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Unknown Pleasures presents US independent films that are rarely shown in Germany. The films selected for the festival’s 10th anniversary edition are drawn to the periphery, to rural America, away from the urban centers. The sociopolitical debates of recent years are clearly manifest. The films present a country where political and economic differences are increasing and which – more and more – is characterized by its contradictions. Frederick Wiseman’s MONROVIA, INDIANA is about one of these contradictions. It is the calm portrait of a small town in the Midwest, where agriculture dictates everyday life. Wiseman listens carefully as the inhabitants speak about how the town has grown, about fire hydrants or god. The film impresses on the audience how important rural America is for the country’s overall perception of itself and how easily this is forgotten.

The fact that people do not always choose to give up on life in the city is illustrated by several of the films, for example Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED and Desiree Akhavan’s THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. While Schrader portrays the priest of a tiny congregation who has doubts and struggles with the world from which he feels increasingly estranged, Akhavan depicts the life of a teenager in a remote Christian therapy center where she is supposed to be “cured” of homosexuality.

A particular highlight of the program is the German premiere of A BREAD FACTORY by Patrick Wang who will be present. In two films inspired by the struggle to set up an alternative cultural center, he follows various characters and asks the question of what makes a community. A BREAD FACTORY is a singular work, a sprawling comedy, which is thrilling because of its ambition, its humanity and its sense for everyday moments and how they influence us.

There are many films about the border zone between Mexico and the US but one of the finest is John Sayles’ LONE STAR from 1996. Like Wang, Sayles films communities and never so impressively as in this film in which his characters travel through the complex history of the region and uncover closely-guarded family secrets.

By contrast, Penny Lane’s THE PAIN OF OTHERS seems to be located in “no place”. Through YouTube videos, in which women talk about a rare disease, the filmmaker shows us people who feel abandoned by the medical establishment (and society) and have found refuge in the matte light of of the computer screen. THE PAIN OF OTHERS is a haunting film and the most radical of the program.

DIANE (Kent Jones, USA 2018, 1. & 14.1.) Diane lives alone in Massachusetts. She looks after the people around her, mostly her son who first falls under the spell of drugs, then of god. Diane’s needs are always secondary and in her loneliness she is particularly susceptible to the constant changes in life. Her friends fall ill and die. She makes new friends. Kent Jones’ first feature film after many documentaries is surprising. The film is tremendously attentive to its protagonists and their environment. “With her calm, multifaceted portrayal as the lead, Mary Kay Place forms the center - a warm beating heart that aches from time to time because there are so many goodbyes in life. But also so much love. (Alexandra Seitz)
Before the screening on 1.1, we will show POLLY ONE (Kevin Jerome Everson, USA 2017), which was filmed in North Carolina with a 16-mm camera during the solar eclipse of August 2017.

THE PAIN OF OTHERS (Penny Lane, USA 2018, 2.1.) Morgellons is a mysterious disease whose symptoms seem to be straight out of a horror movie. Those affected by it say that insects and works live under their skins, creating sores containing tiny fibers. Many doctors dismiss the symptoms as the result of delusions and offer little help. The illness seems to affect women in particular. Penny Lanes new found-footage film consists almost entirely of material that she found on YouTube. In a desperate situation, the women talk about their experiences and try to prove that the illness exists and they are not crazy. THE PAIN OF OTHERS is a challenging work, at once a horror film and the testimony of radical self-help. The viewer is confronted with the fundamental question of what empathy is. Can humans really understand the feelings of another?

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (Desiree Akhavan, USA 2018, 2. & 16.1.) After her high-school graduation, the rebellious teenager Cameron Post is caught having sex with the prom queen. Her arch-conservative aunt and guardian cannot deal with this and sends her to a Christian conversion camp where she meets other teenagers who are supposed to be “cured” of their homosexuality. Desiree Akhavan’s second film, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, is a quiet satire played by an impressive cast led by Chloë Grace Moretz. Though the film is set in 1993 there is no nostalgia for the 1990s and it is clear that the film has a contemporary relevance.

A BREAD FACTORY: FOR THE SAKE OF GOLD (Patrick Wang, USA 2018, 3.1., guest: Patrick Wang & 15.1.) For 40 years, Dorothea and Greta have run the Bread Factory, an alternative cultural center in a fictional small town north of New York. They organize theater and opera productions, film screenings and readings. Suddenly the town council, in an attempt to be modern, threatens to transfer their funding to two hipster concept artists from China to whom they want to build a temple of art. The first part of Patrick Wang’s excellent epic is about the two women and their struggle to preserve what they have built up over their lives. Instead of proposing a clearly structured narrative, Wang plunges the viewer into the maelstrom of eclectic characters who make up the Bread Factory. The humor, warmth, but also understanding for complicated themes such as community and culture (and what these mean for young people) are literally without bounds. In a democracy, as the film shows, every individual counts and no one is an island.   

