Leo Goldsmith

  • film August 20, 2018

    Swiss Watch

    THE YEAR’S EDITION OF THE LOCARNO FESTIVAL—held every August along Lake Maggiore in southern Switzerland—was preceded by buzz of a different kind: the news that its artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, would be ending his five-year run to join the Berlinale in 2020. This announcement lent an air of anticipation and ambiguity to a festival that has long embraced the unpredictable in its championing of a conception of cinema as diverse and experimental as one is likely to find at a major festival. Where else would Bruno Dumont (who received a lifetime achievement award) share the eight-thousand-seat

  • film July 26, 2018

    À La Mode

    EVEN AMID ALL THE FAKE-NEWS FLAPPERY ONLINE, documentary form has seldom been as robust as it is today. Nonfiction film festivals are stretching the already blurred boundaries drawn up by the documentary tradition, and art spaces are increasingly embracing nonfiction media, especially in moving-image form—of which the New Museum’s John Akomfrah exhibition is just the most recent example. One crucial locus for this convergence of documentary cinema, experimental media, and contemporary art is FIDMarseille, an international film festival now in its twenty-ninth year that has long cultured these

  • film April 13, 2018

    Get Real

    LAUNCHED BY THE FRENCH FILMMAKER AND ANTHROPOLOGIST JEAN ROUCH with Jean-Michel Arnold in 1978, and hosted by the Centre Pompidou for the past four decades, “Cinéma du Réel” is an ideal vantage point from which to survey the landscape of contemporary documentary. Even amid the intensified skepticism about audiovisual media’s relationship to the real, and the proliferation of what is defined as “documentary,” this showcase for nonfiction film—broadly conceived—sustains the form’s disciplinary roots in ethnography and sociology even as it explores its outer limits in experimental film

  • film December 22, 2017

    Aftermaths and Undergrounds

    IN 2001, MARTHA ROSLER coined the term “post-documentary” to describe the unusual status of “social documentary photography in the postmodern world”—a moment in which the form’s claims to transparency, objectivity, and authenticity were everywhere under scrutiny. It’s a scenario that’s familiar enough sixteen years later: Suspicion of media in general and images in particular is widespread to the point of numbing banality, and yet no less dizzying. With endless hand-wringing over “fake news” and the politics of distraction, the little cinematic category we call “documentary” and its “

  • film September 06, 2016

    Moving Targets

    WHILE THE FESTIVAL DEL FILM LOCARNO has a global scope and picture-postcard setting equal to any major film festival in the world, this year’s iteration was conspicuously, even blissfully, free of marquee-name festival directors, opting instead for the (slightly) more recondite, untested, and unknown. The festival’s top prize, the Golden Leopard, went to Bulgarian director Ralitza Petrova’s first feature, Godless, and maybe the glitziest offering on the massive screen of the Piazza Grande’s was Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake. Even the festival’s retrospective—always among Locarno’s

  • passages January 09, 2015

    David Hall (1937–2014)

    “AND NOW FOR THE VERY MATERIAL OF TELEVISION.”

    These words, spoken by the well-known BBC newsreader Richard Baker at the start of This is a Television Receiver (1976), announce the primary concern at the heart of David Hall’s work. Hall, who passed away in October at age seventy seven, was already a successful sculptor when he began working with 16-mm film and later video, the medium for which he would become a key spokesman, curator, and historian. Throughout his career, Hall approached the moving image and its various containers, in a sense, sculpturally, emphasizing the plasticity of video

  • film July 04, 2014

    Flaherty Will Get You Everywhere

    NOW IN ITS SIXTIETH YEAR, the Flaherty Film Seminar is an annual occupation of the Colgate University campus that gathers around 170 filmmakers, scholars, critics, programmers, artists, and cinephiles in an unlikely, weeklong cohabitation devoted to an exploration of nonfiction filmmaking. Not quite so free-wheeling as a film festival nor quite so focused as an academic conference, the seminar is named for Robert Flaherty, whose own place and stature within the institution of documentary has ebbed and flowed just as documentary practice itself has migrated among different media: from cinema (

  • film February 20, 2014

    Unfinished Conversations

    ABSENT AMONG LAST WEEK’S many tributes to cultural theorist Stuart Hall—who died February 10 following a long illness—was any mention of a letter he wrote to The Guardian in 1987 in response to Salman Rushdie’s negative review of a film called Handsworth Songs by a group of young black independent filmmakers known as Black Audio Film Collective. Rushdie accused the film, which concerned recent racially motivated unrest in the titular Birmingham neighborhood, of failing to give voice to the sorts of colorful, postcolonial narratives that were his own stock in trade. But Hall leaped to their

  • 1000 WORDS: BEN RIVERS AND BEN RUSSELL

    A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS is the love child of two quite different filmmakers—one British, one American—who have come to prominence in recent years in the experimental-film world for idiosyncratic bodies of work, which, while stylistically distinct, have revealed common thematic interests. Ben Rivers, who lives and works in London, is perhaps best known for his meditative portraits of alternative ways of living, from the sylvan hermitage of his feature Two Years at Sea to the postapocalyptic island ecosystems of his science-fiction film Slow Action (both 2011). In sharp contrast,