This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

NETFLIX’S BRIDGERTON: LIVE Q&A

Who: Phoebe Dynevor, Nicola Coughlan, Adjoa Andoh, Claudia Jessie, Meghan O’Keefe
What: Live Q&A about Netflix hit Bridgerton
Where: 92Y On Demand
When: Wednesday, January 6, free, 7:00
Why: The intrigue grows episode by episode in the Shonda Rimes–produced adaptation of Julia Quinn’s nine-book Regency romance series Bridgerton. Will Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) marry the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), Prince Frederick of Prussia (Freddie Stroma), Baron Berbrooke (Jamie Beamish), or some other suitor? Will she remain in the good graces of Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel)? What’s to come of Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) and opera singer Siena Rosso (Sabrina Bartlett)? Might Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) be the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews)? If you’re not watching this bodice-ripping historical romance, then you’re missing out on tons of scandalous fun. On January 6 at 7:00, Bridgerton stars Dynevor, Andoh, Nicola Coughlan (Penelope Featherington), and Claudia Jessie (Eloise Bridgerton) will discuss the series with Decider’s Meghan O’Keefe in a live, free Q&A hosted by the 92nd St. Y. Don’t forget your corset and the latest copy of Lady Whistledown’s gossip broadsheet.

THE TWI-NY PANDEMIC AWARDS (SO FAR): PART II

EdgeCut and New York Live Arts offer new way to experience live events with other people

When I posted the first edition of the Pandemic Awards on July 4, I never expected that on January 1, 2021, we would still be at least six months away from opening venues for live, in-person entertainment. As I wrote then, it would be “the first of hopefully only two This Week in New York Pandemic Awards.” Well, here is the second round, with a third likely to come in July. Once again, there’s only one rule for eligibility: There must be a live facet to a performance — either the performance is happening at the minute one is watching onscreen or has an interactive element such as a live Q&A or live chatting.

We’ve come a long way since March, as creators have displayed remarkable ingenuity and forward thinking in coming up with innovative and exciting ways of developing virtual works, from dance, music, and art to theater, literature, and discussion, from all around the globe. Below is the best of the best, productions both big and small, that took the ball and ran with it. I can’t wait to see what will evolve over the next six months to keep us entertained online while we continue to shelter in place.

Happy 2021 to all!

BEST NEW PLAY ABOUT THE PANDEMIC
The Line, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, directed by Blank, the Public Theater. Blank and Jensen’s Coal Country had to be postponed because of the lockdown, so they turned their attention to the health crisis, teaming again with the Public Theater to present a harrowing look at what New York healthcare workers were experiencing as Covid-19 raged through the city, with Santino Fontana, Alison Pill, John Ortiz, Arjun Gupta, Nicholas Pinnock, Lorraine Toussaint, and Jamey Sheridan speaking the real words of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and others on the front lines of this dread virus.

BEST NEW PLAY NOT ABOUT THE PANDEMIC
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, This Is Who I Am, written by Amir Nizar Zuabi, directed by Evren Odcikin. Amir Nizar Zuabi’s poignant livestreamed tale of an estranged father (Ramsey Faragallah) and son (Yousof Sultani) preparing a family dish together over Zoom is a warm and heartfelt look at loss, loneliness, and reconnection.

BEST NEW PLAY READING NOT ABOUT THE PANDEMIC
pen/man/ship, written by Christina Anderson, directed by Lucie Tiberghien, Molière in the Park. Brooklyn-based Molière in the Park went contemporary with Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship, a smart, moving play that takes place in 1896 aboard a ship heading for Liberia shortly after the US Supreme Court decided in Plessy v. Ferguson to uphold the constitutionality of racial segregation under the concept of “separate but equal”; the solid cast features Crystal Lucas-Perry as Ruby, the only woman on board, Kevin Mambo as an unyielding minister named Charles, Jared McNeill as his son, Jacob, and Postell Pringle as Cecil, who is working on the ship, with interstitial animation by Emily Rawson, sea-shanty music by Victoria Deiorio, and green-screen set design by Lina Younes that mimic being on a real ship.

BEST LIVESTREAMED PLAY WITH AN AUDIENCE
Crave, Chichester Festival Theatre. Chichester presented a stirring, socially distanced revival of Sarah Kane’s brutal Crave, happening in real time as a masked audience watched Tinuke Craig’s fierce adaptation that was the closest thing yet to capturing the feeling of live theater online.

BEST FILMED PLAY
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, written by Daniel Jamieson, directed by Emma Rice, recorded at the UK’s Bristol Old Vic Theatre. The virtual tour of the Bristol Old Vic, Kneehigh, and Wise Children’s beautifully staged adaptation of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, about the romance between painter Marc Chagall (Marc Antolin) and Bella Samoylovna Rosenfeld (Audrey Brisson) amid some very difficult situations in the world, made its way to Skirball, where viewers were treated to its lush look, outstanding acting, and compelling, intimately told story.

BEST SHOCKING MOMENT IN A PLAY
Ali Ahn and William Jackson Harper, Outside Time without Extension, written by Ben Beckley, directed by Vivienne Benesch, Red Bull Theater. A few minutes into Ben Beckley’s Outside Time without Extension, part of Red Bull’s Tenth Annual Short New Play Festival, Ali Ahn and William Jackson Harper joined together in the same Zoom box, the first time I saw two actors in the same space. It turns out that they are partners living together; they would later appear in Matt Schatz’s two-character play The Burdens as a Jewish brother and sister.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A FILMEDJoshua D. Reid PLAY
Joshua D. Reid, A Christmas Carol, directed by Michael Arden. As good as Jefferson Mays’s mostly one-man version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol looked, it sounded even better, immersing the audience in the more ghostly aspects of the story, including one moment that made my heart drop into my stomach.

BEST REIMAGINING OF AN IMMERSIVE PLAY
Inside the Wild Heart, Group.BR. In Inside the Wild Heart, New York–Brazilian company Group.BR ingeniously used the Gather.town digital platform to allow the audience to guide their avatar across various rooms and floors and interact with other viewers as they navigated through a recorded version of the multidisciplinary show about author Clarice Lispector and her writings.

Lilli Taylor tantalizes the audience during countdown to New Group reunion reading of Aunt Dan and Lemon

BEST OPENING OF A REUNION READING
Lilli Taylor, Aunt Dan and Lemon, the New Group. The New Group’s reunion reading of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon begins with three minutes of narrator Lilli Taylor getting ready by calmly looking around and making all kinds of facial gestures during the countdown to the start of the play.

