Who: Anne Serling, Marc Scott Zicree, Richard Christian Matheson, Christopher Beaumont, Mark Dawidziak, more
What: Virtual festival honoring Rod Serling
Where: Facebook Live
When: Saturday, August 15, free (donations encouraged), 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Why: Just in case you didn’t already feel like you were living in the Twilight Zone, you can take part in the annual SerlingFest, which this year moves online. The virtual all-day 2020 edition features special guests and video presentations celebrating the creator of The Twilight Zone, the greatest television anthology series ever made, a prescient, ahead-of-its-time, socially conscious program hosted by the inimitable Rod Serling, who wrote many of the episodes as well. Born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Syracuse, Serling served in the military (earning the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star) before writing for radio and television, including Patterns in 1955, Requiem for a Heavyweight in 1956, The Twilight Zone from 1959 to 1964, Seven Days in May in 1964, Planet of the Apes (with Michael Wilson) in 1968, Night Gallery from 1970 to 1973, and other projects before passing away in Rochester on June 28, 1975, at the way-too-young age of fifty.
It’s free to watch on Facebook Live, but donations are encouraged to benefit the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1986 “to educate the public about Rod Serling’s genius and his passion, hoping that they will understand and appreciate his mastery of the creative arts, his unique understanding of human relationships, his esteem as a writer, his generosity as a speaker in and around Binghamton, and his uncompromising commitment to quality.” Among the participants are Anne Serling, author of As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling; Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion; Richard Christian Matheson and Christopher Beaumont, children of two of the best TZ writers, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, respectively; and Mark Dawidziak, author of Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone. It’s a different kind of marathon, but it could be one for the ages. (Be sure to watch the end of the above video for some very fun TZ references.)
Who: Armistead Maupin, Ian McKellen
What: Livestream conversation
Where: Fane Online
When: Wednesday, August 12, $25, 1:30 (available for forty-eight hours)
Why: On August 12 at 1:30, author Armistead Maupin (Significant Others, Mary Ann in Autumn) will sit down with his good friend Sir Ian McKellen (The X-Men, Lord of the Rings) at the Crazy Coqs nightclub in London to discuss Maupin’s life and career, focusing on his 2017 nonfiction book, Logical Family: A Memoir. McKellen appeared as Archibald Anson Gidde in three episodes of Tales of the City, the original 1993 miniseries based on Maupin’s bestselling novels. In October 2015, Maupin presented the Mill Valley Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award to McKellen; the actor has referred to the author as his ”godfather.” Tickets are $25 in the US and £25 in the UK (accompanied by a signed copy of the book).
Who: Ramona S. Diaz, Maria Ressa, Christiane Amanpour
What: Livestream Q&A about A Thousand Cuts
Where: Film Forum online
When: Sunday, August 9, free with RSVP, 11:00 am (film available to stream now)
Why: Around the world, freedom of the press is under attack like never before, as authoritarian leaders and dictators attempt to silence their critics and control the narrative by casting the media as the enemy of the people. In A Thousand Cuts, which opens virtually at Film Forum on August 7, filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz focuses on the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs has widened to include threatening journalists who do not support him: particularly Maria Ressa, the dedicated and relentless founder of the online news site Rappler, which has refused to submit to Duterte’s brutal authority.
“What we’re seeing is death by a thousand cuts of our democracy, and it is done . . . think about the bleeding, little cuts to the body politic, to the body of Philippine democracy,” she says in a short speech. “And when you have enough of these cuts, you are so weakened that you will die.” Despite the efforts of Duterte and his justice department to silence Ressa, she is determined to not stop the fight, displaying a remarkable calmness even through a series of arrests as the government tries to lock her up.
Diaz also follows Rappler reporter Pia Ranada, who won’t back down when Duterte sues her; Duterte strongman Bato dela Rosa, who is running for the Senate on a platform based on killing every drug dealer and addict, leaving their bodies piling up in the streets; Mocha Uson, a singer and model spreading fake news to help Duterte and running for office herself; Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter, who is campaigning to become mayor of Davao City; and activist and progressive Samira Gutoc, a member of the opposition party who is one of several candidates taking on Bato.
One of the most frightening parts of the film is a clip from an intimate one-on-one interview Ressa conducted with Duterte as she fearlessly addresses his war on drugs; it evokes Jonathan Swan’s recent Axios/HBO sit-down with Donald Trump, in which the reporter would not let the president get away with standard rhetoric and unsubstantiated fabrications. But for Ressa, the strongman’s payback promises to be much worse.
However, one of the most entertaining and revealing parts of the film occurs when Ressa is in New York for a conference, accompanied by her friend Mary Jane Ballinger. Ballinger got Ressa an elegant dress and heels so the journalist will be appropriately dressed for the event, but Ressa is having none of that, content with her usual, plainer look. When Ressa is speaking with Amal Clooney shortly after a presentation by the Clooney Foundation for Justice, Diaz can’t help but quickly scan down to show Clooney’s fancy footwear and Ressa’s ordinary shoes.
