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

DOC NYC — UNSTOPPABLE: SEAN SCULLY AND THE ART OF EVERYTHING

Sean Scully

Abstract artist Sean Scully is profiled in intimate documentary

UNSTOPPABLE: SEAN SCULLY AND THE ART OF EVERYTHING (Nick Willing, 2019)
Cinepolis Chelsea
260 West 23rd St. at Eighth Ave.
Thursday, November 14, 7:15
Festival runs November 6-15
www.docnyc.net
seanscullystudio.com

“When I first met Sean, he told me, ‘I want to be the greatest abstract artist of my generation,’ and I thought, this is a lot of hubris. I didn’t know him then, and I believe him now,” says Sukanya Rajaratnam of the Mnuchin Gallery in New York about painter and sculptor Sean Scully in Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything. Don’t be surprised if you feel exactly the same way after you see Nick Willing’s bewitching film, making its North American premiere at DOC NYC on November 14. Born in Dublin in June 1945 and raised on the tough streets of South London where his family lived in squalor and he was in a gang, Scully was determined from early on to be more than just a successful artist, and he’s achieved his goal. “People want to see Scully like they want to see or Warhol or van Gogh, and that’s quite unique for an abstract painter to have risen above the fray and become an icon,” Hirshhorn chief curator Stéphane Aquin says.

Willing follows Scully through a whirlwind 2018 as the artist travels around the world, from his studios in Berlin, Bavaria, and Manhattan to gallery and museum shows in Washington DC, the National Gallery in London, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, De Pont Museum in the Netherlands, the Hugh Lane in Dublin, the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, San Cristobal in Mexico City, a church in Montserrat, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Mnuchin Gallery on the Upper East Side, and Newcastle University, where he went to art school, as well as key places from his youth. It’s exhausting and electric watching the driven, dedicated Scully make these rounds while also creating new work, forcefully slashing at the canvas with his bold brushstrokes. Willing traces Scully’s evolving style, from his initial figuration to his use of grids and geometric patterns and his famous stripe paintings. “The presence of the vertical and horizontal grid in his work, for me, is indicative of a person who knows he has a volatile temperament and is seeking to control it,” explains his Newcastle tutor Bill Varley. Meanwhile, fellow Newcastle student Moira Kelly proclaims, “The stripes are delicious. The stripes are about experiences. The stripes are like poems.”

Sean Scully

Sean Scully reveals his working process and more in Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything

Scully carefully manages his career, monitoring the market, giving generously to museums, participating in retrospectives and new shows, and delivering animated talks and lectures, but it’s about his legacy, not the money, and he doesn’t care one iota for trends or critics. “It’s not possible to discourage somebody like Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy; they believe so much in what they believe that they don’t mind if they get shot. I don’t mind either ’cause I’m doing what I believe, and that’s all there is to it,” he says, a tough, bald imposing figure of a man who looks like someone you would not want to get into a bar fight with. Writer and art critic Kelly Grovier notes, “Sean very much believes in the supernatural power of his paintings, that the works not only communicate a kind of truth but they actually have the power to affect change in this world . . . for the better.”

Willing also explores intimate details of Scully’s personal life, delving into his hardscrabble childhood; his relationship with his two ex-wives, Catherine Lee and Rosemary Henderson; the tragic loss of his first son, Paul; his distaste for Donald Trump and the American fascination with guns; and his life now with his third wife, Liliane Tomasko, and their son, Oisín. Scully usually works from instinct, attacking the canvas with his brush in ways that mimic the martial arts that he practices, but his deep love for Oisín has brought him back to figuration. He not only creates paintings of his son on the beach based on photos he has taken with his iPhone, he has also worked on a series depicting the US flag that replaces the stars in the upper left corner with a gun. I’ve seen several Scully shows over the last decade, including “Wall of Light” at Mnuchin in 2018, consisting of his magnificently meditative stripe paintings, and “Eleuthera” at the Albertina in Vienna, colorful, large-format oils of his son playing in the Bahamas. Unstoppable sheds new light on the artist, his work, his process, and his inspiration. “He’s a bit like the Ancient Mariner,” Grovier says. “He goes around the world, gallery to gallery, person to person, stopping almost anyone who will listen to tell them the great truth that his paintings portray.” It’s a gospel that Willing now spreads to an even wider audience.

