never, Carl Anders!" So he said, "Well, I have to read it first." And I said, "You must have already read it since you turned it down." "Maybe I didn't read it that carefully."

"When Dymling gave the green light for production, he offered—as Barbro mentioned—an extremely limited budget and allowed 36 days for the shooting. The filming began on July 2, 1956. Most of the film was actually made in studios outside of Stockholm, but—as Barbro mentioned—some of the outdoor scenes, especially the amazing opening scene, were shot on the southwestern coast of Sweden at a place called Hovs hallar. There were little over 20 people involved as the core cast and crew. Many of them were already Bergman regulars from his work in theater and earlier films.

"One of the innovative things about The Seventh Seal that often goes unremarked is that this is the point where Bergman begins to deploy his core of actors in a fascinating way. He's already started to cast the same group of people in his films. You'll recognize Gunnar Björnstrand, who plays Jöns the squire in this film and Anders Ek, who plays an unforgettable monk for a few minutes. They had all appeared in other Bergman films at this point. But what happens in The Seventh Seal is the crystallization of roles so that, for example, the Knight who's played by Max von Sydow—who has not appeared in a Bergman film before this, though he was one of Bergman's stage actors—takes on a particular function: he's the striving, disappointed idealist. Gunnar Björnstrand, the squire, he stands as von Sydow's opposite: the pragmatic, worldly skeptic. This pairing of the two actors and their functions is repeated in The Magician (1958) where von Sydow is the magician who wants to make real magic and Björnstrand is the skeptical scientist. It happens again in Winter Light (1963) where von Sydow is the despairing congregant who wants to believe and Björnstrand is his pastor, who doesn't believe and who cynically observes that one might as well kill himself—life is meaningless—which von Sydow then does.

"If you're a Bergman fan, or you become one, you will see this repetition that Bibi Andersson appears again and again as the optimistic, naïve young woman who—over many films—eventually becomes bitterly disappointed and disillusioned. By the time we get to Scenes From A Marriage (1973), she's a very angry form of an ideal optimistic person. Ingrid Thulin is a masculinized woman who grows evermore frighteningly masculine. Allan Edwall—who you may not know, he plays the father in Fanny and Alexander (1982)—is the mournful philosopher. Those are just a few of the things that repeat. The actors perform—in a sense—as chess pieces on Bergman's board. Their moves change in relationship to the other figures and according to the grand strategy of the game of the narrative; but, their basic characters and powers remain the same.

"Speaking of chess, Bergman's vision for The Seventh Seal began with an image of a knight playing chess with Death. Bergman's father—as many of you may know—was a pastor and, as a child, Bergman sat through many church services; his father in the pulpit above the congregation. He says about his experiences at church: 'Like all churchgoers in all times, I became distracted by the altar paintings, altar pieces, crucifixes, stained glass windows and murals. There was Jesus, bloody and tortured. Mary leaning against John. "Behold your mother. Behold your son." Mary Magdalena, the sinner. The knight playing chess with Death. Death cutting down the Tree of Life with his saw that terrified poor sinners sitting at the top.'

"Bergman visits this Tree of Life image, as you'll see, and he has his characters enter a church and confront the mural of the Dance of Death. He shows us the Crucifix where the bloodied and tortured Jesus hangs. But most memorable is the re-creation of the chess game with Death, which forms the central action of the film and is one of the most parodied and quoted motifs in film history. You may know it from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). In subsequent films characters play badminton with Death, they play Battleship, they play Twister with Death; but, Bergman is already aware himself of the absurdity of this game with Death and he's also aware of the absurdity of human beings struggling to cheat Death. He even makes a little fun of himself when he introduces the two antagonists Life and Death, as you will see.

"Bringing Death to life was a bold move. The Seventh Seal is a film set in a historical moment and the way Bergman relays this on an extremely limited budget is to focus on the imagery and the ideas of the time. You may notice that some of the costumes have zippers in back. There was only a limited attempt to be faithful to some idea of material authenticity. By bringing the church paintings to life, and the chess game, and the Tree of Life, and Jof's vision of the Virgin Mary, and the stunning re-creation of the Dance of Death at film's close, he emphasizes how the people in the film understand death, life and God through the vehicle of artistic representation. Their fears and hopes are materialized in paintings and sculpture and the stories and songs of their culture. The film's audience is invited to enter this world through our own art form: cinema. Bergman created a film that performs as a medieval theological debate poem; an important genre during the period he represents. 'The Owl and the Nightingale' is one example from English literature. The 'Parlement of Foules' by Chaucer is another.

