One Night in New Orleans: Screening of Fragments

Analog photographer and surrealist artist Brittany Markert’s four piece short film Fragments exemplifies the visual prowess of past surrealist icons. Shot and hand-developed on a Bolex camera using black and white 16mm film, Fragments explores hysterical psychosis and the repressed desires of our subconscious. Accompanying the ocular distortion is a harrowing whimsical score by sound explorer Leila Bordreuil. Markert masterfully churns the dark matter of our psychology and our dreams into shivering bursts of creativity and expression. 

Like trying to retell a dream, giving any kind of thorough scene by scene analysis will only disturb the fragile memory of Markert’s powerful hypnosis. Instead, I will account for the theatrically surreal experience of attending the screening.

Traveling over an hour along the Gulf Coast at night to watch a film in New Orleans was special, considering that the presentation is an experimental film by a photographer whom I personally admire. It is also the first film I’ve seen in theaters since the start of the pandemic. 

I knew judging by the warm and unusual invitations promoted on Markert’s socials that attending the screening would be a magical experience in itself. Those who came out to The Broad for Fragments were a beautifully diverse and eclectic group of people. Everyone dressed amazingly, in their own unique and individual style. Because I was coming alone from outside of New Orleans, I felt an air of unease about attending. It was the same level of anxiety that I would feel when I attended concerts by myself in high school. But luckily this feeling of discomfort would turn out to be a positive addition for my journey. 

When I arrived, after walking into the lobby, I immediately noticed the eloquently spooky cast of attendees mingling at the bar. But going against instinct, I accidentally walked straight ahead into an occupied room three. I saw a crowd watching something on screen and got out of there as quickly as I walked in.  A guy working at The Broad lent me a hand and directed me to the line for Fragments, which was at the bar near the entrance. I wait in line and a woman comes rushing in behind me. “I’m late! I took all the side streets like I was on my bike, but I was driving so I got super confused, ya know?” After sharing where I drove from and mutually expressing my confusion when navigating an automobile in a city after primarily using a bike for transportation for a long period,  we respectfully waited with the others for the projectionist to set everything up. 

High and lightheaded, I got lost browsing on my phone, until I saw the fantastic posse at the bar move quickly up the ramp behind me and into a corridor. Some people stopped at the first door in the corridor, others walked up towards the room I walked into earlier. “They said it was room one.”, an attendee shouts to the group that continued down the hall. “Oh!” replied one wandering Fragments viewer. It was funny to see others gleefully walk into the wrong theater, the same way I did earlier.  

“Hey Mississippi”, the stranger from the line approached me again. She asked me for my name as we squeezed through the doorway. “Cameron”, I chuckled. “Pandora”, she responded. Upon entering the room, I stood to the side to scope out a good seat. I find a spot, high and centered with only one or two rows behind me. “I’m going to sit with Cameron.”, Pandora says to someone, as they shimmy their way into the row behind us. “The back is where people who smoke and masturbate go, right?” , said someone sitting directly behind me. I didn’t dare turn around but I did laugh out loud. Brittany Markert comes into the room and introduces herself and the film, and welcomes us to the event. Markert exits, the lights dim, and the Fragment begins.

Going against my word, I see it worthwhile to mention a scene or two in particular. During the midst of some psychological break, we see a character on screen see an aberration of himself sliding a dagger or some slim blade around the inner circle of his nipple ring. Leila Bordreuil’s audio disturbances perfectly matched the action of the blade gliding around in circular motion along the nipple ring and was so jarring that I jolted from the sight. Even when I recalled this scene in my mind before the film had ended, my body flinched again just at the thought. The scraping sound and the silvery and bloodless monochrome footage totally shocked me. Then there was this eternal plummet of a synth drive that when played along with flickering images of mental enchantments and dizzying camera movements, made me feel as if my head was tilting, just about to slide off the base of my neck. In between psychological blows, Pandora would laugh at the characters as they gawked in disbelief at what they were seeing and experiencing. Laughter and psychosis are good for the mind, I thought to myself and laughed again. And before I knew it, the hypnosis ended and the lights came on. Markert returned to a cheerful audience and thanked us for partaking in this mental adventure. Not long after that, the Q and A session began and the magic continued. Completely giddy from the spectacular night, I drove back to Mississippi in a daze.