TAITEN: NOH & KYOGEN

taiten

Noritoshi Yamamoto (right) and members of his prestigious family will perform Kagyu (The Snail) at Japan Society November 14-16 (photo © Yoshiaki Kanda)

Japan Society
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
November 14-16, $97, 7:30
www.japansociety.org

Japan Society’s Emperor Series, celebrating the ascension of Emperor Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne in May, concludes with a special program that includes a noh play created for Emperor Taishō’s ascension to the throne in 1912. In honor of the era turning from Heisei to Reiwa, Kurouemon Katayama X will stage Taiten, portraying the god Amatsukami, wearing a Mikazuki mask as he descends from the heavens for a ritual dance. The work is rarely performed; in mounting the Reiwa version, Kurouemon X was influenced by notes left by his father and grandfather from the 1912 original commission. In addition, Noritoshi Yamamoto and members of his family will perform the comedic kyogen play Kagyu (The Snail), in which a servant is sent to gather up snails but collects a traveling priest instead, thinking it is the shelled gastropod.

The show runs November 14-16, at the same time the succession rites, known as the Daijosai, or the Great Thanksgiving Ceremony, are taking place at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The November 14 performance will be followed by a soirée, and Japan Society will host a noh workshop with actors from the Kyoto Kanze Association on November 15 at 1:00 ($60) and a kyogen workshop with members of the Yamamoto Tojiro Family of the Okura School of Kyogen on November 16 at 1:00 ($60). This is a rare chance to experience these works, so tickets are going fast despite their relatively high cost for a Japan Society event.

NOT THEN, NOT YET

(photo by Susan Allen)

Mei Yamanaka and Jordan Morley are two of six performers in Tiffany Mills world premiere at the Flea (photo by Susan Allen)

The Flea Theater, the Sam
20 Thomas St. between Church St. & Broadway
November 13–16, $15-$20, 7:00
212-226-0051
theflea.org
tiffanymillscompany.org

The New York City-based Tiffany Mills Company returns to the Flea, where it presented Blue Room last year, for the world premiere of Not then, not yet, running November 13-16 at the downtown theater. The work is a collaboration between dancer-choreographer Mills with Puerto Rican composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón, a founding member of Balún who writes electro-acoustical music for toys, robotic instruments, accordions, ensembles, and orchestras, and Brittany-born neoclassical composer and singer Muriel Louveau; Negrón and Louveau teamed up last week with dancer-choreographer Emily Marie Pope for the improvisational Isterica at National Sawdust, where Negrón is the current artist in residence. Not then, not yet explores transitions through space and time, inspired by the early writings of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dealing with creation and destruction, isolation, and endings and beginnings. The evening-length piece will be performed by Mills, Pope, Jordan Morley, Kenneth Olguin, Nikolas Owens, and Mei Yamanaka, with lighting by Chris Hudacs and costumes by Pei-Chi Su. Tickets are $15-$20 except for Friday night’s benefit, which are $50 and includes a postshow reception.

THE ROSE TATTOO

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Marisa Tomei is fiery and passionate as Serafina in Roundabout revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 8, $59-$299
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

Following the disappointing reaction to his third major play, Summer and Smoke, a Broadway failure in 1948 after the runaway successes of 1944’s The Glass Menagerie and 1947’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Mississippi-born playwright Tennessee Williams headed to Sicily with the love of his life, Frank Merlo. The trip reenergized Williams and inspired him to write The Rose Tattoo, which won four Tonys in 1951, including Best Play, Best Supporting Actor (Eli Wallach), and Best Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton). “The Rose Tattoo was my love-play to the world,” he wrote in Memoirs. “It was permeated with the happy young love for Frankie and I dedicated the book to him, saying: ‘To Frankie in return for Sicily.’” Roundabout’s revival of the play at the American Airlines Theatre, its ninth Williams show since 1975, is a fiery, passionate affair imbued with broad comedy, along with muddling confusion.

