MONK WITH A CAMERA (Tina Mascara & Guido Santi, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater / Howard Gilman Theater
144/165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
In 1977, Nicholas “Nicky” Vreeland, the playboy grandson of fashion legend Diana Vreeland and the son of U.S. ambassador Frederick “Frecky” Vreeland, began studying Buddhism with Khylongla Rinpoche. He eventually moved to India, became a monk, and led the rebuilding of the Rato Monastery. He shares his life story in the curious, deeply engaging documentary Monk with a Camera. “I don’t know what led me to wish to pursue a spiritual path,” he says early on, dressed in his red Tibetan monk’s robes. “Was I unhappy? No more unhappy than anyone else. I did feel that there was a way, a life outside the sort of normal life. I had some kind of belief that there was something beyond material satisfaction and things like that.” Born into privilege and living life to the fullest, he was a talented amateur photographer experiencing carnal pleasures, speeding down the Champs-Élysées, and using his connections to work with such photographers as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, But he gave it all up, eventually moving to India to undertake a more philosophical, self-reflective, and celibate existence — in the film he playfully refers to one of his cameras as his girlfriend. Vreeland fell in love with photography at a young age, and he struggles with the attachment he still has with the medium, understanding that it might be a worldly indulgence that goes against his renunciation of earthly delights. But it turns out that his photography ends up playing a major role in the expansion of Rato Monastery.
Directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi, who previously collaborated on Chris & Don: A Love Story, maintain a calm, meditative pace throughout Monk with a Camera, matching Vreeland’s calm, meditative demeanor. Vreeland, resembling a bald, older Steve Carell, walks and talks in carefully measured tones, adding bits of sly humor with his naturally infectious smile. Among those sharing insight into his life are his brother, Alexander Vreeland, who urged him to keep taking photos even after becoming a monk; his stepbrother, writer Ptolemy Tompkins; writer John Avedon, keeper of the Richard Avedon archives; photographer Priscilla Rattazzi; New York magazine design editor Wendy Goodman; his longtime friend and fellow Buddhist, Richard Gere; and his father, who says, “What it was that drove him to spirituality? I’m a person who doesn’t believe that there’s ever one cause for any effect, that there were multiple causes,” before telling a wonderful anecdote about Nicky’s first visit to Dharamsala. The film also includes playful comic-book-style animation by Joe Rothenberg and a lovely scene in which Nicky, Khylongla Rinpoche, and Richard Gere meet with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who chuckles as he delivers some seriously funny lines. Monk with a Camera is a lovingly told story about one man’s unique relationship with the world, a tale that will have audiences considering their own relationship with such central Buddhist ideals as attachment and impermanence. Monk with a Camera begins a one-week run November 21 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center; the 7:20 screenings on Friday and Saturday will be followed by a Q&A with producers, editors, and directors Mascara and Santi and subject Nicky Vreeland, and there will be a Q&A with Vreeland and Gere in the Furman Gallery after the 5:20 screening on Saturday for ticket holders only.
This is not your bubby’s Jewish Museum. On November 20, the latest edition of the Upper East Side institution’s “The Wind Up” features Mykki Blanco, the cross-gender rapper, poet, and performance artist also known as Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. As Quattlebaum, he has written From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys, a compilation of twenty-three poems including “The Intimacy of Being,” “Freak Jerk,” “Black Boys Are Flowers Too,” and “I Am Young Please Forgive Me,” several of which have been turned into songs by her band, Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels, which has released such albums as Betty Rubble: The Initiation and the three-track EP Spring/Summer 2014. In “Poem I” he writes, “I am not a man of reason / And that is exact / I am precisely not a man of logic / And that is inarguable / At some point my soul left me / It was all very casual, you know, in / that way things can sometimes be / It grew tired of my body, I suppose.” Blanco will appear in Scheuer Auditorium along with DJ P. Morris in conjunction with the Abstract Expressionist exhibition “From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945–1952”; the evening will also include spin art T-shirt making, a painting station, a beer and wine bar, and exhibition tours.
SVA Theatre, AMC Loews 19th St., Carlton Hotel, Joe’s Pub
November 18-23, $15-$125
The eleventh edition of the South Asian International Film Festival, which was founded by Shilen Amin to present works from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal and from within the Indian Diaspora, takes place November 18-23, consisting of eight feature films, four shorts, after-parties, receptions, and live music. The opening-night selection, X., is one of several festival films dealing with the art of the movies themselves, made by eleven Indian directors sharing in telling the story of a filmmaker by exploring his sexual past. In Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda (Cold Heart), a young director tries to make a reality gangster flick (Subbaraj will participate in a Q&A following the November 21 world premiere screening at the SVA Theatre), while a Bollywood writer heads to Hollywood in the centerpiece world premiere of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K.’s Happy Ending. Other films include Shrihari Sathe’s Ek Hazarachi Note, Kanu Behl’s Titli, and Nabeel Qureshi’s closing-night, Karachi-set Na Maloom Afraad, which will also be followed by a Q&A. Wednesday night’s after-party at Joe’s Pub will be highlighted by a live performance by Raveena Aurora, while filmgoers are invited to mingle with the filmmakers at the closing-night cocktail reception on Sunday.
