High Museum of Art: Films

ALAMAR by Linda Dubler

Alamar screens on Friday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre.

By Linda Dubler. Interview by David Jenkins.

Alamar means “to the sea” in Spanish, but to those who don’t speak the language, it’s a word that suggests the rhythmic pounding of waves and the incantatory power of a magic spell. The film, made by Pedro González-Rubio, opens our 25th Latin American Film Festival, and is unlike any Mexican movie I’ve seen over the many years I’ve been programming the LAFF.  It’s a hybrid of fiction and documentary, and in its grace, purity, and ravishing beauty, it’s an antidote to the pervasive darkness we find in both life and cinema these days.  
Jorge and Natan in Alamar


Alamar is a love story about the relationship between a father and his young son and their connection to a way of life and a place that seem to be timeless, but are in fact fragile and endangered.  Jorge, who has the profile of an Aztec warrior and the body art of a modern hipster, is calling it quits with his son’s mother, who will be taking Natan with her to live in Rome, Italy. But for a few weeks, Jorge and Natan will spend time together in a fisherman’s shack on the Gulf of Mexico, a place called Banco Chinchorro, which is home to an unspoiled coral reef. Along with an older man who Jorge addresses as “grandfather,” they’ll catch barracuda with nothing but a nylon line, hook, and bait, dive for lobster, sleep in hammocks, and court the attentions of a beautiful white egret that Natan names Blanquita — the only female in their manly company.

How much of Alamar was pre-meditated and how much unfolded in front of the camera? On the screen the film looks organic and completely unstudied.

This interview with the director, which originally appeared in Time Out London, reveals his working process. The young Mexican director explains his dreamy father-son fishing trip movie to David Jenkins.

 Mexican-born director and London Film School graduate Pedro González-Rubio made his debut in 2005 with ‘Toro Negro’, a documentary about a hapless bullfighter. His new film ‘Alamar’, which picked up the top prize at the 2010 Rotterdam film festival, blends elements of documentary and fiction to tell the story of a young boy’s visit to his fisherman father.

 What sort of techniques did you learn at film school that you used in ‘Alamar’?

‘Film school is good. They teach you the basics, the technical aspects of filmmaking. But it doesn’t teach you taste or give you interests. That comes from your own creativity, life and experience. I enjoy finding out about places and people who are not part of my everyday life.’

 Which elements of the film did you write and which were real?

‘I came up with the idea of the trip. I also came up with the story. I didn’t write any dialogue – that’s why there hardly is any. I wanted to portray how the bond between father and son would get stronger and stronger than suddenly, when you least expect it, they get separated. When it came to the earlier scenes, where the boy is packing his bag for the trip, my direction was hands-off. I wouldn’t tell them where to sit or where to stand: they would just do it naturally. I was more like a guide.’

 Can you tell us about the father?

‘Even though it feels like he comes from the area where the film is shot, it’s not true. He comes from a village in the jungle. And he doesn’t fish. The location was very important for me as it’s a very visual film and I believe that a lot can be said with a good image rather than with dialogue. I like to portray the inner qualities of the characters and the location: the innocence of the kid, the purity of the landscape and the expansiveness of nature.’

 Did the presence of your camera affect the performers?

‘Not really. A bit for the father. He was very conscious of us and of his role. But when I focused more on fishing and on the physical activities in the film, he appeared more comfortable.’

 The impression from Europe is that directors from Mexico form an ad hoc community. Did any other directors help out with ‘Alamar’?

‘Yeah, there’s a filmmaker named Elisa Miller. She saw my work-in-progress and she told me what worked and what didn’t. She’s seven years younger than me. She made a film called “Ver Llover”, which won the short film Palme d’Or Award in Cannes in 2008. I think I am drawn much more to this younger generation, those in their mid-twenties. The older generation would ask me, “Where’s the drama? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the structure?” So I have to tell them that it doesn’t have a structure. I’m trying to use a different language to the norm.’

 Did you feel that the final product achieved what you set out to do?

‘Well, I knew that I wanted to let myself go rather than manipulating the elements in the location. I focused more on adapting to their daily routine and from there constructing a movie.’

 Are you working on a new film?

‘Not exactly. I am working on something new, but I think I’m going explore love from a female perspective. These two films have been about male characters. I think the next one has to be female.’

Ten Things about Pather Panchali by Linda Dubler
Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray

1.  From 1943 until 1956, when he became a full time filmmaker after the success of Pather Panchali, Ray worked for a British-owned advertising agency, beginning as a “junior visualizer,” and ending as the north Calcutta office’s art director.

2.  Ray met Jean Renoir when the French director was in Calcutta searching for locations and actors for his film The River. As Andrew Robinson recounts in his biography, Satyajit Ray, The Inner Eye, “Satyajit recognized in Renoir a real film artist — the first he had come to know — and drew strength for his own work from the knowledge that such a person existed. Forty years later, while receiving the Legion of Honor from the President of France in Calcutta, Ray told him that he had alaways considered Renoir to be his ‘principal mentor’.”