The play is set in 1950 in a Gulf Coast village populated by Sicilian immigrants. Serafina Delle Rose (Marisa Tomei) is eagerly awaiting the return of her truck-driver husband, who she calls the Baron. “The clock is a fool. I don’t listen to it. My clock is my heart and my heart don’t say tick-tick, it says love-love!” she tells Assunta (Carolyn Mignini), an elderly fattuchiere. But the Baron never makes it home, leaving Serafina a young widow raising a daughter, Rosa (Ella Rubin), by herself. Regularly surrounded by a Greek chorus of women in black (Andréa Burns as Peppina, Susan Cella as Giuseppina, Jennifer Sánchez as Mariella, and Ellyn Marie Marsh as Violetta) and with the Strega (Constance Shulman) ever lurking about, the young widow mourns intensely for three years, praying to her very special statue of the Virgin Mary at a shrine at stage front and to the urn that holds her husband’s ashes. Serafina, a seamstress having trouble sewing her life back together, swears to be faithful to the Baron’s memory while she tries to protect Rosa’s virginity as Rosa strenuously tries to lose it to Jack (Burke Swanson), an eighteen-year-old sailor in the throes of young love. But when she overhears Bessie (Paige Gilbert) and Flora (Portia) gossiping about how the Baron cheated on her with the fancy Estelle Hoehengarten (Tina Benko), Rose has to rethink her life, especially when she meets another truck driver, Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Emun Elliott), as he’s being harassed by a racist traveling salesman (Greg Hildreth). Alvaro reminds her of the Baron, lighting a fire inside her she hasn’t felt for a long time.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Serafina Delle Rose (Marisa Tomei) and Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Emun Elliott) find common ground in The Rose Tattoo at the American Airlines Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

Obie-wining director Trip Cullman zeroes in on the comic aspects of Williams’s story; if you’ve seen the 1955 movie starring Anna Magnani, who won an Oscar as Serafina, a role Williams wrote for her, you might be surprised at just how funny it is, including a bizarre moment with condoms that led to an arrest in a 1957 Irish production. Meanwhile, a scene involving Bessie and Portia coming to Serafina to pick up clothing she made for them is so racist it’s hard not to wonder why it’s done in that style in this day and age. Many of Cullman’s plays have unique and unusual sets that offer complex ways to look at the work, from Lobby Hero and Significant Other to Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow and The Pain of My Belligerence. But Mark Wendland’s stage for The Rose Tattoo is confounding. It’s a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces, with a wooden walkway over sand, a living room, a window, a flock of pink flamingos at the back, and Lucy Mackinnon’s projections of the tide rolling in on the shore on three sides. Characters enter and exit inconsistently in too many different ways so it’s hard to tell where everything leads to and from. Tomei (The Realistic Joneses, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage), whose maternal grandmother was Sicilian, is steamy and, appropriately, ardent — Serafina means “ardent” in Italian — as the zealous widow, imbuing her with a fierce sexuality, leaving Elliott (Black Watch, Red Velvet), in his Broadway debut, to play catch-up. (The pair was played by Stapleton and Wallach in the 1951 original, Magnani and Burt Lancaster in the 1955 film, Stapleton and Harry Guardino in the 1966 Broadway revival, and Mercedes Ruehl and Anthony LaPaglia in the 1995 Broadway adaptation.) Rubin is a force as Rosa, representing the next generation of Italian Americans who are not about to do things the way their parents did. Jonathan Linden contributes country-folk blues off stage right, enhancing the period setting.

“During the past two years I have been, for the first time in my life, happy and at home with someone and I think of this play as a monument to that happiness, a house built of images and words for that happiness to live in,” Williams wrote to Elia Kazan in June 1950 when asking him to direct the show. “But in that happiness there is the long, inescapable heritage of the painful and the perplexed like the dark corners of a big room.” Williams even threw in a nod to Merlo, the man responsible for his happiness and whom he called the Little Horse, by giving Alvaro the last name Mangiacavallo, which means “eat a horse.” This latest Broadway revival of The Rose Tattoo also manages to find happiness amid the painful and the perplexed.

