Keeping the Independent Flame – 30 Years of First Run Features

Keeping the Independent Flame:
The Film Society of Lincoln Center Honors
30 YEARS OF FIRST RUN FEATURES 

19 Films Celebrating the Trailblazing Indie Film Distributor
August 26-September 4

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is celebrating the 30th anniversary of distributor First Run Features and its long-time President, Seymour Wishman, with the series Keeping the Independent Flame: 30 Years of First Run Featuresrunning Wednesday, August 26 through Friday, September 4.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center says, “For thirty years First Run Features has been at the forefront of companies that take the risk of distributing previously unreleased films. It takes remarkable courage to distribute cutting-edge and sometimes controversial works that they believe should and must be seen.  We salute First Run Features, and we are proud to say that many of the films in their catalogue premiered in Film Society programs.”

First Run Features was founded in 1979 by a group of filmmakers to advance the distribution of independent film. Under the leadership of the late independent film pioneer, Fran Spielman, First Run Features quickly gained a reputation for its controversial catalog of daring independent fiction and non-fiction films. First Run remains one of the largest independent theatrical and home video distributors in the United States.

Filmmakers appearing include Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum (A Life Apart); John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller and Andrea Weiss (Before Stonewall); Radley Metzger (The Cat and the Canary); Farhad Zamani (Googoosh: Iran’s Daughter); Godfrey Cheshire (Moving Midway), and Manny Kirchheimer (We Were So Beloved).  Schedules and tickets available below.

First Run Features’ landmark films, including Before Stonewall, the Up films, the films of famed documentarian Ross McElwee, French auteur Claude Chabrol, and Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, and First Run’s entire eclectic collection of over 250 films are available at www.firstrunfeatures.com.  

Keeping the Independent Flame opens on Wednesday, August 26 with Yoav Shamir’sDefamation.  Winner of a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it explores the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism through the eyes of Shamir, an Israeli who grew up surrounded by Jews. Shamir’s investigation leads him from Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, to his grandmother, Israeli peace activist Uri Avinery, and controversial American professor Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, each of whom offers his and her own takes on what this trend suggests.  An important work on a timely subject, Defamation is subjective documentary at its best.

The extraordinary resurgence of New Wave co-founder Claude Chabrol began with his witty 2000 psychological thriller, Merci Pour Le Chocolat (Fri Aug 28).  The amazing Isabelle Huppert (two-time winner for Best Actress at Cannes, winner at Berlin, three time winner at Venice including a special lifetime achievement award), headlines Chabrol’s cast as Mika, a Swiss chocolate company exec, who is married to suave concert pianist Andre (Jacques Dutronc).  Chabrol weaves a delicate web of intrigue and suspicion until there is simply no way out for any of his protagonists.  Lou Lumenick of the New York Post called it “as irresistible as a piece of dark chocolate…Huppert gives such a mesmerizingly deadpan performance.”

Ross McElwee’s 1986 docu-masterpiece, Sherman’s March (Thu Aug 27 & Sat Aug 29), winner of the 1987 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is the Citizen Kane of the first-person documentary movement.  A precursor to Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, the film follows McElwee, a North Carolina native who returns home to explore the lingering effects of Sherman’s march on the contemporary South.  He’d also like to get a girlfriend.  His wonderful, self-critical sense of humor inspires an equally wonderful portrait of America coming to terms with a lack of certainty and engagement in the future. 

Another highlight of the series is The Embalmer (Fri Sep 4) by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, 2008 New York Film Festival).  A 2003 New Directors/New Films selection, this taut atmospheric thriller unravels the strange and complicated newly found friendship between Valerio (Valerio Manzillo) and taxidermist-embalmer Peppino (Ernesto Mahieux).  Roger Ebert described it as “masterful at concealing its true nature and surprising us with the turns of the story.” 

49 Up (Sun Aug 30 & Mon Aug 31), Michael Apted’s 2005 installment of the famed and groundbreaking series that captures its participants every seven years, is a victorious summation and capstone, as the original group copes with middle age and the meaning of their lives, while challenging their chronicler/tormenter about the price they pay for being put under such public scrutiny.  Roger Ebert describes the Up series as “one of the great imaginative leaps in film.”

