J.p. Sniadecki (#110 of 5)

Berlinale 2017: El Mar La Mar Review

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Berlinale 2017: El Mar La Mar Review

Sensory Ethnography Lab

Berlinale 2017: El Mar La Mar Review

On paper, El Mar La Mar sounds simple: a documentary about life in the Sonoran Desert, specifically for the border control agents stationed near the U.S.-Mexico border and the undocumented immigrants who’ve survived the daunting trek across the area’s rugged terrain. But Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki’s documentary is one of the latest works to come out of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, an experimental laboratory based in Harvard University that’s devoted to pushing the aesthetic boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking. As such, Bonnetta and Sniadecki’s approach to exploring the desert and topic of immigration often veers toward the avant-garde.

Locarno Film Festival 2014 Sleeping Giant, Kookaburra Love, Single Stream, The Iron Ministry, & More

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Locarno Film Festival 2014: Sleeping Giant, Kookaburra Love, Single Stream, The Iron Ministry, & More
Locarno Film Festival 2014: Sleeping Giant, Kookaburra Love, Single Stream, The Iron Ministry, & More

There's a brief shot in Andrew Cividino's short film Sleeping Giant that's very similar to one in The Dirties, the self-aware comedy by Cividino's fellow Canadian Matt Johnson, which debuted at Locarno Film Festival last year. Premiering in the Pardi di domani competition at this year's edition, Sleeping Giant also shares with the other film themes of bullying and peer pressure. In the shot in question, two young boys fire flares into the air, and then at each other—and that it primes such a comparison reveals one coincidental link between last year's and this year's edition of the festival. Certainly, continuity is paramount at Locarno Film Festival, whose host town has a population of less than 16,000—small enough to feel like an intensely surreal bubble of stability, while the festival itself is paradoxically colossal, making for an atmosphere all its own.

Viennale 2013 Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Gold, Demolition, Three Landscapes, & Our Sunhi

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Viennale 2013: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Gold, Demolition, Three Landscapes, & Our Sunhi
Viennale 2013: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Gold, Demolition, Three Landscapes, & Our Sunhi

Though “Safety Last!” was the name given by the Viennale this year to a special program compiling 12 Will Ferrell sketches from Saturday Night Live, it could have also titled an unofficial subsection of films during this year's festival. We're now past the midway point of the 51st Viennale, and I've already seen a number of features and documentaries in which people endure—or see themselves perilously close to enduring—profound hazards to their bodies.

Two such films premiered (and invited unlikely comparisons) at the Berlinale earlier this year: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, by Quebecois writer-director Denis Côté, and Gold, a Canada-set western by German filmmaker Thomas Arslan. Both works contain a scene involving the lethal jaws of a bear trap. In Vic + Flo, the snap brings the film's tonal peculiarity and suggestive menace to a logical endpoint, whereas in Gold it sends one of its more intriguing characters to an early death.

True/False Film Festival 2011: Foreign Parts

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True/False Film Festival 2011: <em>Foreign Parts</em>
True/False Film Festival 2011: <em>Foreign Parts</em>

I woke up at 4 a.m. on Thursday to take two flights to St. Louis and then drive two hours to Columbia, Missouri for the eighth True/False Film Festival. This is my third visit to True/False as part of a growing contingent of Mainers (and Maine sympathizers from both coasts) who planted a flag in Columbia five years ago. Aptly described as the “platonic ideal of a college town” by '09 House correspondent Vadim Rizov, downtown Columbia, on this weekend, seems to exist as a factory which serves exclusively to produce volunteers (600 - 700 this year) for this enchanting documentary film festival.

Columbia, just slightly overwhelmed by True/False's growing audience (on Sunday afternoon, the downtown trash cans are overflowing with sleeved coffee cups), is immensely welcoming and charming, its amusing incongruities (restaurants closed for church on Sunday; dirt-cheap cigarettes) reminding you what part of the country you're in, even as you attend a devolving series of late-night afterparties and catch sights like a ukulele-playing busker performing an earnest version of Pulp's “Common People.” Columbia's good spirit infects its visitors: both spectators, who eagerly introduce themselves to anyone standing alone (or, in my case, cheerfully inquiring about why I'm writing in a notebook during a screening), and filmmakers, none of whom are hosting premieres or competing for awards or distribution, and who therefore treat this annual journey as something like to a vacation.

New York Film Festival 2010: Foreign Parts

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Foreign Parts</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Foreign Parts</em>

Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki's new documentary Foreign Parts, like Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's Sweetgrass, carries within itself a stirring vibrancy and yet unfolds with patience and an unfettered trajectory, like a lovely and detailed visual elegy. Where Barbash and Castaing-Taylor took the iconic vision of cowboys driving a sea of bleating sheep through the hills of Montana as a reflection of an evaporating, essentially American landscape and workforce, Paravel and Sniadecki opt for the more direct image of the shanty town of auto repair shops that has thrived in Willets Point, Queens for years and is now being cleared by developers. The fact that these shops stands in the shadows of Citi Field adds quite the exclamation point.