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  • Though only in its fifth year, DOC NYC seems like a city institution already. The annual event, which ran from November 13 through 20, has become the largest documentary film festival in the country. This year’s DOC NYC encompassed 153 films and events, ranging from screenings of classic docs (Hoop Dreams) and high-profile films (Citizenfour) to premieres from first-time feature filmmakers (Opposite Field, Vessel, many, many others). There were also educational panels and master classes (Finish Your Doc) for aspiring auteurs. Opening Night Film was David Thorpe’s funny, poignant Do I Sound Gay?; Closing Night Film was The Yes Men Are Revolting, which chronicles the prankster-activists’ past five years, directed by Laura Nix and The Yes Men.

    DOC NYC is a testament to the ever-growing popularity of documentaries, due to a number of reasons including an increase in movie outlets, the stylistic crossover between narrative fiction and non-fiction films, and accessibility of digital technology, now that practically everyone can make movies. (Imagine the various permutations that would exist of 1970 classic Gimme Shelter, had Altamont audiences owned smartphones.)

    Festival screenings took place at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas, IFC Center and SVA Theatre; in many cases filmmakers were present to introduce their work and answer questions afterward. Every sort of documentary was represented, broken down into categories including American Perspectives, International Perspectives, Centerstage (performance-focused films), Jock Docs (sports), Fight the Power (activism), Sonic Cinema (music), Docs Redux (classics), and Short List (awards-season picks).

    Cairo Drive

    Cairo Drive; Sherief Elkatsha

    Four major categories were juried competitions; the winners were chosen on closing night: Cairo Drive, directed by Sherief Elkatsha, took the Viewfinders (distinct directorial visions) category. The film, which looks at a cross-section of Cairo residents during the revolution through the eyes of the city’s drivers, is “a funny, endearing, deeply humane look at the everyday struggle to navigate the crazy streets of Egypt’s capital,” according to the jurors. In the Metropolis (New York City stories) category, Thomas Wirthensohn’s Homme Less was the winner. The portrait of photographer Mark Reay, whose life is not as glamorous as it seems, shows “the beauty and cruelty of New York” through “a figure who’s complex, troubling, and fascinating,” said jurors. The Grand Jury Prize winner in the Shorts category was Mirror Image, directed by Danielle Schwartz, in which the Israeli filmmaker questions her grandparents about their mirror, previously owned by a Palestinian household. And the SundanceNow Doc Club Audience Award went to The Hand That Feeds, directed by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, an exposé of an Upper East Side Hot & Crusty bakery and its employees’ demands for better wages and working conditions.

    Banksy Does New York; courtesy of HBO

    Banksy Does New York; courtesy of HBO

    Among the many worthwhile movies screened at DOC NYC was Chris Moukarbel’s Banksy Does New York, about the city’s response to the pseudonymous street artist’s month-long “residency” here last year. Moukarbel, whose previous film Me at the Zoo was about a video blogger, does a great job of documenting the scavenger hunt-like event, using Banksy’s own wry audio-guide commentary for his daily installations, scenes of the artworks themselves, and interviews with fans (“Banksy Hunters”), critics, art experts, and both working-class Joes and an upscale gallery owner leaping at a chance to make money. Most fascinating are spontaneous responses like the guys in East New York who charged people $5 to photograph Banksy’s mural in their neighborhood. Or the group of do-gooders who immediately began restoring defaced murals. The film also provides a short history of graffiti art in NYC, including the recent destruction of 5 Pointz in Long Island City.

    No matter what one thinks of Banksy him(her?)self, the movie is an interesting – and enjoyable – examination of the question “Who owns art?” Unlike the excellent Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy had no input into this film (as far as we know). But it is an equally good embodiment of the artist’s work, message and cultural relevance. Banksy Does New York is currently airing on HBO.

    Still Dreaming; Genevieve Russell

    Still Dreaming; Genevieve Russell

    One of several films making their world premiere at the festival was Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller’s Still Dreaming, a lyrical and honest film about the residents of the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, N.J. It documents the efforts of Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, two young theater directors who approached the assisted living facility for retired entertainers with the idea of mounting a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Initially residents react with both enthusiasm and trepidation. Says one former actor about performing onstage, “Nothing else replaces it,” adding, “Bingo is the most mindless thing I can think of.” Confides another elderly but game participant, “I still hope that I can make something of myself that people can remember.”