Also included in the series is Suzan Pitt’s World, a gorgeous collection of three outstanding animated shorts from 1979 to 2006 (Sun Aug 30 & Sep 2) by Pitt.  With Asparagus (USA, 1979; 20m), she burst onto the international scene with playful, erotic imagery for the midnight movie crowd.  Joy Street (USA, 1995; 24m) is a paean to the delights of spending time in an altered state.  Finally, El doctor(USA/Mexico, 2006; 23m) is, according to Pitt, a film about “the institution of miracles in Mexico,” as seen in the interaction between a perennially tipsy Mexican doctor and one of his young patients.


Complete Schedule:

49 Up
Michael Apted, UK, 2005; 135m

“Apted’s Up series stands as one of the most significant, noble, textured, sympathetic and complex portraits of human nature to grace the history of cinema. Every seven years, the participants of this amazing documentary project have been…captured on film in the process of simply living. This latest episode is a triumphant summation and capstone, as the original group copes with middle age and the meaning of their lives, while challenging their chronicler/tormenter about the price they pay for being put under such public scrutiny.” – 44th New York Film Festival

Sun Aug 30: 8:30pm
Mon Aug 31: 3:15pm

Alice / Neco z Alenky
Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia/Switzerland/UK/West Germany, 1988; 84m

“An extraordinary piece of work: brilliantly inventive…a piercing, original vision.” – Terrence Rafferty, The New Yorker

For years, Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have developed some of the world’s most inventive animators. Jan Svankmajer has long been recognized as a master among them. Here, he creates a wondrous if unsettling version of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Combining live action with stop-motion animation and a host of other techniques, Svankmajer brings Alice’s world to astonishing life, though often taking liberties by re-interpreting people and events. The result is an unforgettable look at the mystery that lies within even the most banal, everyday objects.

Sat Aug 29: 1:00pm
Wed Sep 2: 9:00pm

The Architecture of Doom / Undergangens arkitektur
Peter Cohen, Sweden, 1989; 119m

Rejected from art school and then inspired to create the Third Reich while watching a performance of Wagner’s Rienzi, Hitler devoted an inordinate amount of his time studying and planning architectural projects, even in the disastrous closing days of the war. British filmmaker Peter Cohen turns these facts into a fascinating new take on the Nazi nightmare, using rarely seen footage and photographs to speculate on Hitler’s regime as a massive art project to rid Germany of decadent artistic influences. Narrated by Bruno Ganz.

Fri Aug 28: 4:30pm

Sat Aug 29: 6:10pm

Ballerina
Bertrand Normand, France, 2006; 80m

From Pavlova to Makarova, Russian ballerinas have been a source of pride for their country and a revelation to Western audiences. Here, French director Bertrand Normand explores his muse, the St. Petersburg ballerina, through interview and performance footage of Alina Somova, Svetlana Zakharova, Diana Vishneva, Ulyana Lopatkina, and Evgenia Obraztsova. Each ballerina shares her personal hopes and dreams and, in Lopatkina’s case, considers a career crisis and comeback. An intimate look at six of the Kirov’s rising superstars.

Thu Sep 3: 9:00pm

Before Stonewall
Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, USA, 1984; 87m

Followed by a special anniversary panel discussion!

In June 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall, a West Village bar with a large gay clientele, sparking the riot and protests that gave birth to the modern gay and lesbian rights movement. Yet an organized struggle for dignity and gay rights began long before that night 40 years ago. Full of fascinating interviews with men and women who risked their reputations and their lives, Before Stonewall is an essential document of the long, hard journey that transformed a closeted culture into an international rallying cry.

Mon Aug 31: 8:00pm*

*A special panel discussion will follow the 8:00 p.m. screening on Monday, August 31.

Born in Flames
Lizzie Borden, USA, 1983; 90m

Ten years after a peaceful Socialist revolution took control of the United States, long neglected problems fester as emerging radical groups meet with increasing repression and violence. Described by one critic as “a bizarre Trotskyite radical-feminist science-fiction allegory,” Born in Flames is an American independent film from an era when that term still had meaning. It is also funny, challenging, and completely irreverent, with an inspired soundtrack featuring The Bloods, The Red Crayolas and Ibis.