BEST ACTOR IN A REUNION READING OF A PLAY
Edie Falco, The True, the New Group. Edie Falco gave a master class in Zoom acting as she re-created her role as the real-life Albany political mover and shaker Polly Noonan in Sharr White’s powerful play, alongside Michael McKean, Peter Scolari, John Pankow, and the rest of the original cast of this New Group production.

BEST ACTOR IN A REUNION READING OF A MOVIE
Mandy Patinkin, The Princess Bride. Mandy Patinkin was a hoot as the revenge-seeking swashbuckler Inigo Montoya in the reunion-reading benefit for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, having trouble remaining in his Zoom box while joined by original costars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Carol Kane, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, and Billy Crystal, along with director Rob Reiner and Josh Gad as Fezziwig.

BEST INTERACTIVE READING
Read Subtitles Aloud, written by Onur Karaoglu and Kathryn Hamilton. Media Art Xploration and PlayCo teamed up for this thirteen-part series in which the viewer supplies half the dialogue, reading off the screen in response to the words spoken by the prerecorded actors onscreen.

BEST ACTOR IN A SHORT PLAY
LeeAnne Hutchison, Pigeon, written by Amy Berryman, directed by Amber Calderon, Eden Theater Company. LeeAnne Hutchison was mesmerizing as a conspiracy theorist dealing with the death of her husband from Covid-19 in Pigeon, one of Eden Theater Company’s “Bathroom Plays.”

BEST DUO IN A TWO-CHARACTER ZOOM READING
Marsha Mason and Brian Cox, Dear Liar, Bucks County Playhouse. Marsha Mason and Brian Cox are deliciously wicked in Bucks County Playhouse’s Zoom reading of Jerome Kitty’s Dear Liar, about the longtime correspondence between George Bernard Shaw and actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell; Cox is so good as Shaw that even Mason has a ball watching him.

Brian Cox and family get involved in some playful high jinks in Melis Akers’s Fractio Panis for the Homebound Project

BEST FAMILY IN A SHORT PLAY
The Coxes, Fractio Panis, written by Melis Aker, directed by Tatiana Pandiani, Homebound Project 5: Homemade. Melis Aker’s Fractio Panis, part of the Homebound Project benefiting No Kid Hungry, took us inside the country home of Brian Cox, his wife, Nicole Ansari-Cox, and their children, Orson and Torin, as they have a ball baking bread and discussing rectal thermometers.

BEST ZOOM REVIVAL
The Wolves, Philadelphia Theatre Company. Sarah DeLappe’s 2017 Pulitzer finalist The Wolves felt more empowering than ever in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Zoom version, with a terrific cast of young women in uniform in front of a green-screened practice field as soccer became a metaphor for what ails us and what brings us together.

BEST REVIVAL EXCERPTS
“The Great Work Begins,” amfAR. An amazing lineup performed moving scenes from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America AIDS epic, benefiting amfAR’s Fund to Fight Covid-19, with Andrew Rannells, Paul Dano, and Brian Tyree Smith as Prior Walter, Glenn Close as Roy Cohn, Jeremy O. Harris, Larry Ownes, and S. Epatha Merkerson as Belize, Laura Linney, Vella Lovell, and Lois Smith as Harper Pitt, and Daphne Rubin-Vega, Linda Emond, Nikki M. James, Patti LuPone, and Brandon Uranowitz in other parts, not in Zoom boxes but in well-designed backdrops.

MOST PASSIONATE SHAKESPEARE SPEECH
Ralph Fiennes, Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 14, Shakespeare Everywhere. Shakespeare has been just about everywhere during the pandemic, but no one got into the heart of the Bard as much as Ralph Fiennes did at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Shakespeare Everywhere gala, where he chewed up all of the desert scenery in his prerecorded soliloquy from Antony and Cleopatra, the camera getting up close and personal with his grizzled face; Fiennes portrayed Antony opposite Sophie Okonedo’s Cleopatra at the National Theatre in 2018.

MOST PASSIONATE SHAKESPEARE DISCUSSION
Patrick Page, RemarkaBULL Podversations, Red Bull Theater. Patrick Page delivers the “I hate the Moor” speech from Othello, then delves into the nature of the character, the play, and Shakespeare himself in an unforgettable discussion that will leave you exhausted and exhilarated.

BEST WALLPAPER IN A PLAY
Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Tomorrow Tix. Discount ticket service Today Tix rebranded itself as Tomorrow Tix in streaming prerecorded Zoom versions of Broadway plays with all-star casts, including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Zachary Quinto, Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Rashad, Reed Birney, Robert Sella, and Katie Finneran for Gore Vidal’s play about a vicious election, but the wallpaper around the tall, vertical Zoom boxes garnered plenty of attention itself.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A ZOOM PLAY
The Irish Rep, A Touch of the Poet, written by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. The Irish Rep has been among the most innovative of theater companies during the lockdown, each successive filmed production getting closer and closer to the real thing, and in its revival of A Touch of the Poet, director Ciarán O’Reilly incorporates props, costumes, and photographs and video of Charlie Corcoran’s set to make it appear that the actors are in the same room, sometimes even seated at the same table, even though they are Zooming in from different locations.

BEST PERFORMANCE WITH A CHILD IN THE BACKGROUND
Why Would I Dare: The Trial of Crystal Mason, directed by Tyler Thomas, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. In Rattlestick’s Zoom staging of the transcript of the trial of Crystal Mason, an ex-con who was facing jail time for trying to vote in the 2016 election, Crystal Dickinson is electrifying as she and her lawyer (Shane McRae) battle with the judge (Peter Gerety) and the prosecutor (Peter Mark Kendall), but as gripping as the production is, it’s hard not to notice Dickinson’s six-year-old son playing in the background of the large living room where she is broadcasting from, a sign of better times to come.

Celine Song transports The Seagull to the Sims 4 for New York Theatre Workshop

BEST CASTING FOR A DIGITAL PLAY
The Seagull on the Sims 4, written and performed by Celine Song, New York Theatre Workshop. Playwright Celine Song busted down barriers with her spectacularly inventive adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, re-creating the classic work live on the simulation game “Play with Life: The Sims 4,” chatting with the audience and several other theater creators as she molded Irina, Konstantin, Nina, Trigorin, Medvendenko, and others from scratch using the digital platform and then placed them in a virtual world where they had free will.

BEST THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE
“Here We Are,” Theatre for One. Theatre for One reinvented the solo show with “Here We Are,” a collection of eight microplays written by, starring, and directed by BIPOC women (except for one male actor), performed live for one person at a time, with their camera and audio on so each could see the other and, in some of the works, interact; a virtual lobby allowed attendees to communicate anonymously, as if in a real theater, waiting for the lights to go down and the show to begin.

