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So Many Long Roads to Justice

Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

The Oscars are only a little over a week away now, and Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once carries on gathering momentum. On Sunday, Screen Actors Guild Awards went to Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and the entire ensemble. That’s four top prizes for a single film—a new SAG Awards record. Then on Monday, the Producers Guild of America gave its top feature award to Everything. “There is no stronger best-picture bellwether than the PGA Awards, which are voted on by a guild that shares significant member overlap with the academy,” notes New York Times Oscar watcher Kyle Buchanan.

Across the Atlantic, the César Awards, France’s rough equivalent to the Oscars, were presented, and for New Yorkers, the time is excellent. Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, currently running at Film at Lincoln Center through March 12, is showcasing a few of the winners.

Dominik Moll’s The Night of the 12th, for example, which took six top honors, including Best Film and Director, is an “austere Grenoble-set policier [that] raises questions about the prevalence of misogyny in French culture and the country’s high rates of sexual violence,” writes Beatrice Loayza in her overview of the FLC series for the New York Times. Loayza calls The Innocent, the winner of two Césars, a “punchy caviar-heist comedy,” and for Greg Nussen at Slant, the fourth feature directed by Louis Garrel is “his strongest to date, and by a considerable margin.”

On Tuesday, FLC and the Museum of Modern Art rolled out the lineup for New Directors/New Films. Running from March 29 through April 9, the fifty-second edition will open with Earth Mama. In her first feature, Savanah Leaf “digs into the familiar landscape of a Black mother facing an oppressive legal system and pulls from it the most unexpected and humanizing details,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Lovia Gyarkye.

“The brilliance of the selection of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles as the greatest film of all time in Sight and Sound’s 2022 critics’ poll is that the choice feels both subversive and merited,” writes Museum of the Moving Image curator-at-large David Schwartz. From March 31 through April 9, MoMI will present Jeanne Dielman and Its Roots, a series of films that inspired Akerman, particularly when she was living in New York in 1971 and 1972. Sight and Sound, in the meantime, has posted all the ballots cast by more than two thousand voters.

One last note before we turn to this week’s highlights. Cannes has announced that Ruben Östlund will preside over the jury of its seventy-sixth edition, running from May 16 through 27, and Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman and Melanie Goodfellow are already sorting through potential candidates for the lineup.

  • “Laying bare the typecasting of Black actors in the 1980s, Robert Townsend’s crackling directorial debut, Hollywood Shuffle (1987), is a satire that has lost none of its bite,” writes Aisha Harris at the top of the essay that accompanies our new release. Hollywood Shuffle is one of seventy-five films in what Slate and NPR are calling the New Black Film Canon, a chronological list with notes and comments from more than three dozen voters—critics, programmers, and filmmakers. Wesley Morris calls Hollywood Shuffle a “satire of racism in Hollywood that’s also a tragedy that still doubles as a documentary. You laugh, but it’s a heavy, complicated, sad kind of laughter.” Townsend himself, who talks with Jim Hemphill at IndieWire about the film’s making, comments on such new canon entries as Ivan Dixon’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), Michael Schultz’s Cooley High (1975), F. Gary Gray’s Friday (1995), and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love and Basketball (2000).

  • This new canon is an update of Slate’s first version, which was put together in 2014 and ran to fifty titles. Perhaps in another seven years, the canon will expand to a hundred films and include Cauleen Smith’s Drylongso (1998). Recently restored by Janus Films, Smith’s only feature to date will open at FLC on March 17 along with two programs of Smith’s shorts. In Drylongso, art student Pica (Toby Smith) senses that the Black men around her in Oakland are disappearing and begins shooting Polaroid portraits as “evidence of their existence.” Kathleen Collins’s Losing Ground (1982) and Leslie Harris’s Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992), both of them New Black Film Canon entries, are examples of “films that told me that this was possible,” Smith tells Marya E. Gates at “When all the LA Rebellion films were finally released, I literally wept. Because I thought, what would I have known or what would I have been able to think about if [I hadn’t] seen these films when I needed to? It’s very much about having access to this catalog of aesthetic decisions that are so important to any artist.”

  • In order to access a film, it has to exist in the first place. Celluloid “lives and dies, just as subject to deterioration as any one of us,” writes Charles Bramesco in the Guardian, and as Inés Toharia emphasizes, the same is true of digital media. Bramesco talks with Toharia about her “edifying visual essay,” Film, the Living Record of Our Memory, which is screening in Seattle before heading to Los Angeles,Chicago, and Philadelphia. “We’re producing more than ever, but we’re not taking care of it,” says Toharia. “Digital advances have made a much wider array of cinema available much more quickly, but it’s far from perfect. It doesn’t last either, it’s just different issues of preservation.”

  • Ulises de la Orden’s The Trial, screening on Sunday as part of MoMA’s Doc Fortnight, is another sort of herculean preservation effort. More than 530 hours of footage shot during the 1985 trial of members of the military junta who committed atrocities during Argentina’s dictatorship were recorded on U-matic tapes. De la Orden began tracking them down in 2013 and eventually teamed up with an NGO. “The more I was having trouble accessing the material, the more I wanted to obtain it,” he tells Clara Miranda Scherffig at Screen Slate. He and his team spent nine months shaping the material into a three-hour narrative. “This trial was the first time in history in which democratically, just with ordinary justice and without external power, our country held its own genocide [culprits] accountable and condemned them,” he says. “It’s the base stone for a judicial power that is still going on, so it’s a story bigger than Argentina: it’s about how we can produce justice and what justice is useful for.”

  • In a sidebar to his remarkable piece for the Ankler, David Vincent Kimel explains why he spent $15,000 on a draft of the screenplay for Gone with the Wind (1939). The story he’s uncovered and delves into in fascinating detail is of a “civil war” between two camps of writers, the “Romantics,” who saw in Margaret Mitchell’s novel a requiem for the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, and the “Realists,” who resisted attempts to whitewash the brutality of the antebellum South. The tale behind producer David O. Selznick’s “decision to entertain scenes showcasing the horrors of slavery before deciding to cut them has never been told (in addition to scenes of Rhett Butler’s suicidal ideation with a gun, and even a cross-dressing rioter). If not for Selznick’s choices to err on the side of white pacification, he could have altered the course of one of the most celebrated—and disgraced—movies ever made.”

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