Wed Aug 26: 4:00pm

Fri Aug 28: 9:00pm

A Boy and His Dog
L.Q. Jones, USA, 1975; 91m

This cult favorite based on a Harlan Ellison novella stars Don Johnson, pre-Miami Vice, as Vic, a rare surface survivor of a nuclear holocaust who communicates telepathically with his only companion, his dog Blood. Vic’s safety and youthful sexual appetite are assured when he meets Quilla (Susanne Benton) and discovers a seemingly thriving underground society. But then he discovers the sinister role he has been led there to play. Combining apocalyptic thriller with an odd, coming-of-age parody, A Boy and His Dog is an virtual catalogue of the era’s ideas about both impending doom and the endless promise of youth.

Wed Aug 26: 9:00pm

Bright Leaves
Ross McElwee, USA/UK, 2003; 107m

“In Bright Leaves, the celebrated non-fiction director Ross McElwee…returns to his North Carolina birthplace to root out the story of his family’s agricultural downfall: were the McElwees swindled out of their rightful share of America’s tobacco bounty by their rivals, the unscrupulous Duke family?…Locating the universal through the highly personal has always been McElwee’s modus operandi—see such films as Sherman’s March and Time Indefinite. And his technique is further distilled in this funny, leisurely, ironic trip into one man’s obscure family history, and the smoky haze of a one-crop culture.” ~41st New York Film Festival

Tue Sep 1: 4:15 and 8:45pm

The Cat and the Canary
Radley Metzger, UK, 1978; 98m

The subject of multiple film adaptations, John Willard’s classic 1922 stage play has become a template for thriller plots. A group of relatives gather in an old house to hear the reading of a will. Gradually, the assembled guests are bumped off, until the few survivors discover a homicidal maniac lurking in the shadows. Radley Metzger, more known for his work in erotic cinema, has great fun in this inventive update, aided by a fine cast including Wendy Hiller, Edward Fox, and Olivia Hussey (Juliet in Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet).

Fri Sep 4: 2:15pm and 6:30pm*

*Q&A w/ director, 6:30pm screening only.
          
Defamation / Hashmatsa
Yoav Shamir, Israel, 2009; 91m

Winner of a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Defamation explores the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism through the eyes of award-winning filmmaker Yoav Shamir, an Israeli who grew up surrounded by Jews. Shamir’s investigation leads him from Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, to his grandmother, Israeli peace activist Uri Avinery, and controversial American professor Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, each of whom offers his and her own takes on what this trend suggests. An important work on a timely subject, Defamation is subjective documentary at its best.

Wed Aug 26: 6:30pm

The Embalmer / L’imbalsamatore
Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2002; 101m

“Working as a waiter, Valerio slides through life comfortably but with few prospects for the future. Then he meets Peppino, a very short, very gregarious man with a quick smile and infectious laugh. A taxidermist and embalmer, he invites Valerio to learn the trade. Valerio soon discovers that working with Peppino requires more commitment than he imagined. A taut atmospheric thriller with strains of black comedy, Matteo Garrone’s fourth film, a box office smash in Italy, captures its characters’ quiet desperation and intense emotional longing as their world becomes increasingly macabre.” ~ND/NF 2003

Fri Sep 4: 4:20pm and 9:00pm

Googoosh: Iran’s Daughter
Farhad Zamani, USA, 2000; 158m

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, iconic Iranian singer Googoosh was silenced and forbidden to grant interviews. Farhad Zamani’s revealing portrait of the artist and the woman charts her meteoric rise to fame in Iran, as well as her “banishment” from public view, via clips of her performances, footage from her movie roles, and the reminiscences of friends and family members. Zamani’s film is a reminder of why, 30 years after she stopped recording, Googoosh remains a star.

