Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)

1. Gestating since the release of A Quiet Passion in 2016, Terence Davies’ next film, Benediction, seems to be coming together at last. The film, a biopic following the life of WWI poet Sigfried Sassoon, has cast Dunkirk’s Jack Lowden in the starring role (Lowden was recently nominated for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award). Further details are scant, though filming is set to begin later this year. As for the film’s title, scanning through Sassoon’s work offers this from Storm and Sunlight: “And ye, close huddling Men, come forth to stand / A moment simple in the gaze of God / That sweeps along your pastures! Breathe his might! / Lift your blind faces to be filled with day, / And share his benediction with the flowers.”

2. Two more upcoming projects to get excited about: Khalik Allah (of Black Mother fame) recently announced that he’s almost finished with his next film (though that’s all the information we’re given). And Mark Jenkin, breakthrough writer-director of Bait, has begun work on his next feature, Enys Men, billed as an “ecosophical horror” and to be produced by Film4. “Set on a mysterious island crossed by ley lines and timelines, with only an ancient standing stone for company, Enys Men is the story of a woman haunted by echoes of both the past and the future.” In advance of last year’s New Directors/New Films festival, Chloe Lizotte spoke with the director.

3. Spike Lee has been named jury president of the upcoming 73rd Cannes Film Festival. “I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora to be named President of the Cannes Jury and of a main film festival,” Lee said in a statement. Praising the festival as the world’s “most important,” the director continued: “Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema.” And on the topic of festival juries, Cate Blanchett will be heading the International Jury of the Competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival. Lee and Blanchett will award the top honors of Palme d’Or and Golden Lion, respectively. (It’s worth noting that the previous year’s winners, Parasite and Joker, will compete for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in February.)

4. Two more major festivals begin this week, with IFFR kicking off on Wednesday, January 22 (full program here), and Sundance opening the following day (our complete cheat sheet here). Berlinale has announced the lineup for their newly-implemented competition, Encounters, boasting work from Cristi Puiu, Josephine Decker, and Matías Piñeiro. The festival’s artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, has been looking back on “the years of the Berlinale [he] did not get to experience as a viewer” on his blog, most recently writing on Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles—“perhaps for the first time, I sensed the character taking over the film.”

5. A little later on, the Acropolis Cinema will be hosting the fourth edition of its Locarno in Los Angeles film festival, opening February 13 with Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye. The Golden Leopard-winning Vitalina Varela (our cover-film and subject of a recent FC podcast) will play as the festival’s centerpiece. Jordan Cronk, Acropolis founder and curator of the event, recently wrapped up a decade in experimental film, one fostered through “connectivity, the democratization of technology, and larger sociological strides toward inclusivity.” For more on the history of the avant-garde, check out this essay by Tess Takahashi, which looks at lesser-known works of female filmmakers over the past century. (And as an on-topic bonus: EAI have made the recently-passed John Baldessari’s I Am Making Art available on their website.)

6. With all these festivals flourishing, it’s worth drawing attention to the China Independent Film Festival, “China’s last truly independent film festival,” which was “halted indefinitely” last week. “We believe that given the current local organizational circumstances, it has already become impossible to organize a film festival that truly has a purely independent spirit,” said organizers in a statement. The festival had been hounded by authorities for some time, often being forced to shut down temporarily, but, according to key organizer Zhang Xianmin, it seems that period of relative freedom is now over. “We are just back to the usual rule under the Party.”

7. Some variations on a theme: Film Forum is currently underway with Black Women: Trailblazing African American Performers & Images, 1920-2001, featuring over 60 films and special events, including a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. Not long after that series wraps, MoMA will present It’s All in Me: Black Heroines, featuring Jackie Brown, Support the Girls, and The Watermelon Woman, among others. And sometime between the two, we’ll be hosting one of our wonderful Free Talks, For Your Consideration: Actors of Color, where FC Editor-in-Chief Nicolas Rapold will be joined by Ina Diane Archer (who co-programmed the Film Forum event), Soraya Nadia McDonald, and Mayukh Sen.

8. The forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art has just acquired the Separate Cinema Archive, a collection of 37,000 objects relevant to African American film history from as early as 1904. “The Separate Cinema Archive will not only provide film scholars with incredible opportunities for research, this treasure trove will also catalyze important conversations about the inspiring narratives of American American perspectives represented through film,” said Sandra Jackson-Dumont, museum director and CEO. The collection of posters, photography, and other archival materials features work from Oscar Micheaux, Josephine Baker, and Sidney Poitier, among others.

9. Reverse Shot has posted their annual list of cinematic offenses—with Jojo Rabbit taking top honors. (This from Mark Asch: “The audiences who’ve embraced it should really be asking themselves why Waititi makes it so we have an even easier time identifying with a Nazi than JoJo has identifying with a Jew.”) The list features words from a number of FC contributors, including Violet Lucca, Julien Allen, and Michael Koresky, but it’s much more than just an overdue gripe: in between his (totally warranted) kvetching, Koresky finds time to sing the praises of Lucio Castro’s End of the Century, Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces, and Tom Mercier’s bum.

10. And last up this week, a twofer from The Baffler. First, James Pogue details the effect of the “IP era” on nonfiction writing: “We are now in the mature stage of a book-to-film boom that is quietly transforming how Americans read and tell stories—and not for the better.” And the second, from John Semley, who writes on two of his favorite 2019 films: “Taken together, Dark Waters and Uncut Gems offer complimentary visions of our epoch of perpetual crisis . . . Bilott’s motivation seems no less pathological than Ratner’s—his heroism forms in a vacuum.”

And on that mention of the Safdie brothers’ latest, we leave you this week with their quietly-released new short GOLDMAN v SILVERMAN (featuring the Sandman himself):