BEST MUSICAL PERFORMANCE AT A GALA FUNDRAISER
The cast of The Amen Corner, “I’m Not Tired Yet,” and “Sonnet 69,” Biko’s Manna and Family, Shakespeare Everywhere. DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company hosted one of the best gala fundraisers, including a pair of exciting musical performances, with the cast of The Amen Corner delivering a rousing Zoom version of “I’m Not Tired Yet” and Biko’s Manna and Family performing a lovely rendition of the Bard’s “Sonnet 69.”

BEST BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO A LATE ROCK STAR
The Flaming Lips, “Listen to Her Heart,” Tom Petty’s 70th Birthday Bash. Dozens of musicians sent in musical contributions to celebrate what would have been Tom Petty’s seventieth birthday, but it was the Flaming Lips’s herky-jerky take on “Listen to Her Heart” that warranted repeat viewing, in addition to Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell’s touching finale.

BEST LIVESTREAMED CONCERT SERIES
“Live Streaming at the Vanguard,” Village Vanguard. The legendary Village Vanguard began streaming live jazz concerts from its intimate stage, without an audience, with concerts by Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio, the Eric Reed Quartet, Joe Lovano’s Trio Fascination, and others.

BEST INTERACTIVE OPERA
The Threepenny Opera, City Lyric Opera. Audience members were sent advance instructions so they could take part in City Lyric Opera’s extremely fun virtual production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s opera for the people, with Justin Austin as Macheath, Philip Kalmanovitch as Mr. Peachum, Rachelle Pike as Mrs. Peachum, Sara LaFlamme as Polly Peachum, Michael Parham as Tiger Brown, Sara LeMesh as Lucy Brown, Shanelle Valerie Woods as Jenny, and Kameron Ghanavati as Filch, with live and prerecorded scenes ingeniously staged at HERE Arts Center in individual rooms and boxes terrifically lit by Karina Hyland and designed by Anna Driftmier.

BEST POP OPERA
Is This the End? Part One: Dead Little Girl, libretto by Éric Brucher, music and lyrics by Jean-Luc Fafchamps, directed by Ingrid Von Wantoch Rekowski, La Monnaie. FIAF streamed Jean-Luc Fafchamps’s frantic “New Pop Requiem,” Is This the End? from the Brussels company La Monnaie, in which Sarah Defrise plays a teenager on the run through La Monnaie’s labyrinthine buildings, with Amaury Massion as the man and Albane Carrère as the woman in a futuristic nightmare scenario.

The virtual opera Alice in the Pandemic takes place down an alternate New York City rabbit hole

BEST USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN A VIRTUAL OPERA
Alice in the Pandemic, libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs, music by Jorge Sosa, art by Anna Campbell, White Snake Projects. Boston’s White Snake Projects incorporated cutting-edge digital animation in its livestreamed production of the one-act opera Alice in the Pandemic, as the title character (Carami Hilaire) traverses a lonely city in search of her ill mother (Eve Gigliotti) with the help of the White Rabbit (Daniel Moody).

BEST SERIOCOMIC TRIPPY SCI-FI OPERA SERIES
Only You Will Recognize the Signal, libretto by Rob Handel, music by Kamala Sankaram, directed by Kristin Marting, video design by David Bengali, virtual stage design by Liminal, HERE Arts Center. HERE’s seven-part, seventy-minute space opera, Only You Will Recognize the Signal, will shake you out of your therapeutic hypothermia and blast you off into another dimension, where a cast of pseudo-astronauts and a humanlike AI system (Paul An, Christopher Burchett, Hai-Ting Chinn, Adrienne Danrich, Joy Jan Jones, Joan La Barbara, Jorell Williams) share their fears amid kaleidoscopic imagery, melting wallpaper, video of Cambodia and NYC, high- and low-tech computer graphics, and a fab score.

BEST OUTDOOR CHAMBER OPERA CONCERT
Speaking Truth to Power / Egmont, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra went to the Beechwood Park bandshell in New Jersey to perform a socially distanced version of Beethoven’s Egmont, Op. 84, with a new English translation by Philip Boehm, featuring soprano and activist Karen Slack and narration by Liev Schreiber.

BEST MULTIMEDIA OPERA
Marina Abramović, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, Bayerische Staatsoper. Performance artist Marina Abramović died seven times as she reenacted death scenes from seven operas in which Maria Callas had played the lead, accompanied by dancers onstage in masks and Willem Dafoe onscreen.

BEST DANCE SCORE
Michael Wall, Brown Eyes, BalletX, Works & Process at the Guggenheim. Penny Saunders’s haunting black-and-white Brown Eyes, danced by Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck, among the first pandemic pieces to feature dancers touching each other, is set to Michael Wall’s propulsive percussive score that features ventilator-like breathing and a constant knocking that evokes a clock running out of time.

BEST LONG-FORM ZOOM DANCE
Rooms, Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble. The New York–based Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble was preparing to present Anna Sokolow’s 1955 Rooms when the pandemic hit, so it adapted the forty-five-minute work, with such aptly titled sections as “Alone,” “Escape,” “Going,” “Desire,” and “Panic,” for online viewing, with dancers filming themselves from wherever they were sheltering in place, both indoors and outdoors, set to Kenyon Hopkins’s groovy jazz score.

BEST REIMAGINED DANCE MASTERPIECE
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Revelations Reimagined. For its winter virtual season, Alvin Ailey presented an exuberant sixtieth anniversary outdoor version of its signature masterpiece, retitled Revelations Reimagined, weaving together old footage with new scenes shot at Wave Hill, directed by Preston Miller.

Sara Mearns appears in triplicate in L.A. Dance Project work

BEST SOLO DANCE AS A TRIO
Sara Mearns, Sonata for Saras, choreographed by Janie Taylor. New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns has been a star during the pandemic, appearing in Joshua Bergasse’s Storm for Works & Process at the Guggenheim, Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness for the Joyce, and Justin Peck’s Thank You, New York for NYCB’s Festival of New Choreography, but in Janie Taylor’s Sonata for Saras, we get three versions of Mearns, in a cute, short red dress, dancing together against a white background, flipping her long hair for six delightful minutes.