Sat Aug 29: 2:45pm*

*Introduction by director

A Life Apart: Hasidism in America
Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum, USA, 1997; 96m

Those who adhere to and those who stray from the life offered by Hasidic Orthodoxy share their stories in this provocative account of Jewish religious life. In “observing the observant,” directors Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum offer a rare exploration of the complexities of Hasidic arrival and survival in the United States, opening a window into a particularly insular world rarely seen by outsiders. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Tue Sep 1: 6:30pm*

*Q&A w/ director

Moving Midway
Godfrey Cheshire, USA, 2008; 95m

“Godfrey Cheshire’s richly observed documentary film about his colonial roots in the American South begins with the impending move of Midway, the old family plantation in Raleigh, to a new location to make room for a shopping mall. This coincides with the news that Godfrey and his cousins are kin to the Hintons, an African-American branch of the family. What starts as an investigation of heritage and change develops into an eye-opening family drama…[and a] thoroughly entertaining, informative, and stimulating film about the Southern plantation as both a symbol and a fading reality.” ~ND/NF 2008

Wed Sep 2: 4:20pm*
Thu Sep 3: 6:30pm**

*Q&A w/ director.
**Q&A w/ director & Robert Hinton, Associate Director of Africana Studies at New York University.

Merci pour le chocolat
Claude Chabrol, France/Switzerland, 2000; 99m

The extraordinary resurgence of New Wave co-founder Claude Chabrol began with this witty psychological thriller about Mika (Isabelle Huppert), a Swiss chocolate company exec, who is married to suave concert pianist Andre (Jacques Dutronc).  Though their son Guillaume seems to have inherited none of his father’s talent, Andre’s student Jeanne shares his birthday and, Mika suspects, something else.  Chabrol weaves a delicate web of intrigues and suspicions until there is simply no way out for any of his protagonists.

Fri Aug 28: 2:30pm and 7:00pm

Sherman’s March
A Mediation to the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Ross McElwee, USA, 1986; 155m

Before there were Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, there was Ross McElwee, whose masterpiece Sherman’s March is the Citizen Kane of the first-person documentary movement. In the film, the North Carolina native returns home to explore the lingering effects of Sherman’s march on the contemporary South. He’d also like to get a girlfriend. His wonderful, self-critical sense of humor inspires an equally wonderful portrait of America coming to terms with the lack of certainly and engagement in the future.

Thu Aug 27: 4:00pm
Sat Aug 29: 8:30pm

Suzann Pitt’s World
1979-2006; 67m

This gorgeous collection of three outstanding animated shorts charts the boundaries of the marvelous world of Suzan Pitt. With Asparagus (USA, 1979; 20m), she burst onto the international scene with playful, erotic imagery for the midnight movie crowd. Joy Street (USA, 1995; 24m) is a paean to the delights of spending time in an altered state. Finally, El doctor(USA/Mexico, 2006; 23m) is, according to Pitt, a film about “the institution of miracles in Mexico,” as seen in the interaction between a perennially tipsy Mexican doctor and one of his young patients. Strap in and expect a joyfully bumpy ride!

Sun Aug 30: 1:00pm
Wed Sep 2: 2:50pm

The Watermelon Woman
Cheryl Dunye, USA, 1996; 85m

Debut director Cheryl Dunye stars in The Watermelon Woman as Cheryl, a black lesbian trying to make her first movie. But will Cheryl’s growing obsession with the enigmatic ’30s “mammy” actress Fae Richards stop her from noticing Diana (Guinevere Turner), the cute customer who comes into her video shop with increasing frequency? The Watermelon Woman is a satisfying exploration of race, gender, and history wrapped up as a sophisticated urban comedy. It even caused an uproar in Congress when conservative legislators discovered that its backers included the NEA.

Mon Aug 31: 6:00pm

Thu Sep 3: 4:30pm

We Were So Beloved
Manfred Kirchheimer, USA, 1985; 145m

“A fine, poignant documentary…Though We Were So Beloved is mostly about those who escaped the immediate effects of the Holocaust, it is a no less harrowing examination of conscience than Shoah and Marcel Ophuls’s Sorrow and the Pity. In the limited, quite commonplace landscape of Washington Heights, Mr. Kirchheimer finds ghosts not always visible to the naked eye.” 
~Vincent Canby, The New York Times

In this deeply felt portrait of a community, Manny Kirchheimer turns his camera on what was for decades New York’s major German-Jewish enclave, interviewing community luminaries including writer Max Frankel and political scientist Louis Kampf, and his own, remarkable father.

Sun Aug 30: 2:30pm

~ Single Screening Tickets: $7 members/students/child – $8 senior – $11 public 
~ Series Pass ($40 public/$30 member): admits one person to five titles in the series; only available for purchase at the box office.

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