    Still there are myriad physical and mental infirmities — including dementia and memory loss — to deal with, aside from the usual clash of personalities that are part of any theatrical production. The road to the production is a series of adjustments, setbacks and moments of transcendence. Brody and Steinfeld are challenged at every turn, but maintain their humor and mission for the most part (the film includes one shattering blow-up with a particularly vociferous resident). The filmmakers meld humor and pathos without veering too far into “cute” territory that often shades documentaries about seniors. They include beautiful outdoor scenes of nature that reflect the magic of Midsummer’s theme (somehow transforming suburban New Jersey into a seemingly enchanted forest!). Obvious, though never pushed, are the parallels between the actor/residents and play’s characters regarding what is real and what is imagined. Still Dreaming is currently seeking distribution.

    More information, including festival highlights, at docnyc.net.

    Marina Zogbi

  • People Get Ready

    People Get Ready

    Brassland recording artists People Get Ready will open for Blonde Redhead on upcoming dates including  Tuesday (November 26th) night at The Bowery Ballroom.

    The Brooklyn based band released a new album (Physiques) this past June to exciting reviews.

    The band is known for high energy live performances which showcase a blend of rock and performance art.  NPR’s Bob Boilen, placing their performances among his top 5 concerts two years running, put it best: “No single show took my breath away the way this one did- part rock concert, part performance art, part dance, all perfectly melded together. Having seen so many dudes with guitars … it was incredibly refreshing to find a group challenging and changing the norm.”

    The first thing I thought was- sounds like an Art for Progress event!

    I caught up with Steven Reker from the band to learn more about these multidisciplinary artists, and here’s what he had to say.

    How did the band come up with the name People Get Ready?

    I was at a play and one of the actors said ‘…people get ready…’ in his dialogue – the phrase stayed with me. Then I named the first piece I did at The Kitchen (before the band was a band) People Get Ready and as the project developed we just kept the name.

    Are the band members originally from New York or are they transplants?

    We’re transplants – mostly. Jen and I are from Arizona – James comes from California – and Booker is from Nyack, NY.

    Which artists/bands have been the most influential?

    With the new album we drew influences from bands/artists like Suicide, Deerhoof (Greg Saunier produced it – so that was a given), Scott Walker, David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, and Terry Riley.

    How has the band’s music evolved with the new album?

    Since we had the chance to hole up at The Clocktower Gallery for 2 months and not feel the pressure of having to finish the record in a short amount of time, it really opened up the process for us. For instance, we made a decision to not track vocals or even introduce vocal melodies until we completely finished a song instrumentally – which is an idea we took from Bowie when he was making Low and Heroes. We had the chance to play and experiment, and Greg was a wonderful producer – always chiming in with ideas and questions and pushing us into new areas. I think due to that we made a record that reflects the band’s varied interests while still focusing on pleasure.

    Which band members write the music and lyrics?

    This record started out as a bunch of sketches that I wrote and we collectively fleshed them out. I wrote the majority of the lyrics and melodies. Jen and I collaborated on a few tracks and she wrote the sketch for the track ‘Jealousy.’ It’s our most collaborative effort yet.

    In one word describe the band’s live performances?

    (f)risky

    Does the band improvise much when performing live? Do the set lists change?

    There is some room for improvisation musically. And I improvise most of my movements on stage as well. We’re always mixing up the set list too.

    Art for Progress provides music and art programs in the NYC public schools.
    Did any of the band’s members attend public school in NYC or in another city?
    If so, were the art programs sufficient?

    I went to a charter high school for the arts. The arts programs changed my life and are partly responsible for why I still participate and work in the performing arts. The programs were sufficient – but could always use more support!

    – Frank Jackson

  • The last couple of weeks have been have been a bit of a new chapter in the AFP Young Adult Music Enrichment Program. In addition to our normal regimen of band coaching, vocal exercises and singing work, and getting into some jazz chart analysis; the fellas ventured out with me for the first times to check out some live music. They came to my solo acoustic set at the AFP hosted Déjà vu show at the NoOSPHERE Art Space on the Lower East Side and to see my band, Bad Faces play at a loft party in Bushwick, plus, AFP Executive Director Frank Jackson took Jason, Alex, and me to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to a fantastic show by Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio!

