Independent Filmmaking

Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary by Abé Mark Nornes

By examining the evolution of postwar Japanese documentaries – and in particular, the singular output of the Ogawa Pro film collective under the leadership of the charismatic, if autocratic and impractical filmmaker Ogawa Shinsuke – Abé Mark Nornes’s book, Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary aligns closer to a socio-ethnographic study of… read more »

Cinema Interval by Trinh T. Minh-ha

An intrinsic aspect of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s cinema is her particularity of observation from a perspective that is neither of enlightened privilege nor indigenous intimacy, but rather, suspended between elements of objectivity and subjectivity, a gaze belonging to neither cultural insider nor curious outsider. By filming in this state of cultural hybridity, Trinh reassesses not… read more »

Los Angeles Plays Itself, 2003

Ostensibly named after a notorious gay porn film entitled L.A. Plays Itself (where the systematic degradation of the city was paralleled through increasingly violent sexual encounters), Los Angeles Plays Itself is a thoughtful and sublimely articulate stream of consciousness piece that explores Hollywood’s historical neutering, mythification, and suppression of Los Angeles’ native cultural identity in… read more »

About Baghdad, 2004

In an episode near the conclusion of the film, the expatriate poet and writer Sinan Antoon, having been allowed entry into the military secured Shaheed Monument – an architecturally impressive outdoor memorial commissioned by Saddam Hussein to honor the fallen Iraqi martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War (in a macabre, self-aggrandizing gesture to commemorate the 700,000… read more »

Ten Skies, 2004

While James Benning’s 13 Lakes captures the materiality, self-equilibration, and memory of water, the film’s equally rigorous and abstractly hypnotic companion piece, Ten Skies illustrates the mutability, ephermerality, and transience of nature. Shot in Val Verde, California, the film consists of ten minute, stationary shots of ten isolated skyscapes set against the ambient sounds of… read more »

13 Lakes, 2004

Composed of a series of episodic, stationary long takes, each recording an uninterrupted, ten minute shot length and punctuated by an extended, interstitial black screen, James Benning’s structuralist film, 13 Lakes is a rigorous and demanding, yet hypnotic and transfixing meditation on diurnal rhythms, climatic changes, and the implications of (irreversible) man-made transformation. The opening… read more »

Patrick Bokanowski: Short Films (1972-1994)

My first exposure to French filmmaker Patrick Bokanowski’s experimental cinema was with his transfixing, yet vague and impenetrable magnum opus L’Ange, a Dante Alighieri-esque depiction of intranscendence and moribund ritual that would ingrain the (somewhat reductive) idea that his films were abstract visual studies in structuralism, modulation, and repetition. In hindsight, underneath this cursory first… read more »

The Little White Girl Had to Bow Her Head for Emperor Hirohito, 2003

Based on author, choreographer, activist, and filmmaker Lydia Chagoll’s autobiography A Childhood in the Japanese Camps and historical essay Hirohito: Emperor of Japan, The Little White Girl Had to Bow Her Head for Emperor Hirohito is a lucid and impassioned examination of the postwar geopolitics that have led to the cultural amnesia and historical whitewashing… read more »

Fargo, 1996

Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo is a refreshingly original and complexly taut film that operates on a multifaceted level that is, all at once: compelling, macabre, funny, tragic, and even romantic. From the opening sequence of a car navigating agilely through an endless snow covered road with a car in tow, the Coen brothers deftly… read more »

Welcome to Destination China, 2003

Creating another slice-of-life pseudo-documentary chronicle of marginalized people living in impoverished slums along the banks of the Suzhou River (and in the process, deconstructs the romantic vision of Ye Lou’s ephemeral Suzhou River), Welcome to Destination China loosely centers on a madam called Jennifer and the desperate people whose meager livelihood rests on her disreputable… read more »