A narrative film has to convey a lot of context very quickly. When we watch a well-made film, we usually gather within about a hundred seconds what the tone, pace and atmosphere is going to be. We might also glean something of the time, the politics. We don’t necessarily need to meet the main characters, or see the main location, in this time. Whether a film opens with desert- or streetscapes, an empty road, garbled speech, rapid-fire closeups, drone shots, or bright, shapeless bursts of colour…—what we as viewers seek is to place ourselves in a coherent milieu, within which the events to come will cohere.
Chingiz Aytmatov’s Jamila is a novel that finds the titular character falling in love with a man named Daniyar as her husband Sadyk is away at war. In reading Sadyk's letters, we come to understand that he views his wife as lesser than her, as a piece of property that he owns. For Jamila, she understands that loving someone other than her husband would be deemed immoral by the village, so she initially asks to avoid working on the same threshing floor as Daniyar. But by the end of the story, Jamila commits to her love for Daniyar and runs away with him. Director Aminatou Echard utilizes this famous book as a starting point for interviews with numerous women living in Kyrgyzstan. In allowing such honest discussion to take place, Echard presents an honest depiction of what it's like to be a woman living in Kyrgyzstan.
Helena Wittmann's debut film Drift features a loose narrative: two women (Theresa George, Josefina Gill) convene at a beach house in Sylt, converse throughout their stay, and eventually depart. During the first third of the film, the ocean is initially perceived as something important, but perhaps secondary to the leads. Images of water are to be expected for a film taking place on the German island, but they slowly inform how the remainder of the film is experienced. In viewing these bodies of water, one continuously finds analogues in shots that don't prioritize water. For one, observations of their movement become mirrored in travels by land: a gentle rivulet finds itself in the tracking shot of a bicycle ride, while the gentle ebb and flow of the ocean bears resemblance to a car driving down a bumpy street. The sensuous shapes of these bodies also manifest in a flapping sail, the curvature of leaves, and the duvet that lay atop the women's bed. The women even share myths related to water; that Wittmann presents an anthropological component to water reveals her desire for us to comprehend it as something far more multifaceted than we may think.
Johann Lurf’s ★ has a straightforward but ambitious premise: take excerpts from films that feature a starlit sky and stitch them together chronologically. Unlike Christian Marclay’s The Clock, Lurf doesn't allow for any sort of figure-ground relationship to develop between sky and non-sky; our eyes stay glued to the cosmos. As such, no quasi-narrative develops as we jump from one clip to the next. Instead, the images provide an observation on the technological advancements that have occurred throughout the past century of film. What becomes increasingly clear as the film goes on is that despite these changes, the stars have remained a constant source of inspiration for both filmmakers and their characters.
Dawson City: Frozen Time chronicles the history of the titular town during and after its status as the epicenter of the Klondike gold rush. The film does this in order to set up the remarkable discovery of 533 nitrate film reels that were stored in an athletic center's indoor swimming pool. To explain all this, Bill Morrison constantly overlays text on photographs and film clips. For those who have seen Morrison's previous features, the abundance of text is a bit alarming. At first, there is a sense that this is perhaps an unwise decision—does Morrison not have faith in the power of the images on display? And surely it would've been more appropriate to use intertitles? But as the film progresses, it's clear that this is the only possibly way that Morrison could have told the full story.