Sunday, February 10, 2019

Terri Saul's 2018 Eyes

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2018. An index of participants can be found here

Nine-time IOHTE contributor Terri Saul is a Berkeley-based artist and writer.

Out of all the films I saw with other people in Bay Area cinemas in 2018, there were only two older films. The others were 2017 films from other countries that premiered in the US in 2018. As interesting as the festival screenings were, if I could only pick two films out of all the movies I saw, these two older films would be at the top of my year-end list.
As Above, So Below screen capture from UCLA DVD "L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema"

1. As Above, So Below (1973, dir. Larry Clark) screened at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on Wed, 11/14/2018, at 7:00 p.m. preceded by short, Everybody Dies! (2016, dir. Frances Bodomo), followed by an art slideshow and conversation with Larry Clark, and Ra Malika Imhotep and Jamal Batts with The Black Aesthetic.

In the opening short, the grim reaper as a matriarch decides which children live and die as part of a surreal children’s television show. Everybody dies.

Also centered on the precarious, the feature, As Above, So Below, is a surreal and spiritual portrait of Black liberation and rebellion in a Chicago neighborhood, featuring a recovering Marine who finds compassion and community in a neighborhood coffee shop. Another safe haven, the neighborhood church, also provides dramatic cover for something else. Clark says he made the film in his community, by his community, for his community, and after surveying the audience, concluded it was not made for a large portion of the people attending the screening.

As a layer, the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) soundtrack drones on in the background, which at first seems to be included for dramatic emphasis, but is actually an archival tape of US government hysteria and plans for a forthcoming military occupation of Black neighborhoods.

Clark asked us to please try to approach the story through the lens of 1973 and not to project current situations on to it. It was difficult to follow his instructions, and not apply the early 70s setting to today.

Screen capture of Summer in Sanrizuka excerpt from Academy Video VHS of 100 Years Of Japanese Cinema
2. Summer in Sanrizuka (1968, dir. Shinsuke Ogawa) screened at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on Thursday, 11/29/2018, at 7:00 p.m.

A chaotic documentary created by the filmmaking collective Ogawa Pro, follows radicalized student activists and poor farmers in Sanrizuka, fronted by lines of sturdy women linking arms, as they come together to resist eviction from their land to make way for the Narita International Airport which was built in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo and resisted for a decade.

Cops and corporations attempt to criminalize people occupying their own land. Residents, in particular the elderly, find ways to shame them for doing so. Young and old come together to resist water cannons, land surveyors, and capitalists, using rocks, shit catapults, sticks, plastic helmets, hand-towels, and other defensive gear made out of materials available on a farm. The day-to-day gains and losses are recorded by a crew constantly tasked with compressing time during the unfolding of a standoff with an unknown trajectory or endpoint.

Partway through production, the cameraperson is arrested. What follows is a break with the shooting style of the previous section. For the rest of the doc, a portrait style emerges as we move closer in and spend moments in stillness, confronting and in some ways disarming the cops via a camera’s gaze.

This exchange of one set of eyes for another offers an additional layer of understanding, pulling the viewer inside the community in a way that only two eyes and one lens never could.

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