Here in The Seventh Seal the debate unfolds between the knight and his squire about the existence of God and the possibility of salvation. You can decide yourself if and how this debate is resolved. But why a medieval film in a modern age, especially if you're putting zippers on the costumes? Historical films are usually created with the issues of the author's time in mind. In 1956, when Bergman filmed The Seventh Seal, the war in Europe had recently ended. Millions of people had died or been displaced far from home. The Cold War had erupted and fears of nuclear apocalypse determined global policies and haunted the war's survivors. The story of a disappointed knight returned from an unsuccessful crusade only to find the countryside at home ravaged by plague: this was not a distant narrative after all. Today, with the dread of global warming and religious wars, the debate about life's meaning continues.

The first time I saw this film, it was shown by a campus film society on a bed sheet hung on a wall in a cafeteria. We sat on uncomfortable folding chairs and listened to the rattle of the rickety 16mm projector. We struggled to read the white subtitles against white backgrounds. The focus was muddy and the print was worn with scratches. And still it was one of the most powerful films I had seen. Tonight you will see with beautiful clarity Gunnar Fischer's photography; the amazing light that makes the night luminous and breaks through in shafts through the dark forest. I hope you will also find it a powerful film, so relevant and absorbing today.

 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

BAMPFA: MEDIA WALKTHROUGH—Introductory Remarks by Lawrence Rinder and Charles Renfro

Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and EHDD.
On Thursday, January 28, 2016, I attended a media walkthrough of the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) at its new location at 2155 Center Street, between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue, in downtown Berkeley. Participants gathered in the museum's new multipurpose performance space for introductory remarks from BAMPFA Director Lawrence ("Larry") Rinder and architect Charles Renfro. After acknowledging the generous and strategic sponsors who made possible the opening week celebration of the new facility, Rinder expressed that—crucial to their celebration—was surpassing the $105,000,000 capital campaign goal that supported construction of the new building. The opening night gala itself raised over $1,000,000 to support BAMPFA's engagement programs for youth.

"The selection criteria for this particular project," Rinder detailed, "commenced in 2009. We were looking for a firm that had prior experience designing an art museum. We felt that was important—that they had gotten the kinks out—and were ready to do a second or third museum. We also wanted a firm that had prior experience designing a theater. As I'm sure you're aware, we are perhaps unique in the museum community for being half art and half film. That's the case for both our collection, which is half art half film; our curatorial staff, which is equally comprised of film and art curators; and, historically, our audience has been half people coming for the gallery programs and half for the films. So it was very important for us that the new building reflect that unique duality and we wanted, therefore, a firm that had prior experience with that kind of design and construction.

"We knew from the beginning that we wanted to take the existing UC Press Building, the 1939 printing plant, and repurpose it. Another criteria was a firm that had prior experience repurposing historical buildings. Diller Scofidio + Renfro certainly had that in spades with their incredible work at the The High Line and the Lincoln Center. At the time we were in the selection process, they were wrapping up their fantastic work on the Lincoln Center redesign, which proved their core passion for connecting cultural institutions with their surrounding civic environment. We wanted some of that magic to happen for us. We also wanted a firm that had designed an iconic freestanding building. Of course, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston was the model. We visited it, explored it, and felt that the attention to both civic engagement and the clear, serene design of the galleries was, again, something we felt was appropriate for our programs.

"Unsurprisingly, especially in that particular year, it was important to have a firm that had a proven history of budget restraint. We talked assiduously to their previous clients and established that, indeed, they had come in at or near budget. Finally, we wanted a firm that displayed ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity. I don't think that there's a more ingenious, resourceful and creative firm out there today.

"For this particular building, we asked them to deliver us a building that was accessible and welcoming. The site itself almost guarantees accessibility, but it could have turned out unwelcoming. It did not. This is an incredibly transparent and engaging building, which—as you can see—opens to the street on every side. There's a lot of glass to see in and the programs project onto the street. You can see the art walking by on Center Street. You can see film from Addison and Oxford. This was important for us. We wanted to project our particular identity as a museum of art and film, both on the inside and the outside. Again, as you walk around the perimeter, if you look in you can see the art and see the LED screen on Addison Street. Even the theater itself expresses a sculptural shape. Once you get inside, this dual identity of art and film is expressed in multiple ways. Wonderfully, the film program has been spread throughout the building with multiple theaters and multiple sites for projection that punctuate the gallery.