Check out Brittany Markert work on IG and their website: https://www.inroomsgallery.com/

https://www.instagram.com/brittany.markert/

A letter to “The Role of the Artist”

To make a long story short. I put making art aside for “revolution” and by no one else’s will but my own, I got wrapped up in the underbelly of online anti fascism. I mouthed off to a character and thought that because of what i said somebody else was going to get hurt or even worse, hurt themselves because of me. That led to a chaotic spiral of depression, a nervous breakdown, and finally an uncomfortably long stay in a psychiatric hospital. For me, making art is one of the few things that keeps me wanting to be alive. Now that I’m healing from all that I can really only see art as my life preserver. Every time I stop pursuing art, my bi polar worsens and things get bad, almost to the point of having another breakdown. I’m not saying that anti fascism is to blame or wanting to play an insurgent role is bad, but speaking from a personal experience, I believe that some artists shouldn’t leave their canvas to “make political art out of a jaw line”. Their role, if an artist is to even have a role, should be to survive and to continue to make art.

I tried to play freedom fighter, leaving art and my life behind and all it got me was psychosis and placed in captivity by doctors that I have never met before. What am I supposed to do, go back out there and lose my head again? Am I expected to leave my canvas, the only real tool I have to survive as a black person struggling with bi polar disorder? I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I do know that I want to live as healthy as I possibly can. So with that, I am closing the curtains on online radicalism and returning to life, to healing, and art. If driving myself to the point of psychosis is what it takes to be an artist in revolution, than consider this a resignation from my “role as an artist”.

Sincerely,

an artist/maroon/

Review #6: Analysis of “Epicentro” (2020)

~On July 11, 2021 Cuba began to experience a series of protests that called for the end of the governing Communist Party. Cuba’s capability for autonomy is eclipsed by propagandist media coverage and the interventionist dreams of capitalist Cubans living in the United States. Then at the same time, the state communists of Cuba and the US have given little speaking room for the people who are actually struggling to survive under the communist government. This combination of stifling narratives leaves a lot of Havana based Cubans without a voice of their own and gives everyone else outside of Cuba an inaccurate representation of the political and social situation on the island. It seems like the US wants to make the recent protests look as if there is a unanimous call from all Cubans for the US to stop communism in Cuba. The pro communists claim that anti-communist propaganda is having outsiders believe that Cuba is protesting against communism, which to the western state Marxist, is impossible, because everyone in Cuba must be content with the present state of life under communism. ~

 Hubert Sauper’s documentary Epicentro, explores the realities, the lies and the people that live in Havana, Cuba. Metaphorically, Sauper captures Cuba’s culture, politics, and its history as it exists today within the definition of the word ‘utopia’; an ideal place that doesn’t exist. The film was released in 2020 and covers Sauper’s time spent visiting Havana. Sauper’s portrait of Cuba takes place after the death of communist leader Fidel Castro and before the anti-government protests in 2021. To Sauper, Cuba is a window to the future, a future where the global structures that created the Cuba we currently see are broken down. By choosing to focus more on the people of Cuba and not the revolutionary icons of the past, Sauper allows the island to open itself up without being tied to ideals, but to material realities instead. The unique relationship between history and cinema, myth and truth is juxtaposed to reveal a contradictory image of Cuba. The myths and realities that are under Sauper’s focus are inspected by the people of Havana instead of imperialist Americans or Castro and Che worshipers.

