Today we celebrate Chloé Zhao’s thoroughly deserved Best Picture and Best Director Oscar for Nomadland, with her equally beautiful and poignant feature debut, Songs My Brother Taught Me (2015, 94 mins,15).
Set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Johnny’s father dies suddenly, just as he is about to escape to a new life in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Aurelia. A largely absent rodeo rider, he leaves a wife, 13 year old daughter Jashaun, and a multitude of half-siblings, to contend with a seemingly endless cycle of tough lives and hard futures.
Whilst the romance between Johnny and Aurelia is both touching and genuine, the story increasingly revolves around Jashaun, an innocent soul precariously navigating a community forced to the margins, where violence against the indigenous population is never far away - historically, geographically, and socially.
Tempering this stark existence though, lies in how Zhao captures the majestic surroundings of the Dakota landscapes and the warm inner strength of her characters. With the impressive use of non-professional actors, she creates an authenticity to the film that is completely compelling.
With her first three features Chloé Zhao should rightly be regarded as one of our great modern filmmakers. In each, she gets to the true heart of the country, with a sense of melancholy, longing, and a deep intelligence, far from the privileged urban lives of most Americans.
This evocation of home is also drawn from Zhao’s lyrical use of narrative and lingering, contemplative silences, an atmosphere and emotional detail that is reminiscent of the great American author William H. Gass (himself North Dakotan by birth), in his collection of short stories, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, published in 1968 -
“Of course there is enough to stir our wonder anywhere; there’s enough to love, anywhere, if one is strong enough, if one is diligent enough, if one is perceptive, patient, kind enough – whatever it takes.”
Songs My Brother Taught Me is streaming now on Mubi.
In partnership with Hyde Park Picture House, you can sign-up to MUBI with the first 90 days free. Sign-up here.
We will also be showing Nomadland where it belongs, on the big screen, when we resume our On the Road programme at the City Varieties from May 17th. Keep an eye on our website next week for more details.
To celebrate today’s Earth Day, our Hyde Park Pick is I Am Greta, (2020, 90min, 12) which is currently available on BBC iPlayer for the next year. Just like Greta herself, this documentary is an unflinchingly honest yet invigorating call for climate justice.
This compelling film alternates between glimpses of never-seen-before intimate footage, with the key iconic moments Greta is known for. This insightful footage celebrates her unrelenting strength and perseverance, yet the documentary is not frightened just as Greta is not, to honestly depict the unfathomable pressures, emotions, and criticism experienced by a shy 15-year-old girl student with Asperger’s.
However, through this personal insight into Greta’s childhood, family life and day-to-day existence, we are privy to what fuels Greta as an inspiration rather than what undermines her achievements.
Although this documentary is perfect for a young audience to educate and inspire, the film is also important and necessary for all. Make a pledge this Earth Day to make important small changes for yourself and push for necessary larger changes for climate action.
Intense and harrowing, Steve McQueen's debut feature film Hunger (2008) is a brutal and hard-hitting masterpiece. It skilfully stimulates all of your senses with very little dialogue, showing his directorial skill with no remorse and no holds barred.
This film is not overly dramatised or sensationalised, it doesn't attempt to pull on your heartstrings through passionate dialogue or a gut-wrenching soundtrack. It is honest and true, and depicts the fervent battle of the Republican prisoners of Northern Ireland to purely and simply reclaim what they believed most deeply in.
"Life and our experiences focused our beliefs differently", we are all a part of the same human race, we are all complex and intricate individuals. It is through pieces like this that one sadly realises that sometimes it is only when our fellow brothers are broken down to their most fragile form, that we can recognise ourselves in them. It is only with empathy and understanding that we can move forward as one. Only then can we understand our commonality.
And if you enjoyed Hunger and are particularly... hungry... for more Steven McQueen, I would highly recommend his 'Small Axe' films, particularly Lovers Rock, currently available on BBC iPlayer.
“Like nothing you’ve ever seen before!” is a commonly tossed around piece of hyperbole that films rarely live up to, but the 1977 Japanese film House (Hausu) is perhaps one of the few films that does.