BEST SOLO DANCE SEEN SEVEN TIMES
Molissa Fenley, State of Darkness, JoyceStream. Molissa Fenley revisited her 1994 epic solo, State of Darkness, for the Joyce, where it was performed by Jared Brown, Lloyd Knight, Sara Mearns, Shamel Pitts, Annique Roberts, Cassandra Trenary, Michael Trusnovec, and Peter Boal, displaying how the same choreographic movements are interpreted by difference dancers.

BEST USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN A ZOOM DANCE
Continuous Replay / Come Together, Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company, New York Live Arts. Bill T. Jones reimagines his partner Arnie Zane’s Continuous Replay in a glorious reinvention featuring a large, wide-ranging cast spanning four decades and four continents performing in Zoom boxes that video editor Janet Wong turns into a futuristic digital architectural landscape in constant motion.

BEST EXPERIMENTAL DIGITAL DANCE FILM
Untitled (perfect human), Danspace Project. Dean Moss’s Untitled (perfect human) offered a kaleidoscopic, nearly scientific exploration of the human body, inspired by Jørgen Leth’s 1967 The Perfect Human, while commenting on our epic loneliness.

BEST SHORT ZOOM DANCE
“...it’s okay too. Feel,” Hope Boykin, BalletX, Works & Process at the Guggenheim. Savannah Green and Ashley Simpson dance separately in Hope Boykin’s “...it’s okay too. Feel,” which includes poetic narration wondering what comes next for all of us.

BEST LIVESTREAMED DANCE
Yoann Bourgeois, I wonder where the dreams I don’t remember go, Nederlands Dans Theater. Streamed live from NDT’s Zuiderstrandtheater in front of a limited audience, Yoann Bourgeois’s I wonder where the dreams I don’t remember go is a mesmerizing, meditative, awe-inspiring, gravity-defying piece about identity and personal relationships that uniquely captures the emotional and physical ups and downs of life during this age of Covid-19 and quarantine.

BEST BEACH DANCE
iyouuswe II, White Wave Dance. Young Soon Kim took her company’s name literally for iyouuswe II, a short dance film with Mark Willis, Katie Garcia, and Joan Rodriguez in the water and on the sand at Jones Beach, with music by Greg Haines and cinematography by Alexander Sargent.

The Love Space, the New Harmony Project. Gabrielle Hamilton, Janae Snyder-Stewart, Zaire Michel, and Jamal Josef join hands in Jace’s The Love Space, with text by Mfoniso Udofia and choreography by Josef, part of the New Harmony Project’s digital Sunrise Gallery series.

BEST ZOOM BIRTHDAY DANCE
“Event2 for Jasper Johns,” Whitney Museum of American Art. Seventy former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company celebrated the ninetieth birthday of artist and Cunningham friend and collaborator Jasper Johns with excerpts from more than three dozen Cunningham works, filmed by the dancers at lovely outdoor locations, hitting the bull’s-eye.

BEST DURATIONAL DANCE
Lee Mingwei and Bill T. Jones, Our Labyrinth, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taiwanese-American contemporary artist Lee Mingwei and American choreographer, director, dancer, and activist Bill T. Jones collaborated on Our Labyrinth, a trio of four-plus-hour meditative, hypnotic performances recorded at the Met’s Great Hall consisting of a dancer sweeping a sand labyrinth and a vocalist, including one iteration with the indefatigable Sara Mearns and Alicia Hall Moran.

MOST EXUBERANT DANCE
A Jam Session for Troubling Times, choreographed by Jamar Roberts, music by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, narration by Max Roach, directed by Emily Kikta and Peter Walker, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Jamar Roberts’s Cooped was the most explosive, fierce five minutes of dance of the first part of the pandemic; his twelve-minute Jam Session for Troubling Times, which premiered at AAADT’s virtual winter season and features seven dancers reveling in newfound freedom — even though they never touch one another — is a celebration of the nightclub scene of the 1940s and ’50s and the glorious sounds of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at a time when New Yorkers are still wondering when they’ll be allowed back in jazz and other music venues.

BEST WEB SERIES
The Gaze: No_Homo. Larry Powell’s twelve-part series follows the fictional Evergreen Theatre Festival as young actor Jerome Price (Galen J. Williams) fights for his personal beliefs and battles institutional racism with director Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence); TC Carson stands out as the wise and experienced Buddy DuBois.

FUNNIEST FICTIONAL FAMILY ZOOM CALL
Jordan E. Cooper, Mama Got a Cough. Jordan E. Cooper’s laugh-out-loud hysterical Zoom call was actually posted in the first half of the year, but I only saw it recently and so am including it here, the funniest sketch I saw in 2020, with Amber Chardae Robinson, Brittany Inge, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dewayne Perkins, Juanita Jennings, Marcel Spears, and Danielle Brooks meeting up online to discuss the health of the family matriarch.

BEST TELEPHONE PRODUCTION
Woolly Mammoth, Telephonic Literary Union’s Human Resources. Woolly Mammoth takes listeners down an audio rabbit hole in Human Resources, a choose-your-own-adventure play on the telephone, offering the chance to acquire the super-secret happiness access code.

BEST MEMORY AT A ZOOM CAST REUNION
Marilu Henner, Taxi, Stars in the House. While it was great to watch Juddy Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Carol Kane, and Christopher Lloyd reminisce about their Taxi days, it was Marilu Henner, who played Elaine Nardo in the 1977-83 hit sitcom, who stole the show, not only for looking a generation younger than the other actors but for displaying an unbelievable level of recall for names, dates, places, and dialogue because of her highly superior autobiographical memory, a rare condition that only about a hundred people in the world have.

BEST CAST REUNION OF A FILM SERIES / STREAMING SHOW
Reunited Apart, The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai. Josh Gad keeps serving up fun cast reunions for his Reunited Apart series, including a dual reunion of the stars of the 1984-94 Karate Kid movie franchise and the actors of the current YouTube/Netflix sequel, Cobra Kai, which brings back Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and others.

MOST EMOTIONAL MOMENT AT AN AWARDS SHOW
Eugene Levy, Newport Beach Film Festival. When Eugene Levy was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the virtual 2020 Newport Beach Film Festival, he was surprised with Zoom tributes from Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Steve Martin, Jason Biggs, and his entire Schitt’s Creek family, resulting in lots of tears and laughter.