Epicentro follows a group of young children, whom Sauper collectively refers to as “prophets”. The youth are black poor Cubans who have dreams of becoming actors. The children go to school, dance, and discuss with Sauper and his camera about the history of Spanish colonization and imperialism in Cuba. In return, Sauper shows them and the audience the manipulative nature of cinema, its role as propaganda, and how it started US intervention in Cuba. In an interview, Sauper admits that he created a fictional scene where he had a school kids watch old films by Charlie Chaplin, Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902) by Georges Méliès, a film showing the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine in Cuba, as well as footage of Cubans helping Americans fight against the Spanish. What isn’t scripted, is the children’s reaction to the foreign propagandist hosting the screenings. The kids shout “Boo! No, that’s a lie!” after the propagandist says the Americans liberated Cuba from Spain. In this scene Sauper brilliantly creates a scenario where Cubans, even in the face of outright influence, are able to express their own opinions regarding their politics and their history.

The foreign screening host shows the children an old film depicting Cubans lowering the Spanish flag and raising the American flag at what is now known as Guantanamo Bay, a US prison on the island of Cuba .

Mass tourism is rightfully accosted by the young prophets of Havana towards the middle of the film. To most Cubans, tourism is a foreign invasion. They see a white man, American or European come in with cameras, shooting and exploiting everything in sight. In a lot of ways the camera is another colonizer. The prophetic children are well aware of this, and they see the class differences between locals and tourists, the superficial influences on Cuban culture, and the widening gap between foreign luxury and native poverty. For the tourist, they are temporarily living an alternative that is unlike their usual existence. Their alternative is “a break out of the professional, social, and family prison.” Life in Cuba is just vacation, a paradise to them, whereas the average Cuban does not have the means to live an alternative life, or to chase after paradise. The island’s very existence; its culture, past and potential future is consumed by cliché images, false impressions, and foreign tourism. For now, the only thing the locals can do is roll their eyes and laugh at the vacationing bourgeoisie as they photograph themselves leaning on 20th century Cadillacs and portraits of Che Guevara.

A poster that parodies the utopian theory that a new man will come from revolution. The theory was popularized by Che Guevara, an Argentine Marxist who played a key role in the Cuban Revolution. The joke here is that the man that emerged out of revolution has turned into a superficial image of himself, a selfie.  
American photographer finds a Che Guevara portrait in a barber shop.

“Stories which are lies, have a reality.”

    A quote from one of the young prophets, is ironically the foundation that Epicentro is built on. Reality in Cuba is shaped by the lies that imperialists and authoritarians have been pushing for decades. These myths are a part of what makes up the culture of this “utopia”. Examining the history of cinematic exploitation on the island, revealed that both myth and truth can be carried within the same story; and that Cuba’s story is both a lie and reality. A reality of Cuba is that in between truth and fiction, a silent and organic space exists. Epicentro fills that space with cinema, letting the prophets and the island tell it’s own story. There are moments in Sauper’s film that allow viewers to see the reality that lies between truth and fiction. For example, Sauper follows a sex worker into the streets and while she is expressing her political opinions she says “Every president has his madness-” ,she is quickly interrupted by a passerby. “Señora”, an older man says, holding his hand in the air, as if to officially object to a woman expressing dissent towards their government. The woman looks at the camera and smiles, “They will kill me.” She laughs it off and continues to speak her piece. Before voicing her opinions on presidents she said that unlike Americans, Cubans don’t have freedom of speech.

The truth in this situation is that Cubans who are not pro America or pro communist are rarely heard from. And those who dare to protest their government, even if they too are in opposition to US intervention, are often met with reactionary hostilities from both the communist authorities as well as government supporters. This reality is not shown in its full entirety in the US coverage of Cuba or even in Cuba’s mainstream media. It is interesting to imagine observing another Cuban walking by during the scene mentioned earlier. If they saw a Cuban woman bad mouth their nation’s leaders while a white foreigner films her; what would their thoughts be? Would they agree with her? Would they call the police on them? I wonder if the observing Cuban would think they are watching American propaganda in action?  The reality of the marginalized is obscured by the partial truths of both foreign propaganda and the state communists. In regards to the Cuban anti-government protests in July 2021, we can see how the demonstrations of those struggling in Cuba have been written off as being funded by right wing Cubans in Miami, or as the presence of locals who are expressing pride for their government. There is truth to these claims, but they only put more assurance in propaganda and fiction instead of reality, thus creating another myth about Cuba.

