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

THE HOUR OF LIBERATION — DECOLONIZING CINEMA, 1966-1981: THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS

Members of the FLN hide from French paratroops in Gillo Pontecorvo’s neo-Realist classic The Battle of Algiers

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
May 24-25, June 6-7, 11, 13
Series runs May 24 - June 13
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

Film Forum kicks off its impressive three-week series “The Hour of Liberation: Decolonizing Cinema, 1966-1981” with Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers, one of the most important films about colonialism ever made. To lend additional insight, Elaine Mokhtefi, author of Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers, will participate in a Q&A following the 8:30 show on May 24, and cultural historian Kazembe Balagun will introduce the 9:20 screening on June 11. In Pontecorvo’s gripping neo-Realist war thriller, a reporter asks French paratroop commander Lt. Col. Mathieu (Jean Martin), who has been sent to the Casbah to derail the Algerian insurgency, about an article Jean-Paul Sartre had just written for a Paris paper. “Why are the Sartres always born on the other side?” Mathieu says. “Then you like Sartre?” the reporter responds. “No, but I like him even less as a foe,” Mathieu coolly answers. In 1961, French existentialist Sartre wrote in the preface to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, the seminal tome on colonialism and decolonialism, “In Algeria and Angola, Europeans are massacred at sight. It is the moment of the boomerang; it is the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realize any more than we did the other times that it’s we that have launched it,” referring to European colonization.

“There are those among [the oppressed creatures] who assert themselves by throwing themselves barehanded against the guns; these are their heroes. Others make men of themselves by murdering Europeans, and these are shot down; brigands or martyrs, their agony exalts the terrified masses. Yes, terrified; at this fresh stage, colonial aggression turns inward in a current of terror among the natives. By this I do not only mean the fear that they experience when faced with our inexhaustible means of repression but also that which their own fury produces in them. They are cornered between our guns pointed at them and those terrifying compulsions, those desires for murder which spring from the depth of their spirits and which they do not always recognize; for at first it is not their violence, it is ours, which turns back on itself and rends them; and the first action of these oppressed creatures is to bury deep down that hidden anger which their and our moralities condemn and which is however only the last refuge of their humanity. Read Fanon: you will learn how, in the period of their helplessness, their mad impulse to murder is the expression of the natives’ collective unconscious.” Sartre’s brutally honest depiction of colonialism serves as a perfect introduction to Pontecorvo’s film, made five years later and then, unsurprisingly, banned in France. (In 1953, the Martinique-born Fanon, who fought for France in WWII, moved to Algeria, where he became a member of the National Liberation Front; French authorities expelled him from the country in 1957, but he kept working for the FLN and Algeria up to his death in 1961. For more on The Wretched of the Earth, see the documentary Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense.)

Terrorism and counterinsurgency take to the streets in Oscar-nominated THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS

Terrorism and counterinsurgency take to the streets in Oscar-nominated The Battle of Algiers

In The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo (Kapò, Burn!) and screenwriter Franco Solinas follow a small group of FLN rebels, focusing on the young, unpredictable Ali la Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) and the more calm and experienced commander, El-hadi Jafar (Saadi Yacef, playing a character based on himself; the story was also inspired by his book Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger). Told in flashback, the film takes viewers from 1954 to 1957 as Mathieu hunts down the FLN leaders while the revolutionaries stage strikes, bomb public places, and assassinate French police. Shot in a black-and-white cinema-vérité style on location by Marcello Gatti — Pontecorvo primarily was a documentarian — The Battle of Algiers is a tense, powerful work that plays out like a thrilling procedural, touching on themes that are still relevant fifty years later, including torture, cultural racism, media manipulation, terrorism, and counterterrorism. It seems so much like a documentary — the only professional actor in the cast is Martin — that it’s hardly shocking that the film has been used as a primer for the IRA, the Black Panthers, the Pentagon, and military and paramilitary organizations on both sides of the colonialism issue, although Pontecorvo is clearly on the side of the Algerian rebels. However, it does come as a surprise that the original conception was a melodrama starring Paul Newman as a Western journalist.

