Ola Balogun (b. 1945) is a unique figure in Nigerian cinema. In the 1970s and 1980s, he influenced the film industry in his country like no other person and paved the way for the Nollywood boom that began in the early 1990s. The fact that he is virtually forgotten outside of Nigeria nowadays is also a function of the fact that many copies of his films have disappeared. Only five of his ten feature-length films are currently available, many of them in a fragile condition. Thanks to the initiative of the Filmkollektiv Frankfurt, which presented Ola Balogun's films in that city in 2015, a large part of Balogun's cinematic oeuvre is accessible again for the first time. We are extremely pleased to be able to show the five feature films and a selection of his shorter documentaries at the Arsenal.
It is rare to speak of an oeuvre when a filmmaker has created only a few films, but Kenneth Lonergan (b. 1962) is a special case. Thus far, the director, screenwriter and playwright has made just three feature films, whose finely honed dialogues, impressive acting and deeply moving plot twists have resonated with both filmgoers and critics. Lonergan's dramas have not shied away from the big themes such as family, loss, trauma or moral responsibility – embedded in closely observed everyday situations, they are always treated in an organic and realistic manner. Even when his characters come from different social backgrounds, they share certain traits – a penchant for inconsistent behaviour and a tunnel vision that is often their undoing, a weakness for swear words – which at times make them seem unappealing, but all the more human. Much like the classical music that often suddenly interrupts the events on screen, there is something symphonic about Lonergan’s films themselves: a variety of themes, moods and tensions alternate unexpectedly and always intuitively, without the last movement necessarily bringing resolution. To coincide with the German release of his new film "Manchester by the Sea" (USA 2016), the Arsenal will be showing Lonergan's previous films, which are scarcely known in Germany.
Frank Capra (1897–1991) is ranked among the most successful filmmakers of classical Hollywood cinema. He was the first to have his name billed above the title in the opening credits, and one of the few directors in Hollywood to enjoy far-reaching control over his films. Capra’s own realisation of the American dream — from a poor Sicilian immigrant to one of the highest-paid directors in Hollywood — and the resulting gratitude he felt towards the United States found expression in his films. During the crisis-ridden 1930s, his socially critical and yet conciliatory (tragi-)comedies appealed for a renewal of faith in American values, the freedom of the individual and the victory of justice over cynical profiteers and corrupt politicians. "Maybe there really wasn't an America" that people believed in for all those years, "maybe it was just Frank Capra," speculated John Cassavetes, a member of the following generation of filmmakers. The "Capra Touch" — an emotional brand of cinema with a personal touch, governed by humanistic values and characterised by elegance and wit, perfect timing, snappy dialogue, and excellent direction — conveyed hope and optimism in difficult political and economic times. Capra’s sincere championing of kindness, understanding, compassion, solidarity and brotherly love, combined with the complexity and subtlety of his works, encourages us to suspend our disbelief even in the face of fantastical overcomings of class barriers, miraculous turns of events and at times rather abrupt happy endings.
His belief in the victory of the just cause led the patriot Frank Capra to enlist in the army at the very height of his career. As head of the film branch of the War Department, he produced on commission a dozen documentary films between 1942 and 1945. Our comprehensive retrospective will continue through January 20.