Even when she is the center of attention, Ressa is always humble and easygoing, whether giving a speech or being arrested yet again. “For Mary Jane, home is here, in New York; I chose my home, in Manila, in the Philippines, for better or worse . . . I hope not,” she explains. “It’s ironic that even though our choices are different, our two nations now have the same type of leaders: macho, populist, sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. They both use anger and fear to divide and conquer. They’ve created a politics of hate.” Ressa regularly makes a pitch for love, not afraid to get sentimental.
In A Thousand Cuts — which concludes with a powerful new track by Ruby Ibarra featuring Ann One — Diaz (Imelda, Motherland) celebrates an extraordinary woman with an intrinsic sense of what’s right, a fierce yet cool-as-a-cucumber investigative journalist who is not about to be intimidated by a murderous dictator. It’s an inspiring story as well as a cautionary tale that relates directly to what is happening in America right now. And it’s far from over, as you will learn when Diaz and Ressa join Christiane Amanpour for a live, free Q&A on August 9 at 11:00 am.
Who: Nicole Macdonald, Hannah Jayanti, G. Anthony Svatek, Christina Battle, Adam Khalil
What: Panel discussion with documentarians
Where: Maysles Documentary Center Zoom
When: Tuesday, August 4, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: Maysles Virtual Cinema is currently streaming for free the series “After Civilization,” a dozen documentaries that look at the present state of our world, amid a global pandemic, police brutality, riots, neocolonialism, climate change, and a lack of leadership from those in power. On August 4 at 7:00, Maysles Documentary Center is hosting a free panel discussion, exploring such questions as “But when the modern idyll of ‘civilization’ is threatened — whether through active resistance, environmental disaster, or structural collapse — what follows?” and “How do we care for the planet while centering human life, and from where, exactly, will the seeds of collective liberation grow?” The Zoom panel features five of the filmmakers: Nicole Macdonald (A Park for Detroit), Hannah Jayanti (Truth or Consequences), G. Anthony Svatek (.TV), Christina Battle (Bad Stars: Chemical Valley, Water Once Ruled), and Adam Khalil (INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place/it flies. falls./]). The other films you can watch for free through August 15 are John Akomfrah‘s Last Angel of History, Pat O’Neill‘s Water and Power, Fern Silva‘s Wayward Fronds, Susana de Sousa Dias’s Fordlandia Malaise, Ben Rivers’s Slow Action, and Basim Magdy‘s The Many Colors of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness.
Who: Mary Esther Carter, Richard Savery, A.I. Anne, Janet Biggs
What: Final presentation of “SO⅃OS: a space of limit as possibility”
Where: Fridman Gallery online
When: Thursday, July 30, $5 for access to all twelve performances, 8:00
Why: In July 2019, I experienced multimedia artist Janet Biggs’s workshop presentation of her work-in-progress performance of How the Light Gets In, an extraordinary collaboration at the New Museum exploring the ever-growing relationship between humans and technology, with singer and dancer Mary Esther Carter; machine learning program A.I. Anne; composer and music technologist Richard Savery; drummer Jason Barnes, who lost an arm in an accident so uses a robotic prosthesis; marathon runner Brian Reynolds, a double (below-knee) amputee who is fitted with carbon fiber running prostheses; and violinists Earl Maneein and Mylez Gittens.
The Pennsylvania-born, Brooklyn-based Biggs has traveled to unusual places all over the world for her video installations, including a sulfur mine in the Ijen volcano in East Java (A Step on the Sun), the Taklamakan desert in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (Point of No Return), a coal mine in the Arctic (Brightness All Around), the crystal caverns below the German Merkers salt mine (Can’t Find My Way Home), and the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (Vanishing Point). She’s also all set to go to Mars after several simulated adventures.
During the pandemic lockdown, Biggs has been hunkering down at home with her her husband and occasional cinematographer, Bob Cmar, and their cat, Hooper, but that hasn’t kept her from creating bold and inventive new work. On July 30, she will debut the site-specific multimedia performance piece Augmentation and Amplification, concluding the Fridman Gallery’s terrific “SO⅃OS” series, cutting-edge performances made during the coronavirus crisis that incorporate the empty gallery space on Bowery, delving into the feeling of isolation that hovers over us all. (The program also features Daniel Neumann’s Soundcheck, Luke Stewart’s Unity Elements, Abigail Levine’s Fat Chance, Hermes, and Diamanda Galás’s Broken Gargoyles, among others; a five-dollar fee gives you access to all the works.)