All these years later, The Battle of Algiers, which earned three Oscar nominations (for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967 and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in 1969), still has a torn-from-the-headlines urgency that makes it as potent as ever, and it looks better as well, having recently undergone a 4K restoration for its fiftieth anniversary. “The Hour of Liberation: Decolonizing Cinema, 1966-1981” runs May 24 - June 13 and includes such other political works as Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Macunaíma, and Hai Ninh’s The Little Girl of Hanoi.

BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND

Barbara Rubin

Documentary explores the fast and furious life of underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin

BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND (Chuck Smith, 2018)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, May 24
212-924-7771
junofilms.com
www.ifccenter.com

At the beginning of Chuck Smith’s Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground, which opens May 24 at IFC, author Ara Osterweil discusses the first time she saw Barbara Rubin’s 1963 avant-garde shocker Christmas on Earth. “I remember just watching it and being utterly blown away, really not being able to believe that a film like that even existed. I said, Who made this film? Who is Barbara Rubin?” I felt the same way last fall when I saw the exhibition “The Velvet Underground Experience,” which included a tribute to Rubin by Jonas Mekas as well as a small room where Christmas on Earth was projected. Fifty-five years after its release, after the pill, the sexual revolution, and Stonewall, the film still merits a warning sign, as the daring, provocative sexuality it depicts and the work’s unusual visual style are not for everyone.

Allen Ginsberg and Barbara Rubin

The special relationship between Allen Ginsberg and Barbara Rubin is key part of film

Smith traces Rubin’s dramatic life and career through home movies, photographs, letters, archival footage, and more, much of it provided by Mekas, who had saved all the material Rubin shot and the letters they sent to each other, some of which are read in the film. Rubin was born in Cambria Heights in 1945, was institutionalized as a teenager, experienced drug problems, and got a job interning for Mekas at the Film-Makers Cooperative. She made Christmas on Earth when she was only eighteen and quickly became a spark in the downtown community, serving as muse and catalyst, bringing unique people together, and attacking her art with energy and zeal. “She had the most transcendentally beautiful face I’ve ever seen,” author and film critic Amy Taubin says. “She didn’t look like a boy. She didn’t look like a girl. She looked like someone decided to paint an angel.”

Christmas on Earth

Barbara Rubin made Christmas on Earth when she was still a teenager

Rubin and Mekas tied up a projectionist at a Belgian film festival so they could show Jack Smith’s controversial Flaming Creatures; she introduced Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground; she appeared in one of Warhol’s Screen Tests and in Kiss; she fell in love with Allen Ginsberg and organized an important poetry event in London; she studied Judaism with Bob Dylan. “Barbara embraced underground film with a religious fervor, and she thought that the act of filming something could change the world,” film critic and curator J. Hoberman explains. And then, in a decision just as shocking as the rest of her life, she gave up the freedom and individuality she so coveted to marry a Hasidic Jew, moving to France and starting a family, following the strict precepts of Orthodox Judaism. It’s a twist that would not be believed in a fiction film.

Smith (Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle) also speaks with Rubin’s fellow filmmakers Wendy Clarke and Stephen Bornstein; her friends Debra Feiner Coddington — the star of Christmas on Earth — and Rosebud Feliu-Pettet; playwright Richard Foreman; Warhol actor Randall Bourscheidt; photographer Gordon Ball; and Rubin’s aunt and cousin, who all share unique stories about her, as if they are describing different people rather than the same woman. Smith, who directed, produced, and edited Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground, compiles his documentary by mimicking Rubin’s style, employing split screens and superimpositions along with an avant-garde score by Lee Ranaldo and songs by Dylan, the Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, and others. It’s a riveting tale of an extraordinary, seemingly uncontrollable force, a supremely talented woman dealing with mental illness, a central figure in an artistic movement who was gone too soon. Smith will participate in Q&As at the 7:30 show on May 24 with Peter Hale of the Allen Ginsberg Estate and at the 5:30 show on May 27 with Taubin.