Watching Epicentro for the first time during Cuba’s most recent political stirrings put the myth/truth juxtaposition into perfect context. During the height of the protests in Cuba, many different ideological milieus spoke up for Cubans about the situation on the island. The problem is that between the Miami Cubans, American conservatives and state communists (Cuban and abroad), the actual truth of what the protests were about and who started them was washed over by competing narratives. The irony is that all of those narratives that came from outside of Cuba are erasing the actual experiences of the locals, furthering the lies that Cuba needs the US to intervene to help them and that there is no one on the island who is expressing dissent towards the Cuban government. These conflicting narratives come from the same historical contradictions that are explored by Sauper and the prophets in his film, giving Epicentro relevancy. Aside from coinciding cinema with real time events, another success from Epicentro is that it shows it’s audience that the Cuban youth are smart enough to grapple with the contradicting myths and truths that precede them. By giving the young and the marginalized a chance to express Cuba’s sociological issues the way it affects them, Epicentro presents the world with the reality that the Cuban people can shape their own future by themselves. There is a beautiful scene where a few of the prophets are playing with Sauper’s iPhone. They’re making edited videos of them walking and dancing in both slow motion and fast speed. One of the children says that the sped up movements reminded him of pioneer filmmaker Charlie Chaplain. And it is there, within that twenty three second scene where we can see Epicentro’s brilliance of tying the magic of cinema to the roots of Cuba’s social and political issues. From the beginning the audience, along with the prophets are learning a lesson about cinema and it’s propagandist beginnings. We see the influence that 19th century war films depicting the Spanish-American war had on political relations between America and Cuba. Following the legacy of US imperialism and market expansion, Hollywood began to make films about the Mafia coming to Cuba to establish enterprises on the island, forever solidifying the colonialist tendencies in tourism and cinema. The utopian paradise that Cuba is known as may only exist in cinema and in the imagination of those who see Cuba as a place to live out their exploitative dreams, but the reality of the island is secure in the hands of the prophets and those who are currently struggling in Cuba. At the end of the film we are left wondering what will become of the children that Sauper features. Will they stay in Cuba, passing histories to tourists? Will they go abroad? Will they follow their dreams and become actors? Maybe one day those young prophets will make a film, addressing the complexities of their country from their own perspective.

~ Cubans living in Havana and elsewhere on the island have communiques expressing ongoing difficulties, struggles and experiences that they are presently facing. To read more on this check out the links below. 

  1. Original Text: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:lmyntNAePfwJ:www.polemicacubana.fr/%3Fp%3D15774+&cd=1 Translation:https://twitter.com/TotalDistro504/status/1416045782638239748?s=20
  2. https://freedomnews.org.uk/2021/07/20/cuba-the-end-of-the-social-enchantment-of-the-revolution/
  3. https://crimethinc.com/2021/07/22/cuban-anarchists-on-the-protests-of-july-11

Review #5: “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (2014)

Directed by Israeli siblings and actors  Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz, Gett is a drama film that was screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It was selected for best foreign language film at the 87th Academy awards and was nominated for best foreign language film at the 72nd Academy awards.

Gett follows a married couples messy divorce through a Jewish court, using language and dialogue to deliver powerful scenes that gnaw on an audiences nerves. The entire film takes place in a Jewish court house, giving off a feeling of entrapment. You are stuck in time and conflict with Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) and Elisha Amsalem (Simon Abkarian), as the film drags on throughout a courtroom. There is a war between the Amsalem’s; a woman’s war against patriarchy and tradition, and a man’s war against freedom and autonomy. The question of modernity and woman empowerment is contemplated and is answered with gas-lighting .The court like the rest of the world is ruled by men, giving Viviane hardly any breathing room or respect. The boundaries that are imposed on women in this film turns the choices of religion and family structure into forced sanctions. The difference between respect and obedience is blurred by men having the final say in Viviane’s life and trial.