3.  In 1950, during a stay in London, Ray saw more than 100 movies, and was shaken to the core by De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. In a 1982 lecture he said, “I came out of the theatre my mind firmly made up. I would become a filmmaker. . . I would make my film exactly as De Sica had made his: working with non-professional actors, using modest recourses, and shooting on actual locations.”

Continue reading

The Beaches of Agnes by Linda Dubler
Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda

Just when I thought that I had exhausted every beach-related film theme apart from D-Day, along comes the American release of Agnes Varda’s latest autobiographical film, The Beaches of Agnes. Regulars to the High’s annual spring series French Film Yesterday and Today may remember that we showed Varda’s  similarly personal The Gleaners and I a few years back.

If Beaches doesn’t open commercially in Atlanta (it’s playing now in New York) , I’ll certainly include it in our 2010 edition of FFY&T. But spring is a long way off, so I’ll share a few impressions of the film now.

Though women played a major role as muses to the French New Wave of the 1960s (think Jean Moreau, Anna Karina, and Catherine Deneuve), Agnes Varda was the only female  director in that influential movement. She began her career as a still photographer, taking family photos in a Paris department store to support herself. When she felt the need to add words to her images, she turned to filmmaking.

The elfin Varda, now 81, introduces herself as a someone acting the role of a pleasingly plump old lady, a sly way of letting us know that fantasy and embellishment count as much as documentary truth in her playbook. Standing on the shore with the waves pounding behind her, Varda tells us that she believes that people hold landscapes inside themselves. “If we opened me up we’d find beaches,” she says.  Surrounding her are myriad production assistants, setting up mirrors in the sand. These mirrors capture the water (fluid and changing as memory) and announce the introspective, reflective, and fragmented form that her film will take.
Continue reading

Animation Fever by Linda Dubler
July 7, 2009, 1:57 pm
Filed under: General, High Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In anticipation of the upcoming Georgia Animation on Our Mind show on July 10 at the High, we thought you might like to learn more about ASIFA, the International Animated Film Association, which  was founded in 1960 in Annecy, France, home to one of the world’s most prestigious animation festivals. Visit their U.S. chapters at ASIFA HollywoodASIFA East, ASIFA Central, and of course ASIFA Atlanta.

Can’t wait until July 10? Here are three wonderful films:

Robert Breer’s stream of consciousness Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons

Oscar Fischinger’s  spirited The Mephisto Waltz

and Larry Jordan’s fantastical  Rime of the Ancient Mariner, narrated by Orson Welles

For more great animated films, news and links to animation sites, visit Cartoon Brew.

Linda Dubler

Welcome by Linda Dubler
June 11, 2009, 2:24 pm
Filed under: General | Tags: , , , ,

Welcome to the Films at the High blog. Regulars to the High’s film program have probably seen me hovering in the lobby before a show, or standing at the podium to introduce screenings.

But if you’re new to the High, I’m the Curator of Media Arts at the Museum, and my job is to run the screening series which takes place in the Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Theatre.  I came to the High in 1985 from IMAGE Film and Video Center (now Atlanta Film Festival 365) back in the days when there were still a few revival houses in Atlanta and VHS was the new thing. Since then, movies that never would have gotten theatrical release in Atlanta are available on cable TV and DVD, and anyone, city dweller not, can still see esoteric foreign films any night of the week.

The impact of these changes is that more people are watching great films but less often in communal settings. Sadly,  we’ve also joined the ranks of cities that are losing vital film critics in the local press.  For me, something is lost when films are seen in a vacuum —  when we experience cinema apart from fellow film lovers and cut off from critical dialogue. I know that I laugh harder at a comedy when I’m in a crowd, and find that anticipating the conversation I’ll have with friends about a movie is a big part of the pleasure of watching the movie itself. I hope that people coming to see films at the High find these kinds of connections here, and that this blog will be another way that we can share our passions, discoveries and responses to today’s film culture.

I’ll be posting about what I’m watching, about movies that relate to exhibitions on view at the High Museum of Art and commercial releases and what’s new on DVD.  I’ll share YouTube gems and recommendations from fellow staff members at the High and guest bloggers. Your input, suggestions and feedback will be key to making this a lively, relevant resource for movie lovers in Atlanta and beyond.

-Linda Dubler

Coming Soon by hmablogmaster

Films at the High wants to solidify our “cool-kid” status, so we’re trying something new this summer. Using this WordPress space, we’ll treat your eyes to top ten lists, Curator’s film picks and even some YouTube Film Festivals.

Something you’d like to see on the blog or a question for our Curator of Media Arts? Comment away!