ESTER KRUMBACHOVÁ — UNKNOWN MASTER OF THE CZECHOSLOVAK NEW WAVE: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) comes of age rather early in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (VALERIE A TÝDEN DIVŮ) (Jaromil Jireš, 1970)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Saturday, May 25, 6:30, and Monday, May 27, 8:30
Series runs May 24-29
212-875-5050
www.filmlinc.org

The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Ester Krumbachová: Unknown Master of the Czechoslovak New Wave” series, presented in collaboration with the Czech Center New York, pays tribute to the career of writer, director, set designer, and costume designer Ester Krumbachová (1923-96), who was blacklisted by the communist government for her work. The six-day festival consists of ten films by such directors as Karel Kachyňa (Coach to Vienna, The Ear), Vojtěch Jasný (All My Compatriots), Věra Chytilová (Fruit of Paradise, Daisies), and Jan Němec (Diamonds of the Night), Krumbachová’s onetime husband and muse. On May 25 and 27, Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders will be shown, an extremely strange, totally hypnotic film on which Krumbachová served as writer and production designer. (Producer and curator Irena Kovarova will introduce the latter screening.) Based on the 1945 Gothic novel by Vítězslav Nezval (which was written ten years earlier), Valerie is a dreamy adult fairy tale, inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and other fables, about the coming of age of Valerie, a nymphette played by thirteen-year-old Jaroslava Schallerová in her film debut. Valerie lives with her icy, regal grandmother, Elsa (Helena Anýzová), in a remote village, where visiting missionaries and actors are cause for celebration. In addition, Valerie’s best friend, Hedvika (Alena Stojáková), is being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. Valerie, who is in possession of magic earrings, is being courted by the bespectacled, bookish Eaglet (Petr Kopriva) as well as the Constable (Jirí Prýmek), who just happens to be an evil, ugly vampire who has a mysterious past with Elsa. Also showing an untoward interest in the virginal Valerie is the local priest, Gracián (Jan Klusák).

But don’t get too caught up in the hallucinatory narrative, which usually makes little sense. Characters’ motivations are inconsistent and confusing (especially as Jireš delves deeper and deeper into Valerie’s unconscious), plot points come and go with no explanation, and the spare dialogue is often random and inconsequential. And don’t try too hard looking for references to the Prague Spring, colonialism, and communism; just trust that they’re in there. Instead, let yourself luxuriate in Jan Curík’s lush imagery, Lubos Fiser and Jan Klusák’s Baroque score, Krumbachová’s enchanting production design, and Jan Oliva’s weirdly wonderful art direction. Valerie’s white bedroom is enchantingly surreal, a private world in a darkly magical Medieval land beset by incest, rape, fire, murder, self-flagellation, paganism, and monsters, everything dripping with blood and sex. No, this is most definitely not a fantasia for kids. “Ester Krumbachová: Unknown Master of the Czechoslovak New Wave” runs May 24-29 and also includes Zbyněk Brynych’s . . . and the Fifth Horseman Is Fear in addition to all the films listed above as well as Krumbachová’s own The Murder of Mr. Devil, the only film she directed, screening with introductions May 24 and 27.

FLEET WEEK 2019

Fleet Week will feature celebrations, commemorations, and memorials May 24-30 in all five boroughs (photo courtesy Fleet Week New York)

Fleet Week will feature celebrations, commemorations, and memorials May 22-28 in all five boroughs (photo courtesy Fleet Week New York)

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and other locations in all five boroughs
Pier 86, 12th Ave. & 46th St.
May 22–28
www.intrepidmuseum.org
militarynews.com

The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will be pouring into New York City for Fleet Week, which takes place May 22-28 at the Intrepid, in Times Square, and at other locations. The annual celebration, which began in 1982, leads into Memorial Day weekend, reminding everyone that the holiday is not just about barbecues and beaches. Below are only some of the highlights, all free and open to the public. Admission to the museum, which is hosting many indoor demonstrations, exhibitions, and performances, is $24-$33 but free for all U.S. military and veterans.

