The documentary LOOK & SEE: A Portrait of Wendell Berry (2017) "revolves around the divergent stories of several residents of Henry County, Kentucky who each face difficult choices that will dramatically reshape their relationship with the land and their community.
In 1965, Wendell Berry returned home to Henry County, where he bought a small farm house and began a life of farming, writing and teaching. This lifelong relationship with the land and community would come to form the core of his prolific writings. A half century later Henry County, like many rural communities across America, has become a place of quiet ideological struggle. In the span of a generation, the agrarian virtues of simplicity, land stewardship, sustainable farming, local economies and rootedness to place have been replaced by a capital-intensive model of industrial agriculture characterized by machine labor, chemical fertilizers, soil erosion and debt - all of which have frayed the fabric of rural communities. Writing from a long wooden desk beneath a forty-paned window, Berry has watched this struggle unfold, becoming one of its most passionate and eloquent voices in defense of agrarian life.
Filmed across four seasons in the farming cycle, LOOK & SEE blends observational scenes of farming life, interviews with farmers and community members with evocative, carefully framed shots of the surrounding landscape. Thus, in the spirit of Berry's agrarian philosophy, Henry County itself will emerge as a character in the film - a place and a landscape that is deeply interdependent with the people that inhabit it."
More information here, including how you can purchase a copy. Trailer can be seen below -
You’ll find brief reviews here (NY Times), here (LA Times), and here (a critical one on Roger Ebert’s site).
“Indie filmmaker Patrick Shen has made several award-winning documentaries, including Flight From Death (2003), a look at the human longing for immortality, and La Source (2012), an inspiring tale of an ordinary custodian’s efforts to provide his hometown in Haiti with clean drinking water. But it’s his current project that caught my eye: In Pursuit of Silence, a meditative film about the importance of silence for human beings — and the increasing noise that is drowning out silence in postmodern life…”
~ Carl McColman (from a written interview with the film’s director Patrick Shen, here).
Trailer (you might want to use headphones to listen – or, ironically, turn the volume right up)
You might also enjoy this brief article by Pico Iyer. Also his excellent column, The Joy of Quiet.
I’ve long loved Palme d'Or winner Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning film The Piano. The film, which is set in New Zealand, is a thoughtful, multi-layered story full of rich and evocative image, symbol, and myth.
Many of the symbols and images have remained with me since I first saw the film, back in 1993. I walked the beach (which features in the opening scenes) last year, and again the story came flooding back to me. Much was evoked much as I walked and reflected on my own life.
I recently enjoyed reading a paper by Donald Williams, a Jungian Analyst from Boulder, Colorado. It’s a fascinating read and adds a lot to my experience of the film and the ways some of the themes and characters play out thematically in my own life.
Accordingly, I thought I’d share it for those interested in the film, and in particular a Jungian engagement with it. Interestingly Campion recently stated that her preferred ending was for Ada to drown after having been pulled over the side of a small boat by her piano. I’m pleased this ending didn’t make the film. I needed the hope that was present in the actual cinematic ending. It would have been too bleak otherwise.
Here’s the opening paragraph of Williams’ paper:
“Jane Campion says of THE PIANO, "I think that the romantic impulse is in all of us and that sometimes we live it for a short time, but it's not part of a sensible way of living. It's a heroic path and it generally ends dangerously." Certainly American culture shares this romantic impulse, and despite the Victorian setting of The Piano, we are no less isolated, constricted, even contorted, than the characters animating Jane Campion's film. We want to hear stories of passion but most of us learned to smooth over conflicts, to mute our excitement, and to express our sexual and loving selves guiltily or immaturely. Our values and impulses are as tangled as any Victorian tale. As a culture we value compassion and "good works" but we reward self-aggrandizing ambition. We value independence but reward the corporate deferential self. We champion individualism but submit to work in cubicles and go home to confining cells of credit card debt. We seek liberation from isolation and emptiness through the acquisition of money and consumer distractions, and when security and purchased pleasures fail to satisfy us, the fear of emptiness prompts a renewed, often more costly pursuit of happiness… The Piano holds a mirror to our constricted lives while at the same time sparking a silent burning will to feel passionately alive and to love fully…”
Marking the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton (b. 31st Jan. 1915 to a New Zealand father and American mother), a new feature length documentary, directed by Morgan Atkinson, has been released this year: The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton (thanks to my good friend Steve Georgiou for bringing its release to my attention). It features excerpts by the likes of the Dalai Lama, Richard Rohr, and James Finley (author of the very very good book Merton’s Palace of Nowhere), excerpts in which they recollect on the significance of Merton (or recollect an encounter with him or his writing). Atkinson previously directed an earlier documentary, the excellent Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton (2007).