MOST FUN HAD BY THE CAST DURING A NON-REUNION BENEFIT READING
The cast of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, CORE. The all-star cast assembled for a live table read of Amy Heckerling’s 1982 fave Fast Times at Ridgemont High — including Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Ray Liotta, Jimmy Kimmel, Julia Roberts, John Legend, Dance Cook, Matthew McConaughey, and Sean Penn not as Spicoli — was having an absolute blast watching their fellow actors as they made their way through the script, especially Shia Lebeouf as Spicoli in this fundraiser for CORE’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

BEST LIVE CHATTING WITH THE ARTIST DURING A WORK-IN-PROGRESS SCREENING
Raja Feather Kelly, Any Given Wednesday, New York Live Arts. Half the fun of watching director and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly’s sneak peak at his upcoming documentary, Any Given Wednesday, about the making of his show Wednesday, a unique take on Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, was following the live chat, in which Kelly excitedly interacted with friends, collaborators, and just plain audience members, sharing insight into his thought process while having a grand old time.

BEST DEBATE RE-CREATION
Baldwin vs. Buckley, BRIC. BRIC restaged the famous February 1965 debate between James Baldwin (Teagle F. Bougere) and William F. Buckley (Eric T. Miller) at Cambridge, which asked the question “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?,” an inquiry that feels just as relevant today as it did then.

BEST OPEN REHEARSALS
The Commissary, “Lessons in Survival,” Vineyard Theatre. A group named the Commissary, with such actors and directors as Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Tyler Thomas, and Reggie D. White, re-created important speeches and interviews involving such Black creators and leaders as James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Bobby Seale, Muhammad Ali, and others, but as striking as those reenactments were, it was their open live rehearsals that were revelatory, regarding not only the works to be performed but the genuine, infectious pleasure they were experiencing in being able to collaborate with others during the pandemic.

BEST SOLO LITERARY READING
Paul Giamatti, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” by Herman Melville. Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti gives a wonderfully spry reading of Herman Melville’s classic story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” along with an in-depth analysis of the tale and the author with scholar Andrew Delbanco.

BEST VIRTUAL REIMAGINING OF A SHORT STORY
Theater in Quarantine, Footnote for the End of Time. Joshua William Gelb’s endlessly creative use of his closet continued with this retelling of Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “The Secret Miracle,” in which Gelb narrated the tale of Jewish writer Jaromir Hladik as the Nazis take over Prague, with live black on white and red drawing by Jesse Gelaznik, music by Alex Weston (performed by Rob Walker on clarinet, Alex Weill on violin, Susan Mandel on cello, and Weston on piano) inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and movement by Katie Rose McLaughlin, directed by Jonathan Levin

BEST POETRY READING
Theater of War, “Poetry for the Pandemic.” Theater of War moved away from its virtual readings of classic works to bring together established poets and National Student Poets for an evening of readings in which each young poet read a piece by an older poet and vice versa, with both onscreen to watch and listen, along with contributions from Bill Murray and Tracie Thoms, followed by a discussion.

BEST VIDEO POEM
The Baptism, written and performed by Carl Hancock Rux, directed by Carrie Mae Weems. Commissioned by Lincoln Center, Carl Hancock Rux’s tribute to John Lewis and C. T. Vivian, a sharecropper’s son and the boy from Boonville, features lush videography of scenes from nature by Herman Jean-Noel, James Wang, and Ermanno de Biagi, music by Brian Eno, and such text as “The lifeblood of transition, one city to the next city, story upon story, house upon house, our wanting always cleaning the air, nourishing the soil of insistence. Every being is a building with music — grace upon grace upon grace.”

BEST TWO-STAGE BOOK LAUNCH
Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound, Garden District Book Shop. New Orleans’s Garden District Book Shop had difficulty getting Chuck Palahniuk to join the Zoom launch for his latest novel, The Invention of Sound, so the first try turned into a gossipfest with fans talking amongst themselves, displaying singed copies, treats won at the author’s famed in-person events, and Chuck tattoos; the rescheduled evening was a fascinating journey inside the mind of Palahniuk, who has also written such books as Fight Club and Invisible Monsters.

BEST MUSEUM GALA
“Frick on the Move,” the Frick. In addition to appearances by Rosanne Cash, Maira Kalman, Nico Muhly, Aimee Ng, Simon Schama, and others, the Frick’s virtual gala was highlighted by a new edition of “Cocktails with a Curator” with Xavier F. Salomon and a sneak peek behind the scenes of the Frick Madison with director Ian Wardropper.

BEST ARTS MARATHON
Yoshiko Chuma, Love Story, the School of Hard Knocks, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Yoshiko Chuma celebrated the fortieth anniversary of her collective with an extraordinary live, twenty-four-hour virtual presentation incorporating dance, film, discussion, music, art, and just about anything else you could think of.

BEST SOCIOCULTURAL MULTIDISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
Unfinished Live. Host Baratunde Thurston led audiences through unique explorations of “Economy & Justice,” “Democracy & Voice,” “Technology & Humanity,” and “Questions, Culture & Change,” with contributions from Abigail Disney, Julián Castro, Yo-Yo Ma, Carrie Mae Weems, Hank Willis Thomas, Alfredo Jaar, Andrew Yang, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Alicia Garza, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anna Deavere Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and others, along with a live, interactive chat.

BEST FUTURISTIC INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE
“EdgeCut,” New York Live Arts. In “Captivity” and “Sanity,” EdgeCut used the Nowhere platform, placing each attendee in an oval pod they steer through fantastical landscapes to watch short presentations (dance, art installations, experimental technology demos, music videos) and talk to other viewers and the creators themselves; I’ve tried just about every form of online entertainment while we’re all sheltering in place and arts venues are closed, and nothing else comes close to this one, even given various hiccups that require patience.

GOODBYE, DRAGON INN

Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a poignant, poetic farewell to the cinema

GOODBYE, DRAGON INN (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)
Metrograph Digital
Opens virtually December 18
metrograph.com

Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a heart-stirring elegy to going to the movies, now streaming in a gorgeous 4K restoration at Metrograph Digital. The accidentally prescient 2003 film takes place in central Taipei in and around the Fu-Ho Grand Theater, which is about to be torn down. For its finale, the Fu-Ho is screening King Hu’s 1967 wuxia classic Dragon Inn, Hu’s first work after moving from Hong Kong to Taiwan; the film is set in the Ming dynasty and involves assassins and eunuchs.

In 2020, Tsai’s film seems set in a long-ago time as well. It opens during a crowded showing of Dragon Inn in which Tsai’s longtime cinematographer, Liao Pen-jung, places the viewer in a seat in the theater, watching the film over and around two heads in front of their seat, one partially blocking the screen, which doesn’t happen when viewing a film on a smaller screen at home — especially during a pandemic, when no one is seeing any films in movie theaters. Right now, Goodbye, Dragon Inn takes on a much bigger meaning, particularly since Warner Bros. recently announced that all its 2021 movies will be streamed, although they’ll play in theaters where allowed. The lockdown has changed how we experience movies forever.

