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Topics in Film: Non-Fiction Film


September 18 (Monday) 7 pm
Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov

Nanook of the North

Directed by Robert Flaherty
US 1922, silent, b/w, 16mm, 57 min.

Considered by many to be the "father of documentary film," Robert Flaherty spent more than two years in Canada’s Hudson Bay region, where he lived among its indigenous people, filming their humanity and their battles against the elements and then showing the footage to them. In this timeless, landmark portrait, Flaherty captures the terror and grandeur of Arctic landscapes and seascapes as he imparts vitality to scenes of an Eskimo family’s hunting excursions and quiet life together through his active and warm involvement.

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September 25 (Monday) 7 pm
Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov

The Man with the Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparotom)

Directed by Dziga Vertov
USSR 1929, 35mm, b/w, silent, 80 min.

Truly an experimental documentary, Dziga Vertov’s masterpiece exemplifies the montage aesthetic of the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s through its kinetic juxtaposition of shots and sped-up and slowed-down motion. Using his own concept of the "kino eye"—the cinema eye that illuminates the real world as not ordinarily seen—Vertov creates a city symphony depicting a day in the life of an urban metropolis.

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October 2 (Monday) 7 pm

A Propos de Nice

Directed by Jean Vigo
France 1929–30, 16mm, b/w, silent, 23 min.

Vigo’s poignant view of the city of Nice is a creative "document" in the style of Dziga Vertov, and was in fact shot by Vertov’s brother, cameraman Boris Kaufman. The film rests mainly on the contrast between the idlers sprawled out in the sun, enjoying the luxuries of the hotels and casinos, and the poor sections of the old town.

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October 2 (Monday) 7 pm

Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes)

Directed by Luis Buñuel
Spain 1932, 16mm, b/w, 27 min.
Spanish with English subtitles

Buñuel’s documentary marks a shift from the surrealism of his early films to the direct engagement with reality of his later work. An account of the monstrous living conditions in the poorest district of northern Spain, "Las Hurdes," the film juxtaposes images of human degradation with matter-of-fact, travelogue-style commentary written by the poet Pierre Unik. The work was banned by the Spanish government.

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October 2 (Monday) 7 pm

Blood of the Beasts (Le sang des bêtes)

Directed by Georges Franju
France 1949, 16mm, b/w, 22 min.
French with English subtitles

One of France’s most important documentary filmmakers, Georges Franju established an international reputation with this poetic portrait of the slaughterhouse of La Vilette in Paris. The work of the abattoir is depicted with painful directness, in stark contrast to the calm domesticity of the surrounding Parisian suburb. In attempting "to restore to documentary reality its appearance of artifice," he created a classic postwar document whose forcefulness and poetry remain undiminished today.

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October 16 (Monday) 7 pm

Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard)

Directed by Alain Resnais
France 1955, 16mm, b/w and color, 31 min.
French with English subtitles

The horror of the Nazi death camps placed a chilling prohibition on imagery in postwar Europe. Resnais’s stirring documentary essay broke that taboo with images of incomparable power, culled from the archives and from his own revisitation to the now abandoned sites. The lyrical commentary of Jean Cayrol, a concentration-camp survivor himself, is at once understated and blisteringly cautionary as it invokes "the cry that never ends."

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October 16 (Monday) 7 pm

Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été)

Directed by Jean Rouch
France 1961, 35mm, b/w, 90 min.
French with English subtitles

A pioneering work of French cinéma vérité, Chronicle of a Summer attempted to assess the mood of the country through direct contact with passersby on the Parisian boulevards, who were asked to respond to a single question posed by the sociologist Edgar Morin: "Are you happy?" The resulting portraits mix spontaneous response with Morin’s own interpretive glosses. The camera itself plays a very real role in the drama, as in other films by the great ethnographic filmmaker Rouch.

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October 23 (Monday) 7 pm

A Happy Mother's Day

Directed by Richard Leacock
US 1963, 16mm, b/w, 30 min.

One of the key figures in the evolution of the modern American documentary film, Leacock began his career as a cameraman for Robert Flaherty and went on to help launch the cinéma vérité revolution. His A Happy Mother’s Day takes an amused look at the media circus created by the birth of quintuplets to the Fisher family in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Realizing that he (and partner Joyce Chopra) are part of the problem, Leacock shifts attention from the babies themselves to the mix of happiness and hypocrisy emanating from the family’s entrepreneurial neighbors.

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October 23 (Monday) 7 pm

Don't Look Back

Directed by D. A. Pennebaker
US 1967, 35mm, b/w, 96 min.
With Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan

This fascinating document by one of the pioneers of vérité filmmaking captures the metamorphosis of the young Bob Dylan from folk singer to rock star as his tour moves through a rather gray and unswinging England in 1965. Dark shades firmly in place, Dylan parries and thrusts with square interviewers, jokes with Joan Baez and Donovan, and chuckles over the "anarchist" tag hung on him by the British press. Filmed with a restless hand-held camera, this is a portrait of the artist as an opaque young man.

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October 30 (Monday) 7 pm

Basic Training

Directed by Frederick Wiseman
US 1971, 16mm, b/w, 90 min.

Wiseman’s in-depth portraits of American institutions (High School, Welfare, Public Housing) manage both to present and critique their subjects. Here he documents the transition from civilian to soldier as he follows a company of youthful draftees and enlisted men through an eight-week Army basic-training program at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and dissect the conditions of the American military during the Vietnam era.

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