Friday, April 25, 2014

Manakamana (2013)

A scene from Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's MANAKAMANA, playing at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 24 - May 8, 2014. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society
WHO: Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez are the co-directors of this experimental documentary.

WHAT: I have not yet seen Manakamana, but I've been anticipating it since I first heard about it last summer, when I was primed to see more work by directors associated with the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, beyond Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, who teamed up to make my favorite feature film of 2013, Leviathan. This one is frequently described as an aesthetic opposite of that camera-chaotic work. Featuring eleven static long takes by a 16mm camera planted in a moving cable car ascending a mountain toward a Nepalese temple, it sounds like it may formally resemble a cross between James Benning's 13 Lakes and Ernie Gehr's Side/Walk/Shuttle. But Spray and Velez also come out of an anthropological tradition of filmmaking influenced by Robert Gardner (as discussed a bit in this interview), so I expect much of the film's interest to come from the human element visually absent from Gehr's and Benning's pieces. Indeed, I was recently fortunate to be able to see an untitled 2010 single-take short made in Nepal by Spray, and it begged the viewer to seriously con.sider the complexity of his or her relationship to the people being depicted on screen, and to the filmmaking apparatus itself, as well as the dynamics between Spray and her subjects.

Manakamana was released in New York City last week and has been reviewed extensively. A relatively new website called Critics Round Up has links to many of the most significant voices on the film. Don't expect San Francisco International Film Festival-credentialed critics to be added to the list however, as until Spray's & Velez's film secures commercial distribution here, it will remain in the strange limbo of the "hold review", in which local writers aren't allowed to review the film in more than 75 words.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at New People Cinema tonight at 6PM and this Sunday afternoon at 1PM, and at the Kabuki on Monday, May 5th at 2PM.

WHY: Manakamana seems like the kind of moviegoing experience that can't really be replicated on small screens at home, and therefore begs to be seen in a cinema. And it's not one of the several SFIFF selections screening tonight that has already gone to "Rush Status", meaning a wait in line for a chance to get a ticket. If you haven't yet mapped out your whole festival, then there's no better place to start figuring it out than by looking at David Hudson's round-up of capsule previews and other press the festival has received up to this point. As he notes, the SF Bay Guardian has more extensive coverage than the SF Weekly, but that's been the norm for a while now. I imagine SFIFF staff and fans feel some mixed emotions about even the SFBG's coverage though, as for the past couple years now the fact that it gives SFIFF its cover story is blunted by the fact that they wrap this issue (unlike almost any others they publish each year) with an advertisement, thus depriving the city of the sense that the festival is the place to be this week, staring out at them from newsstands and coffee shops across town. Oh well; at least they haven't, like SF Weekly has, given more column inches to that Silicon Valley tv show than to SFIFF.

HOW: Digital

OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Day 2 includes the first local screenings of films by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu, Frenchman Serge Bozon and Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof as well as a number of lesser-known directoral quantities.

NON-SFIFF OPTION: Mildred Pierce screens in 35mm at Oakland's Paramount Theatre as part of its occasional classic film series that always includes cartoon & newsreel for only $5 admission. The Paramount has announced three more screenings of films with perhaps somewhat more dubious "classic" status (ok, I'm mostly talking about The Goonies) than this Joan Crawford noir between now and mid-July.

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