CINÉSALON: SWIMMING POOL (François Ozon, 2003)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, November 18, $13, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through December 16
Charlotte Rampling is divine in François Ozon’s playfully creepy mystery about a popular British crime novelist taking a break from the big city (London) to recapture her muse at her publisher’s French villa, only to be interrupted by the publisher’s hot-to-trot teenage daughter. Rampling stars as Sarah Morton, a fiftysomething novelist who is jealous of the attention being poured on young writer Terry Long (Sebastian Harcombe) by her longtime publisher, John Bosload (Game of Thrones’s Charles Dance). John sends Sarah off to his elegant country house, where she sets out to complete her next Inspector Dorwell novel in peace and quiet. But the prim and proper — and rather bitter and cynical — Sarah’s working vacation is soon intruded upon by Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), John’s teenage daughter, who likes walking around topless and living life to the fullest, clearly enjoying how Sarah looks at her and judges her. “You’re just a frustrated English writer who writes about dirty things but never does them,” Julie says, and soon Sarah is reevaluating the choices she’s made in her own life. Rampling, who mixes sexuality with a heart-wrenching vulnerability like no other actress (see The Night Porter, The Verdict, and Heading South), more than holds her own as the primpy old maid in the shadow of a young beauty, even tossing in some of nudity to show that she still has it. (Rampling has also posed nude in her sixties in a series of photographs by Juergen Teller alongside twentysomething model Raquel Zimmerman, so such “competition” is nothing to her.)
Rampling has really found her groove working with Ozon, having appeared in four of his films, highlighted by a devastating performance in Under the Sand as a wife dealing with the sudden disappearance of her husband. Sagnier, who has also starred in Ozon’s Water Drops on Burning Rocks and 8 Women, is a delight to watch, especially as things turn dark. Swimming Pool is very much about duality; the film opens with a shot of the shimmering Thames river while the title comes onscreen and Philippe Rombi’s score of mystery and danger plays, and later Sarah says, “I absolutely loathe swimming pools,” to which Julie responds, “Pools are boring; there’s no excitement, no feeling of infinity. It’s just a big bathtub.” (“It’s more like a cesspool of living bacteria,” Sarah adds.) Ozon (Time to Leave, Criminal Lovers) explores most of the seven deadly sins as Sarah and Julie get to know each other all too well. Swimming Pool is being shown November 18 at 4:00 and 7:30 as part of the French Institute Alliance Française CinéSalon series “The Art of Sex and Seduction,” with the later screening introduced by filmmaker Ry Russo-Young and followed by a wine reception; the series continues Tuesdays through December 16 with Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake introduced by Alan Brown, Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress introduced by Melissa Anderson, and François Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women introduced by Laura Kipnis, all complemented by Jean-Daniel Lorieux’s “Seducing the Lens” photography exhibition.
College campuses have been a hotbed of activity in the ongoing battle between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On September 22, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union, discussing his June meeting with Shimon Peres and Pope Francis in the Vatican, explaining, “I prayed that Israel will finally, after a long wait, live next to Palestine as a good neighbor and not as an occupier. So we Palestinians can continue to build our institutions for a modern and open state and society.” (You can watch the speech here.) Three days later, Abbas spoke at the UN and demanded that Israel pay for what he called “war crimes carried out before the eyes of the world.” In response to those speeches, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is hosting “Genocide and the Jews: A Never-Ending Problem” in the historic Great Hall on November 17, bringing together Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman to provide an alternate view to Abbas’s. “Three days before he went before the UN and accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians, Abbas spoke at Cooper Union’s Great Hall to a crowd comprised mostly of NYU students,” Rabbi Boteach writes on his website. “Many gave him a standing ovation as he repeated his blood libel about the Jewish state. And this in a university with more than 8,000 Jewish students. Only one protest was staged outside the building on the night. It was organized by my son Mendy, an NYU undergraduate, who wisely focused on the positive message of the American values of democracy, racial harmony, and freedom of expression and how Abbas contravenes all three.” The discussion will be introduced by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, inspired Edet Belzberg’s 2014 documentary Watchers of the Sky, which details the efforts of Raphael Lemkin, the coiner of the word “genocide,” to make mass killings a crime against humanity recognized by the world court. “When genocide is trivialized it is not just the six million of the Holocaust who suffer,” Rabbi Boteach continued. “It is the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks. It is the 2.5 million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It is the 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered by the Hutu. And it is all the innocent victims in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo.” It should be very interesting to see what kind of protests there might be outside the Cooper Union for this program.