A FISH IN THE BATHTUB

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara play an estranged couple in Joan Micklin Silvers A Fish in the Bathtub

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara play an estranged couple in Joan Micklin Silver’s A Fish in the Bathtub

A FISH IN THE BATHTUB (Joan Micklin Silver, 1999)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, November 8
212-255-2243
quadcinema.com

Brooklyn-born duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were the first couple of American comedy for six decades, from appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, in popular ads for Blue Nun wine, and on their own brief sitcom and more recent web series to their solo gigs on Seinfeld and The King of Queens for Stiller and Archie Bunker’s Place and Kate McShane for four-time Emmy and Tony nominee Meara, who passed away in 2015 at the age of eighty-five. They starred in only one film together, 1999’s little-seen senior-citizen rom-com A Fish in the Bathtub, which is finally getting its theatrical release for its twentieth anniversary, in a 2K restoration opening November 8 at the Quad.

The film, written by Raphael D. Silver, John Silverstein, David Chudnovsky, is part of Joan Micklin Silver’s unofficial Jewish trilogy, which also comprises 1975’s Hester Street and 1988’s Crossing Delancey, neither of which A Fish in the Bathtub can hold a candle to. Stiller and Meara play long-married couple Sam and Molly, who get into a tiff one night at a card game with their friends; the loud and obnoxious Sam shouts down the much calmer, easygoing Molly in a thoroughly embarrassing manner, so she leaves him and moves in with their son, real estate agent Joel (Mark Ruffalo), and his wife and daughter. While Molly starts seeing dullard Lou Moskowitz (Bob Dishy), Jerry shares his problems with a large carp he is keeping in the bathtub. Joel and his sister, Ruthie (Jane Adams), are experiencing their own complicated situations — one of Joel’s clients, the married Tracy (Pamela Gray), is heavily flirting with him, while Ruthie has a new boyfriend at work. Sam isn’t about to apologize, so Molly isn’t about to come back to him, but it is clear that they need each other, for better or worse.

Stiller’s screaming antics are over the top even for him, although he does display some tenderness, while Meara is sweetly endearing in a motherly/grandmotherly way, and it’s great to see a young Ruffalo shaping his craft. The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, including Doris Roberts, Louis Zorich, Phyllis Newman, Val Avery, Elizabeth Franz, Paul Benedict, David Deblinger, Jonathan Hogan, and Mordecai Lawner — even if you don’t recognize many of those names, you will recognize their faces. There’s a Woody Allen–light aspect to much of the story and the minor characters; the film has some lovely moments, and Stiller, who is now ninety-two, delivers several hilarious laugh-out-loud howlers, but the pace is slow and the narrative circuitous, evoking the endless path taken by the poor carp. So this film might not become part of Stiller and Meara’s legacy — which also consists of their talented children, Amy and Ben, in addition to their other work — but it’s always good to seem them together, whatever the format. Oh, and here’s hoping their real life was nothing like this.

CYRANO

(photo by Monique Carboni)

Peter Dinklage struts his stuff in wife’s musical adaptation of Cyrano story (photo by Monique Carboni)

The New Group at the Daryl Roth Theatre
103 East 15th St. between Irving Pl. & Park Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 22, $107-$252
thenewgroup.org

You don’t need me to tell you that Peter Dinklage is an extraordinary actor. You can see for yourself in the New Group’s world premiere production of Cyrano, Erica Schmidt’s musical retelling of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 novel Cyrano de Bergerac, which opened last night at the Daryl Roth Theatre. Dinklage, who soared above his castmates in winning four Emmys as the wise, debauched Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones, commands the stage from the very start of the play; his eyes and body are so emotive, you cannot take your eyes off him. As opposed to many other stars who have portrayed Cyrano onstage and onscreen — Ralph Richardson, Derek Jacobi, Richard Chamberlain, Christopher Plummer, Gérard Depardieu, Steve Martin, and Kevin Kline among them — Dinklage does not wear a prosthetic nose; he is just himself, as he is. When Cyrano says early on, “I am living proof that God has a sick sense of humor,” it takes on additional meaning, given Dinklage’s achondroplasia. When he’s not onstage, you search for him, whether it’s when you hear his voice booming from the side of the audience or as he waits in the wings, watching the action in character, partially hidden by hanging ropes. Alas, if only the rest of the show were up to the same standards.