“The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton is the story of Merton in the last year of his life, embarking on his greatest journey. It’s a story of adventure and search that takes the viewer from his home at the Abbey of Gethsemani, across America in the turbulent year of 1968 and finally to Asia for meetings with the Dalai Lama and other spiritual seekers. The purpose of the journey? As always with Merton he seeks a fuller union with God. He believed serving as a bridge between west and east was one way in which his call could be lived out. The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton celebrates the triumph of all that was gained by his journey, reflects on the tragedy of what was lost with his death and considers why Merton’s life and work challenges us today.”
You can purchase the DVD here (USD$37 plus P&H if outside the US. They will post to the likes of New Zealand).
If you’ve not heard / ‘seen’ Merton, here’s some spliced together snippets (totaling 3m 28sec) from his final lecture in Bangkok. It was delivered just one hour before he died of electrocution (10th Dec. 1968) His subject was "Marxism & Monastic Perspectives."
“A Rising Tide of Silence (released 2013 / 2014) is a reflective portrait of Father Thomas Keating, one of today's most influential spiritual leaders. Interweaving historical footage, interviews, and extensive conversations with Father Thomas, the film traces his spiritual journey from an affluent New York City childhood, to an austere Trappist monastic life, to his rise through the Order, and his election as Abbot of St. Joseph's Abby in 1961. While at the Monastery in the early 1970's Father Thomas introduced Eastern religious practices to the monks and became one of the originators of Centering Prayer. After resigning as Abbott in 1981, Father Thomas founded Contemplative Outreach in 1984 to bring Centering Prayer to a worldwide audience. A renowned theologian and author of more than 30 books, Father Thomas Keating is widely recognized for his ecumenical approach to spirituality. For those who encounter him, his example is a moving modern journey of faith.”
Sadly, while the DVD can be purchased from Contemplative Outreach (here), the postage cost to NZ is prohibitive. A US $25 DVD costs US $99 to post.
Singer-song writer–composer-author Nick Cave’s 20,000th day on earth is the premise upon which visual artists Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard create their film, one which combines drama and reality to create a fictitious 24 hours. It’s a blurring of truth and fiction.
The film is titled 20,000 Days on Earth and has been a part of this years New Zealand Film Festival. It reached Hamilton few weeks back, so despite a clash with the second Bledisloe rugby test between the New Zealand and Australia. I took myself off to see it. I was always going to preference Cave over the All Blacks.
Cave is a tall, dapperly dressed, intelligent 56-year old UK-based Australian. I’ve followed his career since 1981. I’m a fan. All of his albums are very well played, Murder Ballads being the only exception. I’m seldom in the mood to do it justice!
There are few new revelations. It has none of the fly-on-the-wall immediacy that you find in some documentaries. In places it feels contrived and a little too self-indulgent (cf. the scripted session with his fictionalised psychoanalyst). There are lots of monologues and voice-overs with Cave acting as narrator. There’s real humour, and in the end I enjoyed it a lot. I was struck by Cave’s depth of thought and reflection. I valued his insights into the creative process. His conversation with Bad Seed Warren Ellis over lunch – the central topic of discussion being singer Nina Simone – was both hilarious and insightful. Live musical performances were sparse, confined largely to two or three songs that will eventually make it onto Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away (released February 2013).
