Upcoming Screenings

Cameraperson
October 4th, 2017

Cameraperson
Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 / 7:00pm
Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center


2016 / 102 minutes / English / Color
Directed by: Kirsten Johnson
Print supplied by: POV

Please join us for a special screening of Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson [2016] at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center. This event is a collaboration with POV, PBS’ award-winning nonfiction film series.

Ticket Information: Free and Open to the Public


Event Sponsors:


Market Arcade Complex (first floor)
617 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203


Synopsis

courtesy of Janus Films:

A boxing match in Brooklyn; life in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina; the daily routine of a Nigerian midwife; an intimate family moment at home: these scenes and others are woven into Cameraperson, a tapestry of footage captured over the twenty-five-year career of documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. Through a series of episodic juxtapositions, Johnson explores the relationships between image makers and their subjects, the tension between the objectivity and intervention of the camera, and the complex interaction of unfiltered reality and crafted narrative. A work that combines documentary, autobiography, and ethical inquiry, Cameraperson is both a moving glimpse into one filmmaker’s personal journey and a thoughtful examination of what it means to train a camera on the world.

Director Statement

courtesy of press kit:

The joys of being a documentary cameraperson are endless and obvious: I get to share profound intimacy with the people I film, pursue remarkable stories, be at the center of events as they unfold, travel, collaborate, and see my work engage with the world. I experience physical freedom and the chance for artistic expression and discovery every time I hold a camera. No wonder I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years and love my life.

And yet, the dilemmas I face while holding my camera are formidable. There are the concrete challenges I must meet in the moment—how to frame, find focus, choose what direction to follow. The other troubles are implicit, and often unseen by audiences:

• The people I film are in immediate and often desperate need, but I can offer them little to no material assistance.

• I can and will leave a place I film—whether a war or a refugee camp—while the people I film cannot.

• I traffic in hope without the ability to know what will happen in the future.

• I ask for trust, cooperation, and permission without knowing where the filming experience will lead the subject.

• I shift the balance of power by my very presence, and act on behalf of one side or another in a conflict.

• My work requires trust, intimacy, and total attention. It often feels like a friendship or family—both to myself and the people I film—but it is something different.

• I know little about how the images I shoot will be used in the future, and cannot control their distribution or use.

• My work can change the way my subject is perceived by the people who surround him or her and can impact the subject’s reputation or safety for years into the future.

• I follow stories the director I work for does not need and/or does not want me to follow.

• I fail to see or follow stories the director hopes I will follow.

I’ve been aware of these dimensions for most of my career, as is the case for most documentarians, and I have often discussed them with colleagues. What I didn’t know until recently was how much the accumulation of these dilemmas would begin to affect me.

And what I didn’t anticipate when this film began just five years ago was how many people in the world would be using their cell phones as cameras, communicating instantaneously, and seeing images from every part of the globe. Surveillance, political repression, censorship, and the possibility of worldwide distribution of images filmed by any individual on the planet have an effect on all of us and our relation to filming in shifting and unprecedented ways.

In making Cameraperson, my team and I decided to rely as much as possible on the evidence of my experience that is contained within the footage I shot. We know this fragmentary portrait is incomplete and are interested in the way it reveals how stories are constructed. Our hope is to convey the feeling of immediacy that comes with finding oneself in new territory with a camera, as well as to give the audience a sense of how the joys and dilemmas a cameraperson must juggle accumulate over time.

Like the film, this note is an invitation to you, and an acknowledgment of how complex it is to film and be filmed.

Photo: Getty Images

Director Biography

courtesy of press kit:

Kirsten Johnson (director/producer/cinematographer) has worked as a documentary cinematographer and director, and has committed herself to recording human-rights issues and fostering visual creativity. She has been the principal cinematographer on more than forty feature-length documentaries, and she has been credited on numerous others.

After graduating from Brown University in 1987 with a degree in fine arts and literature, Johnson traveled to Senegal to study with acclaimed filmmakers Djibril Diop Mambéty and Ousmane Sembène. The experience inspired her to apply to La Fémis, France’s national film school, where she studied cinematography.

Following her graduation from La Fémis, Johnson served as cameraperson on a number of highly acclaimed and award-winning documentaries, including Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), and The Invisible War (2012).

Johnson has had a long-standing collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras; she was the cinematographer on The Oath (2010) and Citizenfour (2014) and shot the upcoming film Risk. Additionally, she shot footage that appeared in Poitras’s visual-arts exhibition on surveillance, Laura Poitras: Astro Noise, which opened at the Whitney Museum in the winter of 2016.

When not filming, Johnson teaches a graduate course in visual thinking at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and a course on cinematography at the School of Visual Arts, and, working with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, she often leads workshops for young camerapeople and documentarians in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

Photo: Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times

Links

Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:

9/15/17 – “Cameraperson testifies to a world in which it would be clear to see that we’re all connected, if only we took the time to look at one another with reverence and simply listen.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Postlink

9/21/17 – “No film has more eloquently revealed the provisional, flawed, hopeful, expansive, manipulative, righteous human endeavour called documentary filmmaking. Johnson lays everything on the line to articulate that troubling and continuously replenishing thing about making nonfiction films that all of we filmmakers feel but can’t quite say ourselves.” Robert Greene, Sight & Soundlink

Beloved
October 24th, 2017

Beloved
Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 / 7:30pm
Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center


1998 / 172 minutes / English / Color
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Print supplied by: Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.

