A Festival of Festivals
When the two screens and amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center were added to the one-screen capacity of the Walter Reade, it was clear that programming at the Film Society would expand to fill the spaces. A quick tour of the Society’s Web pages (http://www.filmlinc.org/) confirms that its schedule has ramped up to embrace not only a full-time festival lineup, but compelling sidebars, symposia, and special events to go with it.
Starting now, we’ve got Dance on Camera (February 12-17); Film Comment Selects (February 17-24); Oliviera’s Tetrology of Frustrated Love (February 25-28); Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (March 3-13); Golden Days: The Films of Arnaud Desplechin (March 11-17); New Directors/New Films (March 16-27); Bring Me the Head of Sam Peckinpah, a lavish retrospective ( March 31-April 7); and The Art of the Real in April.
The wide-ranging schedule of Dance on Camera always draws the usual devotees and often makes enthusiasts out of first-time viewers who are simply curious about the possibilities of motion. One recurring theme is the importance of passing the torch, as celebrated dancers focus on inspiring the up-and-coming.
The Flight Fantastic keeps your heart in your mouth as the Flying Gaonas make their death-defying moves in the air, spinning and swooping above gasping crowds in the tent below. Bessie: a Portrait of Bessie Schonberg reveals a dance legend—the woman whose real vocation appeared when, as a young dancer in the Martha Graham Company, she was injured too seriously to be able to continue as a performer. But there is no question about her quiet genius as a teacher, and especially as a supportive muse for choreographers. “Space can be your friend, or your enemy; space IS!” she reminds them. At her 88th birthday party giants of the dance world come to thank her for what they have learned. She is filmed receiving their tributes, and guiding young dancemakers with a firm hand. “Pay your dancers!” she urges one student, and “It’s a dandy piece,” she tells another. In a discipline rife with emotion and shifting allegiances, she was the rock that kept them anchored to creation.
There are two programs of shorts from all over the world, and some extraordinary feature-length pieces. Feelings are Facts: the Life of Yvonne Rainer presents the choreographer over her long career as she joins the non-conformists of the 1960s, defies tradition, experiments (“I was going to make something out of this recalcitrant, undancerly body and I was going to carve my own way”), and builds the unique style of “non-style” movement that won her a MacArthur Fellowship. Two films touch upon Cuba in very different ways: They are We traces the songs and dances of Sierra Leone that spread through Cuba during the slave trade and remained vital for generations; now the Cubans return to Africa to perform them for the descendants of the long-ago dispossessed and find instant recognition. Alicia Alonso’s star power and determination have produced the world-class Cuban National Ballet; in Horizontes/Horizons it is clear that its dancers will astound the world now that the long, bitter embargo of Cuba is coming to an end. There is another pairing very much required viewing: The Dance Goodbye, in which the New York City Ballet’s Merrill Ashley makes the transition from brilliant ballerina to gifted teacher and coach, remarkable for her candor in expressing the pain and difficulty of a huge life change. On a smaller, more private scale, Enter the Faun features two remarkable people: choreographer Tamar Rogoff and dancer Gregg Mozgala. They are as honest about their journey as Ashley is about hers, and as articulate. But theirs is a very different trip: Mozgala has suffered from cerebral
palsy most of his life and had gone (he thought) as far as he could go with medical interventions and physiotherapy. Yet Rogoff (learning as she goes) works with Mozgala for a year on a dance piece and finds that he is gradually able to unlock his muscles and unleash his talent. Together, they manage to write a new chapter of possibilities for a creative future. And finally, Our Last Tango is a dance drama about a real couple (María NievesRego and Juan Carlos Copes). Truly artful (in the best sense of the word), it mixes together their interviews (here again honesty is key, and emotions run high) with archival footage of their turbulent marriage and evolution as dancers. There are segments of their enormously successful Broadway hit, Tango Argentino, plus rehearsal-room footage of coaching young dancers in their own repertoire. In lesser hands than German Kral’s it might have turned into chaos. Instead, it burns with a gemlike flame from beginning to end and keeps you as hot as the material.
When ordering tickets, be sure to check the schedule carefully for the many personal appearances and related events, usually sold out. Calendar and tickets