Vulture reflects on Ousmane Sembène, father of African cinema

This year’s Sundance film festival hosted the premiere of Sembène!, a documentary about African filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. You might not know that name, but Sembène is one of the most important figures in the birth of African cinema. He arguably started the entire African film movement with, as Vulture describes, “no film equipment, no professional … Continue reading “Vulture reflects on Ousmane Sembène, father of African cinema”

This year’s Sundance film festival hosted the premiere of Sembène!, a documentary about African filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. You might not know that name, but Sembène is one of the most important figures in the birth of African cinema. He arguably started the entire African film movement with, as Vulture describes, “no film equipment, no professional actors, and no funding.”

Sembène is a name worth knowing, and in celebration of the new documentary, Vulture put together a terrific overview of Sembène’s work and his contributions to African cinema. We strongly recommend giving it a read if you want to learn about one of the hardest working and most pivotal filmmakers in world cinema.

If you want to dive further into his work, look for Sembène’s films in our collection. They’re frequently being checked out for class use, but you can also watch many of them here in the library.

Xala – HU DVD 1286
Mandabi – HU DVD 1287
La Noire de… – HU DVD 1953
Moolaadé – HU DVD 3862
Faat Kiné – DVD 8721
Ceddo – DVD 9465
Camp de Thiaroye – DVD 9728
Borom Sarret – DVD 10070
Guelwaar – DVD 10586

Today in unexpected fandom: David Cronenberg loves Dilbert

Director David Cronenberg has made a name for himself as a purveyor of dark psychological films, from self-contained thriller experiments like Cosmopolis to the extra-gory body horror that made him famous in Scanners and The Fly. As befits his style, you might expect his tastes to skew towards the terrifying or distressing. But surprisingly, Cronenberg … Continue reading “Today in unexpected fandom: David Cronenberg loves Dilbert”

Director David Cronenberg has made a name for himself as a purveyor of dark psychological films, from self-contained thriller experiments like Cosmopolis to the extra-gory body horror that made him famous in Scanners and The Fly. As befits his style, you might expect his tastes to skew towards the terrifying or distressing. But surprisingly, Cronenberg also really likes Dilbert.

Counterculture blog Dangerous Minds has assembled a litany of examples showing Cronenberg referencing, praising, or outright quoting Scott Adams’s famous office parody comic strip. Even as recently as this November, Cronenberg has name-dropped Dilbert in the same breath as other pop culture critiques of business like Wall Street. There’s nothing wrong with liking Dilbert, but given the director’s background and interests, we wouldn’t expect him to fixate on it. Maybe one day he’ll try his hand at a satirical comedy.

We don’t have anything Dilbert-related in our collection, so instead, we’ll just encourage you to watch Cronenberg’s Videodrome (HU DVD 64). It’s about as un-Dilbert-y as his filmography gets.

The many works of Mike Nichols, EGOTer and prolific director

Mike Nichols, EGOT-winning director of The Graduate, died yesterday at age 83. For an acclaimed and decorated filmmaker, Nichols kept a comparatively low profile in the entertainment world, but he leaves behind an impressive lineup of truly great films and television productions, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Primary Colors, Working Girl, Angels in America, … Continue reading “The many works of Mike Nichols, EGOTer and prolific director”

Mike Nichols, EGOT-winning director of The Graduate, died yesterday at age 83. For an acclaimed and decorated filmmaker, Nichols kept a comparatively low profile in the entertainment world, but he leaves behind an impressive lineup of truly great films and television productions, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Primary Colors, Working Girl, Angels in America, The Birdcage, and Charlie Wilson’s War. The director got his start in entertainment as an improv comedian, but in future years, he will be remembered best for his consistent and varied filmography. It’s quite an accomplishment that in his 40 years directing films, every single one was a winner.

Chances are that you’ve watched and enjoyed something by Mike Nichols, so in recognition of his career, we took the opportunity to look up the rest his directorial work. If you’ve ever been curious about his work or simply wanted a new director to get into, now is the right time to watch his films.

The Graduate – HU DVD 29
Wit – HU DVD 353
Postcards from the Edge – HU DVD 613
The Birdcage – HU DVD 667
Angels in America – HU DVD 760
Silkwood – HU DVD 1647
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – HU DVD 3017
Primary Colors – HU DVD 3606
Closer – HU DVD 4080
Working Girl – HU DVD 4159
Charlie Wilson’s War – HU DVD 4309
Carnal Knowledge – HU DVD 5728
Catch-22 – HU DVD 5844

See Fredrick Wiseman’s newest documentary with a director Q&A!

If you don’t know documentarian Fredrick Wiseman, you should. Wiseman has an absurdly prolific career, having directed dozens of documentaries since 1967. His first, Titicut Follies, is a incisive look at the American mental health system and the state of asylums in the 60s (we frequently recommend this one to faculty). His next film, National … Continue reading “See Fredrick Wiseman’s newest documentary with a director Q&A!”