Please join Cultivate Cinema Circle and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center as we present a one-night screening of the late Jonathan Demme’s Beloved [1998] in conjunction with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s visit to Buffalo for Just Buffalo Literary Center’s 2017/18 season of BABEL.

Ticket Information: $8 general, $6 students & seniors, $5 members


Event Sponsors:


341 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14202


Trailer

Synopsis

courtesy of press notes:

With the startling, engrossing film Beloved, director Jonathan Demme returns to the big screen following his Academy Award™-winning work on The Silence of the Lambs and the emotionally powerful Philadelphia. Academy Award™ nominee Oprah Winfrey stars with Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, and Beah Richards in this compelling story adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Beloved translates to the screen with its daring intact, immersing viewers in the haunting, haunted landscape of its story.

Oprah Winfrey, for whom Beloved is the ultimate labor of love, appears in her first starring feature film role since earning an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actress in The Color Purple, with a performance of undeniable fearlessness. Winfrey optioned the rights to Beloved upon its publication and nurtured the project for nearly a decade, personally shepherding it to its current incarnation as one of the most anticipated motion picture events of the year.

Winfrey stars as Sethe, a woman of elemental grace and unspoken mystery. A figure of fierce determination, Sethe is a runaway slave struggling to carve out a simple existence with her children in rural Ohio, 1873. She is hindered, however, by the painful legacy of her former life, and the desperate measures to which she is driven to keep herself and her family from returning to it.

Danny Glover stars as Paul D, an old friend who comes to visit Sethe and whose understanding is tested by her household’s shattering secrets. Kimberly Elise portrays Sethe’s daughter, Denver, an embattled young woman who must free herself from the crippling grasp of her mother’s choices. And Thandie Newton is Beloved. As Beloved grows to dominate Sethe’s family, her devastating presence threatens to destroy the delicate balance of Sethe and Denver’s existence.

Beloved is a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Harpo Films/Clinica Estetico Production. The director is Jonathan Demme, working from a screenplay by Akosua Busia and Richard LaGravenese and Adam Brooks, based on the Toni Morrison novel. The film is produced by Edward Saxon, Jonathan Demme, Gary Goetzman, Oprah Winfrey, and Kate Forte. Ron Bozman serves as executive producer. The film is distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.


The experience of reading Beloved moved Oprah Winfrey, she says, in a way she had never felt before. “Beloved is about what slavery did to people. It’s about how it drove people mad, forced people to make choices no human being should have to make, and what happens as a result of making those choices. It’s about the death of self, the birth of self, and finding ways to make yourself whole.”

There was a real-life model for Sethe, the novel’s leading character. Toni Morrison had been inspired by the story of a woman named Margaret Garner, a Kentucky slave who escaped with her children to Cincinnati, Ohio, which is also Morrison’s birthplace.

Unbeknownst to Winfrey, in December of 1996, Kate Forte, head of Harpo Films/producer, sent the script to Jonathan Demme and his partner Edward Saxon at their production company, Clinica Estetico.

Demme says, “I took some scripts home with me over Christmas vacation, and Beloved was at the top of the pile. I read it and just fell in love with the script.” For the director, to be given the chance to make such a powerful and unforgettable story was “a dream come true.”

Jonathan Demme realized that a cinematic work must define its own vision, saying, “Even as we were all determined to honor Ms. Morrison’s novel to the deepest degree possible, we also understood that the movie had to achieve a life all its own. We knew that we didn’t want to fall into the reverential trap of just kind of worshipping at the altar of a book we revered and adored. Any adaptation must aspire to taking flight and creating its own identity.”

Production

courtesy of press notes:

In early 1997, shortly after Jonathan Demme had agreed to direct Beloved, he and producer Edward Saxon began to assemble their team of behind-the-scenes personnel. Longtime collaborator Kristi Zea (Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs, and Married to the Mob) signed on as production designer and also served as film’s second unit director.

According to Zea, their first priority was to secure a location that would work for the film’s time frame, which ranges from 1855 to 1873.

Their search took them to eight states before they discovered the ideal spot 45 minutes south of Philadelphia, in Maryland. The Fair Hill Natural Resource, a wooded area of more than 5,000 acres that had once served as hunting grounds for the wealthy Dupont family, was where they built Sethe’s Bluestone Road house. Zea looked to historical research and the novel for its design, saying, “A lot of clues are in the book for the look and feeling of the house.”

The early challenges in finding a location were quickly forgotten, says Demme. “Once you do find the spot, it’s inevitably going to be an extraordinary, breathtaking place to work. It’s been arduous finding the right places, and then it’s a source of great joy to actually be there filming.” Principal photography began on June 25, 1997.

The commitment to detail was evidenced in every facet of the production. While filming, the filmmakers faced a particular challenge in mounting the flashback scenes that are interspersed throughout the story.

Demme, director of photography Tak Fujimoto, and production designer Kristi Zea explored several possibilities using different kinds of film stock. Fujimoto is one of Demme’s most frequent collaborators, having shot eight films for the director.

For the 1855 flashback scenes, Fujimoto used a reversal film stock originally created by Kodak for news reporting’s quick turnaround needs. “To our eye today, it’s a very grainy stock, but it had the quality we were looking for,” says Fujimoto. “The colors are very saturated, but we overexposed the film to wash it out, and added a sepia tone to give an older look to it.”

For the 1865 scenes, Fujimoto used a regular film stock which was digitally de-saturated during post-production.