Most of the film focuses on the last screening at the Fu-Ho, with only a handful of people in the audience: a jittery Japanese tourist (Mitamura Kiyonobu), a woman eating peanuts or seeds (Yang Kuei-mei), a young man in a leather jacket (Tsai regular Chen Chao-jung), a child, and two older men, played by Jun Shih and Miao Tien, who are actually the stars of the film being shown. (They portray Xiao Shao-zi and Pi Shao-tang, respectively, in Dragon Inn.) In one of the only scenes with dialogue, Miao says, “I haven't seen a movie in a long time,” to which Chun responds, “No one goes to the movies anymore, and no one remembers us anymore.”

The tourist, a reminder of Japan’s occupation of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, spends much of the movie trying to find a light for his cigarette — a homoerotic gesture — as well as a better seat, as he is constantly beset by people sitting right next to him or right behind him and putting their bare feet practically in his face or noisily crunching food, even though the large theater is nearly empty. In one of the film’s most darkly comic moments, two men line up on either side of him at a row of urinals, and then a third man comes in to reach over and grab the cigarettes he left on the shelf above where the tourist is urinating. Nobody says a word as Tsai lingers on the scene, the camera not moving. In fact, there is very little camera movement throughout the film; instead, long scenes play out in real time as in an Ozu film, in stark contrast to the action happening onscreen.

Meanwhile, the ticket woman (Chen Shiang-chyi), who has a disabled foot and a severe limp, cleans the bathroom, slowly steams and eats part of a bun, walks down a long hallway, and brings food to the projectionist (Tsai mainstay Lee Kang-sheng). She is steeped in an almost unbearable loneliness; she peeks in from behind a curtain to peer at the few patrons in the theater, and at one point she emerges from a door next to the screen, looking up as if she wishes to be part of the movie instead of the laborious life she’s living.

A woman (Chen Shiang-chyi) works during the final screening at the Fu-Ho Grand Theater in Goodbye, Dragon Inn

In his Metrograph Journal essay “Chasing the Film Spirit,” Tsai, whose other works include Rebels of the Neon God, The River, The Hole, and What Time Is It There? — which has a scene set in the Fu-Ho, where he also held the premiere — writes, “My grandmother and grandfather were the biggest cinephiles I knew, and we started going to movies together when I was three years old. We would go to the cinema twice a day, every day. Sometimes we would watch the same film over and over again, and sometimes we would find different cinemas to watch something new. That was a golden age for cinema, and I’m proud my childhood coincided with that time.”

He continues, “Nowadays everyone watches movies on planes. On any given flight, no matter the airline, you can choose from hundreds of films: Hollywood, Bollywood, all different types of movies. However, you can count on one thing: You’ll never find a Tsai Ming-liang picture on a plane, as I make films that have to be seen on the big screen.” Unfortunately, in 2020, we currently have no choice but to watch Goodbye, Dragon Inn on a small screen, but watch it you must; it’s a stunningly paced elegiac love letter, and even more essential during a pandemic, when we are all forced to watch films from the safety of our homes, our only seatmates those we are sheltering in place with. Already we were watching more films than ever on our private screens and monitors — as well as on airplanes — but it will be quite a while before we again participate in the communal pleasure of sitting in a dark theater with dozens or hundreds of strangers, staring up at light being projected onto a screen at twenty-four frames per second, telling us a story as only a movie can. What I wouldn’t give right now to be in that theater, a head partially blocking my view, bare feet in my face, someone crunching too loudly right behind me.

MUSEUM TOWN

Laurie Anderson entertains art lovers at MASS MoCA in Museum Town

MUSEUM TOWN (Jennifer Trainer, 2020)
BAM Film
Opens virtually Friday, December 18, $12
www.museumtownmovie.com
www.bam.org

Back in August, desperate to get out of New York City and see some art amid the pandemic lockdown, my wife and I headed north to the Berkshires to MASS MoCA and the Clark Institute, two museums that had reopened with timed tickets, limited capacity, mask wearing, and social distancing. It was my second visit to MASS MoCA and my wife’s first to the extraordinary institution, whose complicated story is told in Jennifer Trainer’s debut documentary, Museum Town, which releases virtually through BAM on December 18. (You can read about our trip here.)

After watching the film, you’ll be ready to head north as well, even though New York museums are now open. As it says on one of Jenny Holzer’s marble benches at MASS MoCA, “Words tend to be inadequate.” You have to see it to believe it.

Trainer notes her unique relationship with the museum at the start: “In 1986, I moved from Manhattan to the Berkshires as a freelance journalist. I soon caught wind of a preposterous idea to turn an old factory into the world’s largest museum of contemporary art and broke the story for the New York Times. Then I signed on to help. Building MASS MoCA from the ground up consumed the next twenty-eight years of my life. . . . I’ve moved on from the museum, but I knew I had to finish writing the story I’d started nearly three decades ago. It was simply too big, too beautiful, too improbable to leave untold.”

Trainer and cowriters Noah Bashevkin and Pola Rapaport reveal it’s all those things and more, going back to the sprawling location’s beginnings as Arnold Print Works, which operated from 1860 to 1942, then as the Sprague Electric Company from 1942 to 1985, whose sudden and unexpected closure decimated the town. But then Thomas Krens, the former director of the Williams College Museum of Art, had the idea of turning the industrial complex into a contemporary art museum, and Williams graduate Joseph C. Thompson joined him in what the latter called “a radical rethinking of what a museum could be.” (Krens and Thompson became founding directors of MASS MoCA, a position Thompson held for thirty-three years.) That astonishing idea sparked ongoing economic and political battles over the value of such an institution for the town of North Adams, which was not a bastion of modern-art lovers. “It was hell on earth to get open,” Thompson remembers.

The residents of the struggling working-class town were not exactly keen on the plan. “People in North Adams are not ready for this,” recalled museum volunteer Ruth Yarter, who had been working at Sprague since 1943, while she was still in high school. Amid the location’s fascinating history, some of which is narrated by Meryl Streep, Trainer focuses in on some of the remarkable art that has been installed in large warehouse spaces, in nooks and crevices, and in gravity-defying outdoor spaces, including Primary Separation, a sculpture by Don Gummer, Streep’s husband.

