PRINT December 2017

Film: Best of 2017

Erika Balsom

1 TONSLER PARK (Kevin Jerome Everson) The quotidian and the historic converge in a Charlottesville, Virginia, polling station on the day of the last presidential election. A careful study of people at work, positioned at the intersection of race and politics. This is the cinema we need.

Kevin Jerome Everson, Tonsler Park, 2017, 16 mm, black-and-white, sound, 80 minutes.

2 BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK (Anocha Suwichakornpong) Forget the comparisons to Apichatpong Weerasethakul: They are too easy and fail to do justice to this kaleidoscopic, confounding film. Image-making, history, and enchantment intertwine in a highly original work.

Anocha Suwichakornpong, By the Time It Gets Dark, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 105 minutes.

3 THE HUMAN SURGE (Eduardo Williams) Across formats and continents, Williams punctures Silicon Valley myths with dead batteries, cracked screens, desultory bodies, and elusive Wi-Fi signals. More proof that the best diagnoses of digital culture need not look like post-internet art.

4 FREAK ORLANDO (1981) and CHAMISSO’S SHADOW (2016) (Ulrike Ottinger), BEN RUSSELL’S “HALLUCINATIONS” FILM PROGRAM, GREEK FILM ARCHIVE, ATHENS, DOCUMENTA 14 Ottinger’s fantastically queer carnival Freak Orlando continues to astonish, while Chamisso’s Shadow, a twelve-hour masterwork of experimental ethnography, demonstrates that she remains more radical at seventy-five than most filmmakers a fraction of her age.

Ulrike Ottinger, Freak Orlando, 1981, 35 mm, color, sound, 126 minutes. Monks (Hiro Uschiyama and Claudio Pantoja).

5 WESTERN (Valeska Grisebach) What is it about women directors making terrific films about male-only spaces? Stunning performances from nonprofessionals ground this cross-cultural tale of animosity and belonging. No cowboys, but all of the titular genre’s epic themes.

6 ALSO KNOWN AS JIHADI (Eric Baudelaire) This homage to Masao Adachi’s AKA Serial Killer (1969) questions two apparatuses of truth: the Japanese director’s notion of “landscape theory” and the juridical system of France. With deep causes nowhere to be found, Baudelaire directs our gaze to surface traces.

7 EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY (1972–73) (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and THE NOTHING FACTORY (2017) (Pedro Pinho) Two factory epics––a new restoration of Fassbinder’s made-for-TV “family series” and Pinho’s reflexive take on Portugal’s economic crisis––explore collectivity, struggle, and self-organization in long form.

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day, 1972–73, still from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s TV show on WDR. Episode 4. Marion Andreas (Hanna Schygulla) and Monika (Renate Roland).

8 EL MAR LA MAR (Joshua Bonnetta and J. P. Sniadecki) Along the US-Mexico border, an artist and an anthropologist search for signs of life and death in the desert. Cinema and landscape come together as sites of inscription marked by an encounter between the human and the nonhuman.

Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki, El mar la mar, 2017, 16 mm, color, sound, 94 minutes.

9 SUNSTONE (Filipa César and Louis Henderson) Setting the lighthouse against GPS, overlaying 16-mm film with CGI, César and Henderson trace epistemic shifts in orientation and representation from the optical to the algorithmic, always with an eye to the afterlives of colonialism.

Filipa César and Louis Henderson, Sunstone, 2017, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 30 seconds.

10 LIFE IMITATION (Chen Zhou) Scenes of mediated life in Shanghai bleed into images from Grand Theft Auto V in a somber, moody portrait of disconnection and disaffection. The anti-Trecartin.

Chen Zhou, Life Imitation, 2016, digital video, color, sound, 83 minutes.

Erika Balsom is the author of After Uniqueness: A History of Film and Video Art in Circulation (Columbia University Press, 2017) and a senior lecturer in film studies at King’s College London.