Fujimoto describes his approach to the film’s lighting design. “I rely a lot on the production design. Early on, they had decided on the main house’s design, where the ceilings are very, very low, so all the lighting was dictated by the physical nature of the set. All the lighting was very low to the ground and shadowy. The wardrobe department helped out a lot by keeping the clothes in darker, warmer earth tones.”

All the painstaking detail work served to inspire the director and actors. For actor Thandie Newton, it felt that “all the departments involved just seemed to have a perfect understanding, and the attention to detail on every level. I felt I was in the midst of great artists, and it’s not every day that you feel that on a film set.”

Author Bio

courtesy of Just Buffalo Literary Center:

With her incredible string of lyrical, imaginative, and adventurous modern classics Toni Morrison lays claim to being one of America’s best novelists. Race issues are at the heart of many of Morrison’s most enduring novels, from the ways that white concepts of beauty affect a girl’s self image in The Bluest Eye to themes of segregation in Sulu and slavery in her signature work Beloved. Through it all, Morrison relates her tales with lyrical eloquence and spellbinding mystery.

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, Morrison’s unique approach to writing stems from a childhood spent steeped in folklore and mythology. Her family reveled in sharing these often tales, and their commingling of the fantastic and the natural would become a key element in her work when she began penning original tales of her own.

The other majorly influential factor in her writing was the racism she experienced firsthand in, as Jet magazine described it, the “mixed and sometimes hostile neighborhood” of Lorain, Ohio. When Morrison was only a toddler, her home was set afire by racists while her family was still inside of it. During times such as these, she found strength in her father, who instilled in her a great sense of dignity. This pride in her cultural background would heavily influence her debut novel.

In The Bluest Eye, an eleven-year old black girl named Pecola prays every night for blue eyes, seeing them as the epitome of feminine beauty. She believes these eyes, symbolizing commonly held white concepts of attractiveness, would put an end to her familial woes, an end to her father’s excessive drinking and her brother’s meandering. They would give her self-esteem and purpose. The Bluest Eye is the first of Toni Morrison’s cries for racial pride and it is an auspicious debut told with an eerie poeticism.

Morrison next tackled segregation in Sulu, which chronicles the friendship between two women who, much like the author, grew up in a small, segregated village in Ohio. Song of Solomon followed. Arguably her first bona fide classic and certainly her most lyrical work, Song of Solomon breathed with the mythology of Morrison’s youth, a veritable modern folktale pivoting on an eccentric whimsically named Milkman Dead who spends his life trying to fly. This is one of Morrison’s most breathtaking, most accomplished and fully dimensional novels, a story of powerful convictions told in an unmistakably original manner.

In Song of Solomon, Morrison created a distinct world where the supernatural commingles comfortably with the mundane, a setting that would reappear in her masterpiece, Beloved. Beloved is a ghost story quite unlike any other, a tale of guilt and love and the horrendous legacy of slavery. Taking place not long after the end of the Civil War, Beloved finds Sethe, a former slave, being haunted by the daughter she murdered to save the child from being sold into slavery. It is a gut wrenching story that is buoyed by its fantastical plot device and the sheer beauty of Morrison’s prose.

Beloved so moved Morrison’s literary peers that forty-eight of them signed an open letter published in the New York Times demanding she be recognizing for this major effort. Subsequently, the book won her a Pulitzer Prize. A year after publishing her next novel Jazz in 1992, she would become the very first African American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Towards the end of the century, Morrison’s work became increasingly eclectic. She not only published another finely crafted, incendiary novel in Paradise, which systematically tracks the genesis of an act of mob violence, but she also published her first children’s book The Big Box. In 2003, she published Love, her first novel in five years, a complex meditation on family and the way one man fuels the obsessions of several women. The following year she assembled a collection of photographs of school children taken during the era of segregation. What makes Remember: The Journey to School Integration so particularly haunting is that Morrison chose to compose dialogue imagining what the subjects of each photo may have been thinking. In 2008, Morrison published A Mercy.

That imagination, that willingness to take chances, to examine history through a fresh perspective, is such an integral part of Morrison’s craft. She is as vital as any contemporary artist, and her stories may focus on the black American experience, but the eloquence, imaginativeness, and meaningfulness of her writing leaps high over any racial boundaries.

Photo: MICHAEL LIONSTAR, ALFRED A. KNOPF / AP PHOTO

Director Bio

courtesy of TCM:

“I only work with actors who take full responsibility for their characters.”

An incredibly energetic, optimistic and versatile director of character-driven films, Jonathan Demme emerged from the crucible of B-moviemaking at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in the early 1970s to become one of Hollywood’s most critically admired filmmakers. Though he cut his teeth on a few cheapie action flicks like “Caged Heat” (1974) and “Crazy Mama” (1975), Demme tapped into the influence of foreign filmmakers like Francois Truffaut to use sly humor and an oddball style to explore human nature in fiercely intimate films like “Citizen’s Band” (1977), “Melvin and Howard” (1980) and the troubled “Swing Shift” (1984). Though mainly interested in fictional storytelling, Demme also carved out a career in non-fiction filmmaking, including the critically acclaimed “Stop Making Sense” (1984), a rock documentary featuring Talking Heads that was widely considered to be one of the best examples of the genre. But Demme reserved his finest work for his most mainstream fare, particularly “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), which became one of only three films to win Academy Awards in all five major Oscar categories and cemented his reputation as being one of the most versatile and accomplished filmmakers of his day. Following the equally high profile AIDS story “Philadelphia” (1993) and Oprah Winfrey-starring Toni Morrison adaptation “Beloved” (1998), Demme returned to his quirkier roots with a series of documentaries focusing on rocker Neil Young, a remake of the conspiracy thriller “The Manchurian Candidate” (2008) and the small-scale indie “Rachel Getting Married” (2008). When Jonathan Demme died of complications from esophageal cancer on April 26, 2017, peers and fans across the globe mourned the loss of one of the most eclectic and unique filmmakers of his generation.