“MASS MoCA isn’t so concerned about the art world and the museum world. What it really wants to do is make art happen,” curator Denise Markonish says, and much of it is art that can’t happen anywhere else; MASS MoCA thrives on allowing artists to take risks. Trainer shows temporary and long-term installations by Louise Bourgeois, Laurie Anderson, Sol LeWitt, Spencer Finch, Franz West, Joseph Beuys, Michael Oatman, and others — seeing James Turrell testing out his immersive Into the Light room is a special treat — and doesn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding Christoph Büchel’s Training Ground for Democracy, a fierce court fight about creative control over the unfinished work.

Nick Cave surveys the future home of his massive installation “Until” in Museum Town

Interspersed throughout the documentary is an irresistible behind-the-scenes look at the installation of American multidisciplinary artist Nick Cave’s 2016-17 “Until,” a vast, fantastical landscape of found objects, chandeliers, crystals, lawn jockeys, and myriad other items that address racism, gun violence, police brutality, and gender issues; the name of the exhibition comes from the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” (You can see my photos here.)

“This is just this place of imagination and dreaming,” Cave says as he works with a large staff from the museum, including director of fabrication and art installation Richard Criddle and fabricator Megan Tamas, to make the seemingly impossible come to life, revealing that collaboration is an art form itself.

MASS MoCA also hosts live events in its unusual spaces, so Trainer has filled the documentary with an impressive soundtrack featuring songs by Bill Callahan, Wilco, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, David Byrne (whose exhibition “Desire” ran at the museum in 1996), Ruthie Foster, the War on Drugs, Lucius, and others in addition to an original score by John Stirratt and Paul Pilot.

“How the hell did it happen?” architect Simeon Bruner asks at the beginning of the film. Thanks to Trainer, now we know.

THE LAST SERMON

Jack Baxter plays the harmonica for a child at the Presevo Refugee Camp in Serbia in The Last Sermon

THE LAST SERMON (Jack Baxter & Joshua Faudem, 2019)
Opens in theaters, VOD, and virtually December 15
www.thelastsermonmovie.com

“There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, or of a white over a Black, or a Black over a white except by righteousness and piety,” Jack Baxter says from his hospital bed at the beginning of the deeply personal documentary The Last Sermon, quoting from the Prophet Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon delivered in March 632. “That’s the essence of Islam . . . Not murder.”

It was a long road to The Last Sermon for Baxter and his codirector, Joshua Faudem. In September 1993, Baxter was trying to interview Louis Farrakhan for what would become his controversial documentary Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X when he was introduced to the prophet’s Last Sermon by an Arab man. A decade later, in April 2003, Baxter went to Israel to make a documentary about accused Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, only to find out that someone else was already doing that. While taking a walk along the beach the night before he was going to go back to the States, he heard blues music coming from a bar and discovered Mike’s Place, a Tel Aviv nightclub, next to the US Embassy, where people of all races, religions, and ethnicities gathered to drink, speak in English, and listen to live blues.

Baxter teamed up with Faudem and began shooting a documentary about the club when the narrative drastically changed: On April 30, 2003, two radicalized British nationals who had entered Israel through the Gaza Strip went to Mike’s Place on a suicide bombing mission, killing Ran Baron, Dominique Caroline Hass (who they had interviewed for the film), and Yanai Weiss in the bar and seriously wounding Baxter, leaving him partially paralyzed and with “organic shrapnel” in him — tiny bits of one of the bombers. Their 2004 documentary, Blues by the Beach, ended up being very different from its original intention.

In 2015, Baxter and Faudem published the graphic novel Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv. And then, in 2016, they set out to make a film about the refugee crisis in Europe but decided to also try to meet the families, now living in England, of the two suicide bombers. The Last Sermon follows Baxter, who grew up Irish Catholic in the Bronx and likes to play the harmonica, and Faudem, a former Israeli checkpoint guard, as they travel to Macedonia, Serbia, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Paris, and London, visiting refugee camps, mosques, and other locations, speaking with politicians, religious leaders, journalists, musicians, scholars, fashion designers on a photo shoot, a graffiti artist, and an anti-refugee singer-songwriter, as they try to track down the suicide bombers’ families with the help of an investigator.

Baxter notes that documentarians are not supposed to be part of the story, but he explains early on that he is breaking that rule. He admits he’s not clear about what he is seeking and hasn’t planned what he will say to the families if they agree to meet with him. Cinematographer Avi Levi, who served in the Israeli army with Faudem, often focuses on Baxter deep in thought, reflecting on what he’s seeing and what he’s remembering, as his purpose grows stronger the closer he gets to his goal. Baxter, who sports impressive curly white locks, might be a peacenik — he is most often seen wearing a black T-shirt with the English word “Peace” on it, with the Hebrew above and the Arabic below — but he turns ever-more-ornery after all that he has witnessed on the way to London.

One of the most moving interactions is at the Grand Mosque of Paris with radicalization consultant Mohammed Chirani, who works with arrested terrorists. “Religion is the pretext,” he says. “There’s the ideology and there’s the religion. If ideology wants to gain power, it clothes itself with religion, with the sacred, and says, ‘Everything you’re doing, if you murder, or if you commit terrorist attacks, it’s a jihad, an honorable action. You do it in the name of G-d so you can go to paradise.’ So it’s a perversion. They need to deconstruct to separate ideology from religion and act on their spirituality.”

Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem stand near the Hungary border fence in The Last Sermon

Baxter doesn’t believe that the terrorists can, or should, be saved, that they are blatant murderers who cannot be reformed. Chriani responds, “For me, radicalization is a combination of ideology, which is the manipulation of religion, due to a breach inside the individual, a failure of meaning and identity. Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? . . . They have a right to redemption.” Baxter is not so sure. It’s the turning point of the documentary, as Baxter starts getting visibly angrier the rest of the way. “Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? . . . They have a right to redemption” are, of course, also the questions Baxter must answer for himself.

Winner of the Best Documentary Feature and the Truth Seeker Award at the 2020 Queens World Film Festival, The Last Sermon is an intimately powerful, beautifully photographed exploration of radicalization, bigotry, hate, PTSD, and humankind’s basic desire for peace but intrinsic propensity to fight. It takes us inside one man’s very personal journey, baring his raw, exposed emotions as he tries to find resolutions that might never be able to satisfy the gaping void in his life, something we can all understand. It’s often painful to watch, but it’s also necessary, especially in these dark times. Shalom. Peace. سلام.