    TVOTR at the ApolloWe had a few nice sessions since my last entry, and Statik Vision is sounding better and tighter than ever, with the new songs gelling and settling into themselves. We have mostly been working on locking in tempos and the timing of transitions. We’ve also been working with the vocals to find the best placement of the lyrics. Interestingly, the sound of the band is evolving to be more stylistically broad, while at the same time crystallizing into it’s own unique thing. It was a refreshing change last week to have T-10 guitarist Wesley Payano show up to do some shredding as well.

    We also continued our journey down the rabbit hole of jazz theory as Alex and I pursued an in depth analysis of the chord chart for “At Last”, defining the function of each chord and identifying key changes in the song form. We have a lot more work to do on this stuff, but it was good to break the seal and start to get down to the inner workings of the chord voices in the progression.

    As I said earlier; it was a pleasure to have the guys come to the Déjà vu art show for my acoustic set and to see Jeremy Dannenman work his solo tenor sax magic. It was, also, an honor and a pleasure to have them come to a party in Bushwick to see my band, Bad Faces perform live. We usually play in 21 and over venues so it was a rare treat for me to have them there, and made the performance more meaningful for the band as well.

    Lastly, we got to go to the Apollo Theater! Frank let me know the day of the show that he had gotten better seats for us to see TV On The Radio, and wanted to know if any of the students wanted to come and use the pair of extra tickets he had bought earlier. I texted the boys, and fortunately Jason and Alex were able to meet up with us and check out the concert. I thought it was a great show, and although I was only able to talk to Jason and Alex for a few minutes after the show, they seemed to have a good time despite some serious performance envy!

  • The Bowery Electric played host to APF’s Homegrown show with Animal Talk, VHS Collection, Cheap Satori and goodbyemotel this past Wednesday night. The show celebrated the recent release of goodbyemotel’s new album iF, which came out earlier that week, and was the band’s first gig post-album release. The record took two years to finish, but the wait was well worth it for the band returned to the stage with great new songs and as strong of a performance as ever.

    IMG_2752

    Animal Talk

    Boston’s Animal Talk opened the night with indie pop that you can’t help, but dance to. Songs like “Mama Was A Teenage Rocker” and “Tie Me Up” had the audience shuffling along right from the start. There’s something truly infectious about their combination of pervasive drums and soft vocals that keep you bopping along. “Dirty Feelings,” which opened their set, showcased vocalist/guitarist Steven Kilgore’s impressive range. He floated up to the high notes in “Monster” with ease. The band’s original work was a lot of fun to jam along to, but perhaps the unexpected highlight of Animal Talk’s set was their cover of “Poison.” It was a welcome surprise that drummer Greg Faucher gave away as soon as he began those telltale opening bars on the drum machine. Kilgore again rose to the occassion, singing the Bell Biv DeVoe classic with no difficulty.

    Cheap Satori took the stage next to deliver PJ Harvey-esque piano-driven indie rock. It was a step down in energy when compared to Animal Talk, but the band showed potential at a different speed. At one point during their set keyboardist Graham Corrigan and vocalist Katie Dranoff paired off to play the first song they had written as a band, leaving the other band members Daniel Halasz, Zachary Gould and Zachary Romano to greet the small army of friends/family that awaited them in the audience.

    goodbyemotel

    goodbyemotel

    The main act, goodbyemotel, came next. A healthy crowd had gathered, which included vocalist Gustaf Sjodin Enstrom’s family from Sweden. Bassist Tom Marks and the rest of the band had to quiet the crowd and did so somewhat successfully. Marks laughed at the instinctive “shhhh!” that quickly spread through the audience, adding, “Don’t you just love a good shush?” before launching into the iF opening track “Hurricane.” The first thing you notice about the song and much of the album is the drums. Paul Amorese’s imaginative and booming drum lines are easily one of the best parts of a goodbyemotel show. Another notable part was David Schmidt’s twinkling piano in “Set It Off” off of the band’s EP People. It was the only track they included off of their old release. Mainly and understandably the band played off of iF, including songs like “The Fall” and “Please Rewind.” They then played the second unexpected cover of the night and seamlessly bled the final measures of “Bending Shadows” into Radiohead’s “No Surprises.”