Born on Feb. 22, 1944 in Baldwin, NY, Demme was raised by his father, Robert, a public relations executive for the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, FL, and his mother, Carol, an actress. After his parents moved to Florida, Demme began carving out a career as a veterinarian by working at a local vet cleaning cages and caring for the animals. But when he was unable to master the most basic concepts of chemistry at the University of Florida, Demme gave up his dream of becoming a veterinarian and began writing film reviews for the college’s newspaper, The Alligator. After writing a rave review of “Zulu” (1964), his father arranged an introduction to the film’s producer Joseph E Levine, who was charmed by Demme’s enthusiastic thumbs up and immediately hired him to write press releases. Demme moved to New York, where he spent the next two years as a movie publicist for United Artists and Embassy Pictures. It was during this time that he met and befriended French director François Truffaut, who was in New York promoting “The Bride Wore Black” (1968). Truffaut recognized the young publicist’s affection for film and planted the directing seed into Demme’s mind.

In 1968, Demme left the publicist business and moved to London, where he continued writing reviews, only this time for the music business, which ironically helped to open the door on his feature film career. Hired by producers Paul Maslansky and Irwin Allen to create the music for “Eyewitness/Sudden Terror” (1970), Demme worked with British rock groups Van Der Graaf Generator and Kaleidoscope as the score’s music coordinator. It was during this time that he came to the attention of low-budget impresario Roger Corman. At the producer’s invitation, Demme relocated to Los Angeles to write screenplays for the recently-formed New World Pictures, completing his first script, “Angels Hard as They Come” (1971), with friend Joe Viola. Demme graduated to second unit director on “The Hot Box” (1972) before making his full-fledged directorial debut with the tongue-in-cheek “Caged Heat” (1974), a fairly typical women’s prison flick in which the director inserted a socially-conscious secondary plot about the medical exploitation of prisoners. Demme helmed two more pictures for Corman, “Crazy Mama” (1975), a rich crime comedy about a wild woman (Cloris Leachman) on an absurdist crime spree from California to Arkansas, and “Fighting Mad” (1976), starring Peter Fonda as a man driven to violence by a ruthless landowner who wants to take over his farm.

After “Fighting Mad,” Demme left the comfortable confines of New World Pictures to make movies on his own. He beat out several directors to helm “Citizen’s Band” (1977), an adventurous comedy which wavered between glorifying, lampooning and seriously questioning the implications of the CB radio craze of the era. Retitled “Handle with Care,” the movie was a series of mundane, whimsical and disturbing vignettes that featured a gang of loony CB operators which bombed at the box office despite good reviews, leaving Demme scrounging for work. After making “Last Embrace” (1979), an accomplished thriller in the Hitchcockian mold, Demme continued his exploration of the American condition in “Melvin and Howard” (1980), a laidback but revealing account of an unlikely encounter between a working-class everyman, Melvin Dummar (Paul LeMat), and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (Jason Robards), whom Dummar claimed named him sole heir to his fortune. Named Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, this satiric, tolerant look at the American class structure also won Demme the New York Film Critics’ Best Director award, as well as Oscars for co-star Mary Steenburgen and writer Bo Goldman. But once again, Demme failed to ignite the box office.

For his next film, “Swing Shift” (1984), Demme envisioned a probing look at women factory workers during World War II (his grandmother had worked on the assembly line making fighter planes.) But the film’s executive producer and female lead, Goldie Hawn, saw a star vehicle instead. Hating the director’s cut emphasizing female camaraderie and endurance in the face of domineering male employers, Hawn presented the director with 28 pages of new material, which he half-heartedly shot. As soon as the picture had been through two previews in its original form, Hawn decided to re-cut the film on her own, playing up the script’s romantic angle. Demme and his editor Craig McKay quit the project rather than insert the new scenes. Though its critical and commercial failure vindicated him in a way, the pain of the experience lingered for well over a year. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael – who originally gave “Swing Shift” a negative review – later said, “I saw his cut on videotape, and thought it was wonderful.”

During the early stages of editing “Swing Shift,” Demme had attended a Talking Heads concert in Los Angeles and had been blown away by their performance. He sold the band’s leader David Byrne on his vision of honoring the excitement of the live performance by avoiding tricky shots, flashy editing techniques, and anything that would constitute a digression from the performance itself, like cutaways to the audience. Compiled from three concerts in December 1983, “Stop Making Sense” (1984) was a joyously energetic, yet downtown-cool showcase which helped propel Talking Heads to mainstream stardom. Demme also directed several rock videos for other bands, including an acclaimed clip for New Order’s “Perfect Kiss” that consisted primarily of extreme close-ups of the band members’ faces and hands as they performed the song.