The husband Elisha is cunning and unforgiving. He takes advantage of the male dominated court by showing up whenever he wants to and is given little punishment for it. He uses his obedience to his faith as an excuse to skip court and drag the trial out. There is regressive perceptions of feminist discourse by the men in the courtroom. Elisha crusades for patriarchy and passively intimidates his wife with his shortcomings.

Overall this film is excellent and the acting is fantastic. The script is masterfully crafted, blending languages and cultures into thrilling dialogue. There are a few comedic moments to break up the intensity of the dialogue, but the performances don’t feel forced in any way. Everything feels natural and truthful. The tension throughout the film is steady and thrilling as the trial takes some surprising twists. Gett should’ve gotten an award for the stunning performance from the cast, or in the very least, more nominations.

Review #4: “Looking for Langston” (1988)

British filmmaker, artist and professor Isaac Julien’s short film Looking For Langston beautifully blends poetry, black pride and homosexuality into a tasteful and artistic medium. Released in 1988, the film places Langston Hughes as gay icon, weaving complex narratives, poetry and soft romances. It parallels 1920’s Harlem with a 1980’s gay London speakeasy.

Shot on warm monochrome film the film explores lyricism and gay desire. Using archival footage, photographic stills, stages and fantasy, the film is theatrical as it is charming. The score is vibrant and eclectic, using a mix of blues, jazz, and dance music. The linear transitions of poetry to shots creates a steamy and lovely film. The handsome men are too beautiful here. This is an avant-garde video art on homo eroticism. The heavenly bodies juxtaposed with prose is fluid and seamless at the same time. Before the ending party scene there is a coldness to the men’s seductive glances, but combined with poetry, scenes melt into each other in dream like escapades. There is an air of ethereal charm in the way these men move. Their bodies, standing firm with lyrical ballads creates a work of beauty and wonder.

“Romance is a fox hole/ this kind of war frightens me/ I don’t want to die with soldiers i don’t love”. Poetry from heaven. The poems and the cinematography dance together leaving a viewer with feelings of hotness and serendipity.

You can watch the film here: https://ubu.com/film/julien_langston.html

Review #3: “Nasrin” (2020)

Jeff Kaufmen’s documentary Nasrin (2020) studies Nasrin Sotoudeh’s life and work in activism. The story of Nasrin Sotoudeh should be important to abolitionists, anti-authoritarians, and feminists everywhere because of Sotoudeh’s long history of working for human rights and the freedom of expression for women in Iran. Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights activist, writer, lawyer and political prisoner in Iran. She supports the youth who face the death penalty and defends women who protest wearing of a hijab. The film Nasrin is well deserving of distribution and discussion by anyone who is interested in seeking structural change in women rights in Iran and abroad. Both Nasrin Sotoudeh and the film Nasrin stress the importance of art and freedom. Due to the strict policies of Iran the film crew who shot this documentary wish to remain anonymous. Nasrin is both exciting and heartbreaking, exposing the repressive terror that one woman faces as she stands up for her convictions and ideals. The film is just as brave as Nasrin Sotoudeh is.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is currently facing 12 years and 74 lashes for the crimes of inciting corruption and prostitution, openly committing a sinful act for appearing in public without a hijab, disrupting public order, spreading fake news and propaganda. You can support Nasrin by signing the petition in the link below.

https://pen.org/sign-now-iran-must-release-nasrin-sotoudeh/?fbclid=IwAR2-jnUfQR96Nk7cnnTmHKybONgyWTzMeZ_CNsd5aPuaNdSW07PXoSvkyhI

Review #2: “Time” (2020)

Garrett Bradley’s documentary Time is a beautiful exposé of a black family dealing with the crushing penalty of time and the American incarceration system. The film follows Fox Rich and her family of six boys as they wait for their father’s release from Angola prison in Louisiana.

