Movies
Jan 21, 2016

We Can’t Wait to See It Big – Documentary Edition – at MOMI

The Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35 Avenue) presents its excellent See It Big series at different times of the year, and usually it showcases beloved classic films like Dr. Strangelove, (…)

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"Manufacturing #17", Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, 2005. Photo by Edward Burtynsky, subject of MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. 2006. 90 min. 35mm), a Zeitgeist Films release. Photo: Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

“Manufacturing #17”, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, 2005. Photo by Edward Burtynsky, subject of MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. 2006. 90 min. 35mm), a Zeitgeist Films release. Photo: Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

The Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35 Avenue) presents its excellent See It Big series at different times of the year, and usually it showcases beloved classic films like Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now. This time around, the focus is on the nonfiction side of filmmaking—documentaries! I am particularly excited about the lineup and couldn’t wait to share them with you. You’ll get to experience a wide range of topics and concepts, including live music and concert films, modern dance, the world of the Bible salesmen, Reggio’s “Qatsi Trilogy,” visions of the Ganges River, the scorched landscape of the Kuwait oil fields, and the greatest film about architecture.

The series starts Friday, January 29 to Sunday, February 21—over three weeks of engaging, thought-provoking documentary goodness. Here’s list of films (thanks to the folks at MOMI for compiling this for us).

Koyaanisqatsi

FRIDAY, JANUARY 29, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Godfrey Reggio, 1983, 86 mins. Restored DCP courtesy of Godfrey Reggio. Few nonfiction films have captured the imaginations of the mainstream moviegoing public more than Reggio’s major big-screen event. Filled with overwhelming sights (both in slow-motion and sped-up images) and sounds (a wildly influential score by Philip Glass), this singular experience transports viewers into an elevated emotional and intellectual realm.

Louisiana Story

SATURDAY, JANUARY 30, 4:00 P.M.
Dir. Robert Flaherty. 1948, 78 mins. 35mm. Through the eyes of a young Cajun boy living on the Bayou, Flaherty’s docu-fiction tells a story of disruption and change when an oil rig brings industry into a world previously untouched by modernization. Louisiana Story features gorgeous cinematography by a young Ricky Leacock, and an extraordinary Cajun-based score by Virgil Thomson that won a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1949. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing and listed on the National Film Registry as a national treasure, Robert Flaherty’s last film is a visually stunning, lyrical tribute to a land and its people.

Powaqqatsi

SATURDAY, JANUARY 30, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Godfrey Reggio. 1988, 99 mins, 35mm. After the remarkable success of Koyaanisqatsi, Reggio returned with this hit follow-up focusing on the plights of those in third-world nations. Also featuring a shimmering, driving score by Philip Glass, this sequel equals the original in moral inquiry and rich natural beauty.

Naqoyqatsi

SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Godfrey Reggio. 2002, 89 mins, 35mm. In 2002, when Reggio decided to return to the concerns of of Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi and complete his “Qatsi Trilogy,” reality had decisively changed. The transition from an analog to a digital world is the main theme of Naqoyqatsi, which, unlike the earlier films, features technologically manipulated and mediated images.

Woodstock

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Michael Wadleigh. 1970, 185 mins. 35mm print with a magnetic soundtrack. With Joan Baez, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Santana, Arlo Guthrie. The blissful, star-studded music event that was one of the defining events of the 1960s received an epic film worthy of the festival. Thelma Schoonmaker (with Martin Scorsese as her assistant) helped lead the editing team, shaping the footage into a big-screen cinematic spectacle that let viewers feel they were among the 400,000 people who attended.

Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 6:00 P.M.
Dir. Ari Folman. 2008, 90 mins. DCP. Director Ari Folman interviewed fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and used this documentary material as the basis for a unique animated feature, called “a memoir, a history lesson, a combat picture, a piece of investigative journalism and an altogether amazing film” by A.O. Scott in The New York Times.

The Last Waltz

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Martin Scorsese. 1978, 117 mins. 35mm. With Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. Often hailed as the best concert film ever made, The Last Waltz documents The Band’s final performance on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. A pantheon of rock and blues legends joins them, from Joni Mitchell to Muddy Waters, captured by a dream team of cinematographers, including Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver), László Kovács (Easy Rider), and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

Man with a Movie Camera

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2:30 P.M.
Dir. Dziga Vertov. 1929, 68 mins. Restored DCP by the EYE Film Institute. Selected as the best documentary of all time by Sight & Sound in 2014. Dziga Vertov filmed for four years in Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa to create this masterpiece of the “city symphony” genre, using rapid-fire avant-garde editing to depict a single day in the life of a city. With live music by Donald Sosin (keyboards), John M. Davis (keyboards, accordion, theremin), John Mettam (percussion, electronics), and Mattias Olsson (drums).

