Sunday, March 29, 2020

Laura Spinney: “It Takes a Whole World to Create a New Virus, Not Just China” | The Guardian

A notable read, from expertise in the intersection of science and social history, from Laura Spinney, the author of "Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World", which is widely considered, "The Deadliest Disease in History". From which The Guardian's review of the book offers some, "Painful Lessons of the 1918 Flu Pandemic". Taking in the complexity of the market, class, poverty, and changes in agriculture and livestock farming in China, Spinney's “It Takes a Whole World to Create a New Virus, Not Just China”, weighs the consequences and benefits of, "The Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million into China’s Cities" expected to unfold over the course of the next decade, and the "Pitfalls that Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City". Considering their application to a country in flux, and to a people in dislocation, of which there are two coexisting and conflicting views in relation to their (and our) accelerated participation in globalization. From The Guardian: "The reason we shouldn’t call the Sars-CoV-2 virus causing global misery the “Chinese virus” is the same reason we shouldn't blame an outbreak of eczema on an upper arm where it originates: there is clearly a superficial weakness there, but the real cause lies elsewhere. All the evidence gathered to date suggests that the now notorious Chinese “wet markets” places selling live and dead animals for human consumption - provide an opportunity for coronaviruses to jump easily from animals to people. It happened with the Sars-CoV virus in 2002-3 - which was contained before it caused a pandemic - and it has happened again with its close relative, Sars-CoV-2."

"But to understand why the emergence of such zoonoses has accelerated in recent decades, you have to understand the forces putting those viruses in our path. They are political and economic. They have to do with the rise of industrial-scale farming concerns in China and the resulting marginalisation of millions of smallholder farmers. In order to survive, those farmers have moved into the production of more exotic species; animals that were once eaten only for subsistence. But the bigger operations have pushed the farmers out geographically too, as they have taken up more prime farming land. The smallholders have been forced closer to uncultivable zones such as forests, where bats - reservoirs for coronaviruses - lurk. The stars have aligned, and not in a good way, to channel bat viruses through intermediate mammalian hosts such as pangolins, and into humans. Even so, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, the problem could still be regarded as uniquely Chinese. But there are two reasons why that’s not true. First, with the opening up of China, its agribusiness has ceased to be wholly Chinese-owned. It is a big recipient of foreign direct investment Second, as the American pandemic expert, David Morens, and his colleagues pointed out last month in the New England Journal of Medicine we’ve been watching a similar drama unfold over a much longer timescale with influenza - the disease that has caused more pandemics in the history of humanity than any other. Flu viruses that infect animals, including poultry and pigs, have periodically spilled over into humans ever since we domesticated those animals millennia ago."

"But the factory farms that produce our food today ratchet up the virulence of those flu viruses just before they spill over. This ratcheting up has been documented in Europe, Australia and the US more than it has in poor or emerging economies, and it’s what gave rise to the last flu pandemic in 2009. The first cases of that pandemic were recorded in California, but nobody calls it the American flu - and it’s right that they don’t, if only because American farms aren’t wholly American-owned either. China, for one, has invested in them. It’s not just the industries that produce our food that are creating the conditions in which new zoonoses emerge. Logging, mining, road-building and rapid urbanisation are also contributing, and the profits from those are shared internationally too. “We have created a global, human-dominated ecosystem that serves as a playground for the emergence and host-switching of animal viruses,” wrote Morens et al. The resulting diseases are suffered locally at first, as is reflected in their names - Ebola and Zika virus diseases and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, to name just three - but the irony is that some of them, such as HIV and Covid-19, go on to become global. It’s hard not to see a terrible natural justice in that. That doesn’t mean China shouldn’t be held accountable for its shortcomings. Americans know where their weak points are - they include agricultural fairs, where pigs and humans come together - and they police them ferociously. Their infectious disease experts can detect a virus circulating in a herd and generate a vaccine to it within hours. The Chinese have got better at this lately. They now vaccinate their poultry flocks against a dangerous flu virus, H7N9, which first infected humans in 2013, for example. But nearly 20 years after Sars-CoV spilled over in a wet market, those places still appear to be a liability."

"Controlling that animal-human interface is obviously important, but it shouldn’t blind us to the bigger problem, which is those globalised industries. Economists use the term “tragedy of the commons” to describe a shared resource - common grazing land, say - that is spoiled by individuals acting in their own self-interest. It has been applied to the climate crisis, but as University of British Columbia geographer Luke Bergmann and his colleagues have pointed out it doesn’t quite fit what has happened here. In the case of these industries, it would be more accurate to say that they have excluded the nearly 8 billion of us who depend on the commons from participating in their governance. Yet we are bearing the costs of their industrial exploitation, in the form of pandemic disease. We have our share of responsibility, as individuals, in the foods we choose to eat and the lifestyle choices we make generally. There are a lot of us on this planet and sustaining us is costly. But as has become increasingly clear, these industries have decoupled themselves from consumer choice; they’re driving it rather than responding to it. It’s time we took back the commons, which means voting for politicians who will hold those industries accountable, rather than ones who deflect the blame. We need leaders who understand that the treatment for this particular eruption cannot only be topical, it has to be systemic too." Illustration: Eva Bee

Sunday, March 8, 2020

"Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" at Seattle Art Museum: Mar 19 - May 14 | “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini” | Sight & Sound

This past year's calendar at Seattle Art Museum has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. The longest continuously running series of its kind in the nation in fact, now in its 42nd year. This spring in collaboration with Cinecitta Rome, and co-presented with Festa Italiana, the museum's cinema programmer Greg Olson, brings "Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" to the big screen. Along with Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, and Carl Theodor Dreyer, Federico Fellini's work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s will appear on any critical assessment 20th century cinema. And rightly so. One needs look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence of the greatness of Federico Fellini's standing in the history of European cinema. Having begun under the guidance of Rossellini, while in the midst of his classic neorealist films, he soon found himself working as both screenwriter and assistant director on Rossellini's "Paisà", in which Fellini was entrusted to film the scenes in Maiori. Within a short span of years, he was introduced to Marcello Mastroianni, then a young theatre actor first seen by Fellini in a play alongside Giulietta Masina, and concurrently he contributed aspects of Rossellini's segment in the anthology film, "L'Amore". After traveling to Paris for a script conference around Rossellini's "Europa '51", Fellini was given opportunity to begin his first solo-directed feature, "The White Sheik".

