Director Hannah Fidell Talks ‘A Teacher’
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, half the dramatic competition finalists were brought to life by women. It’s about time, boys. One such feature was written and directed by precocious, feminist filmmaker Hannah Fidell. Her film, A Teacher, delves into the emotional hills and valleys a female teacher experiences while having an affair with her student, reversing all those American Beauty tropes we know so well. We sat down with Fidell — and the film’s star, Lindsay Burdge — to talk about turning the tides on the omnipotent male gaze.
The Last Book I Loved: ‘The Unnamed’
When you go to the website for Joshua Ferris’s 2010 novel, The Unnamed, your screen fills with static for a second. Then it resolves into a grainy gray video of the main hall of Grand Central Terminal, like security camera footage, commuters walking to and from their trains. And then fuzzy blue circles appear over a handful of heads. When you click on one, the video pauses, and a small text bubble comes up. One says, “I look around, I wonder if I’m just sick.” Another quotes a poem by Percy Shelley. “Art thou pale for weariness / Of climbing heaven and gazing on earth/Wandering companionless / Among the stars that have a different birth.” They feel like a little of what each person has inside them, a bit of story or sorrow they keep inside themselves.
This is what Joshua Ferris’s work is — a song of this secret world. He writes about the isolation of modern life, our disconnect from the world at large and from the people around us. And he writes of the small, beautiful hopes of connection — through love, through hope, through body-breaking exertions.
Crashing the Black Box with ‘Charlie Victor Romeo’
It doesn’t get more real than this. Charlie Victor Romeo re-enacts — almost verbatim — transcripts from the “black box” recordings of six plane crashes that occurred from 1989 to 1996. Originally a stage play produced in 1999, CVR has since been performed worldwide in many different venues (it’s even been used for pilot training by the Pentagon). Gripping, harrowing, and poignant, the play has now made the leap to a film that preserves the spare and chilling authenticity of its creative predecessor. And in 3D no less (by way of New York’s 3-Legged Dog Media & Theater Group), which somehow makes the film seem both hyper-present and dreamlike. While at Sundance, we spoke to director Bob Berger and co-director/editor Karlyn Michelson about translating the play to the big screen, the artistic life of a the project, and respecting the borders of reality.
500,000 Refugees, Countless Stories: Welcome to Dadaab
When the idea for a documentary project about the world’s largest refugee camp came about, in early 2011, Dadaab, Kenya was a place that few had heard of. A haven for those fleeing armed conflict, disaster, or persecution, on the border with Somalia, Dadaab was already home to the world’s largest refugee camp — a dubious honor it held by a wide margin. And yet to most, Dadaab simply drew a blank.
All that changed in early 2011, when the looming famine in the Horn of Africa sent refugees flooding into the camp. Soon after, as famine was formally declared in Somalia, international journalists followed. For the first time in years, Dadaab was suddenly in the news: an international symbol for a humanitarian crisis. There were 500,000 refugees in a camp that was built for 90,000.
At Gowanus Canal, Turning Toxic Waste Into Art
New York’s Gowanus Canal is notoriously toxic — full of dangerous chemicals, industrial waste, and yes, poop. It reeks in the summer and lives in the popular imagination as the perfect dumping ground for dead bodies. No plant or animal life can survive in it for long. This tends to inspire two kinds of images: gritty photos of the filth and pollution, and scenic landscapes that try not to dwell too long on the former.
Artist Jay Shells channeled his love of hip hop music and his uncanny sign-making skills towards a brand new project: “Rap Quotes.” For this ongoing project, Shells created official-looking street signs quoting famous rap lyrics that shout out specific street corners and locations.