Demme’s eclectic musical taste also informed the lively “Something Wild” (1986), a screwball comedy that takes a surprising turn into thriller territory. “Something Wild” was Demme’s contribution to the disaffected yuppie genre, which had already yielded Albert Brooks’ “Lost in America” (1985) and John Landis’ “Into the Night” (1985), in which Demme had appeared in a cameo role. The film’s hip urban sensibility seemed a change for Demme, as did the return to violence largely unseen since his early days with Corman. But the film was actually consistent with the director’s examination of self-determination that had begun with the women prisoners of “Caged Heat” and continued with the munitions workers of “Swing Shift.” His concern with the heroic struggle of the central female character who fights to establish herself against unyielding patriarchal attitudes helped contribute to his reputation as a feminist filmmaker.

Demme showed his mettle with another artful and subtle performance film, “Swimming to Cambodia” (1987), featuring celebrated monologist Spalding Gray. He next spoofed the Mafia in “Married to the Mob” (1988), another dark comedy more garishly colored and cheerful than “Something Wild.” Dean Stockwell’s comic turn as Mafioso Tony ‘The Tiger’ Russo and the right-on performance of Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead role were standouts among a formidable cast boasting Matthew Modine, Mercedes Ruehl, Alec Baldwin and frequent Demme player Charles Napier.

Demme’s career finally reached full fruition both critically and commercially with “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), adapted from the novel by Thomas Harris. Despite the grisly nature of the story, Demme resisted the possibilities for exploitation and instead fashioned a compelling and impressively sensitive psychological drama with a courageous, independent female protagonist. He also elicited landmark performances from both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Following in the footsteps of “It Happened One Night” (1934) and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “Silence of the Lambs” went on to win the five top Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay – an immense accomplishment for what was essentially a big-budget horror film.

Often associated with progressive causes, Demme lent his talents to projects that reflected his political concerns such as “Haiti Dreams of Democracy” (1988), which he co-wrote, co-produced, and co-directed. He also helmed and appeared in “Cousin Bobby” (1992), a documentary about his relative, the Reverend Robert Castle, a radical, Harlem-based clergyman. Though many viewed the director’s decision to film “Philadelphia” (1993) as a mea culpa in response to the charges of homophobia in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Demme had actually been working on the project with screenwriter Ron Nyswaner as early as 1988. Nonetheless, the moving courtroom drama was a landmark in mainstream Hollywood history. “Philadelphia” provided an attention-getting and Oscar-winning role for Tom Hanks as the afflicted gay lawyer who loses his job when he becomes symptomatic from AIDS. Despite some acclaim, the film was criticized for lacking the strong character development and sense of the unexpected that characterized Demme’s best work.

In the 1990s, Demme, like his mentor Corman, increasingly concentrated on producing, beginning with George Armitage’s “Miami Blues” (1990). He upped his output considerably after 1993, producing 10 pictures in five years. He returned to the director’s chair for the film version of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Beloved” (1998), reinforcing the novel’s best insights with a startling breadth of vision. Demme had been looking for a project that addressed race relations for a long time and “Beloved” fit that bill with its story about the disfiguring effects of slavery and its aftermath. As a reflection of his lifelong passion for rock ‘n’ roll, he also helmed “Storefront Hitchcock” (1998), a concert film featuring legendary cult figure Robyn Hitchcock.

After a lengthy hiatus away from the camera, Demme returned to helm “The Truth About Charlie” (2002), a remake of one of his favorite films, “Charade” (1963), starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and directed by the legendary Stanley Donen. Essentially casting the central locale of Paris as a third lead character, Demme reunited with some longtime collaborators such as Tak Fujimoto and paid tribute to the influences of the French New Wave that long guided his sensibility. The film was poorly received by both critics and audiences, which failed to stop Demme from choosing another remake of a classic film, 1962 conspiracy thriller “The Manchurian Candidate.” Demme’s 2004 spin featured a carefully tweaked screenplay with some new surprises and dimensions, and a masterful cast: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber and Kimberly Elise.

Returning to documentary films, Demme directed “The Agronomist” (2002), a profile of Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist Jean Dominique, who spent his lifetime campaigning to reform the oppressed nation until his assassination in 2000. Demme next delivered the rock documentary, “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” (2005), which depicted the famed singer-songwriter during two special performances at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium commemorating the release of his acclaimed 2005 album, Prairie Wind. For his third consecutive documentary, Demme turned to politics with “Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains” (2007), an experimental look at the former president during his book tour promoting Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which featured speeches on how to achieve peace in the Middle East. After four years, Demme went back to feature filmmaking with “Rachel Getting Married” (2008), a dramatic comedy about the troubled black sheep of a family (Anne Hathaway) returning home for her sister’s wedding, which touches off long-simmering tensions. Demme earned Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Director and Best Feature. Demme next united with Young for two more documentaries, the concert film “Neil Young Trunk Show” (2009) and the cinema-vérité “Neil Young Journeys” (2011). Moving back to television for the first time in decades, Demme directed two episodes each of the acclaimed comedy-drama “Enlightened” (HBO 2011-13) and crime drama “The Killing” (AMC/Netflix 2011-14) and an hour-long drama, “Line of Sight” (AMC 2014). The concert film “Kenny Chesney: Unstaged” (2012) continued his music-related work. In 2013, Demme filmed Wallace Shawn’s adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play “A Master Builder.” Demme returned to the big screen with “Ricki and the Flash” (2015), a comedy-drama about a struggling rocker (Meryl Streep) who reconnects with the suburban family she had abandoned at the outset of her career. It was followed by another concert film, “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids” (2016), showcasing the pop-R&B singer in Las Vegas during the final show of his 2014 tour. Returning to television, Demme shot an episode of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 10-part procedural drama “Shots Fired” (Fox 2017). Jonathan Demme died of complications from esophageal cancer on April 26, 2017.

