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Nonfiction Film

November 6 (Monday) 7 pm

Our Trip to Africa (Unsere Afrikareise)

Directed by Peter Kubelka
West Germany/Austria 1961–66, 16mm, color, 13 min.

Austrian avant-garde filmmaker Kubelka was commissioned by a commercial German travel company to shoot a travelogue about an African safari. Instead he produced this dazzling filmic essay, which distills hours of footage of the African veldt and villages into a visually arresting yet scathing commentary on the enduring postures of colonialism.

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November 6 (Monday) 7 pm with "Our Trip to Africa"

Land of Silence and Darkness (Land der Stille und Finsternis)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1970–71, 16mm, color, 85 min.
With Fini Straubinger, Heinrich Fleischmann, Vladimir Kokol
German with English subtitles

Werner Herzog’s third feature film is a life-affirming portrait of Fini Straubinger, a middle-aged blind-and-deaf woman who decides, against her family’s wishes, to work with other similarly challenged individuals. Herzog—as visionary in his documentary pursuits as he is in his fiction—accompanies Fini and her colleagues on journeys of discovery (a day at the zoo, an airplane flight) as he transmits to the audience the spirit of their uniquely intense existence.

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November 13 (Monday) 7 pm
HFA Archival Print

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (W.R.: Misterije Organizma)

Directed by Dusan Makavejev
Yugoslavia/West Germany 1971, 35mm, color, 86 min.
With Milena Dravic, Jagoda Kaloper, Zoran Radmilovic
Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles

One of the most controversial films of its era, Makavejev’s provocative meditation on the relationship between sexual energy and political force revolves around a portrait of the iconoclastic psychologist Wilhelm Reich and his disciples, potently intercut with imagery of Soviet leader Josef Stalin (mostly culled from social realist fiction films) and juxtaposed with the purely fictional tale of a young Yugoslavian woman’s fatal passion for a frigid Soviet skating star. Attacked by feminists, banned by bureaucrats, and beloved by art film audiences, W.R. remains a valuable summation of the formal inventiveness and anarchic social vision that emerged from the new waves of the 1960s.

November 20 (Monday) 7 pm

Harlan County, U.S.A.

Directed by Barbara Kopple
US 1976, 35mm, b/w and color, 103 min.
With Nimrod Workman, E. B. Allen, Bessie Lou Cornett

This portrait of a coal-miners’ strike in rural Kentucky earned its young director the first of her two Academy Awards and, more important, provided national visibility for an ongoing labor action and its callous suppression by mine owners—events that had previously attracted scant media attention. Amidst the violent clashes between mine bosses, scab workers, and picketing miners and their families, Kopple and her courageous crew capture the extraordinary faith and perseverance of ordinary people fighting to retain their region, their health and safety, and their way of life.

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November 27 (Monday) 7 pm

Sans Soleil (Sunless)

Directed by Chris Marker
France 1982, 35mm, color, 100 min.
French with English subtitles

Constructed around a series of letters sent by a peripatetic freelance cameraman to an unknown woman, Sans soleil presents portraits of distant locales through its ravishing imagery and through the poetic language of the correspondence. Remarkable for its prescient incorporation of video processing, the film is notable equally for its prefiguration of contemporary work in fictionalized documentary. Marker pushes beyond the boundaries of the traditional narrative cinema to invent a singularly personal film genre—part diary, part essay, part documentary, and part fiction.

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December 4 (Monday) 7 pm
HFA Archival Print

Forest of Bliss

Directed by Robert Gardner
US 1987, 35mm, color, 90 min.

Transcending the usual means of anthropological filmmaking, Forest of Bliss is a singularly poetic work, a modernist "city symphony" that creates a panoramic portrait of the ancient Indian city of Benares. Shaped to occupy the time between two sunrises, the film focuses on people—both the living, seeking purification in the Ganges, and the countless dead who are cremated on its banks. By eschewing the use of voiced commentary or subtitles, Robert Gardner has created a uniquely visual work that subtly acknowledges the outsider status of both the filmmaker and the viewer while powerfully capturing the multitudes at work, at play, and at prayer.

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December 11 (Monday) 7 pm
HFA Archival Print

Pictures from a Revolution

Directed by Richard Rogers, Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti
US 1992, 16mm, color, 93 min.

Returning to Nicaragua a decade after the revolution, photographer Susan Meiselas and filmmakers Rogers and Guzzetti survey the life of the people there, who have survived years of economic isolation and attacks by the Contras. Meiselas searches as well to see what has become of the people she had photographed ten years earlier, whose images formed the content of her critically acclaimed book on the revolution. What results is a remarkable meeting of the artistic and the real in a portrait of the continued vitality of the Nicaraguan people amidst the devastation of war.

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December 18 (Monday) 7 pm

Sink or Swim

Directed by Su Friedrich
US 1990, 16mm, b/w, 48 min.

In this resonant autobiographical work, Su Friedrich combines the formal innovations of experimental filmmaking with the emotional power of narrative to create a compelling account of the highly charged relationship between a father and daughter. Traveling backward from the letter "Z," a young girl tells twenty-six stories which recount memories of a father she both fears and admires. The accompanying images from family vacations and visits to the circus are interlaced with a voice-over that reveals an unbreachable distance, culminating in the father’s betrayal.

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The Tourist

Directed by Robb Moss
US 1992, 16mm, color, 58 min.

Contrasting his travels abroad on film-shooting assignments with his husbandly efforts on the home front, trying unsuccessfully with his wife to have a baby, Robb Moss casts a slyly reflexive glance at the passive role of the non-fiction filmmaker. The Tourist examines his increasing uneasiness with filming people in cultures other than his own and his fear that both his art and his life have become acts of tourism. His solution is to insert the filmmaker as a character into the work and, with humor and poignancy, to begin to particularize and personalize the distant lives he encounters.

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