In 1924, two British men, among the most famous mountaineers of their time, George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, set out with a large team to climb to the summit of Everest. Their amazing journey was documented by Captain John Noel, who used a hand-cranked camera with an impressive telephoto lens and sent the footage via yak to a lab in Darjeeling to be developed. The resulting black-and-white film, The Epic of Everest, is a poetic document of the third attempt to scale Everest, a mountain the Tibetans called “Chomo-Lung-Ma,” or Goddess Mother of the World. The eighty-seven-minute silent film has been digitally restored by the British Film Institute in a beautiful version that is making its New York premiere November 14 at the Rubin Museum, where it will be shown more than a dozen times through December 21, with most screenings introduced by a special guest and some followed by Q&As. The Epic of Everest, which is also ethnographically important for its (at times ethnocentric) depiction of local Tibetan culture, includes several scenes of Mount Everest tinted in blue, red, and violet; the ice-blue Fairyland section is especially breathtaking. Meanwhile, the restored intertitles display such dramatic text as “There is nowhere here any trace of life or man. It is a glimpse into a world that knows him not. Grand, solemn, unutterably lonely, the Rongbuk Glacier of Everest reveals itself.” and “Nor can one wonder at the invention that has clothed this extraordinary peak with a sacred character. What a terrifying thing it is! What an immensity of size, height and power it possesses!”
Irvine and Mallory — the latter famously answered “Because it’s there” when asked why he wanted to climb Everest — are joined by Sherpas and donkeys; mountaineer and artist Howard Somervell, who is seen smoking a pipe while sketching in his notebook; Alpine climbers John de Vars Hazard and Edward Norton; mountaineer Geoffrey Bruce, who is described as “the Expedition’s right hand man”; and geologist Noel Odell as they attempt to do what no human had done before. The 4K restoration, done in collaboration with Noel’s daughter, Sandra, also features a haunting new score by Simon Fisher Turner that incorporates both Western and Nepalese sounds. The Epic of Everest is particularly fascinating when compared to such recent mountaineering adventures as K2: Siren of the Himalayas, revealing how little has changed, except technology, as fearless men and women seek to climb toward the heavens. Among the experts who will be at the Rubin for select screenings are AFAR executive vice president and publisher Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio on opening night, Everest climbers Robert Anderson and Phillip Trimble, Columbia Modern Tibetan Studies director Dr. Robert Barnett, Outward Bound USA executive director Steve Matous, The Alpinist magazine editor in chief Katie Ives, The Summits of Modern Man author Peter H. Hansen, and British Consul General to New York Danny Lopez.
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (John Maloof & Charlie Siskel, 2013)
Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas
260 West 23rd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Friday, November 14, 12:30, and Saturday, November 15, 12 noon
Series runs November 13-20
By their very nature, street photographers take pictures of anonymous individuals, capturing a moment in time in which viewers can fill in their own details. In the wonderful documentary Finding Vivian Maier, codirectors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel turn the lens around on a street photographer herself, attempting to fill in the details of the curious life and times of Vivian Maier, about whom very little was known. “I find the mystery of it more interesting than her work itself,” says one woman for whom Vivian Maier served as a nanny decades earlier. “I’d love to know more about this person, and I don’t think you can do that through her work.” In 2007, while looking for historical photos for a book on the Portage Park section of Chicago, Maloof purchased a box of negatives at an auction. Upon discovering that they were high-quality, museum-worthy photographs, he set off on a mission to learn more about the photographer. Playing detective — while also developing hundreds of rolls of film, with thousands more to go — Maloof meets with men and women who knew Maier as an oddball, hoarding nanny who went everywhere with her camera and shared little, if anything, about her personal life. “I’m the mystery woman,” Maier says in a color home movie. Her former employers and charges, including talk-show host Phil Donahue, debate her background, the spelling and pronunciation of her name, her accent, and how she might have felt about a documentary delving into her secretive life.
Maloof also discusses Maier’s work with such major photographers as Joel Meyerowitz and Mary Ellen Mark. “Had she made herself known, she would have become a famous photographer. Something was wrong. . . . A piece of the puzzle is missing,” Mark says while comparing Maier’s work to such legends as Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, and Diane Arbus. Maloof tries to complete what becomes an ever-more-fascinating puzzle in this extremely enjoyable documentary that gets very serious as he finds out more about the mystery woman who is now considered an important twentieth-century artist. Finding Vivian Maier also has an intriguing pedigree; codirector and producer Siskel (Religulous) is executive producer of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, executive producer Jeff Garlin (I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With) is a comedian who played Larry David’s best friend and agent on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Kickstarter contributor and interviewee Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Lie to Me) is an Oscar-nominated actor who collects Maier’s work. Maloof and Siskel will be on hand when Finding Vivian Maier is presented November 14 & 15 at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas in the Short List section of the 2014 DOC NYC festival, which runs November 13-20 and consists of more than 150 documentaries being shown at Bow Tie, the IFC Center, and the SVA Theatre. To experience Maier’s work in person, be sure to check out the photography exhibit “Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands,” continuing at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in Midtown through December 6.