Kevin B Lee
Video Essayist, Locarno Film Festival Professor for the Future of Cinema and the Audiovisual Arts at USI Lugano
|Meshes of the Afternoon
|Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
|Carl Th. Dreyer
|A Touch of Zen
|Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
|Trinh T. Minh-ha
|Images of the World and the Inscription of War
|The Gleaners and I
|In film nist
|Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmaseb
Meshes of the Afternoon
A film that keeps giving birth to itself from one shot to the next, expanding its parameters while burrowing deeper into an intimate subjectivity. Almost 80 years on it continues to challenge the patriarchal narrative feature biases that have historically occupied cinema. Anyone who votes for a David Lynch feature should answer to Deren.
It's hard to think of another film that more exquisitely captures the perpetual heartbreak of being among other people, the distances of understanding that linger in the spaces between figures in a single shot. It literally takes a miracle to bring them together: a miracle made possible through cinema.
My choice for a comedy, and possibly a musical / dance film, with two bodies radically mobilized for their own sake, consuming as much as being consumed. In today's context it contains enough ideas for dozens of TikToks, which it will probably outlive anyway.
A Touch of Zen
If only today's action cinema could retain the lessons of this genius work: that true cinematic action lies as much in stillness as in speed, and that every cut conveys intention and intellect rather than sensory stimulation.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
What's that exchange from CITIZEN KANE? "What would you have like to have been?" "Everything you hate." Those words came to mind after I first saw this film, because I felt like I had encountered the antithesis of CITIZEN KANE in every meaningful way possible.
"I do not intend to speak about / just speak nearby." This speaks for me as well.
Images of the World and the Inscription of War
A manual for looking not only at all the images among us, but all of those yet to come.
The Gleaners and I
I expect eco-cinema to increasingly concern me in the years to come; for now, this is the closest to an eco-cinema that really speaks for me, whose engagement with the question of living sustainably is ingrained in its cinematic method: how it sees and how it makes use of what it encounters. It was also the film I showed my students the day after the 2016 US Presidential election, and just for the effect it had on that day it earns its spot.
Maybe the most purely personal selection. After graduating college I spent two years teaching English in the Chinese countryside. When I came back to the US I was thoroughly alienated from my surroundings, unable to connect it to what I had lived. It wasn't until the 2000 New York Film Festival that I saw this film and those two years came back to life. Fewer experiences are more powerful than watching a film that sees you back.
In film nist
Maybe it is not a film (perhaps a video essay?). Whatever it is, it persists. Not only because Panahi's situation has only gotten worse since he made it, but because it offers an example for how anyone can use the basic tools of cinema to trace their own parameters and possibilities for living and thinking. Even if doing so may eventually lead them beyond cinema.
These lists are useful to the extent that they can point to things bigger than themselves, like ten fingers spread wide in different directions, rather than two fists consolidating power. Ten years ago, I gave myself parameters that each film had to be from a different decade and country. It was a way to express a utopian wish for a cinema that could encompass an expansive sense of history and geography, each film pointing to different possibilities and purposes for cinema's time and space. But in hindsight it feels like a pedantic exercise that posed cinephilia in place of reality. There's a crisis to living more palpable to me than ten years ago and that makes me seek cinematic expressions to be mobilized in response. Films that give an idea of how to exist in the world, that reflect conscientiously on the existence of others... as well as an implicit impossibility in doing so, but that strive to do so nonetheless. I still kept to one film per nation (however flawed the nation-state is as a measure for geopolitical consciousness). I'm glad to have no Hollywood films, but instead my favorite film from Los Angeles. Varda and Panahi are as close as I could get at the moment to a proposition of social media as cinema; I see their works as prototypes of what an alternative, ideal version of YouTube could look like, just as King Hu proposes an intellectually and spiritually heightened version of a Marvel film. Painful Omissions: AI: Artificial Intelligence, Born in Flames, Cemetery of Splendour, Hour of the Furnaces, L'Intrus, Love Is the Message and the Message Is Death, A Time to Live and a Time to Die, Tokyo Story... And despite all these amazing works and the memories they evoke, I feel the absence of a film that conveys the environmental and systemic crises of our planet, the images that most need to be seen, in a film that has yet to be made.