If you don’t know documentarian Fredrick Wiseman, you should. Wiseman has an absurdly prolific career, having directed dozens of documentaries since 1967. His first, Titicut Follies, is a incisive look at the American mental health system and the state of asylums in the 60s (we frequently recommend this one to faculty). His next film, National Gallery, a documentary about the British art museum of the same name, has already been hailed as a masterpiece. This is the director’s thirty-ninth film, and for this special occasion, Wiseman is coming to DC to show it off.

National Gallery, which runs for a staggering three hours, will play at the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring for one week starting this Friday, November 14th. And at two showings on the 14th and 15th, Fredrick Wiseman will stop by for a Q&A. This is a rare chance to meet and to speak with a titan of documentaries.

Given the high-profile guest, you’ll likely need to secure tickets in advance for this one. Head over to AFI Silver’s website to purchase them early.

Famous directors throw money to stall the imminent death of physical film

Ever since the all-digital release of 2002’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, filmmakers have steadily moved away from traditional film reels in favor of the increased power of digital cameras. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Kodak film consumption has decreased by nearly 12 billion linear feet in the past 8 … Continue reading “Famous directors throw money to stall the imminent death of physical film”

Ever since the all-digital release of 2002’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, filmmakers have steadily moved away from traditional film reels in favor of the increased power of digital cameras. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Kodak film consumption has decreased by nearly 12 billion linear feet in the past 8 years, a 97 percent decrease in orders. Very few (such as Steven Spielberg) are still developing physical prints of their movies. That spells almost certain death for the film market, but some directors – driven by nostalgia or an insistence that there’s a measurable difference in quality – have started a personal crusade to save their favorite format. But they’re using an unconventional, business-friendly strategy.

Quentin Tarantino, J. J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, and other have convinced major studios to buy a fixed amount of physical film each year, allowing Kodak to stay in the film business and continue outputting new film for directors to use. Not all of it will be used, but maintaining a certain level of orders will keep film alive – at least as long as the studios keep funneling money.

It’s an unconventional idea that’s impractical, expensive, and will probably see a lot of film go to waste, and naturally, it’s met some resistance. But it will keep the option available for anyone who wants to use a now-antiquated format. Maybe future generations will learn the joys of 35mm after all.

Today in film theory: A thoughtful critique of “Bayhem”

Michael Bay, love him or hate him, is an auteur, a director with a definitive and immediately recognizable style that overshadows every film he produces. Every moment of, say, Transformers or Armageddon is coated in Bay’s fingerprints. His frenetic and explosive style has earned him an ignominious place in the film industry, but even more … Continue reading “Today in film theory: A thoughtful critique of “Bayhem””

Michael Bay, love him or hate him, is an auteur, a director with a definitive and immediately recognizable style that overshadows every film he produces. Every moment of, say, Transformers or Armageddon is coated in Bay’s fingerprints. His frenetic and explosive style has earned him an ignominious place in the film industry, but even more so than some acclaimed and successful directors, Bay’s signature “Bayhem” is unmistakably his.

As befitting a director of such wide consumption and reputation, film analyst Tony Zhou has produced an eight-minute video dissecting how Michael Bay works. His sweeping camera shots, intense angles, and shaking intensity are no mistake; they find root in such classic films as Star Wars and West Side Story. Whatever you think of Bay’s films, this video demonstrates that he is not a director who simply throws his movies together. His carnage is meticulous.

Michael Bay’s only film in our collection is Pearl Harbor (HU DVD 752), which is featured throughout this video. It’s not a terrific movie, but it’s arguably a good example of how Bay operates.

Newly unearthed first works shed light on famous directorial styles

Directors with large bodies of work often develop distinctive styles. Once you these signatures for the first time, their earlier films become exciting treasure hunts for glimpses of their trademarks yet to develop. You might get a glimpse of the Coen brothers yet to emerge, for example, when watching Blood Simple. If you enjoy playing … Continue reading “Newly unearthed first works shed light on famous directorial styles”

Directors with large bodies of work often develop distinctive styles. Once you these signatures for the first time, their earlier films become exciting treasure hunts for glimpses of their trademarks yet to develop. You might get a glimpse of the Coen brothers yet to emerge, for example, when watching Blood Simple. If you enjoy playing this game, you’re going to have a ball with two new short films that recently emerged online. They’re the first works by notable directors Tim Burton and Lars von Trier, and you can already see seeds of each of their styles taking root.

Burton’s film, a bizarre 1982 low-budget retelling of Hansel and Gretel with an all-Asian cast, it’s almost immediately noticeably his product. Though the production stark, Burton’s hand is evident, and the film resembles a live-action The Nightmare Before Christmas. The witch’s costume especially screams Burton-esque dark whimsy.