    IMG_8875

    VHS Collection

    The show ended with electronic indie rockers VHS Collection. Inevitably some of the crowd had filtered out by that point in the night, but vocalist/guitarist James Bohannon, guitarist Conor Cook, keyboardist Nils Vanderlip and drummer Adam Benha played on. It was another short set, but Bohannon sang with raspy vigor, gripping the mic with all his might. They opened with rhyme-heavy, unexpectedly catchy “Lean On Your Friends.” The band will be playing another show at Drom on December 12th, which will be well worth attending if their Bowery Electric appearance is any indication of the quality of their live show.

     

  • Chris Ofili has been producing paintings for the past two decades that have managed to captivate and bewilder audiences. A member of the Young British Artists– a group of British artists who began exhibiting together in 1988, Ofili managed to distinguish himself from the rest early on.  In “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” which on display at the New Museum through January 25 many works spanning his illustrious career are on display. The exhibition was organized by Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s artistic director, its curator, Gary Carrion-Murayari; and assistant curator Margot Norton.

    Ofili was Born in 1968, to Nigerian parents. At age eleven, he and his  family moved back to Nigeria. Ofili went onto attend the Chelsea School of Art where he received his BFA in 1991 and then the Royal Academy of Art in 1993. It was these early experiences with living abroad and his art training, which would play an influence in the work he would create. In 2003, he was the recipient of the prestigious Turner Prize and also represented the United Kingdom in the Venice Biennale the same year. Much of Ofili’s work deals with issues surrounding race, class and gender which is evident in the work featured in “Night and Day.”

    Chris-Ofili_New-Museum

    The exhibition spans three floors of the New Museum’s space and explores six distinct bodies of work that Oifli produced over the last twenty years. When you first enter the galley space, you are confronted by over seventy small framed paintings. These works entitled, Afromuses (Couples) consists of twenty-six diptychs done in water color and pencil of various couples in different poses and outfits. Another series of them, Untitled (Afromuses) features sixty four parts and is done of various men, women and children. These small paintings were produced from 1995 to 2005 and were typically done in one sitting. The portraits cover almost an entire gallery wall and the sheer number of them is overwhelming.

     

    Harem-2-9-images-447x600

     

    Within another room on the same floor there are several paintings from the 1990s would come to define Ofili’s distinctive style— textured, painted canvases which use several kings of materials including elephant dung, resin, paint and glitter. During this time, Ofili was drawing from a variety of sociocultural sources ranging from religious iconography to Blaxploitation films. Many of these earlier paintings are shown sitting against the wall on top of small, intricate, vessel like objects which becomes part of the work. One such painting is The Holy Virgin Mary, which was part of the traveling exhibition Sensation. This painting sparked debate in 2000, while on display at the Brooklyn Museum prompting then mayor Rudy Giuliani to describe the work as “sick.” The Holy Virgin Mary was also defaced during that exhibition as well. There is also another series of paintings from the early 2000s which are also featured on this floor. These specific images use a black, red and green pallet which is in direct reference to Marcus Garvey’s pan African movement. Despite the limited color palette, they are vibrant and full of life.

    1996-The-Holy-Virgin-Mary.200-450x600

    The third floor features paintings that were produced during Ofili’s 2005 move from London to Trinidad which pushed his work into a new direction. This transition allowed for the development of his “Blue Riders” series. The name comes from “from the early twentieth-century artist group that sought spirituality by connecting visual art with music.” Ofili has gone on to develop this work and within “Night and Day” there are nine paintings which are being featured together for the first time in “architectural space which was designed by the artist.” These works are mostly composed in blue colors which seek to illicit “the blue light of twilight and the soulfulness of blues music.”

    Ofili’s most recent pieces feature complex landscapes, characters from folklore and seem reminiscent of artists Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin. The exhibition also includes work from the “Metamorphosis” series. Taking it’s name from a poem with the same title by “Ovid which illustrated the ancient Roman author’s stories of gods and humans, including the tale of the goddess Diana and the hunter Actaeon.” It is both the complex subject matter of his work and the lush imagery that Ofili produces which makes this exhibition one that is not to be missed.

    “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” is on display at the New Museum until January 25th.

    –Anni Irish