In her third conversation with twi-ny, Biggs takes us behind the scenes of her latest innovative, boundary-pushing project.
twi-ny: You’re so used to traveling. What’s it been like being stuck at home?
janet biggs: Working on the performance has been a saving grace for me — to have something to focus on that feels exciting. But it has also had its share of interesting challenges.
twi-ny: How did it come about?
jb: I was asked by experimental sound artist and audio engineer Daniel Neumann if I would be interested in doing a performance for the series he was organizing for Fridman Gallery. The premise was that he would set up the gallery space with audio mics, projectors, and cameras, clean the whole space, and leave. The performer would be given a code to the lock on the gallery so they could safely enter the space by themselves and perform within shelter-in-place guidelines. During the performance, Daniel mixes the sound remotely from his home and livestreams it.
I loved his premise, but I don’t perform. I direct. I said I was eager to figure out a way to direct from home and send both a live performer and an Artificial Intelligence entity into the space. Both Daniel and gallery owner and director Iliya Fridman were excited about my proposal and gave complete support to the idea.
twi-ny: And then you turned to Mary Esther Carter and Richard Savery.
jb: Yes, I reached out to Mary and Richard, both of whom I worked with on the performance you saw at the New Museum. Happily, they were up for the challenge.
twi-ny: Which led you back to A.I. Anne.
jb: Richard has been working on expanding A.I. Anne’s abilities and neural diversity. A.I. Anne was trained on Mary’s voice and named for my aunt, who was autistic and had apraxia. Since the performance last year, A.I. Anne has gained more agency through deep machine learning and semantic knowledge. The entity can now express and respond to emotion. We are also using phenotypic data and first-person accounts of people on the autism spectrum for vocal patterning.
We want to explore neural diversity and inclusion in creative collaborations between humans and machines. Our challenge was how to get A.I. Anne in the gallery so she could perform live. A.I. is a disembodied virtual entity. Richard lives in Atlanta. While A.I. Anne is autonomous, Richard needed to be able to receive a single audio channel of Mary’s voice from the gallery and then send back a single channel audio response from A.I. Anne. With strong wifi and the right software, our tests from Atlanta to the gallery have been successful, so keep your fingers crossed for Thursday.
twi-ny: What was it like collaborating long distance?
jb: I’ve been having rehearsals with Mary and Richard for the last couple weeks via Zoom. We have been able to work out the choreography remotely and even developed some new camera angles due to the constraints of cellphone cameras and apartment sizes. The percussive soundtrack that Mary will dance to was generated by EEG sonification, the process of turning data into sound. Richard developed a process where he could use his brainwaves to control a drumset, creating a kind of brain-beat.
And lastly, I’ve been editing video images. Some will be projected on walls in the gallery and some will be a video overlay, run by the streaming software so that we essentially will have multiple layers of images and live action. If all goes well, I think this will be a pretty exciting performance.
twi-ny: Is that all? You don’t exactly make things easy for yourself.
jb: I’ve been to the gallery myself to see the layout and make some staging/lighting decisions. I will send Daniel a floor plan marked with my staging decisions and a tech-script. Daniel will set up the space (projector angles, lighting, camera and microphone placements) during the day on Thursday and then completely clean the space. Thursday evening, Mary will enter the space alone. Richard will run A.I. Anne from his computer in Atlanta. Daniel will mix the sound and images remotely into a livestream Vimeo channel that the audience can access from their homes. And I’ll be watching from home, holding my breath that everything works!
Who: Koichi Sato, Ken Watanabe, Chigumi Obayashi, Noriki Ishitobi, Yo Nakajima, Takako Tokiwa, Aaron Gerow, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Yuko Iwasaki, Yuichi Watanabe, Noriko Yamasaki, Aiko Masubuchi, Nanako Hirose, Ian Thomas Ash, Kaori Oda, Kaori Sakagami, Amber Noé, Shinichiro Ueda
What: Annual Japan Cuts film festival
Where: Japan Society online
When: Through July 30, film rentals $3-$7, panel discussions free
Why: My favorite film festival every summer is Japan Cuts, Japan Society’s annual survey of the state of new Japanese film. One of the joys is the wide range of genres represented, from horror, romance, martial arts, goofy comedies, sci-fi, and crime dramas to anime, family stories, historical epics, musicals, war movies, and, well, the unexplainable. Just about all of them are evident in Labyrinth of Cinema, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s last work, and one that is almost impossible to explain. The legendary auteur behind such films as Hausu, Casting Blossoms to the Sky, Seven Weeks, and Hanagatami died in April at the age of eighty-two, and Labyrinth of Cinema is quite a grand finale. Obayashi wrote, directed, photographed, and edited the three-hour surreal marvel, a colorful, endlessly clever celebration of the movies, made while he was battling cancer. On closing night, July 30, at 9:00, there will be a live Q&A with the yet-to-be-announced recipient of the Obayashi Prize, named in honor of the master.