"We wanted respectful and versatile spaces for art and film. We wanted, on one hand, to have a building that was lively, exciting and imaginative; but, we also firmly believed that it is the artists and filmmakers who should have the last word on what their works look like when presented. It was important that a certain kind of neutrality be present in the presentation phases. We wanted many areas for community engagement. It goes without saying that a museum these days that asks people to come in and look alone is not as exciting as it could be, so we created a number of opportunities, everything from what you're sitting on now in this space for collective relaxation and gathering—also seating for a performance space—to our art lab, which is a drop-in hallway as artmaking space, to our reading room. We've created multiple locations throughout the building where people can gather together and engage with art and ideas in fun and productive ways.

"I want to mention also that what you're sitting on, this fantastic seating sculpture that we call 'Frameform' was designed by Paul Discoe and his team. Paul is a treasure for the Bay Area; a Japanese joinery designer and architect. The majority of the materials for the seating are from the Canary Island pine trees that were growing on the site of the new Barbro Osher Theater. We had to cut them down; but, we were able to repurpose that wood. Paul and his team did an amazing job. The craftsmanship is at a remarkable level.

"We also wanted a flow throughout the building that fostered a wandering experience, and not a precisely linear flow to the building, because we really wanted the building to evoke a sense of surprise that we all cherish in art itself.

"Another wonderful feature of the building—and we're all experiencing that, I think it's safe to say, visually, physically and gastronomically is Café Babette, which is providing our treats. I encourage you to go upstairs to see the café in its notch. It's the same café that we had in the other building. They've been with us for years, we really love them, and we're delighted that Joan Ellis and Patrick Hooker have come to the new building with us.

" 'Architecture of Life' is the opening exhibition. It's a show that's meant to celebrate the occasion of new architecture by exploring the ideas, practices and metaphors of architecture as a lens through which to understand the various nuances of life experience. It's a show that brings together art, architecture and scientific illustration from the past 2000 years all over the world. The show is composed of works from our collection—about roughly 15% are from our collection—plus works of art from the Hearst Museum of Anthropology on campus, as well as from private individuals and museums around the world. It's an enormous show. It takes up all the galleries in the museum. There are over 250 works in all different media. I've tried to create didactic labels for nearly every work so there are explanations and evocative words attached to the pieces themselves so you'll know what you're looking at. We're grateful to all the lenders and to the artists.

"I want to introduce one of the artists who's here today, Qiu Zhijie, who is responsible for 'The World Garden', which is both part of the exhibition 'Architecture of Life' and also the inaugural piece in an ongoing series of projects called 'Art Wall', where every six months we'll have a new artist come in and create a new work on this wall. Qiu Zhijie came from China and made this piece on a scaffold in five days. We're all amazed by this. It's an imaginary map of the world as a Chinese literati garden."

Rinder wrapped up his introductory remarks by introducing Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and EHDD.
"Our ambitions," Renfro began, "both for our firm and for this institution dovetailed closely with Larry and his organization's. We could finish each other's sentences and finish each other's drawings, etc.

"From the start the project challenged many aspects of conventional thinking about museum making, starting with the BAMPFA organization itself, which is a museum whose collections and exhibitions span centuries, medias and scales. These programs appeal to the university community and the general public. They welcome visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Basically, this museum is a 21st Century museum. It's the epitome of a new kind of museum, which are the antithesis of efficiency. They're places to get lost, in space and in thought. They must be flexible and work at every scale, every sound level, every microphone level. You'll see, as you walk through today, the variety of spaces that we've created. You'll notice a variety of natural and artificial lighting levels that we've achieved. They have to be equally adept at accommodating film, video and installation, as well as painting, photography and sculpture. These 21st Century museums must be small, medium, large, black, white, grey, quiet and loud in equal measure. In addition, this museum must be academic, educational, protected, welcoming, entertaining, social; it has to do everything for everyone. It's not a one-size-fits-all design solution but a multi-faceted approach to making a piece of architecture. But, that piece of architecture still needs to inspire, to be bold, and to have something new to offer, and to be of civic pride to the neighborhood and a new icon to the museum.

"This new home is positioned at the nexus of city, campus, commercial and cultural districts. Its new position basically parallels BAMPFA's mission as an active participant in civic life, advancing the highest standards of academic discourse while sharing its knowledge with a broad cross-section of society. As the opening exhibition, 'Architecture of Life' tries to connect the dots between media, ideas and people, which is one of the things we were interested in doing with this building: connecting the dots.

"The new position takes as a starting point the historic infrastructure of the Berkeley printing press, where the United Nations Charter was printed in 1945. As a machine age shed with open floors, long expanse steel structure, high ceilings and natural lighting, the press building was the perfect space for art: flexible, accommodating and full of character and life. We're thrilled to have it anchor the new museum. However, it wasn't large or varied enough to accommodate the entire program needed by BAMPFA. The building needed dark and intimate spaces to show its small scale and historic collection. It needed a state-of-the-art theater. It needed to provide space for events and informal gatherings, such as this one right now.

