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First Person Rural: The New Nonfiction 

March 26, 2011 - April 17, 2011


In the past decade a new breed of filmmaking has emerged, not quite documentary, fiction, or experimental, but a combination of—or liberation from—all three genres. Lisandro Alonso’s La libertad (2001) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (2002) heralded the beginning of this movement, which, while ranging across years, filmmakers, and continents, still shares several elements: quiet, observational long takes; direct-sound recording; and a “narrative” that unfolds like a documentary, seemingly just “happened upon” while the camera was rolling, which is sometimes true, but often false. Tellingly, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash, makers of Sweetgrass (2010), refer to themselves not as “directors,” but “recordists”; the concept that reality is merely being recorded, not “directed,” is key (as is, of course, creating the illusion of this). Most of all, these films share an embrace of a cinema of and for the senses, a way to document and prioritize the natural world through both sight and sound. A pastoral cinema, true, but one that investigates humanity’s complicated relationship, or lack thereof, to its environment. This series is largely drawn from the 2010 Flaherty Film Seminar, which considered how film explores work and the agrarian ideal.

The influences are many: the avant-garde landscape portraits of James Benning; the ethnographic details of Jean Rouch; the contemplative fictions of Pedro Costa, Albert Serra, Lav Diaz, and others. For these sensory recordings of the rural landscape, however, categories like documentary, ethnography, fiction, and avant-garde seem not only outdated, but ultimately worthless. It is the image, the senses, and what viewers find on the screen, and in themselves, that matters.

Jason Sanders
Film Notes Writer

Saturday, March 26, 2011
6:30 p.m. La libertad
Lisandro Alonso (Argentina, 2001). A young woodcutter in the Argentine pampas goes about his day: chopping trees, preparing food, enjoying the nighttime sky, in this meditative document of rural life. “Inscrutable and exterior, it could be the simplest definition ever of pure cinema” (N.Y. Times). With short Cheese. (89 mins)

Sunday, March 27, 2011
3:00 p.m. Agrarian Utopia
Uruphong Raksasad (Thailand, 2009). Electric storms, morning mist, and organic crops are but a few of the “characters” in this visually stunning document about farming life in a time of globalization. Two Thai families deal with local nature—and global finance—to survive the seasons. With short Kalendar. (131 mins)

Sunday, March 27, 2011
5:30 p.m. The Sky Turns
Mercedes Álvarez (Spain, 2004). A filmmaker returns to her native village in remote northwest Spain to document its residents, landscape, and dramatic skies. A sublime contemplation of time, memory, and mortality. (110 mins)

Saturday, April 9, 2011
6:30 p.m. Alamar
Pedro González-Rubio (Mexico, 2009). The Mexican Caribbean’s stunning Banco Chinchorro, home to the world’s second largest coral reef, provides setting and inspiration for this effortlessly beautiful film, which follows a Mayan father and young son as they spend a summer working (and playing) along the coast. With shorts Tropical Breeze and A Crisis Passed in Sleep. (81 mins)

Thursday, April 14, 2011
7:00 p.m. Tropic of Cancer
Eugenio Polgovsky (Mexico, 2004). A surreal, pointed look at homeless families in the Mexican desert and their mode of survival: selling birds, plants, and snakes to wealthy passers-by. A quietly observed portrait of a hardscrabble life, and a proud heir to the agit-prop of Bunuel’s Land Without Bread. With short Unnamed Film. (109 mins)

Sunday, April 17, 2011
5:30 p.m. Sweetgrass
Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Ilisa Barbash (U.S., 2010). Ilisa Barbash in Person. Immerse yourself in the last sheep drive across Montana’s spectacular Beartooth Mountains, complete with dramatic river crossings, beautiful scenery, afternoon naps, bear raids, and thousands of “baaaaahs.” “A gorgeous and—believe it or not—riveting documentary…about sheep” (Washington Post). With short The Way. (107 mins)

Series curated by Kathy Geritz and presented in conjunction with Flaherty on the Road, a project of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. It features films and videos presented in the 2010 Flaherty Seminar, curated by Dennis Lim, as well as a film screened in the 2009 Flaherty Seminar, curated by Irina Leimbacher, and one presented in the 2006 Flaherty Seminar, curated by Ariella Ben-Dov and Steve Seid. With appreciation to Mary Kerr and Sarie Horowitz, Flaherty Film Seminar, and Dennis Lim, critic and editor of Moving Image Source, for their assistance in making this series possible.