Shot in black and white Time is as dreamy as it is patient. With a wandering piano score the film wades through the epochs of time as the family patiently awaits for Robert Richardson release. Using Fox Rich’s home movie tapes that she used as a video diary during Roberts absence, the film masterfully drifts from past to present showing the young and cheerful family grow up without their father. The warm and fuzzy home tapes envelopes you into the Richardson family and you really feel like you are there with them as they pass through long periods of their lives without Robert.

Though the film keeps its distance from the penitentiary it delivers the cruelty of jail time and state punishment by showing Robert’s wife grapple with unjust state bureaucracy. Bleak phone calls with the judicial secretaries and pensive looks out at nothing sum up the waiting process that the family is dealing with. But hope is not loss because black people are resilient in the face of adversity and The Richardson family like many black families give themselves hope through affirmation and praise.

This is a wonderful documentary and should be a must see for abolitionists.

Review #1: Analysis of “I Care a Lot” (2021)

I Care A Lot, 2021 directed by J Blakeson is a dark comedic crime thriller that focuses on machismo violence and critiques of capitalism. The film stars Rosamund Pike who is a legally appointed guardian for senior people. After honing in on Jennifer Peterson played by Dianne Wiest, Pikes character Marla Grayson has to deal with the dangerous baggage that comes along with Ms Peterson.

Marla Grayson is a cold grifter who sees seniors as dollar signs for her business. And she’s not the only one who sees the elderly that way. The health care professionals of the film see the old and aging as cash crops as well. From the beginning of the film Marla and her partner Fran played by Eiza González, is met with violence by the son of one of Marla’s wards. Like the real world, the films starring queer duo is forced to combat with gender based violence and harassment from the get go. We are introduced to the character of Roman Lunyov a Russian mob boss played by the charismatic Peter Dinklage. While the film doesn’t touch on the subject much, there is a scene where we see Roman and his hit man go over their latest drug trafficking operation, where they use women as mules to transport drugs. But the machismo violence against women doesn’t stop there.

Men who want their mommies

The films antagonist Roman Lunyov is a methodical crime boss who volleys Marla’s cool apathy with stereotypical male rage. From window punching to bottle throwing Roman Lunyov has quite a fit over not being able to see his mother. Marla Grayson is a vampire for men who have strong connections to their mother. At the beginning we see an unkept man, Feldstrom (Macon Blair) go into a frenzy to free his mother from the senior living center where Marla keeps her wards. She whisks them away to assisted living with the wave of state legality and drains them of their property and savings. The connection between Feldstrom’s need for his mother and Roman Lunyov’s need for his is typical of children who cry at day care about missing their mothers. While Feldstrom lacks the resources to hire hit men to storm the facility and engage in a kidnapping like Lunyov he does everything in his power to attack Marla. After Feldstrom losses to Marla in court. He yells obscenities calling Marla “a f*ciking b*tch” and threatens her with rape and murder. He then proceeds to spit on her. Marla and Fran are dealt even more violence when they get mixed up with Lunyov’s mafia. Both Feldstrom and Lunyov become violent and unwilling to grasp with the reality that their mother is no longer accessible to them. A Freduian analysis will say that the men are prone to violence when another women deprives them of their mothers. The film does a good job at making grown men look like children.

The ugly underbelly of healthcare

Exposing the casual cruelty of a healthcare system that prioritizes profit over people is a baseline critique of capitalism. J Blakeson establishes that critique throughout the duration of the film. Profit over people is Marla’s game, she wants to get rich off of her clients. A last minute partnership between Marla and Lunyov shows the marriage between crime and legality, which is the focus of the entire film. All of the professionals in this film are blunt and nasty. Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt) refers to some of her patients as “*ssholes”, Sam Rice the assisted living director (Damian Young) is completely apathetic to his senior clients, and an uninterested Judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr) goes through the bureaucracy of his duties without really noticing how underhanded Marla’s business is. The true ugliness of healthcare is where we find the professionals who see people as money bags and are too bored to care.

Overall I Care a Lot is an enjoyable and stylish movie that plays with gender and social dynamics well. It stands out for a Netflix original.