Tripping: Selections from ND/NF: Upstream Color dir. by Shane Carruth



Shane Carruth  (USA)

“They could be starlets” is repeated as if a poem, finding a transcendent moment in an otherwise creepy story.

Upstream Color is very much part of a shift to post-2012 in how it breaks into a sci-fi reality most have never considered. Does it have an ethos? Does it need one? Is it just an experiment?

Amy Seimentz is our Juliette Binoche, naked in her role throughout, as her character is drug-raped and then made to go through a series of training experiments, only to give away her money and identity as she knew it. As drugged Kris, she is also not unlike Edie Sedgewick, who gradually re-emerges as an empowered Kris. Carruth as the director/actor/everyman here works, but I am also conscious of him as the actor in the lead role. It makes it harder to get swept up in his character, but Seimentz’s Kris sweeps you up plenty.

A review by way of a riff:

We have the potential for soul mates.

Love is re-orientation.

Emotional/biological lives may entwine in the form of swine.

Hands can penetrate another reality.

There is a wholistic reality and a skewed one.

There may be wormholes under your skin.

Things naturally move upstream.

Human nature revisits itself.

Carruth’s use of Thoreau’s Walden as a device makes for coincidences.

As a director, Caruth says he was “tripping” on Walden.

The characters are tripping on Walden, as they are busy re-humanizing/re-integrating/recalibrating their disorientation.  Carruth says  he is interested in “personal narrative removes”  and what that does to the characters. The characters have to process their reality constantly.

There is a blue to yellow revelation.

Production value/design is styled to match the currents in each section of the film.

Carruth often chooses microscopic views that show  just what is in the frame.

Carruth does it all, sound recording, mixing and re-mixing and recreating natural sound.

There is a constant and consistent micro/macro level to the unfolding of the storyline, and this is one of the tropes that really works, along with the thing  that makes its way under Kris’s skin.

I am quite moved by my own disorientation and queasiness, as if we all have to reset ourselves to move forward in the new multi-layered dimensions of our time on earth as we know it. It got beneath my skin.  I want to spend more time with Carruth, Thoreau, and what might be starlets.


Tripping: Selections from ND/NF 2013: TOWHEADS dir. by Shannon Plumb



Shannon Plumb  (USA)

As mother creator, Plumb’s Penny already has superpowers, but she feels like a failure as an artist. Penny faces the futility and humility of being a mother living in Brooklyn with her two kids and unavailable husband.  Like Gena Rowlands, she shines continuously. Plumb can take any moment and turn it around to comic space and personal triumph;  “I Love Penny” instead of “I Love Lucy” . The challenge:  she can’t get out from under her role as wife and mother, nor rehearse her ideas or gain an audience. She works against the threats of loss of identity via play. She acts out when her sense of power seems lost in the world; using an unspoken “as if”, she encounters  the mundane by countering it character-“on”. The normal world, the promise of the win, the championship, is the storyline. We don’t have a trophy mom, but a mom who wants her natural birthright as an artist. Her kids are also her trophies. One of them gives her the hint to get superpowers: overcoming the fear of just doing “it”. The discovery of what “it” is leads the story.  Along the way, we are privy to the process of Penny’s daily development as an artist (or regression), which confirms that truth is stranger than fiction.  Penny’s transition out of stagnation, her challenge to get into characters, her surrender into motherhood, her development as an artist, her toil, her resolution/touchdown, is nothing other than a heroine’s journey.

Stylistic details are never lost on Plumb, like leaving a big tag on her character’s hipster coat. Physical gags are big: keeling over,  tripping oneself, silent film gags, Keaton, Chaplin. Changing identity, disguise, Cindy Sherman, audacity/tryouts for your own part, your own life’s stakes, is all included.

Plumb’s directorial approach is akin to Miranda July, and the French directors Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Noemie Lvovsky in self-creating a self-consciously winning comedic edge. Like the self-styled characters in those films, Plumb’s Penny is “not playing”, really not playing (plenty of winks), yet totally playing it up.  She is subversive, both as Plumb and Penny, with a madcap relationship to the camera. Her raison d’etre:  BEAT THE ODDS.  There is a continuous business of relating to the environment, whether a pole-dancing lounge, or her secret artist space where she locks herself in.

Anyone will break into an irrepressible grin on their face at some point whether they have children or not, and will also take profound delight in Penny’s parade of spontaneously created characters. Penny overcomes the sad oppression of her situation by getting into character and transcending reality.