In addition, you can watch “Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation” at any time, a ninety-seven-minute discussion of the life and legacy of Obayashi, with his daughter, Chigumi Obayashi, journalist Noriki Ishitobi, Theater Kino founder Yo Nakajima, and actress and Obayashi regular Takako Tokiwa, moderated by Yale East Asian Cinema and Culture professor Aaron Gerow, as well as “Shinya Tsukamoto on Nobuhiko Obayashi,” a video tribute from the Tetsuo trilogy director, and the 2019 documentary Seijo Story — 60 Years of Making Films, which traces the personal and professional relationship between Obayashi and his wife, Kyoko Hanyu.
There will also be a live panel discussion on July 23 at 9:00 about the centerpiece presentation, Setsuro Wakamatsu’s fast-paced thriller Fukushima 50, a minute-by-minute suspense yarn that follows the earthquake, tsunami, and deadly disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that occurred on March 11, 2011. Based on the book On the Brink by Ryusho Kadota, the film is a terrific companion piece to the Netflix series Chernobyl; while the latter focuses on the governmental cover-up, Fukushima 50 is all about people coming together bravely to try to do the right thing. The stars of the film and winners of the 2020 Cut Above Award, Koichi Sato, who plays shift supervisor Toshio Izaki, and Ken Watanabe, who portrays plant manager Masao Yoshida, will participate in the talk, which will be archived after its live airing.
The date 3/11 also figures prominently in Taku Tsuboi’s time-twisting debut, Sacrifice, a supernatural tale involving a cult, a college student with unusual abilities, a serial cat killer, and other mysterious elements. It’s dark and creepy, filled with plenty of shocks; make sure your cat isn’t around when you’re watching this Best Picture winner at the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival.
It doesn’t get much stranger than Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura’s Kinta & Ginji, a thoroughly charming existential tale in which Beckett’s Waiting for Godot meets Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise by way of The Iron Giant and “Little Red Riding Hood.” In their twelfth film together, Dairiki and Miura (Honane, Fine as Usual, Koroishi) star as the title characters, a robot and a raccoon dog who go for long walks in the woods and across large swaths of land, discussing the absurdities of life and asking such questions as “Why are we here?” The camera never moves as set pieces play out in real time (there are only a handful of cuts within scenes), the two beings often barely visible, hidden in nature as they share their unique worldviews. It’s an absolute hoot, especially when seen during the current pandemic, when so many of us crave even the most mundane of conversations with someone, anyone else.
And speaking of conversations, there are a few more you can check out: “Collaboration and Community in Japanese Cinema During the Pandemic” features Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Yuko Iwasaki, Yuichi Watanabe, Noriko Yamasaki, and moderator Aiko Masubuchi; “New Approaches to Documentary from Japan” brings together Nanako Hirose, Ian Thomas Ash, Kaori Oda, Kaori Sakagami, and moderator Amber Noé; and Opening Night Live Q&A with Shinichiro Ueda is a July 17 discussion with Ueda, director of the opening-night selection, Special Actors.
The festival continues through July 30 with such other films as Natsuki Nakagawa’s Beyond the Night, Kana Yamada’s Life: Untitled, several of Yoji Yamada’s old and new Tora-san films, and a one-day-only preview streaming of Toshiaki Toyoda’s The Day of Destruction.
APOLLO AND THE ODYSSEY: THE SHARED ORBIT OF NASA’S LUNAR MISSION AND STANLEY KUBRICK’S 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Who: Todd Douglas Miller, Barry Miller, Bert Ulrich, Eric Hynes, Sonia Epstein
What: Illustrated online discussion
Where: Museum of the Moving Image online
When: Thursday, July 23, free with RSVP (suggested donation $10), 7:00
Why: In Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel The Shining, young Danny is seen riding his Big Wheel through the hallways of the Overlook Hotel wearing an Apollo 11 sweater. According to Rodney Ascher’s terrific documentary Room 237, that is only one piece of evidence confirming the conspiracy theory that Kubrick was involved in faking the footage of the moon landing. Look for that to come up in the Museum of the Moving Image program “Apollo and the Odyssey: The Shared Orbit of NASA’s Lunar Mission and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,” which airs live online on July 23 at 7:00. Held in conjunction with the exhibition “Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey,” which has been closed during the pandemic lockdown, the talk features Apollo 11 director Todd Douglas Miller, NASA chief historian Barry Miller, NASA multimedia liaison Bert Ulrich, MoMI curator Eric Hynes, and associate curator Sonia Epstein. Written by Kubrick and sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke, the mindbending 1968 film was a game changer; the discussion will include rare archival footage as it explores elements of the U.S. space program, which has added relevance as President Trump gets Space Force under way.