Cyrano is a brave, feared member of a company of guards; he is a man of both the pen and the sword, as expert with a blade as he is with a pencil. He is madly, desperately in love; the object of his affection is his childhood friend Roxanne (Hamilton’s Jasmine Cephas Jones), but the object of her affection is the novice guard Christian (Blake Jenner), a handsome man with not much upstairs. “I’m so stupid. It’s shameful,” he acknowledges. Roxanne is also desired by the wealthy and powerful Duke De Guiche (Ritchie Coster), who is charge of the company; he is determined to have Roxanne as his wife. Roxanne is love-starved as well: She sings, “I’d give anything for someone to say / That they can’t live without me and they’ll be there forever / I’d give anything for someone to say to me / That no matter how bad it gets they won’t turn away from me.” She falls for Christian at first sight, but he’s such a dull, dense beauty that he has no idea how to woo her, so Cyrano, who cannot bear to see Roxanne disappointed, starts ghostwriting love letters for Christian and feeding him romantic lines to say to her. It all comes to a head when Cyrano, Christian, and De Guiche are in a fierce battle on the front lines of the war.

(photo by Monique Carboni)

Christian (Blake Jenner) makes his case to Roxanne (Jasmine Cephas Jones) with Cyrano’s (Peter Dinklage) help in new musical (photo by Monique Carboni)

Adapted and directed by Schmidt (All the Fine Boys), who is married to Dinklage, Cyrano is all about the poetry and power of words. Cyrano lives to write letters. When his friend Ragueneau (Nehal Joshi), a pastry chef, is being threatened by one hundred men coming to kill him, Ragueneau explains it’s because of a political poem he wrote. When De Guiche is intrigued by Cyrano’s nose but can’t bring himself to be direct about it, Cyrano says, “You seem at a loss for words and, good sir, you are staring.” But Cyrano doesn’t believe his way with words or a sword (oddly, the two words are anagrams of each other) will capture his true love’s heart. Dinklage (The Station Agent, A Month in the Country) sings in his affecting, compelling low register, “Roxanne, what am I supposed to say? / Words are only glass on a string. / The more I arrange them and line up and change them / The more they mean the same thing.” When he makes the deal with Christian, he says, “I am a poet. My words are wasted now — they need to be — to be spoken aloud. I will make you eloquent and you, you will make me handsome.” The battle scene is particularly poetic, beautifully directed by Schmidt and choreographed by Jeff and Rick Kuperman, with snow falling down as the men and women soldiers say farewell to loved ones, perhaps for the last time.

(photo by Monique Carboni)

Christian (Blake Jenner) and Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) face off in New Group world premiere (photo by Monique Carboni)

The supporting cast is solid, led by Josh A. Dawson as Cyrano’s trusted right-hand man, Le Bret; Nehal Joshi as pastry chef and political poet Ragueneau; Grace McLean as Roxanne’s constant chaperone, Marie; Scott Stangland as the actor Montgomery and the cadet Carbon; Christopher Gurr as theater owner Jodelet and the priest; and Hillary Fisher as Orange Girl. Christine Jones and Amy Rubin’s narrow set features a long horizontal wall with sections that open up to reveal a room of chefs baking, a door, and a balcony where Roxanne calls out to Christian, who is coached by Cyrano in his replies. Words cover the wall like it’s a large blackboard; among the only legible phrases is the heartbreaking “And she loved me back,” which also pops up in one of the songs. The music, by twin brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National, and the lyrics, by the National lead singer Matt Berninger and his wife, Carin Besser (who cowrites lyrics for the band), are not as inventive as one might expect from a group with members who specialize in nontraditional melodies and experimentation, whether on an album, in an art installation, or even for an avant-garde opera.