THROUGH THE NIGHT

The extraordinary Deloris “Nunu” Hogan and her daycare center are profiled in intimate documentary Through the Night

THROUGH THE NIGHT (Loira Limbal, 2020)
maysles documentary center virtual cinema
December 11-24, $10
www.maysles.org
www.throughthenightfilm.com

The pandemic has revealed one of the most complicated issues at the heart of American family and economic life: the problem of safe, affordable child care, especially for single and working-class mothers. Loira Limbal’s intimate and heartfelt documentary, Through the Night, shares the moving story of Deloris “Nunu” Hogan and Patrick “Pop Pop” Hogan, who have run Dee’s Tots daycare out of their New Rochelle home since 1985. The film, which was shot prior to the coronavirus crisis, focuses on Nunu and PopPop in addition to two women whose children they care for, Marisol Valencia, who is struggling to make ends meet even with three jobs, and pediatric ER nurse Shanona Tate, both of whom often work overnight shifts. The Hogans operate their “day” care twenty-four/seven and never seem to take a break; they have two young children of their own as well.

“It’s not just a job. This is really our life,” NuNu says. “My children, ever since they were the age of two years old, they had to share me with other children. I remember my children saying, ‘Mommy, why do they have to come first?’ Sometimes my children didn’t get what I had to give to the other kids.”

What NuNu gives to these other kids is love and affection; to their parents, she gives them a much-needed lifeline: the ability to hold a job. Dee’s Tots is like one big extended family; there’s a lot of laughing and a lot of crying, and the Hogans make personal sacrifices: Not only are they worried about their own children, but they limit the time they see each other, sleeping at different times so there’s always someone watching the kids.

The film also reveals a problem at the heart of working-class poverty and the American economy without hammering at it: The mothers of the children the Hogans take care of are primarily women of color who work what would be deemed essential jobs even before Covid-19 and who don’t have the option of corporate or expensive independent daycare. They are barely making enough money to keep their children at Dee’s, which has also felt the impact of the lockdown. In July 2020, Awesome without Borders, which awards grants to initiatives and projects “that increase representation and inclusion in age, class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, and/or ability,” gave a grant to Dee’s, explaining that “the Hogans are frontline heroes in their own right. They make it possible for essential workers to leave their children in good hands and do essential work.” Meanwhile, NuNu notes on the film’s official website, “We are staying open until they shut us down because our parents need us. It is a little bit scary because every person who walks in could bring in Covid-19.”

Afro-Dominican director and DJ Limbal (Estilo Hip Hop, #APartyCalledRosiePerez), a single mother of two living in the Bronx who holds a full-time job, says in her director’s statement: “I was raised by an amazing cast of Black and Latinx women who performed miraculous acts of resilience, creativity, and subversion on a daily basis. Unfortunately, when I look around at our popular culture these women are rarely seen and when they do appear, they are represented in reductive ways that often amount to caricatures. My vision as a filmmaker is to flood our popular culture with beautifully complex portrayals of the lives of working-class women of color so that we have new gazes and new ways of seeing ourselves.”

Limbal filmed at Dee’s from 2016 to 2018, showing Nunu and/or PopPop making arts and crafts with the kids, flipping through a family album, marching in a parade, preparing children for overnight stays, dancing at a party, teaching gardening, and playfully auctioning off goodies. It is a love story not only between the Hogans and the children but between the Hogans themselves. “We kinda feed off of each other. We need our spirits lifted up too in order to be the people that we are,” NuNu says. Through the Night, which is screening virtually December 11-24 at the maysles documentary center, will lift viewers’ spirits as well while also opening their eyes.

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

Atsuko Maeda is mesmerizing as a young woman trying to find her place in the world in To the Ends of the Earth

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2019)
Metrograph Digital
December 11-17, $12
metrograph.com
www.kimstim.com

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s To the Ends of the Earth is a gorgeously photographed, hauntingly meditative treatise on finding one’s place in the world. In her third film with Kurosawa following Seventh Code and Before We Vanish, former J-pop idol Atsuko Maeda of AKB48 fame is transcendent as Yoko, the host of a global travel show. She is making her way through Uzbekistan with her small crew — director Yoshioka (Shota Sometani), cameraman Iwao (Ryo Kase), production assistant Sasaki (Tokio Emoto), and translator Temur (Adiz Rajabov) — but the peppiness and determination she displays when being filmed is not repeated in real life, where she is quiet, lonely, and somber.

They head from Samarkand to Tashkent to Zaamin, from old cities to modern urban centers to the mountains and the sea, seeking out unusual and compelling stories, but not much is going well. At Lake Aydar on the hunt for the elusive bramul fish, a local fisherman refuses going out on the water with a woman. At an amusement park, a ride operator does not think she is strong enough to handle a fierce topsy-turvy spin. And a woman at a chaykhana won’t make her a proper plate of plov. But she soldiers on, doing whatever is necessary for the sake of the show, but it’s clear that her heart is no longer in it, if it ever was.

When she comes upon a goat tethered in a small pen in a back alley, she stops and says, “If I set that goat free in some grassy place, it’d be so happy.” Then, speaking directly to the goat, she asks, “What do you want?” It’s really a question she’s asking herself. Later she tells Iwao, “I feel like I’m moving away from what I really want to do.”

She rarely hangs out with the crew when they’re not filming. She eats by herself, is constantly late, does her own makeup and chooses her own clothing, and spends evenings alone in her hotel room, texting her firefighter boyfriend, who is in Tokyo, the only time she appears to experience any sort of genuine pleasure, but even that becomes problematic later on. When she is given a handheld video camera to take on her private adventures, she soon finds herself on the run from the law. Yoko is a kind of cross between Iris (Kati Outinen) in Aki Kaurismäki’s The Match Factory Girl, though not nearly as dark and pathetic, and Giulietta Masina in any of a number of Fellini films, sweet and innocent but hiding pain. The camera adores her face, as if it’s a character unto itself.

The film is filled with memorable images: Yoko standing waist-deep in the lake, lying flat on the floor of her hotel room, hiding from the police, trekking through sandy mountains, skittering through a sketchy underpass, and wandering into the empty Navoi Theater. It was made in conjunction with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan and takes place along the Silk Road. Akiko Ashizawa’s cinematography of these little-seen landscapes is captivating, each shot composed like a unique work of art. Editor Koichi Takahashi’s pacing is mesmerizing, with immersive sound by Shinji Watanabe and understated music by Yusuke Hayashi.

Kurosawa is known for such gripping thrillers as Cure and Pulse as well as the elegiac Tokyo Sonata and the romantic drama Journey to the Shore; To the Ends of the Earth, which opens December 11 at Metrograph Digital, takes him to another level, highlighted by an unforgettable performance by Maeda in a film that is about filmmaking, about telling stories and acting them out in a fictitious world where, as in reality, life doesn’t always follow the script.