Links

Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:

The Strange Little Cat
November 1st, 2017

The Strange Little Cat
Wednesday, November 1st, 2017 / 7:00pm
Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center


2014 / 72 minutes / German with English subtitles / Color
Directed by: Ramon Zürcher
Print supplied by: Goethe Institut

Please join us for a special screening of Ramon Zürcher’s Das merkwürdige Kätzchen [The Strange Little Cat] [2014] at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center.

Ticket Information: $7.00 General Admission / $5.00 for Squeaky Members


Event Sponsors:


Market Arcade Complex (first floor)
617 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203


Trailer

Synopsis

courtesy of press kit:

It is a Saturday in autumn, and Karin and Simon are visiting their parents and youngest sister Clara. This family gathering provides the occasion for a dinner together, at which other relatives appear over the course of the day. While the family members animate the apartment’s space with their conversations, everyday activities and cooking preparations, the cat and dog range through the various rooms. They too become a central element in this quotidian familial dance that repeatedly manifests stylized elements, disrupting any naturalistic mode of presentation. In this way, adjoining spaces open up between family drama, fairy tale and the psychological study of a mother.

Director Bio / Note / Interview

courtesy of press kit:

From 2002 to 2005, he attended Bern University of the Arts (HKB), completing an art degree with a focus on video. In 2005, he received the Kiefer Hablitzel Award for Visual Arts for his video work. Since 2006, he has studied directing at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (dffb). The Strange Little Cat is his first feature-length film.

Director’s Note:

The Strange Little Cat plays out for the most part in the enclosed area of a family apartment. In this model space, I want to create a condensed universe in which the “thrownness” of an absurd existence glimmers from behind everyday actions and conversations; in which the difficulty of communicating experiences and feelings continually renews the characters’ isolation from one another. The characters are repeatedly compelled to act, simply in order to fill the emptiness of their surroundings. Fleeting moments of mutual understanding, recognition and deep intimacy flicker and reoccur throughout. In these moments, the apartment‘s pulsing emptiness is stilled, and the scream of the space’s silence recedes. This cycle continues until the mundane choreography of everyday life comes to a halt, and the day comes to an end.

Interview: (conducted by Cécile Tollu-Polonowski)

The Strange Little Cat is your first feature-length film. Can you tell us something about its origins?

The project was initiated in the context of a dffb seminar with director Béla Tarr. We had various Kafka texts to choose from, and I opted for The Metamorphosis. The idea was to adapt the literary source very freely, without constraints, to look at the text and see what kind of cinematic universe might emerge. With “The Metamorphosis”, I found myself interested in the juxtaposition of a non-social space (the bedroom, where the insect is located), and a social space (the kitchen). This contrast between the vibrantly animated space of the kitchen and the static space in which characters sleep, where they escape from life (and are allowed to be asocial, so to speak), as well as the presence of animals and the work with a family ensemble were elements of the text that attracted me. I also knew I wanted to do a chamber drama. In other respects, the film ultimately has little to do with Kafka‘s novella. It would be absurd to speak of this as a film adaptation.

I’ve tried a number of things in my recent short films that I revisited here in The Strange Little Cat: a real-time choreography with hardly any temporal jumps, a static camera in contrast to a lively, dynamic staging. However, I had no desire to think in the mode of a short film. Rather, I wanted to make a feature film, particularly as I’ve often had the feeling of creating cinematic sketches with my previous short pieces.

How did you write the screenplay?

I had a collection of ideas in a sketchbook that I imagined would be good for a movie. The first image that interested me during the script’s development consisted of a character sleeping in a room, a cat that scratches on the outside of the closed door, and a mother who watches the cat and lets it continue scratching. I found it interesting enough to use this situation as a basis for further thinking, and as an associative stimulus for the development of additional scenes. In this way a whole web of moments, relationships between spaces, and characters developed. It was like playing billiards: You hit one ball, which knocks against other balls, and these in turn scatter and bump against each other… A network of ideas was set into motion, and gradually a model of the apartment took shape in my mind.

Before I came to Berlin, I painted as a part of my art studies. Even then, it was important to me to avoid settling on a theme for a new painting from the start, for fear of becoming a slave to the idea, or of feeling obligated to commit to it. I simply paint and see what I discover in the brushstrokes, see what develops. Something similar happens to me when writing. It‘s like improvised painting with physical actions, dialogue and sounds. A little like automatic writing. Specific themes only came up little by little. The child-mother theme for instance, then to a certain extent the story of a mother who maybe isn‘t a mother in the classic sense.

After about five months of script development I had a 40-page treatment, which I rewrote into the first draft of a script (170 pages) that still had to be cut down considerably.

I also find that The Strange Little Cat is like an audiovisual sculpture. The film came together additively at first, by collecting and fitting together a wealth of material that could afterwards be sculpted more extensively.

Were the illustrated monologues and still-life montage sequences in the script from the beginning?

Yes. I wanted from the beginning to work with illustrated monologues. I find moments in which characters digress into monologues or into the exact description of a past situation interesting. I also like breaks in which the speaker abruptly leaves the level of the image and we enter into the memory-picture being depicted, so to speak. The character continues to speak, so the language to a certain extent breaks away from the body and generates a memoryspace. The memory-pictures are like “alien shots” in the film, breaking up the chamber drama and the apartment space.