For the show, which was workshopped in 2018 by Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut, to really grab your heart and soul, the audience has to fall in love with Roxanne in order to understand why the Duke, Christian, and Cyrano do. But that never happens. As played by Cephas Jones, there’s nothing that sets Roxanne apart; she seems to be a nice young woman but not a heartthrob that makes men desire her on sight. And by the treacly ending, you’ll be wondering why the brilliant Cyrano ever wanted her in the first place. However, Dinklage’s gripping, poignant performance rises above everything else, making Cyrano well worth seeing despite its flaws.

DOC NYC 2019: SCHOOL OF SEDUCTION / ELLIOTT ERWITT — SILENCE SOUNDS GOOD / FOR SAMA

School of Seduction: 3 Stories from Russia

School of Seduction: 3 Stories from Russia follows three women learning how to snare a man

SCHOOL OF SEDUCTION: 3 STORIES FROM RUSSIA (Alina Rudnitskaya, 2019)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Saturday, November 9, 9:15
Festival runs November 6-15
www.docnyc.net

In 2009, Russian filmmaker Alina Rudnitskaya made the short film Bitch Academy, about a school where a man taught women of all ages how to attract potential husbands the old-fashioned way, by flaunting their sexuality and playing dumb. She has now expanded that into the full-length feature documentary School of Seduction: 3 Stories from Russia, making its North American debut at IFC Center as part of the DOC NYC festival. Rudnitskaya follows three women over seven years as they take the workshop run by Vladimir Rakovsky and then apply what they’ve learned to their life, with varying degrees of success. Rakovsky, a former 911 hotline worker who is not exactly a smooth-talking Romeo or Don Juan — he actually talks and acts like someone you might avoid on the subway — teaches the women how to bend over, how to wiggle their butts, and how to jump in a man’s arms and turn him on. “What did you think it was about? The psychological aspects of gender politics in modern society?” he says, defending his techniques, which are questionable at best in the twenty-first century (or any time, really). But there is a severe shortage of available men in Russia, so he convinces the eager women that they need to play this game in order to snag a wealthy suitor, that they are not able to survive in this world on their own.

“What a nightmare!” Lida Lodigenskaya declares about Rakovsky’s ideals. Lida lives with her mother and is in love with a married father of two. She is combative and determined, sure that he will eventually leave his wife; surprisingly, he allows himself to be filmed with Lida despite his personal situation. Vika Sitnik is in a lackluster marriage and is in the process of opening a lingerie store in a mall. She suffers from anxiety, sharing her fears with a psychologist. Her mother does not understand her crisis, stuck in the old ways. “I feel bad inside,” Vika says as she reaches a turning point in her life. Diana Belova is a single mother whose parents threw her out of the house so she lives with her grandmother. She makes the most out of the workshop, creating a fake, fanciful existence built on attractiveness and elegance. “I believe in fairy tales,” she says as she meets a series of men, not searching for true love but for someone who will be able to give her the upper-crust life she feels she deserves. “I need to be the best,” she explains.

Rudnitskaya is not making fun of any of these people but rather focusing on the difficulty women are having finding the right person to share their life. They have been reduced to becoming kewpie dolls to catch and keep a man, which is both sad and heartbreaking to watch. The film is screening on November 9 at 9:15, with executive producers Sigrid Jonsson Dyekjær, Eva Mulvad, and Rose Grönkjær in attendance to talk about the film.

ELLIOTT ERWITT — SILENCE SOUNDS GOOD (Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu, 2019)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Sunday, November 10, 4:30
www.docnyc.net

“I hate to give explanations,” photographer Elliott Erwitt says in Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu’s lighthearted Elliott Erwitt — Silence Sounds Good, having its North American premiere November 10 at IFC Center as part of the DOC NYC festival. Sanfeliu, a protégé of Erwitt’s, follows her mentor around the world for two years as he goes through his vast archives; exercises in his Manhattan apartment overlooking the park; returns to Cuba for a new book and exhibition and meets former ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso, who passed away last month at the age of ninety-eight; snaps pictures on the street at the spur of the moment; and shows some of his iconic images, including photos of presidents and popes, a series on dogs (especially one that steals his heart in Cuba), a photo of segregated drinking fountains in North Carolina, and others that reveal his innate sense of composition. But he doesn’t have a lot to say about them; “I’m not very good about talking about pictures,” he notes at an illustrated lecture.