A BREAD FACTORY: WALK WITH ME A WHILE (Patrick Wang, USA 2018, 4.1., guest: Patrick Wang & 16.1.) The second part focuses on the rehearsals for the ancient Greek play “Hecuba" by Euripides. Outside, the town is changing mysteriously: Start-ups spring up (and tech workers start dancing in cafes), tourists turn up to visit non-existing sights (staged like a musical) and four real-estate agents start singing about their properties. Moreover, the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper disappears and a group of young people start doing her work. The subtitle of the second part of A BREAD FACTORY could not be more fitting: Walk with me a while. Rarely has one been in recent years so willing to walk with a film. A BREAD FACTORY is a unique film project whose humanity is best summed up by an actor during a Q&A session: “If you have a soul, you have questions to ask.”

FIRST REFORMED (Paul Schrader, USA 2017, 5. & 8.1.) The former military priest Ernst Toller is badly affected by the death of his son. Now the minister of a small congregation in upstate New York, he is trying not to lose his faith. The historic First Reformed Church is about to celebrate its 250th birthday and a big event is planned. Meanwhile, Toller meets Mary, whose husband is a fanatical environmentalist with bleak convictions that throw the already plagued minister even more. The film is a highlight of Paul Schrader’s oeuvre and after Taxi Driver (1976, screenplay by Paul Schrader), American Gigolo (1980) or The Canyons (2013) it forms another part of his “a man in a room” series. Like his predecessors, Toller is extremely angry with the world, the people in his immediate environment and the thoughtless destruction of nature.

LONE STAR (John Sayles, USA 1996, 5. & 9.1.) John Sayles is one of the most important independent filmmakers and this is his uncontested masterpiece (and one of the best films of the 1990s). In a small town in Texas, Sheriff Sam Deeds discovers a skull. A preliminary investigation finds that it is that of a previous sheriff, who was murdered. Deeds carries out his own investigation and delves deep into the town’s history. Roger Ebert wrote in 1996:  “‘Lone Star’ is not simply about the solution to the murder and the outcome of the romance. It is about how people try to live together at this moment in America.” Over 20 years later,  little seems to have changed, especially regarding tensions on the US-Mexico border.

DREAM OF A CITY (Manfred Kirchheimer, USA 2018) & DISTANT CONSTELLATION (Shevaun Mizrahi USA/Turkey/NL 2017, 6. & 10.1.) For over 60 years, Manfred Kirchheimer has been portraying New York. His most recent film, the mid-length DREAM OF A CITY, is a bacchanalian symphony of a city, composed from footage that Kirchheimer and Walter Hess shot at the end of the 1950s. They tell of a city in transformation. DISTANT CONSTELLATION also speaks of transformation. High-rises are built in front of an old people’s home in Istanbul and the din of construction hums through the streets. In the home, on the other hand, there reigns an introspective calm. People of all kinds live here: a wannabe Casanova (who immediately offers his hand in marriage to the filmmaker), a historian, rascals and artists. The work is multilingual, with Turkish being spoken alongside English, French, Armenian, Greek and Kurdish. The film’s protagonists might belong to ethnic minorities but they are primarily eyewitnesses of the 20th century. When one woman talks of massacres and social marginalization, Shevaun Mizrahi’s DISTANT CONSTELLATION is not only a dreamy (and at times very humorous) portrait of this place but an extremely political film.

MONROVIA, INDIANA (Frederick Wiseman, USA 2018, 7. & 11.1.) One major constant in Frederick Wiseman’s extensive oeuvre is his chronicles of (US) institutions such as Ex Libris: New York Public Library (2017). But the films devoted to places and communities are just as important, such as his latest film about the small Midwestern town of Monrovia, which ties in with earlier works such as Belfast, Maine (1999) or In Jackson Heights (2016). It is a deceptively quiet film that imparts a complex, multi-layered picture of rural America. Donald Trump is not mentioned once but his presidency plays an implicit role. The film particularly shows how important rural America is for the country’s understanding of itself.

DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (Bill Morrison, USA 2017, 21.1., guest: Bill Morrison) Film at the end of the world: Dawson City in northwestern Canada was the center of a huge gold rush at the turn of the 20th century. With thousands of prospectors pouring in, the town grew and a cinema even opened. Because the city was at the end of the world the nitrate prints were rarely sent back. Many were thrown into the river, others were buried and forgotten. In 1978, this treasure was rediscovered. Bill Morrison tells the tale not only of the films, but also of the bizarre history of the city and its inhabitants. DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME reminds us how many films have been lost (and how many remain to be found) and that the view from the periphery is as interesting as the view from the center. (hb)

Unknown Pleasures #10 was curated by Hannes Brühwiler. Further information at www.unknownpleasures.de.

Funded by:

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