Wednesday, May 22
Parade of Ships, New York Harbor, Pier 86, 8:00 am

Musical Performance: U.S. Fleet Forces “Brass Band,” South Street Seaport, 12 Fulton St., 12:30

Musical Performance: Navy Band Northeast’s “Ceremonial Band,” Washington Square Park arch, 4:00

Thursday, May 23
USNA Yard Patrol Squadron, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

USCGC Lawrence Lawson, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

Musical Performance: U.S. Fleet Forces “Brass Band,” Union Square Park, noon

Thursday, May 23
through
Saturday, May 25

Navy Dive Tank, Military Island, Times Square, 10:00 am - 5:00

Friday, May 24
USNA Yard Patrol Squadron, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

USCGC Lawrence Lawson, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

USCG Silent Drill Team, Military Island, Times Square, 2:30

USMC Martial Arts Program demonstration, Military Island, Times Square, 3:15

Summer Movie Night: Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986), Intrepid Flight Deck, 7:00

Musical Performance: U.S. Fleet Forces “Brass Band,” Military Island, Times Square, 7:30

Saturday, May 25
U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary/Civil Air Patrol, LEGOLAND New York Resort, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Intrepid Education, American Red Cross, Restored and Antique Military Vehicle Clubs, Guide Dog Foundation/America’s Vet Dogs — The Veterans K-9 Corp, American Legion and FDNY, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

USCGC Lawrence Lawson, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

Musical Performance: RamCorps, University of Mobile, Pier 86 main stage, noon

Facepainting: Faces by Derrick, Pier 86, noon - 4:00

Musical Performance: Latin Giants of Jazz, Pier 86 main stage, 1:00

USCG Silent Drill Team, Rockefeller Center Plaza, 2:00

Musical Performance: USMC Battle Color Detachment, including the USMC Silent Drill Platoon and Drum and Bugle Corps, Marine Day at Prospect Park, 3:30

Musical Performance — America's Sweethearts: Vintage Vocal Trio, Pier 86 main stage, 3:00 & 5:00

Musical Performance: 78th Army Band, Pier 86 main stage, 4:00

Musical Performance: Navy Band Northeast’s Rock Band “Rhode Island Sound,” Military Island, Times Square, 6:00

Musical Performance: USMC Battle Color Detachment, including the USMC Silent Drill Platoon and Drum and Bugle Corps, Father Duffy Square, Times Square, 8:00

Sunday, May 26
U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary/Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Intrepid Education, American Red Cross, Restored and Antique Military Vehicle Clubs, Guide Dog Foundation/America’s Vet Dogs — The Veterans K-9 Corp, LEGOLAND New York Resort, American Legion, and FDNY, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

USCGC Lawrence Lawson, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

Facepainting: Faces by Derrick, Pier 86, noon - 4:00

Musical Performance: RamCorps, University of Mobile, Pier 86 main stage, noon & 2:00

Musical Performance — America's Sweethearts: Vintage Vocal Trio, Pier 86 main stage, 1:00 & 3:00

Musical Performance: singer, songwriter and Marine Corps veteran Laura Rice, Pier 86 main stage, 4:00

Musical Performance: Navy Band Northeast’s Rock Band “Rhode Island Sound,” Military Island, Times Square, 5:00

Monday, May 27
U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary/Civil Air Patrol, Intrepid Education, LEGOLAND New York Resort, and FDNY, Pier 86, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

Memorial Day Ceremony, Pier 86, 11:00 am

Facepainting: Faces by Derrick, Pier 86, noon - 4:00

USCGC Lawrence Lawson, visiting ship tour, Pier 86, noon - 6:00 pm

USCGC Silent Drill Team Performance, Pier 86, 2:00

Gazillion Bubble Show: Interactive Bubble Garden, Pier 86, 2:00 - 6:00

American Cornhole League: Games and Challenges, Pier 86, 2:00 - 6:00

USCGC Search and Rescue Demonstration, West End Pier 86, 3:00

MoCA FILMS PRESENTS THE LOST ARCADE WITH IRENE CHIN

THE LOST ARCADE

The Lost Arcade follows the story of the rise and fall of the last old-fashioned arcade in New York City

THE LOST ARCADE (Kurt Vincent, 2015)
The Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre St.
Thursday, May 23, $15 (includes museum admission), 6:30
855-955-MOCA
www.mocanyc.org
www.arcademovie.com