Plumb terrific.

Tripping: Selections from ND/NF 2013: LEONES dir. by Jazmin Lopez



Jazmin Lopez (Argentina/France/The Netherlands)

LEONES location is in nature, and it trembles and shudders surrounding its characters; a group of kids waft through the forest like a band of merry travelers. The film exerts its impact like a Japanese koan or the prose of Jorges Luis Borges. Six-words at a time (“the Hemingway game”) bubble out of the kids’ mouths, their backs turned to us, a game they play. One kid listens to a recording of the group’s dialogue (in the present or the past?), threaded with classical music as the group speaks to each other in real time. The forest mountain sea landscape is lush, fresh, verdant; its characters, like the landscape, know everything and nothing. “What if you lived in a world where there was nothing?” Isa asks Sophie, who wonders if she is tripping. The kids are as ephemeral, almost as levitating, as their dialogue.  Not one syllable uttered is thrown away or superficial. All speeches ring profound as if in a play. It may strike us as a contemporary “Meshes of the Afternoon” in the way we look at the kids and their objects, with an eerie feeling.  The world reverberates and throbs, pulsing with Sonic Youth’s “Do You Believe in Rapture?” One is completely brought into the rustling of the trees, and into the wordplay of the kids and their indomitable spirit.  Six characters are in search of themselves, each other, a house. If they are also in search of an author, is it the audience or the forest itself? When the house is found, there is no way in. Isa gets lost in a field of pink and purple flowers, and curses for the first time about “this fucking place”. Straight out of her previously wondrous state of mind, she finds herself in a potential hell realm. She later has an excruciating revelation about death. The other kids are “gone”. Her mortality is at stake.  That gash on the nape of her neck starts to make sense. She changes landscapes and makes a beeline for the ocean. Lopez’s film effectively dislocates her characters and audience. Leones begs the question “Do we believe in rapture” when there is a rupture in reality?

Tripping: Selections from ND/NF 2013: STORIES WE TELL dir. by Sarah Polley


Sarah Polley  (Canada)

STORIES WE TELL is a masterful autobiographical story of actual and archival events; a docu-narrative mosaic about Sarah Polley’s enchanting mother who dies when Polley is young, and the possibility that she has a different bio father from all her siblings. The story is unbound as a release of truth from all sides.   Polley’s mother connects and disconnects the dots. Polley holds the space for her family to speak freely. She also plays with them a bit, lets there be a montage of reactions to her line of questioning, and gives them the chance to be silent with their memory, or having expressed it, to own it. Her brother Johnny is her casting director, and in his inherent charm almost steals the show as Polley’s mother might. Polley, an actor in her own right, and a successful director of other non autobiographical non docs, plays it straight, giving everyone else their voice. She asks her own father (but is it?) to repeat lines he himself wrote, whether for emotional emphasis, for him to realize what he’s written, or for her to digest, or for the audience to register. In a fascinating turn, we don’t quite know how she feels, though she’s an actress, and her skill here is in not playing a character. She holds back, as a quarter turn to her mother in absentia holding forth. Polley is controlling the scenes but also she is retreating, for emphasis. She wants others to come across with the truths they’ve all withheld from her. She finds out the big news later in her life, (she admits it is a seismic shift), and is still in ways digesting it.  Nothing is funnier than when Polley is playing a Neanderthal, a screaming scene in a cave as she finds out that a journalist is going to run a story on her two fathers before she has spoken to the only person that doesn’t know yet. She runs out to a park dressed in her Neanderthal get-up, then pleads with the journalist not to run the story as people look on aghast. This scene is quite winning and gives the film a wide berth of comic relief for the serious turn the plot has just taken.

There are recreations of actual archival footage mixed in with archival footage, interwoven with interviews with the actual family members. As an audience, we are tripping with Polley and her mom, not even noticing which scenes are recreations and which are archival.  The only actual interview we don’t get is with Polley’s mom. The whole film exists because of her, and pivots on the truths behind her non-stop movement while alive. Polley, as director, gives her mother the starring role in memoriam, and squares her own history right into the present perfect.

Menace: Selections from 2013 New Directors/New Films: Shorts Program 1


2013 ND/NF Shorts Program 1

As a menacing group, these shorts become ever more violent in sequence, and all host shocking reversals. Each film pushes their central characters to a state of disorientation, bewilderment, or reckoning. All stack their themes moment-to-moment, impacting their human threats, each director going for the tone inherent in the irreversible turning of events.


