Sunday, August 18, 2013

Adam Sekuler's 8 Years of Programming Excellence at Northwest Film Forum

This next season sees the final Northwest Film Forum calendar curated by Adam Sekuler. Adam's arrival in Seattle as Northwest Film Forum's programming director coincided with the end of the greatest decade of film I've personally bore witness to in the cinema. A decade where friends and myself would attend some 30-40 films annually in the Seattle International Film Festival which then encompassed kaleidoscopically diverse forms, styles and natures of film. From genre movies, to Horror, Sci-Fi and Anime, to more somber Arthouse and New Global Cinema, to Documentaries and Dramas. It was one of the greatest decades the festival has seen in it's 40 year run. With it's conclusion in the mid-2000's the void was to be filled by the visionary curatorial insight of the programming at Northwest Film Forum. If there was something written in the pages of the New York Times, Village Voice, Film Comment, Sight & Sound or Cinema-Scope, it was a good bet that between SIFF, Northwest Film Forum and the then-adventurous Landmark Theatres, there would be opportunity to see it. But this isn't about the shrinking forums and context to witness cinema in our city, it's instead an overview of Northwest Film Forum's near-decade of programming excellence. Eight years in which I saw such visionary series' as Hungary's marathon-take master of rain, time and darkness "The Harmonic Resistance of Bela Tarr" and the lesser know Japanese auteur of the familial melodrama, after Ozu and Naruse, Northwest Film Forum took a "Long Take on Mizoguchi". French New Wave outsider Rivett, without whom there would be no David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman "Lighter Than Air: The Films of Jacques Rivette", groundbreaking work from the Nordic regions, "Sisu Cinema: Nine From the Finnish New Wave" and century of sci-fi from Russian, "From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema". One of the film finds of my adult life, Portugal's new master of the ultra-minimal, "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa", the stunningly conceived retrospective of Japanese New Wave provocateur, "A Man Vanishes: The Legacy of Shohei Imamura", and another major find, the discovery of the films and installation work of the sublime Thai visionary, "The Short Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul". A trio by Japan's incomparable Studio Ghibli, which may have supplied my most perfect moviegoing experience to date; seeing "My Neighbor Totoro" with an audience of children in "Dream Screen: Three by Miyazaki". On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, transgressive urban tales of wayward ladies and cool Yakuza in "No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Cinema", more French New Wave wonders unnearthed in "The Labrynthine Alain Robbe–Grillet", the humor, satire and absurdity of "Miloš Forman’s Formative Films", and another great find of the decade from South America, "At The Edge Of The World: The Cinema of Lisandro Alonso". 

From other countries in Europe we got great German New Wave, "Divided Cinema: German Cinema at The Wall", the brilliant, dark, British detective procedural "Red Riding Trilogy", the return of some the greatest of South Korea's hyperviolent cinema with "Pan Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy". There was more greatness from Portugal with "The Portuguese Melodies of Miguel Gomes", and stunning documentaries from one of South America's greats in "Patricio Guzman’s Chile". Not many would conceive to program a series highlighting "New York Noise: Tales From the No Wave", and wondrous Czech absurdity, decadence and surrealism of "Jan Svankmajer: The Surreal Puppet Poet". Memorable times sitting in the dark of the Film Forum include the astonishing power of the Globalization Trilogy by Michael Glawogger including "Workingman's Death", "Megacities" and "Whore's Glory", with the director presenting the films in attendance, almost moving me to tears with his daring, passion, generosity and insight. The atmospheric, sociopolitical dramas of Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan were also a discovery, both his masterpiece "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia", and my personal introduction to his cinema with "Climates" seven years before. Other notable political programming depicted the ongoing battle between Iran's independent cinema and the results of the 2009 election, explicitly Jafar Panahi's "This is Not a Film". There was also more ridiculous meta-fare to be had with Guy Maddin's pastiche of silent and early cinema, his theatrical, absurd, grandiose, "Brand Upon the Brain" screened on the massive Cinerama screen with live symphony and Maddin himself as the evening's orator. We also saw French visionnaire Claire Denis' finest film of her career to-date, "35 Shots of Rum" along with other modern wonders from central Europe, Ulrich Seidl's brutal, humanistic, "Import/Export". The world-over was represented in Carlos Reygadas' rapturous, transcendental "Silent Light", Steve McQueen's directorial debut, "Hunger" and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's move into familial psychodrama with "Tokyo Sonata". We also saw the return of what may be China's greatest living filmmaker, in Jia Zhang-Ke's "24 City", the extended roadshow cut of Olivier Assayas' "Carlos" and Gaspar Noe's redefining of the technical scope of cinema itself with "Enter the Void".

After introducing me to his films back in 2005, with the mesmerizing fugue of "Tropical Malady", Northwest Film Forum was the one theater in town with the prescience to program Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palme d'Or winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". They were also the theater in town with the insight to know a W.G. Sebald "Rings of Saturn" documentary would find an audience, Grant Gee's "Patience (After Sebald)". Again they thought to book a return to the romantic postmodern lushness of Miguel Gomes' cinema with "Tabu". Yet more groundbreaking programming followed with the sensorial onslaught of Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab's Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor's "Leviathan" and their touching, intimate, "People's Park", both of which had their Seattle premier at Northwest Film Forum. Film Forum also had the insight to program Peter Strickland's hauntological genre homage "Berberian Sound Studio", Carlos Reygadas' return with his otherworldly and divisive "Post Tenebras Lux", and an extended retrospective of the heartbreaking, existential, magical-realist film of the Polish auteur, "Krzysztof Kieslowski: Revelations of the Human Soul". Great genre series were also had, like a summer of Samurai Cinema featuring Masaki Kobayashi, Hideo Gosha, Hiroshi Inagaki and Kihachi Okamoto "A Man, A Blade, An Empty Road". Striking one-offs included the most poetic and hauntingly original directorial debut I'd seen that decade, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's "Innocence". We also got a rare near-comprehensive overview of the work of my personal favorite of the Japanese post-War directors. His humanistic everyday depiction of modern life was my gateway into the Japanese film of the era, inspired in no small way by "The Enduring Cinema of Mikio Naruse". And last but not least, the occasion of my fifth viewing of what's considered one of the greatest films of all-time, Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story". These all only touching on some of Adam's insight, faith in his prospective audience, and vision as a curator. His time at the Northwest Film Forum has been a true urban, community-enhancing gift to us all over the course of these 8 years. I wish him the best in his European endeavors. Personally, professionally, culturally, his presence in our city will be missed.