From a formal perspective, the montage sequences with the various still lives were like punctuation marks, used to separate chapters from one another and to bring the objects previously associated with the characters‘ actions into the spotlight, almost as if in a museum. The fascinating thing is that the objects in a certain sense take on emotional resonance because they were associated with an action. In this way, the objects almost become characters. In a classic story, there is a rigorous system of significance and values: This character or some object is important, another less so. Although the viewer doesn‘t regard the objects as being particularly important while watching, they are given an unusual level of significance.

Did much change during the shooting and editing processes?

No, in fact. The film remained quite close to the script. A few pieces of dialogue are improvised. The improvised moments have a nice liveliness in what is otherwise a rather austere space. It was important to me that a choreography emerge out of movement and animation, creating a contrast to the stasis. Unlike the other characters, the mother was always presented rather statically. The other characters are considerably more lively, particularly Clara, the young daughter, who is loud even to the point of screaming. Clara is a body of life, while the mother is rather a body of stasis, tending almost towards death. It was important to me to show this liveliness vividly, presenting a contrast to the mother.

How was the choreography developed? How did you work with the animals?

While I was writing, I had the ideal apartment in my head, and knew how the ideal floor plan was laid out – for instance, where the coffee machine and the sideboard were located. I also knew how characters should move through the space, and how their physical actions should take place. So I had a choreography in mind. Since the real apartment didn‘t correspond completely to this imaginary model apartment, the actions had to be adapted to the real apartment, and the apartment to the actions.

An economical, in a certain sense even simple editing style was very important to me. The actions needed to be carefully planned in order to make a static camera and a low cut frequency possible. The actions were adapted to the edit. One consequence of this was that off-camera events were registered quite strongly, which I quite like. As with the memory-pictures, the scene breaks away from the characters as a result of the off-camera voices and sounds, so that things are taking place unseen.

The points at which the cat and the moth were embedded in this choreography were also set. But you can‘t direct a cat. We always waited until the cat jumped to where it needed to be. The animals forced us to back off from the strict shooting rhythm. It was almost a meditative experience, waiting for the cat to jump onto the table.

How was the collaboration with the cinematographer?

Alex and I had already worked together on a short film, and I‘m glad we made The Strange Little Cat together as well. We‘re very similar, in that it reassures us to make decisions on the scenes as accurately as possible in advance. In this regard, Alex is very precise and focused on specifics. I have a strong need for a static camera, in order to be able to accurately determine the composition of the images and the division of the on- and off-camera action.

Before shooting, we divided the script into shots from beginning to end. If this process showed that something in the text didn‘t work (because it would have resulted in too many cuts, for example), I revised the script. The rhythm of the edits thus in a way co-wrote the screenplay.

Many small details point to an incredible tension in this family. The characters are intimate, but don’t listen to one another. Can you comment on this?

The mother is the character that displays the most passive aggression. For example, she interrupts communication with the use of the loudly droning, nearly screaming mixer. Now and then, it’s as if a pressure cooker suddenly explodes and a surge of violence is released. The film portrays a kind of relay-race of small humiliations and violent acts. Through writing, the mother has come to be the queen of this particular realm. She impresses her psyche on other characters and on the space.

Speech in The Strange Little Cat often wanders off into monologues. Someone being spoken to fails to take up an offer of dialogue, and the speaker notes that no dialogue is taking place. Language is no longer a means of connection; instead, it is perverted, isolating the characters further. They’re locked in their own lives, but have the intense desire to communicate, to share their experience and experiences with others. But they lack a medium enabling them to accomplish this. Language no longer functions.

How did you happen upon the music? Did you always intend to have a musical motif?

A few musical ideas were described in the script, but not all. I originally wanted to use as little music as possible, because for me speech and sounds are the abstract music of the film medium. During the edit, I wanted cello music at certain points. The assistant director, Nicole Schink, suggested the piece that was ultimately used in the film. At the beginning I thought it was too emotional, too dramatic for the film, and for this reason insincere. But I gradually found both courage and pleasure in rendering emotions through music, by using it consciously. I‘m no longer concerned that it might produce false emotions. The music has become very important for the film.

And the title?

It suggested itself to me at the beginning, and simply stuck. I like that it conveys something naive, fairy-tale-like, even romantic. It reminds me of titles like “Peter Schlemihl‘s Miraculous Story”. It‘s also a title that raises certain questions, and is even a bit vexing. Beyond this, I simply loved this title.

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Sleeping Sickness
December 6th, 2017

Sleeping Sickness
Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 / 7:00pm
Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center


2011 / 91 minutes / German with English subtitles / Color
Directed by: Ulrich Köhler
Print supplied by: Goethe Institut

Please join us for a special screening of Ulrich Köhler’s Schlafkrankheit [Sleeping Sickness] [2009] at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center.

Ticket Information: $7.00 General Admission / $5.00 for Squeaky Members


Event Sponsors:


Market Arcade Complex (first floor)
617 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203


Trailer

Synopsis

courtesy of The Match Factory:

Ebbo and Vera Velten have been living in Africa for a long time. Ebbo is managing a sleeping sickness program. His work is fulfilling. In contrast, Vera feels increasingly uncomfortable with her life in the expat community of Yaoundé and the separation from her daughter Helen, 14, who is attending boarding school in Germany.

Ebbo has to give up his life in Africa or he loses the women he loves. But he has become a stranger to Europe. His fear of returning increases from day to day.

Years later. Alex Nzila, a young French doctor of Congolese origin, travels to Cameroon to evaluate a development project. He hasn’t been to Africa for a long time. But instead of finding new prospects, he encounters a destructive, lost man: like a phantom, Ebbo slips away from his evaluator.

