Left: David Gatten, The Extravagant Shadows, 2012, color, digital cinema package, 175 minutes. Right: Nicolas Rey, anders, Molussien (differently, Molussia), 2012, color, 16 mm, 81 minutes.

LIKE THE FIFTIETH New York Film Festival of which it is a part, this year’s Views from the Avant-Garde includes both old and new works. With twenty-three programs, it’s the most ambitious Views slate to date. Films by such giants as Chris Marker (Sans Soleil, 1982) and Raúl Ruiz (The Blind Owl, 1987) stand alongside new feature-length works by Stephen Dwoskin, David Gatten, Mike Gibisser, Phil Solomon, James Benning, Luke Fowler, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jeff Preiss, Peter Bo Rappmund, and Nicolas Rey. Programs devoted to individual artists (e.g., Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler) alternate with anthology programs featuring Views stalwarts like Peggy Ahwesh, Lewis Klahr, Ben Russell, Ben Rivers, Joe Gibbons, Erin Espelie, Paolo Gioli, Janie Geiser, Vincent Grenier, Luther Price, and Daichi Saito, among others. Legendary filmmakers Ernie Gehr and Peter Kubelka are also on hand, the latter with a double-screen projection and installation incorporating his seminal Arnulf Rainer (1958–60) and Antiphon, a new work.

The range of thematic concerns is as varied as that of the directors’ audio/video interests and media formats. Rappmund’s mesmerizing Tectonics is driven by sheer sonic and pictorial virtuosity, while Rey’s anders, Molussien plays with the temporal structure of a narrative read over disparate images. Traditional literary texts loom large in David Gatten’s The Extravagant Shadows, but for the first time the artist works with digital. In The Creation As We Saw It, Rivers continues his fervent investigations of unusual but natural phenomena. And Preiss’s Stop, which includes material from 1995 to 2012, proves the diary film an enduring form.

Both Dwoskin’s Age Is… and Gibisser’s The Day of Two Noons are stirring documents, altogether different in approach and tone. The former is an unblinking meditation on its titular subject, as seen through the beautiful faces on which the effects of long life are eloquently etched. It begins with an extreme close-up of half a face, as the fingers of one hand move involuntarily at the bottom of the frame. Dwoskin, who died earlier this year and whose work is overdue for reappraisal, believed in the revelatory powers of the camera, a quality celebrated in his book, Film Is… (1975), and one espoused by film theorists from the 1930s to André Bazin and Siegfried Kracauer. The key point of that belief was that if a camera looks hard and long enough at any segment of the world, it can disclose otherwise imperceptible aspects of reality. Like Dwoskin’s earlier work, the body consciousness in Age Is… is inseparable from its style. Avoiding the lachrymose and the maudlin, the camera all but grazes the faces and hands of the aged—what the filmmaker calls their “parchment”—framing them bluntly and dwelling on them at length. One woman looks into an off-screen mirror while tracing the lines of her brow and cheeks with a blue pencil, highlighting every impression left by time. Another woman’s heavily veined, be-ringed hands strive to conceal trembling signs of debilitating disease. Some portraits are animated by minimal scans made by Dwoskin from his wheelchair. Occasionally, he appears, head tilting back to catch his breath—no less a testament to time and the object of the camera’s gaze than those he photographs. In contrast to these affecting “still lifes,” several elders are seen at home still caring for themselves. A final shot tracks a man negotiating a forest path, his slow progress both invigorated and belied by the green lushness around him. Though an eschewal of dialogue and narration enforces the work’s sober concentration, it is also, at times, enhanced by Alexander Balanescu’s limpid score, its elastic strings delicately tuned to the tentative gestures of Dwoskin’s human subjects.

Left and right: Mike Gibisser, The Day of Two Noons, 2012, color, 67 minutes.

Mike Gibisser’s The Day of Two Noons, on the other hand, pits the aging process against the efforts of an encroaching modernism to standardize, and thereby distort, “real” time. Gibisser prefaces the work with a quote from Giorgio Agamben’s 1978 “Time and History: Critique of the Instant and the Continuum,” the tensions and connotations of the latter terms resonating throughout the film. From its first image of an elegant clock, its inner mechanisms working away, timepieces abound, just as initial shots of—we presume—the filmmaker’s grandmother introduce the theme of aging and illness repeated throughout. The ailing woman’s poignant complaint about the unrelieved boredom of her inactive life in itself embodies a continuum comprising uneventful instants. As she speaks, the sound of a locomotive intrudes, bridging her world to the past: a black-and-white re-creation of the historic meeting of two locomotives at a site now a national landmark. This counterpoint of home truths with reflections on the nineteenth-century developments that transformed modern life constitutes the film’s unique structure.

Time and travel, the instant and the continuum, are linked to the relationship of still photography to experiments with motion pictures. A photo of railroad tycoon Leland Stanford is followed by a passage from Hollis Frampton’s 1973 Artforum essay on Eadweard Muybridge, who conducted locomotion studies at Stanford’s farm in Palo Alto. As we read of Muybridge’s “last major work of still photography”—an immense 360-degree panorama of San Francisco composed of thirteen panels—we watch Gibisser’s stunning 360-degree panoramic shot of a vast landscape. The film documents how the railroad’s linking of America’s coasts led to efforts in 1883 to establish a uniform system of standard time. While acknowledging the inevitability of this necessity, Gibisser cannot resist spoofing its existential falsehood by printing the formalities for establishing time zones over an image of his grandfather impishly mugging at the camera.

Gibisser plays wittily with the laws of physics which the invention of cinema made possible, reversing the movement of smoke emitted from a steam engine, or sending the majestic flow of a waterfall back to its source. He links these Méliès-like moments with Muybridge, whose own paradoxically still photographs of waterfalls revealed a pre-historic fascination with the as yet unrealized fact of motion pictures.

Tony Pipolo

The sixteenth Views from the Avant-Garde runs Thursday, October 4–Monday, October 8. A select portion of these films will be made available online beginning October 9. Views is part of the fiftieth New York Film Festival, which runs through Sunday, October 14 at Lincoln Center.