"We were also very keen to draw up some of the character of the old building, the informality of the atrium space, into the new building. We addressed the issue of the existing building by first preserving the press building with all its attributes, including its high ceilings. We excavated under the press building to double the floor area of the museum and to accommodate smaller, lower and more carefully controlled exhibition spaces. Lastly, we added a few elements to accommodate the film theater and support program. The space we're sitting in and the adjacent space is all 'found' space, which was an interesting process by which we secured the existing structure around and undercut the earth from underneath the building. That speaks to how much we treasured the building that we're sitting in right now.

"The design keeps and magnifies the building's street wall. Newly-expanded windows along Center Street and strategically-designed glazing around the rest of the museum offer visual and physical access to the galleries and public spaces within. These collections and events are shared with passers-by and museum-goers alike. It's a building that merges itself with the life of the city and—in contrast to its predecessor—the new building encourages the penetrations of strangers.

"The new theater and café stretches from Addison Street to Center Street. Its outstretched arm containing PFA form the new canopy to the new entrance. It slices through the press building roof creating voyeuristic vertical views that unite medias, styles and people into a three-dimensional matrix. Its sculptural form is a direct reflection of the spaces housed within. The dramatic undercut mirrored the slope of the theater seating. It's projection screen is at an enlarged end and its immersive light-sensitive environment forbids windows, although the high-resolution LED display laminated to the rear indoor screen provides a 'window' into the film program for the general public. We were trying to think of how to share all of the work that happens in this building with the public outside. That LED display was how we imagined the film program could bring its work to the public.

"As different as they seem, the old building and the new building are merged into one. The new building provides lateral support for the existing building, subtly referencing its qualities—streamlined, industrial—a shimmering update to the material humbleness of the press building. Our design seeks to make a both/and solution: iconic and humble, exuberant and accessible, known and unknown. It seeks to embody all the requirements of a 21st Century museum."

BAMPFA—An Evening Class Question For Lawrence Rinder

Photo: Peg Skorpinski.
Lawrence ("Larry") Rinder became Director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in 2008 after serving as the Dean of the College at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Rinder has also served as the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator of Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Prior to the Whitney, Rinder was founding director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, in San Francisco.

After his opening remarks at the media walkthrough of the new BAMPFA facility, we chatted a bit and I took the opportunity to ask:

Michael Guillén: Can you speak a bit about the contradistinction between film programming and film curation? And what might PFA's curatorial signature be?

Larry Rinder: It's so deeply a part of our culture that film and art are integrated. Until you brought this up, it hadn't occurred to me that there would be a separate mindset for film curating and art curating. At this institution, our film curators and our art curators approach the works in their respective media with similar dispositions of seeking out the best possible works and then presenting them in the best possible way. In the case of film, that means that the same people who are attending to content—what is in the film—are also alert to the quality of the print, the quality of the room that the works are experienced in, and that's something distinctive about our institution and something that should be essential to every curator's way of thinking; but, it isn't necessarily. That's one of PFA's signatures.

Friday, January 22, 2016

SYNCHRONICITY (2015)—ROLL-OUT

Jacob Gentry's Synchronicity (2015) had its world premiere at last summer's Fantasia International Film Festival where my review for The Evening Class stated: "With its stylish evocation of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), homage becomes—for genre fans, at least—a form of time travel. However, Synchronicity is less a replicant than its own atmospheric application of noir aesthetics to a sci-fi narrative about time looping through parallel universes. Although we've seen this premise before with such films as Timecrimes (2007), Looper (2012) and Time Lapse (2014)—and the requisite effort to bring compromised timelines back into alignment—Synchronicity admirably maximizes the bang for its buck and delivers an elegantly-mounted puzzler with swank art direction by Jenn Moye that looks like it was created with a considerably heftier budget, bolstered by Ben Lovett's melancholic score that recalls Vangelis without losing its own significant character."

My conversation with Gentry and his lead actor Chad McKnight followed shortly thereafter. Synchronicity is now poised to rollout on multiple platforms. Theatrically, it opens today at the Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood, California; the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia; the Lake Worth Playhouse in Lake Worth, Florida; the Jean Cocteau Theatre in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the Gateway Film Center 8 in Columbus, Ohio. This compelling mindbender is also available on demand at numerous streaming sites, including Amazon, iTunes, VUDU and YouTube, among others.