Director Bio & Interview

Bio courtesy of The Match Factory:

Ulrich Köhler was born 1969 in Marburg /Germany and lived in Zaire (now Dem. Rep. of Congo) with his family from 1974 to 1979. He studied Fine Arts in Quimper/France, Philosophy in Hamburg and later on Visual Communication at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg (Diploma 1998), where he made his first short films. His feature films Bungalow (2002) and Windows on Monday (2006) were successful at numerous festivals and won national and international awards, including the German Critics Award for Best First Feature in 2003.

Interview courtesy of press kit:

You tell the story of a man lost between two worlds. Was Ebbo’s character the starting point of the story?
I was interested in the world of the international aid workers in Africa. I asked myself how do people live in an environment in which they will always remain privileged outsiders. My parents were aid workers in Zaire. I grew up in a small village on a tributary of the Congo for a few years. My brother and I spent a lot of time on the water and very little time at school. My mother was our teacher.

Is that where the story about the hippo comes from?
Yes, there were hippos there and my father used to take us out in a small log boat to follow them. The villagers had warned us, but my father didn’t take it seriously. After we left the village, an American doctor was killed by one of the animals and the villagers believed that it was the hospital director, who had transformed himself into a hippo to kill her.

That sounds like an exciting childhood.
Which made our return to Germany even more difficult. We had lost our friends and were forced to give up a free life in nature for a small town in Hessen. It was also a moral shock: Even a nine-year-old could not overlook the unjust distribution of wealth between these two continents.

I pushed Africa far away and in a short time I forgot how to speak Kituba, the local dialect that had become my second mother tongue. My parents on the other hand really wanted to return. Later they worked in the hospital where we shot the film. If I hadn’t wanted to visit them, I would have probably never returned to Africa.

And now you’ve made a film there.
Yes and for a long time I couldn’t quite imagine it. Even though my first visit to Cameroon had been a powerful experience, it seemed presumptuous of me as a European to make a film about Africa.

I didn’t want to exploit it thematically. Perhaps it was the novel “Season of Migration to the North” by the Sudanese author Tayeb Salih that finally sparked my courage to examine my relationship to Africa. He tells the story of a Sudanese who returns to his country after having lived in England for many years only to discover that he has lost his homeland. For me, “Sleeping Sickness” is not a film about Africa; it’s a film about Europeans in Africa. It’s a film about Europe.

You begin the second part of your film with the lecture given by a critic of developmental aid. Do you share his views?
No. African experts who are advocating the abolition of international aid are popular in the western press. Their solutions are just as dubious to me as the paternalistic activism of Bono and Bob Geldof. On my travels I met many foreign experts that are in a schizophrenic situation: Although they feel that the actual work they do is very useful, they doubt the sense of developmental aid in general.

I don’t believe there are any simple answers and perhaps it’s not even our job to give answers. We ought to above all be more honest and examine which governments we work with and for what reasons. Rich countries can help improve the situation of the poor but that requires sacrifices we are not prepared to make. For example, most experts agree that agricultural subsidies in developed countries hinder development in Africa.

The second main character, Alex, gets quite upset about the neoliberal lecture. But on his first assignment as an evaluator in Africa he loses all illusions. At the end Alex is rather helpless…
I can highly identify with his character. I have often felt this way on my trips to Africa. The wish to do things right and have a natural relationship with the people there clashes with our fear of being cheated and exploited. The evaluator Alex Nzila is forced to realize that he cannot assess things from his European perspective.

Alex is in some way Ebbo’s counterpart. A man caught between two worlds. The conversation in the institute’s canteen shows that Europe is a difficult home for him.
Alex feels like an outsider, even when he counters his colleagues’ provocations with humor. Despite Sarkozy, French society is far more cosmopolitan than in Germany. In France you find people with African roots in all social classes and professions. But during the casting, I discovered that even there dark-skinned actors are often left to serve stereotypes of illegal immigrants or drug dealers. A character like Alex is rare.

Did you find your African actors in Cameroon?
The casting was quite complicated. Ulrike Müller and Kris de Bellair did a great job. The casting makes up 80% of the work of directing actors and that’s often underestimated. Little can go wrong for a director with a good script and the right cast. It’s what saved me on some days. All the African actors came from Cameroon where Kris de Bellair had searched for them. We had wanted to work with amateurs. Professional actors in Cameroon love illustrative acting and exaggerated gestures. Finally we also worked with a few professionals. We realized that they were able to adapt very well when we asked them to concentrate on the situation and go with it.

You have worked with Patrick Orth for quite a long time. Did you have a storyboard or did you decide from situation to situation?
The shooting conditions were tough and the preparation time too short. We made a lot of decisions on the day of shooting. I was busy working with the actors and so Patrick had to prepare a lot of things without me. There is tremendous trust between us. We had established a few basics. The night scenes had to be realistic. We wanted to work a lot with flashlights. It was also clear that some scenes would be filmed in several classical angles and not in sequence shots.

The dinner at the Chinese restaurant was the first time I ever used a shot-reverse shot. I am surprised how well the film works with these stylistic breaks.

The film begins with the transport of tropical wood on trucks. Nothing is in place. No one has a home. Even the traditional African clothes come from China. Only at the very end do you get the feeling that Ebbo is where he belongs. Who is the hippo?
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask him. I don’t think he even noticed that he was being filmed.

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