Von Trier’s short, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, is a dialogue-less spot-motion adventure starring three bunnies that he directed at age 11. This one bears almost no resemblance to the psychosexual chaos that Lars von Trier would become notable for in the future, but like most of his films, it is totally inscrutable.

These are the earliest known works of both these directors, and they’re a great watch of fans of either. We imagine that first films by future great directors will be far easier to find, so it’s exciting to find weird gems like this lying around.

Science confirms that Paul Thomas Anderson is the master of your eyes

The intersection of science and art has always yielded fascinating insights. As much as filmmaking is an art that requires a carefully trained eye and excellent talent to pull off, scientific studies often find surprising and actionable evidence of how we process and respond to images. That might take some of the artistry out of … Continue reading “Science confirms that Paul Thomas Anderson is the master of your eyes”

The intersection of science and art has always yielded fascinating insights. As much as filmmaking is an art that requires a carefully trained eye and excellent talent to pull off, scientific studies often find surprising and actionable evidence of how we process and respond to images. That might take some of the artistry out of the process, but it tells us exciting things about the human brain.

This great example comes from The DIEM Project, which studies eye tracking of moving images. Researchers tracked the eyes of eleven people who watched the same clip from There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson is a gifted director, and he has a keen eye for composition; the selected portion combines long takes, close-ups, and tracking shots.

As you can see from the circles that represent where a person was looking, we are all immediately drawn to contrast, whether that’s a bright object in a dark room or a moving object in a static scene. The most interesting example might be the long shot of a car at the end of the clip. Even when the car is obscured by scenery, everyone’s eyes are focused tightly on the right edge where they expect the car to appear.

This video is a great demonstration of how a master filmmaker can command an audience’s attention with motion and composition. The next time you find yourself watching a static scene in a just-okay movie, you might wonder where the little eye circles would fall.

Killer cars? Flying fish? Notable directors with unusual starts

The most recent batch of Academy Award contenders to come out – 12 Years a Slave, The Contender, Gravity, etc. – all come from renowned or at least established directors. Except for perhaps Neil Blomkamp and Benh Zeitlin, few directors can claim that their first films received Oscar nods. Where, then, did these acclaimed directors … Continue reading “Killer cars? Flying fish? Notable directors with unusual starts”

The most recent batch of Academy Award contenders to come out – 12 Years a Slave, The Contender, Gravity, etc. – all come from renowned or at least established directors. Except for perhaps Neil Blomkamp and Benh Zeitlin, few directors can claim that their first films received Oscar nods. Where, then, did these acclaimed directors get their starts?

It’s probably not surprising that many had inauspicious starts. The folks at mental_floss put together a surprising and entertaining list of first major works by notable film figures. Though Christopher Nolan got his start in dark, psychological thrillers early in his career, others like James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola were slumming it with movies like Piranha II: The Spawning. If anything, this proves that you should never judge a director by their first work… unless, like Stanley Kubrick, they decide to destroy it.

For the curious, most of these films are available in Media Services. Maybe this weekend you’ll want to watch an early Spielberg movie about killer trucks!

THX 1138 – HU DVD 1401
Shallow Grave – HU DVD 1910
Fear and Desire – HU DVD 2675
The Squaw Man – HU DVD 3701
Following – HU DVD 3886
The Duellists – HU DVD 5368
Dark Star – HU DVD 6517
Duel – HU DVD 7047
Dementia 13 – HU DVD 864

See famed director Arturo Ripstein on campus TODAY!

American University is proud and excited to host famed Spanish film director Arturo Ripstein on campus today at 5:30pm in the Letts Formal Lounge. Ripstein has been active in the Spanish film industry for years, starting as an assistant to director Luis Buñuel and eventually directing his own feature films in 1965. If you’ve taken … Continue reading “See famed director Arturo Ripstein on campus TODAY!”

American University is proud and excited to host famed Spanish film director Arturo Ripstein on campus today at 5:30pm in the Letts Formal Lounge.

Ripstein has been active in the Spanish film industry for years, starting as an assistant to director Luis Buñuel and eventually directing his own feature films in 1965. If you’ve taken a Spanish film class, you’ve no doubt run across some of his films, including El lugar sin limites and Deep Crimson.

The event will include a panel discussion with Professors Lucy Grandas, Jeffrey Middents, Nuria Vilanova, and Brenda Werth (all friends of Media Services). This is a massively exciting opportunity to hear from a big name in world cinema. Come to the Letts Formal Lounge early to ensure you have a seat!

We have a number of Ripstein’s films in our collection, including…

El Crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Padre Amaro) – HU DVD 1076
La Virgen de la Lujuria (The Virgin of Lust) — HU DVD 5485
Deep Crimson — HU DVD 5486
Lugar Sin Limites (Place Without Limits) – DVD 6033
La Perdicion de los Hombres (The Ruination of Men) — HU DVD 7216