A ludicrously entertaining horror-comedy, Hausu follows seven young girls as they visit the run down mansion of one of their eccentric Aunts - and, unsurprisingly enough, once night falls at the grand home, unusual things start to happen… If that plot sounds formulaic, don’t worry; to explain more would be to ruin the myriad of bizarre pleasures that the film offers.
Based partly on director Nobuhiko Ōbayashi's daughters’ nightmares (the then-10-year-old receives a writing credit), Hausu is filled to the brim with eye-popping DIY special effects, bizarre comedic non-sequiturs and marvellous levels of over-acting – whilst somehow managing to spare some time to sincerely reflect on Japan's grief after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hausu is very much a film that you just have to let happen to you, but once you tune into its particular brand of wackiness it’s a non-stop delight.
If you'd like to delve deeper into Hausu, this BFI article goes into some nice detail about the conception and production of the film. There's also an episode of the Dead Meat Podcast, which talks about it at length.
As you well know April 8th is Rex Manning Day, so today we are revisiting the 1995 classic, Empire Records directed by Allan Moyle. Charting 24 hours in the lives of the young employees of an independent record store, Empire Records opens with wannabe beatnik Lucas taking $9k from the store and losing it all at a local casino in a grand attempt to save the business.
Empire Records was panned on its release and its competition was pretty tough at the time – with 1995 also seeing the release of Indie royalty like Before Sunrise, Kids, Safe and, erm, Clueless (not Indie but blooming heck it’s great). Empire Records had a star studded and probably unreasonably attractive cast all delivering some pretty cheesy moments. All that aside, as a young teen stumbling upon the film it’s a pretty accessible and fun introduction to youthful rebellion and the roaring war of the Independents versus the chains that applies pretty neatly to every industry and hasn’t changed much in the 25 years since the film was released.
And why Rex Manning Day? Well, in the film this refers to a visit to the store by aging heartthrob Rex Manning who comes for a signing. A couple of years ago Ethan Embry, one of the young leads from the film, revealed that they selected April 8th as the day to have the visit because Kurt Cobain was found on the 8th of April making, it the day the music of the 90s lost its mascot.
It feels really wrong to suggest this given the theme we’re talking about but Empire Records is included on Amazon Prime, or for the perfect watch you’ll hopefully still have an old VHS tape ready to go.
After you’ve spent the long Easter weekend scoffing chocolate eggs, why not snuggle down into your nest and let our good friends at Scalarama Leeds hatch a special day of free cinema for you, dedicated to those ovoid wonders. Welcome to EGGFEST!
Scalarama Leeds have researched & shortlisted over five dozen features and shorts, each given their very own egg rating! See the full list here.
From this, they’ve curated four feature presentations and 25+ shorts, which will be screened online in four programmes, on Monday 5th April:
1.00pm: Programme One (Feature ) Laurel & Hardy: The Live Ghost (1934, U)
3.00pm: Programme Two (Feature) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, U)
6.00pm: Programme Three (Feature) Tampopo (1988, 15)
8.30pm: Programme Four (Feature) Cool Hand Luke (1967, 15)
Each programme is approx. two hours long, with short breaks in between, so you're welcome to scoff the whole batch, or just dip in. There will also be a special WhatsApp group to share gifs, chat and yolks during the event, and Scalarama have even made their own egg-based short films - which are definitely not to be missed!
You can watch their fantastically eggy trailer below.
To join in for some egg filled film fun, book your free ticket on EventBrite where you'll receive the full schedule & screening information.
The 8th follows a number of dedicated Irish female activists as they strive to overturn the 8th amendment, banning abortion, that was passed in 1983. Using archive footage throughout the 35 year battle for the right to choose, the film focuses on a number of key events during this period that provoked public demonstrations, culminating in the referendum in 2018.
Documenting an emotive grassroots campaign around an issue that threatened to tear the country apart, the film is never sensationalist or provocative - it merely reflects the sense of injustice felt by so many women and their fight to be heard.
On Saturday 3rd April at 1pm, all three directors of the film will be taking part in a discussion about the film and the issues raised. This event is FREE but you must book tickets to attend via Eventbrite, and a Zoom link will be sent out shortly before the Q&A.