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but later on I thought of David Cronenberg’s film Cosmopolis (2012) as I reflected on the scenes where actor Ray Winstone, ex-Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld, and singer Kylie Minogue materialise in Cave’s XJ Jaguar as he’s driving. In Cronenberg’s film a variety of people get into Robert Pattinson’s limo at various times as he’s driven around city streets. In my view, however, the presence of Winstone, Bargeld and Minogue adds little to the overall film, and I suspect that much of these conversations ended up on the editor’s floor. Perhaps that’s why, while interesting, they felt a little out of place?
There were lots of words. Enough words and interesting themes that will mean I’ll end up seeing the film a few more times – assuming it comes out on DVD. In fact I’ll be seeing it again in December at a screening with Nick in attendance. The DVD is available for pre-order on Amazon.uk.
Despite some concerns I absolutely loved the experience of watching the film. My only regret? I think it skimmed the surface. I kept looking at Cave, but in the end I’m not sure I ‘know’ him any better; or gained any more insight into his psyche, into who he is behind the persona, beneath the legend that is Nick Cave.
On the 28th August Radio New Zealand National features a review of 20, 000 Days on Earth (plus reviews of Lucy and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared. You’ll find the podcast here.
The Pā Boys is a laid-back, very Maori Kiwi musical road-trip film. It follows Wellington-based three-piece reggae band The Pā Boys as they pub-tour their way “down” the East Coast, through Northland and “down” to Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) – the “leaping-off place of spirits”. Death is a reoccurring theme in the film so it’s relevant that for some Māori the Cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.
It’s a debut feature for Director/Screenplay writer Himiona Grace, and is described as being a film that explores themes of identity (and whakapapa), Maori-spirituality, mythology, life, death, family secrets, friendship and the importance of discovering ones roots. It’s a story of self-discovery, one that is significantly amplified by the profound and affecting land and seascapes of this country. Director of photography Rewa Harre's work is simply stunning, and along with the music was a real highlight for me.
So how well did the film do as a coherent whole? How well did the story-arc work?
For me, the film attempted too much. There were too many strands, all of them fascinating, but all underdone and for me it felt like I was skating across the surface of story, one that I think would have benefited from narrowing down of its themes and putting more flesh on the bones of the two central characters, Danny and Tau. I needed to understand more of their back-stories in order to better feel and understand what was happening to them, and why it was happening.
For me the film needed more story, and a more deeply realised humanity within which, and out of which to explore some of the important themes and questions that the film poses. I wanted to be able to feel my way into the humanity, questions and struggles of the two lead characters.
I was hoping that that experience of watching this film would help me to articulate more clearly my own questions about my sense of self, my identity, and my formation. I was hoping for a more visceral experience, one that really engaged me at the level of heart and emotion.
That it didn’t was a bit of a disappointment, but I’m glad I watched The Pā Boys. It was a competent, well-made film, an uplifting celebration of this land and what I most value in Māori culture.
“Although film is now part of the repertoire for many present-day philosophy educators, the cinema has not always been trusted by those handling big ideas. The fear of mass mediocrity can be too much for some, and the feel-good flicks of Hollywood often do the opposite of what philosophy strives for. Critical theorists of the 20th century certainly thought so, yet the sheer power of the medium to test out ideas can't be ignored. From reality in The Matrix to truth in Rashomon, film can be a virtual philosophical laboratory.”
Off to see Nick later in the year… I’ve been listening to him since 1981. Can’t wait to actually hear him in person. Barry Taylor saw him recently and wrote: “…I am still processing the amazing experience of seeing Cave and the Seeds this past weekend at the Shrine. Truly one of the more compelling musical experiences I've had in a long time--they are simply spell-binding in live performance.” The Film 20,000 Days on Earth screened tonight in Auckland. Didn’t get to see it, but hope it makes the rounds as the New Zealand International Film Festival makes its way around the country.
Here’s the official trailer