Flaherty NYC, an offshoot of The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, is a screening series that prides itself with rich discussions about work by groundbreaking documentary filmmakers. This season was programmed by guest curator Jeronimo Rodriguez, a writer and critic who has worked as the host of the film review and interview program Toma 1 on NY1 Noticias in New York City for eight years, championing contemporary and foreign film.
Starting this Wednesday, Rodriguez will be bringing rarely-seen films to New York audiences that explore the discovery of unknown pasts, forgotten events, and lost memories. This series reveals the ability of film to shed light on imperfect histories that might otherwise be lost forever.
If you’re in New York, join the conversation Wednesday nights into mid-April at the 92YTribeca. Rodriguez explains to us what went into the undertaking.
What excites you about the films this season in Epic Encounters?
Since most of the selected films come from all across the Latin experience, from Latin America, Spain to the US, we have many great filmmakers from abroad attending the series this year. We are going to have intense and rich discussions after every screening, which is an important part of the spirit behind the Flaherty. In the same spirit, this Spring Flaherty NYC is a celebration of diversity. Diversity not only in terms of the filmmakers’ background, but in terms of the wide array of visual forms that you will see: documentaries, film essays, non-fiction films and experimental films.
I am not particularly crazy about premieres — it’s not something that I am looking for in a film series — but in this case I am delighted that most of the films are new for the New York audience. We will have the New York premiere of Vikingland, The Other Day, Tudo É Brasil, In Ancon, January, 2012 and Image Not Found. There’s also a screening of a film that should have way more exposure, The Life, Death and Assumption of Lupe Velez, by José Rodríguez Soltero. It’s one of the few existing records of Puerto Rican involvement in the New York underground of the 60′s, a beautifully shot film that oozes urgency, love and youth. This hidden gem, with legendary Mario Montez playing the female lead, can be enjoyed on March 27.
Tell us about your approach to curating this season.
The series Epic Encounters has to do with a spontaneous discovery through film. It all started with my fixation on one film and one filmmaker. Last year, I saw Vikingland, by Galician director Xurxo Chirro. My mind was blown by his clever use of found footage, memory and the craft of filmmaking itself. Meanwhile, I’ve always had a crush on Rogério Sganzerla’s work in the Brazilian underground. For years now, I’ve wanted to spread the word on this amazing director, woefully unknown in the US. Sganzerla did fiction, documentaries and film essays. One of his more remarkable films, a brilliant freeform essay about Brazil’s identity through the eyes of Orson Welles called Tudo É Brasil will be the closing night film. I’d always thought of Tudo É Brasil as a letter written by Sganzerla to Welles, but then it occurred to me that, as a simple spectator or film buff, maybe his film was a letter sent to me that arrived later than expected. Both films, Vikingland and Tudo É Brasil, produced that rare effect on me: one in which I found something fabulous in them that nobody ever heard of. For me, like the title of the series, this was an epic encounter.
Then I thought, what about the filmmakers? They probably had an epic encounter with the subjects of their films, as well. In the case of Vikingland it was marvelous randomness around some VHS tapes. With Tudo É Brasil, it was Sganzerla’s obsession with Welles’ period in Brazil — Sganzerla did three more films on the subject. So that was the starting point of Epic Encounters. At the beginning it was an epic encounter with an unknown past, forgotten events, lost memories but then evolved to activities or places that are not usually represented in film. I wanted a program that deals with those discoveries, like the remarkable and captivating rehearsals that Argentine filmmaker Marcelo Piñeiro portraits in Rosalinda, or maybe those unsettled spaces in Peru, Haiti, Spain or New York that are part of the fifth screening, Fractured Spaces. Now, I finally hope that New Yorkers get the chance to have an epic encounter with all those films.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in putting this series together?
Time, logistics, getting films from different countries and bringing the filmmakers to New York City. It was made possible because of the hard work of many people at the Flaherty, 92YTribeca, filmmakers and institutions abroad. For example, there is only one 35mm print with English subtitles of Tudo É Brasil, that is being preserved at the Cinemateca Brasileira in Sao Paulo. It has been a great collaborative effort to make it possible for it screen here as our closing night film. It is an operation that involved people in New York, Brasilia, and Sao Paulo, with the kind help of the Brazilian Consulate in New York and many others.
What kind of viewing experience should we expect?
The Flaherty is a space for discussion, not only for the documentary form, but the forefront of film. This is a series that reflects that approach. These are films that delve into the visual essay, the documentary, the experimental and non-fiction, but in a very particular way. The stars of this show can be a Hi-8 home video, an underground scream, a fading memory or a rarely seen film. As per narratives, it all can go from the observational and leisurely tone of Vikingland, The Other Day, In Ancon or Ivory Tower to more playful territories like in Rosalinda or to the hypnotic horizons of Peril of the Antilles and Image Not Found. It’s going to be both fun and challenging.