Peter Kerek’s WONDERLAND (Romania) charts the path of a boy who manages objects to manage his emotions. In the sparse kitchen of his home, he stashes a biscuit in his coat pocket, where its fate will later be decided. Along with his mother, the boy enters a wealthy house. A man offers a drink to his mother.  The boy wants to quench his thirst for a Pepsi promised by the man, but not delivered. He wanders through the man’s house, haunted with its wares glaring at him – from the heads of animals pegged on a wall to whole hairy heads of pigs. There is much irony in a black-haired pig’s snobbish snout sticking up in the air atop a counter, while the boy gets drunk on the floor with his treasure of Pepsi, and the mother tries to resolve her pressing situation by offering herself sexually. The boy continues to create an excess all his own. They must leave the house immediately, only for the boy to be left outside while the mother returns inside the gate. This dark fairytale, it’s heavily seductive atmosphere, and the boy’s innocence vs. wanton desire, treads an obsessive path wherein the boy’s handling of objects, and his limited/unlimited options read as bleak wonder.



Jordi Wijnalda (USA/Turkey)

Wijnalda undertakes the emotionally definitive operations surrounding SOUTHWEST’s Turkish border crossing. In the exigency of helping illegal immigrants, a Dutch mother must decide how much she will allow her estranged son to re-enter her life at a crucial moment in her preparations. Her allegiances are so crammed with intensity she cannot process how far her heart lies distant from her own flesh and blood. She must decide whether to make a crossing of her own heart’s borders. Everyone is completely committed to cross the borders they intended. The mother is caught between helping the couple, and her seemingly good-natured son, even when he gives her news of her granddaughter. When she suddenly has to seek his help, an open-ended turning point is forged. Wijnalda’s wrenchingly visceral short belongs to a feature length production.



Sofia Babluani (France)

Marie does not speak. The first image is a question of Marie’s identity. She is adopted, though silent Marie clearly has a good relationship to her father and sister. A wayward Chechen girl arrives in their barn and the family lets her in. Marie, maybe for the first time, tries to interpret someone else’s gestures and language. She tries to emulate the other girl intruder/guest, by copying her Muslim prayer, by wearing the girl’s scarf. When the Police come for the runaway, the Chechen girl runs from the house, or does she? Therein lies a shocking reversal, and for the first time, Marie’s silence breaks, a startling shift in Marie’s willingness to assume her identity as other.


Mauricio Arango’s EVERYTHING NEAR BECOMES FAR (Colombia) recalls shards of Claire Denis’s “L’Intrus” in its juxtapositions, deep emotional spaces, and sharp edges (knives). The wild exterior versus the relatively open interiors where the people come and go, in this case, a young sexually attached couple, and gritty, lush and dangerous landscape. A creature, boar or a wild dog, reigns in the forest. Wild men with machetes prepare for an unknown action by a river. In the domestic life of the couple stands a still life of a tomato cut in half, black-bladed knife astride a black cutting board. On the faces of the couple, acceptance of their day ahead, both working, one in town, one on land. Then just by proximity, the danger, the wild, meets the lone young worker while he takes his lunch. The woman is left without a ride. The violent actions are taken, almost in a hush; the wild animal easily locates the human carcass. The wild men leave their mark on one lone individual. And everything near, like the tone of a loved one’s cell phone becomes far, pinging in the wilderness.   


Cyril Amon Schaublin’s STAMPEDE (Croatia) becomes the ultimate human-made wilderness. In a busy train station, it is clear from the title on black screen what violence the course of the film will take, though not how it will start, or subsequently, how it will happen. It pieces together, beautifully and menacingly, the moments of human beings going their way as in a dance. A public system is about to fail them. The follow up interviewees are effectively bewildered, flabbergasted speechless emotional-“I don’t know how it happened”. All builds to a climax in slow motion, while a dog sniffs through the humans for the unattended bag. The station conductors are on point until they have cause to sweat. A mother with her baby in a sling is left unattended in the center of the ensuing chaos, which rounds up like eggs in a batter. All hell at the center breaks loose in slow motion as people are led by a loudspeaker to move away from a platform, and as they pile into each other, details crack open, the glass face of a watch breaks, people mash together as if in a contact improvisation, a bad dream of arms and legs, this quite elegant dance of humans moving together through public space, never before so dependent on the other, becomes a nightmare over the course of 20 suspenseful minutes. One can imagine being as painfully aware as the victims of the stampede, and like some of inarticulate survivors, horrified.