Barbara Rubin and The Exploding New York Underground
Made when she was just 18 years old, Barbara Rubin’s art-porn masterpiece Christmas On Earth (1963-65) shocked NYC’s experimental film scene and inspired NYC’s thriving underground. For the next four years her filmmaking and irrepressible energy helped shatter artistic and sexist boundaries. A mythical “Zelig” of the sixties, she introduced Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan to the Kabbalah. But beyond shaping the spirit of the sixties, Barbara was seeking the deeper meaning of life. After retiring to a farm with Allen Ginsberg, she shocked everyone by converting to Hasidic Judaism, marrying and moving to France to live an anonymous life. Tragically, she died in 1980 after giving birth to her fifth child. For years, Jonas Mekas treasured all of Barbara’s letters and films and cherished her memory. Working with Mekas’ footage, the film takes us inside the world and mind of Barbara Rubin; a woman who truly believed that film could change the world.
Director: Chuck Smith
Executive Producer: Chuck Smith
Cinematographer: Andy Bowley
Editor: Chuck Smith
Music: Lee Ranaldo
Running Time: 78
Don't Be Nice
The upstart Bowery Slam Poetry Team, made up of five young African-American, Afro-Hispanic and queer poets, prepares for the national championships. Mentored by a demanding coach who pushes them past their personal boundaries to write from a painfully honest place, the poets break down, break through, and compose their best work ever. Will their soul-searching pieces about police violence and the whitewashing of Black culture be able to compete against choreographed crowd-pleasers for the title?
Lauren Whitehead coaches the Bowery Slam Team with the credo “Don’t Be Nice.” She explains that to “be nice” is to stay on the surface of things, is to perpetuate the status quo, and is, for black people, to be what white culture demands. Her team of poets brave their inner demons and buck societal expectations to write truthful poems, and to ultimately celebrate black joy. My goal has been to illuminate these poets’ words with as little obstruction as possible, bringing the revolutionary work they’ve done in expanding Slam Poetry to a wider movie-going audience. Where many succumb to the polarizing simplifications of click-bait headlines, these poets do difficult personal work to come to an understanding of their relationship to race and power, and courageously share it. I made this film because I was stunned by these poets’ work, and was inspired to translate it into film, a medium which can transcend time and place. I chose vérité as a documentary mode for its ability to place viewers directly into a conversation, bringing the characters and their ideas to the fore. I think the audience will be shocked by the radical honesty of the film’s characters as they openly discuss race, class, and gender. However, the poets are always encouraged to go further than talk, and craft their thoughts and feelings into poems. Thus, the audience’s shock becomes wonder, as they are invited to see from each poets’ eye rather than to close theirs to difficult truths. I think “Don’t Be Nice” will encourage viewers to do their own work to understand their friends, neighbors, and themselves.
Director: Max Powers
Runtime: 95 minutes
The Last Refugees
he fate of refugees to the US has been the subject of bombastic media headlines since Trump's inauguration. This cinema vérité style documentary follows the Kalajis—originally from the besieged city of Aleppo —allowing for a peek into the lives of those who seek a new life in America. The viewer becomes immersed in this family’s journey, as they travel from Jordan to their new home of Philadelphia. As the popularity of the New York Times’ “Welcome to the New World” comic proves, Americans long to understand the plight of refugees in a deeper way than bombastic media commentary allows.
Director: Tanaz Eshaghian
Duration: 40 min and 1 hour version
Language: Arabic with English Subtitles
Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story
Uncovering New York City’s neo-burlesque subculture, Getting Naked offers a lingering look at several sexy denizens of the nightlife scene, including Gal Friday, Hazel Honeysuckle and the Schlep Sisters Minnie Tonka and Darlinda Just Darlinda whose acts range from the classic glamorous striptease to more overtly comedic schtick. Followed on- and offstage, these gifted performers reveal the liberation and empowerment they’ve gained from burlesque, even as they contend with the physical and financial demands of their competitive art form.
Director: James Lester
Producers: James Lester, Frank Hall Green. Chandra C. Silver. Susan Wrubel
Duration: 85 min
Fire And Ashes, Making The Ballet RakU
Raku pottery prizes spontaneity in the interaction of fire and falling ashes and this stunning documentary and performance film capture the beauty of both traditional Japanese pottery and the novel The Golden Temple, by the Japanese author Mishima.
This engaging one-hour film goes behind the scenes with composer Shinji Eshima and San Francisco Ballet resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov as they recount their collaboration with the original cast of RAkU. It brings together a confluence of eastern and western cultures in music, literature, philosophy and dance. The contributions of Butoh, martial arts, chanting Zen monks, the rigors of rehearsal with Yuri Possokhov, and the enduring friendships of the artists are all featured in the documentary preceding the stunning performance which was recorded in a film studio.
The performance is shot cinematically in the style of a dramatic film, providing an intimate relationship with the dancers. From the film’s opening narrative scenes, it establishes an intimate style that carries through the ballet performance. This gives viewers an immediate and powerful sense of being close to the dancers, rarely shared in dance films.
Producer/Director: Shirley Sun
Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composer: Shinji Eshima
Principal Dancers: Yuan Yuan Tan, Damian Smith, Pascal Molat
Dancers: Gaetano Amico, Steven Morse, Sean Orza, and Myles Thatcher
San Francisco Ballet
Run time: 64 minutes
One Mind is a rare cinematic portrait of life inside one of China’s most austere and revered Zen communities. The monks at Zhenru Chan Monastery continue to uphold a strict monastic code established over 1400 years ago by the founding patriarchs of Zen in China. In harmony with the land that sustains them, the monks operate an organic farm, grow tea, and harvest bamboo to fuel their kitchen fires. At the heart of this community, a group of cloistered meditators sit in silence for 8 hours every day. Suggesting a Zen version of the critically acclaimed film Into Great Silence, One Mind offers an intimate glimpse into a thriving Buddhist monastery in modern China.
Director Edward A. Burger (Amongst White Clouds) has lived and studied with Buddhist communities throughout China for over 15 years, and is the first Western filmmaker to be granted such unprecedented access to the daily rituals and traditions practiced in this remote mountain monastery.
Directed by Edward Berger, 81 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles
Water Makes Us Wet
Travel around with Annie, a former sex worker, Beth, a professor, and their dog Butch, in their E.A.R.T.H Lab mobile unit, as they explore water in the Golden State. Ecosexuality shifts the metaphor “Earth as Mother” to “Earth as Lover” to create a more reciprocal and empathetic relationship with the natural world. Along the way, Annie and Beth interact with a diverse range of folks including performance artists, biologists, water treatment plant workers, scholars and others, climaxing in a shocking event that reaffirms the power of water, life and love.
Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, USA, 80 min. English