His directorial debut having initially passed through other hands. When the film came to Fellini it was as a revised version of a treatment first written by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1949. At which time, the film's producer commissioned Fellini to rework the script. Its subsequent rejection by Antonioni led the film back to Fellini, and alongside Ennio Flaiano, it was re-worked into a spirited and lighthearted satire on the life of a newlywed couple. This would be the first of many fruitful collaborations between Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Fellini, the three men co-writing the screenplays of some ten films over the ensuing decades. In the first of another decades-spanning collaborations, the film highlighted the music of its composer, Nino Rota, who along with Mastroianni, and Fellini's future wife, actress Giulietta Masina, would all become constants in both his filmic and private worlds. One year following, what's considered the first of Fellini's films wholly his own, "I Vitelloni" found great favor with critics and a receptive public after its Silver Lion win (alongside Aleksandr Ptushko's "Sadko", Marcel Carné's "Thérèse Raquin", and Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu") at the 14th Venice International Film Festival. From here, flying over the expanse of a filmmography too rich and nuanced to surmise, a valiant and intimate account by Anthony Lane for the New Yorker, “A Hundred Years of Fellini”, borders as close to perfection as one could ask. Moving at varied trajectories though specific works, and eras, Sight & Sound’s centennial feature, “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”, offers up a richer array of particulars. In a quartet of pieces, they break down the maestro into four concurrent aspects, first beginning with his relationship to the Italian Neorealist movement, "Part One: The Neorealist", and the studio that was his great enabler, "Part Two: The Felliniesque and Cinecitta Studio".

From there we get a complex portrait of Fellini the man, both behind the camera and as a private and public citizen, "Part Three: Federico by Fellini", and the cast of regular collaborators and cohorts in his art, considered as both a theatre production company and extended family, "Part Four: La Famiglia Fellini". Foremost among them, the writing team of Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, which he retained from his earliest collaborations, alongside composer Nino Rota, production and costume designer Danilo Donati who's work appeared on many of the director’s more visually extravagant films, alongside Norma Giacchero for script supervision and continuity, actress Giulietta Masina, and Fellini's avatar and surrogate, Marcello Mastroianni. In a excerpt from a 1964 interview around "La Dolce Vita"'s production, The Criterion Collection presents this rich and disarmingly personal account of, "Marcello Mastroianni on Fellini". Further reading hosted by Criterion appears in a series of essential essays on the director's central films, "La Dolce Vita: Tuxedos at Dawn", "8 ½: When “He” Became “I”", "8½: A Film with Itself as Its Subject", "Paolo Sorrentino on Fellini’s Roma", "Roma, Rome: Fellini's City", "Amachord's Satire of Italian Provincial Life", "The Nights of Cabiria: My Kind of Clown", and "Fellini Satyricon: Not Just Friends". Of which, a majority will appear in Seattle Art Museum's centennial retrospective, including Fellini's two semi-autobiographical masterpieces, "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2", along with a set of earlier films, "The White Sheik", "Toby Dammit", and his first breakout, "I Vitelloni". From there, the series presents mid-period classics like "La Strada", "The Nights of Cabiria", and "Amarcord", fleshing out the body of his theatrical cinematic world with "Il Bidone", and "Juliet of the Spirits".

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pedro Costa’s “Vitalina Varela” and Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But..." at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 11 - 20

After its brief three night run at SIFF Cinema, Pedro Costa's Locarno Film Festival winner comes to the Northwest Film Forum for a more substantial run. Along with Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But...", Costa's “Vitalina Varela” represents a current vein of lower budget, formally exploratory, politically inflected cinema which the Swiss festival has become known for showcasing. With his most recent film, which is deserving of being seen for it's exquisite visual palette alone, Costa has refined the grain of his composite of non-actors, chiaroscuro lighting, found locations and stylized delivery to such an intense degree that it has achieved a kind of profound Newtonian coefficience. If anything, “Vitalina Varela” seemed more massive in it's density, uncompromising in its seriousness, and more determined to create an alternative to sentimental narrative closure and resolution. The story of its protagonist's mourning and rebirth continuing the Portuguese director’s observations on the residents of Fontainhas, with Ventura, and now Vitalina, as Costa's primary creative partners and subjects in a deeply saturated dramatic portraiture. Looking to his wider filmmography, there's clear reason why the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director is not lacking in champions. This all came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment.

It was the Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience. These describe the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work; the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically. The 2015 interview with Film Comment describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began a refinement of his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view. Through Film Comment's "House of the Spirits" and interview with the director at Locarno in 2019, Costa speaks at length on his inaugurating a radical form of collaborative nonfiction to meet these demands. Through which he has predominantly focused on the Cape Verdean immigrants that populated Lisbon's unlit labyrinths who disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. Costa turning to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy.

From this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th century masters, Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, and Kenji Mizoguchi, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films; they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides, (and literal underworld) depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as a portrait of his Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. A protagonist last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" enfolded a particularly oneiric passage. This "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, is in many ways a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city, passing through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.