New York City has seen a dramatic rise in the closing of long-beloved institutions in the twenty-first century as gentrification and rent hikes soar. When filmmaker Kurt Vincent heard rumors that the Chinatown Fair arcade game haven was on the way out, he brought his camera to the Mott St. spot to document what it meant to him and the community that has been built around it since it opened back in 1944. “After all these years, the path to the arcade was ingrained, even in dreams,” he narrates at the beginning of The Lost Arcade, describing a dream he had. “As I stood in front of the doors, I could smell the arcade. The smell was a primordial memory hidden deep in my mind, somewhere beyond time and space, and somehow, in my dream, I connected with this distant and abstract memory.” Director-producer-editor Vincent and producer-writer Irene Chin, who previously collaborated on the experimental short The Bachelorette Party, have created a love letter to Chinatown Fair, affectionately known as CF, which has seen its ups and downs over the years, including a boom during the golden age of arcades in the 1980s and a problematic drop in the 2000s as kids stayed home to play video games on their computers and televisions. Vincent speaks with Anthony Cali Jr., who practically grew up in CF; former CF employees Henry Cen, Norman Burgess, Derek Rudder, and Akuma Hokura and their boss, Sam Palmer, who bought the place after visualizing it in a dream; and Lonnie Sobel, who attempted to resurrect it after its initial closure.

Teenagers and adults went to CF to play such old-fashioned games as Pac-Man, Ski Bowl, Space Invaders, Defender, Frogger, and Centipede, marvel at the dancing, tic-tac-toe-playing chicken, and visit the so-called museum in the back. Ol’ Dirty Bastard even filmed his 1995 “Brooklyn Zoo” video there. “All my pride and my disappointment and my joy was held in that quarter,” Hokura says, describing the importance of playing arcade games, which used to cost twenty-five cents. The film also has a very cool video-game-inspired score by Gil Talmi. Much like the analog games that lined each side of the narrow CF, the film has an analog feel to it, along with a sweet-natured sentimentality for the way things used to be in an ever-changing New York City. The Museum of Chinese in America is screening The Lost Arcade on May 23 at 6:30, followed by a Q&A with Chin; the evening also includes wine and admission to the museum, which currently has on display the exhibits “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America” and “The Moon Represents My Heart: Music, Memory and Belonging.”

REICH RICHTER PÄRT

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

A flash mob sings Arvo Pärt’s “Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima” in room of Gerhard Richter wallpaper and tapestries (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The Shed
Level 2 Gallery in the Bloomberg Building
545 West 30th St. at Eleventh Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 2, four times daily, $25
646-455-3494
theshed.org

The Shed, the new performance space at Hudson Yards, has made a rather inauspicious debut. The experimental play Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, inaugurating the five-hundred-seat black-box Griffin Theater, is a critical and popular flop, with bad reviews, walkouts, and lots of empty seats. The first art installation, an untitled work by Trisha Donnelly, initially cost ten dollars but was made free after a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to the exhibit, which consists of trees on gurneys in a dark room where Leontyne Price’s rendition of “Habanera” from Carmen repeats over and over. But the immersive Reich Richter Pärt is a bit more on track, though it too has its drawbacks. “We’re only getting started,” artistic director Alex Poots told me after a recent performance; Poots previously did wonderful things at the Manchester Festival and Park Ave. Armory.

Curated by senior program advisor Hans Ulrich Obrist and Poots, Reich Richter Pärt is a two-room, fifty-minute multidisciplinary collaboration between eighty-two-year-old American composer Steve Reich, eighty-seven-year-old German visual artist Gerhard Richter, and eighty-three-year-old Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The audience is first let into an expansive white space with high ceilings; the walls feature vertical wallpaper and jacquard woven tapestries that emulate Rorschach-like strips that are supposed to resemble stained glass, as if the room is a cathedral. Visitors are given too much time to walk around and look at the images; many break off into conversations and take out their cell phones until a group of men and women starts singing, a flash mob performing Pärt’s lovely choral work “Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima,” about three Portuguese shepherd children who claimed to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1917. The choral work, which is dedicated to Richter and was inspired by Psalms 8.2 (“From the mouths of children and infants you create praise for yourself”), is performed by either the Choir of Trinity Wall Street Performing Ensemble or Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Gerhard Richter and Corinna Belz’s abstract film screens with live score by Steve Reich (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The crowd is then led into a second large room, where people can grab folding chairs and sit wherever they like in the empty space between a wall on one side with a screen and a small orchestra on the other, either the Ensemble Signal or the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), depending on the date. (I saw the former, conducted by Brad Lubman. Poots suggested sitting very close to the musicians for the optimal experience, so I joined such visitors as Marina Abramovic and Francis Ford Coppola.) The orchestra plays Reich’s newly commissioned score, created specifically for an approximately half-hour film by Richter and Corinna Belz, which brings to life Richter’s algorithmic processing of his 2016 abstract painting Abstraktes Bild (946-3), using a computer to fold it in half and half again, dividing it into 1/4096ths and then proceeding in the other direction, creating a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic animation in which the painting morphs from bands of bold color, which also line two walls, into yet more Rorschach-like shapes and figures slowly marching across the screen until it all double back to the color strips. (The original work is on view as well.) The film follows the principles Richter employed in his “Patterns” series, which Reich adapted for his thrilling score. As with the first part of the presentation, the second goes on too long, but it’s still a wonder to behold, an example of the kind of fascinating promise the Shed holds.