Now eighty-nine, Erwitt, who was born in France, moved to Italy when he was three, then came to the United States when he was ten, has a dry, self-effacing sense of humor, although he has a tremendous amount of fun taking unusual self-portraits. Sanfeliu often lets her camera linger on him as he sits quietly, with nothing more to say, preferring to let his work speak for itself. “Photography is about having a point of view, nothing else,” he says. “With calm, but also with passion. But without making too much noise about it. It’s the photo which must make noise.” When he does pontificate, he has a tendency to come up with some doozies. “I don’t think anything is serious,” he says. “Nothing is serious, and everything is serious. . . . Well, it’s one of those conundrums. You might say that I’m serious about not being serious.” Erwitt will be at the DOC NYC screening to perhaps talk about it — he does appreciate his silence — along with Sanfeliu, producer François Bertrand, editor Scott Stevenson, and writer Mark Monroe. Preceding it is Tasha Van Zandt’s fourteen-minute short One Thousand Stories: The Making of a Mural, about JR’s video mural project, The Chronicles of San Francisco.

For Sama

Waad al-Kateab documents daily life under constant bombardment in Aleppo in For Sama

FOR SAMA (Waad al-Kateab & Edward Watts, 2019)
Cinepolis Chelsea
260 West 23rd St.
Sunday, November 10, 11:00 am
Monday, November 11, 1:25
www.docnyc.net
www.forsamafilm.com

“You’re the most beautiful thing in our life, but what a life I’ve brought you into. You didn’t choose this. Will you ever forgive me?” Waad al-Kateab asks in the extraordinary documentary For Sama. In 2012 during the Arab Spring, Waad, a marketing student at Aleppo University, joined the protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. She started taking photos and cell-phone video, then got a film camera as she became a citizen journalist, documenting the escalating conflict, trying to find moments of joy amid the brutal, senseless murders of innocent men, women, and children. She met and fell in love with heroic doctor Hamza al-Kateab, who was determined to keep his hospital running as the bombings got closer. Waad and Hamza got married, and on January 1, 2016, she gave birth to a healthy girl, Sama.

The film, directed by Waad (who also served as cinematographer and producer) and Edward Watts (Escape from ISIS), is a poignant, unflinching confession from mother to daughter, explaining in graphic detail what the families of Aleppo are going through as Russian and Syrian forces and Islamic extremists maintain a constant attack. “We never thought the world would let this happen,” Waad explains as the body count rises — which she intimately shows, not shying away from shots of bloodied victims being brought into the hospital, a pile of dead children, or a desperate attempt to save the life of a mother and a newborn after an emergency caesarean. “I keep filming. It gives me a reason to be here. It makes the nightmares feel worthwhile,” Waad says.

She captures bombings as they happen, films families huddled inside their homes while machine guns can be heard outside, talks to a child who says he wants to be an architect when he grows up so he can rebuild Aleppo. Because she is a woman, Waad gains access to other women that would not be available to a male filmmaker as they share their stories of love and despair. Waad and Hamza plant a lovely garden to bring color to the dank, brown and gray city. A snowfall covers the turmoil in a beautiful sheet of white. The pitter-patter of rain offers a brief respite. But everything eventually gets destroyed as Waad and Hamza struggle with the choice of leaving with Sama or staying to continue their critical roles in the rebellion, she depicting the personal, heart-wrenching images of war — in 2016, her Inside Aleppo reports aired on British television — he tending to the ever-increasing wounded. “The happiness you brought was laced with fear,” Waad tells Sama in voiceover narration. “Our new life with you felt so fragile, as the freedom we felt in Aleppo.” Winner of the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at Cannes among other awards, For Sama is screening at Cinepolis Chelsea on November 10 and 11 as part of the DOC NYC festival, with director Waad al-Kateab, codirector Edward Watts, and subject Dr. Hamza al-Kateab expected to attend to discuss the film.

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