Salesman

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 4:30 P.M.
Dirs. Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin. 1969. 85 mins. 35mm. This landmark “Direct Cinema” film by Albert and David Maysles about traveling Bible salesmen is one of their greatest achievements, a quietly radical, humane critique on the commodification of faith and a portrait of mundane work.

Gimme Shelter

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 7:00 P.M.
Dirs. Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin. 1970, 91 mins. 35mm. When a man was stabbed to death by a Hell’s Angel at the Rolling Stone’s Altamont concert in December 1969, it felt to many that the spirit of the 1960s died along with him. In their enthralling and disturbing, rock movie, the Maysles brothers capture the events that led up to the concert as well as the mounting tension, unraveling nerves, and loss of control that took place afterwards.

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2:30 P.M.
Dir. Errol Morris. 1997. 80 mins. 35mm. In his most experimental and visually enthralling film, brilliantly edited by Karen Schmeer, Morris interweaves portraits of four obsessed individuals as he films a lion tamer, a topiary artist, a robot engineer, and a photographer with a love for rodents.

Burden of Dreams

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 4:30 P.M.
Dir. Les Blank. 1982, 95 mins. 16mm. With Werner Herzog, Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale. Perhaps the most compelling behind-the-scenes movie ever made about a film production—thanks to the personalities of director Werner Herzog and his deranged star Klaus Kinski—Les Blank’s documentary shot on the set of Fitzcarraldo (1982) reveals the obsessive inner character of one of cinema’s most rigorous artists.

Lessons of Darkness

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Werner Herzog. 1992. 50 mins. 35mm. In the wake of the first Gulf War, the deserts of Kuwait were left on fire. Who better to wander that scorched, near sci-fi landscape of torched oil fields than fearless filmmaker Werner Herzog? With an eye ever-towards the hallucinatory and apocalyptic, Lessons of Darkness is one of his most otherworldly and covertly political documentaries. Shown with La Soufrière (Dir. Werner Herzog, 1977, 30 mins. 16mm.) a hauntingly sublime film made on an island in the Caribbean that has been evacuated because of an impending volcano explosion. Herzog finds three men who stubbornly remain.

Pina

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Wim Wenders. 2011, 103 mins. Presented in Dolby Digital 3-D. Never has modern dance come to more vivid, spectacular cinematic life than in Wenders’s 3-D portrait of the work of the trailblazing German choreographer Pina Bausch. Her every sensuous move, realized onscreen by a troupe of stunningly talented performers, which requires a big screen to be fully appreciated.

Manufactured Landscapes

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. 2006. 90 min. 35mm. Internationally acclaimed artist Edward Burtynsky is famous for his large-scale, immaculately conceived, dauntingly crystalline photographs of industrial landscapes, such as quarries, factories, mines, and dams. When director Jennifer Baichwal follows him to China, where he shoots the evidence and effects of its massive industrial revolution, she doesn’t merely watch him work—she gets inside, pans around, and uses a full cinematic arsenal to mimic, complicate, and even subtly critique his imagery.

Forest of Bliss

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 4:30 P.M.
Dir. Robert Gardner. 1986, 90 min, 35mm. Eschewing narration, informational cards, and even subtitles, this legendary forerunner to the Sensory Ethnography Lab soaks up the activities, faces and sounds of what is now Varanasi, India, where the banks of the Ganges River host a steady influx of ceremonial cremations.

Leviathan

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 7:00 P.M.
Dirs. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel. 2013, 87 mins. DCP. A thrilling documentary from Harvard’s experimental Sensory Ethnography Lab, Leviathan is set aboard a hulking fishing vessel as it navigates the treacherous waves off the New England coast—the very waters that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick—and captures the unforgiving world of the fishermen in haunting detail.

Stations of the Elevated and Antonio Gaudi

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 4:00 P.M.
Antonio Gaudi (Dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara. 1984, 72 mins, 35mm) The great Japanese director Teshigahara was inspired by the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí’s serpentine designs when he visited Barcelona to make what is perhaps the greatest film about architecture.

Stations of the Elevated (Dir. Manfred Kirchheimer, 1981, 45 mins. Restored DCP courtesy of The Film Desk) This vital, recently rediscovered New York document is a poetic study of the visual language of subway graffiti, backed by a pulsating Charles Mingus score.

Vivan Las Antipodas!

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Victor Kossakovsky. 2011, 108 mins, DCP. In this eye-popping, mind-bending work of surrealistic nonfiction, Russian visionary Victor Kossakovsky shows life on earth to be simultaneously interconnected and alien, austere and exuberant. Criminally underseen to date, this is a rare chance to experience one of the most dazzling documentaries of the 21st century.

Tickets are $12 adults ($9 seniors and students / $6 children 3–12) and free for Museum members at the Film Lover and MoMI Kids Premium levels and above. Advance tickets are available online. And with your ticket, you’ll get to see the exhibits in the Museum’s galleries that same day.

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

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