WALKING ON WATER

Christo takes a spin around his massive project in Andrey M Paounov’s Walking on Water

Christo takes a spin around his massive project in Andrey M Paounov’s Walking on Water

WALKING ON WATER (Andrey M Paounov, 2018)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Opens Friday, May 17
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

Andrey M Paounov’s Walking on Water, opening this weekend at Film Forum, reveals a lot about large-scale installation artist Christo, and you can find out even more when the Bulgarian-born eighty-four-year-old curmudgeonly religious icon / rock star participates in Q&As with Paounov on Friday and Saturday at 7:00 and Sunday at 4:45. In 1961, Christo and his wife and artistic partner, Jeanne-Claude, started creating massive public works, wrapping fabric around the entire Reichstag in Berlin, placing hundreds of yellow umbrellas in Tokyo and blue umbrellas in California concurrently, and lining the pathways of Central Park with dozens of saffron-colored gates, among other impressive spectacles that gave a pop art sheen to land art, which had been the preserve of Robert Smithson, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria, among others. In 1969, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began trying to realize The Floating Piers project, an expansive walkway that would make visitors feel like they were strolling on the water itself. Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, and five years later Christo became determined to make The Floating Piers a reality.

The film follows him as he finds his location — Lake Iseo in Northern Italy — adamantly chooses his materials, meets with local politicians, and has something to say about each step of the process, giving Paounov near-total access as Christo experiences bumps and bruises and gets his eyelashes trimmed. He argues with his nephew and right-hand man, Vladimir Yavachev, over numerous details; gets frustrated with computers; complains about the cover of a catalog (“This is horror story,” he says); is thwarted by bad weather; and nearly has a meltdown when crowd control gets out of hand. He approaches everything with the exacting eye of an artist, taking in the beauty of nature while seeking perfection, and nothing less, from the large crew working for him.

Christo is worshipped everywhere he goes; not only does his name evoke Jesus’s but so does the purpose of The Floating Piers, inviting men, women, and children to traverse the lake on foot similarly to what Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee. Christo even has long (white) hair that flaps in the wind. His eyes light up when he visits the Vatican and marvels at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and when he takes a helicopter ride to survey the installation, providing filmgoers with breathtaking views. There is also a terrific score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans that ranges from sweet and gentle to percussive and pulsating. As ornery as Christo seems to be, he smiles when he needs to, like when he stops by a party loaded with rich collectors, is stopped by fans for selfies, or gazes lovingly at the rich natural landscape surrounding Lake Iseo; it’s all part of his genius.

Paounov (Georgi and the Butterflies, The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories) put the film together with seven hundred hours of footage that had already been recorded before he was hired in 2016, adding to that what he then shot, wisely eschewing talking heads and interviews and instead presenting Christo and his captivating world uncensored and unfiltered, which is a real treat. “Art is not a profession. You don’t work from nine to five,” Christo tells a classroom of small children in his broken English. “To be artist, you are all the time artist. There is no moment when you are not artist.” Walking on Water is an intimate fly-on-the-wall documentary about the creative process and one man’s intense determination to make the planet a better place, one work of art at a time.