Dir. Caroline Monnet
An abstract glance into the secret ceremonies of indigenous spiritualism
For the latest episode of our series exploring worship and spirituality around the world, French-Algonquin contemporary artist and filmmaker Caroline Monnet explores ritual practices among indigenous First Nation tribes in North America. Here she explains the complexities of depicting ceremonies that ordinary remain secret from the eyes of the world:
“Given the importance and abundance of ceremonial practices to most Indigenous communities, there is an inevitable curiosity from the outside world to ‘know’ or ‘see’ how these sacred rituals play themselves out. But can anything remain sacred and private in a world that demands immediacy and a projected image of what sells unscrupulously as the truth? Can Indigenous communities practice their cultural beliefs without the fear of a camera trying to capture the ceremony?
Often, this quest for forbidden knowledge speaks to ravenous cultural consumerism and a lack of guidance from a non-Indigenous standpoint. The narrative is built on a collage of original 16mm, 8mm and digital footage pieced together to provide a hypnotic rhythm that draws us inward to remind us that some ritualistic practices are confidential and belong exclusively to the communities who perform them.”
Rituals: The 99 Names of God
Dir. Yumna Al-Arashi
Arab-American filmmaker Yumna Al-Arashi explores the rhythmic rituals of mystic Islam
London-based director Yumna Al-Arashi’s poetic new film – which originally premiered at Tribeca Film Festival – sheds light on the mysticism and rituals that have been part of the Islamic tradition throughout the centuries. Here she explains why her film is not just about beauty, but about correcting the often negative portrayals of Islam:
“Piecing together the old and the new, I aimed to create dreamlike imagery that breathes fresh air into a subject rarely seen in a positive light. The importance of geometry, nature, spiritual connectivity, style, meditation and feminine power are components of Islam that the modern media have failed to depict.
My goal is to revive these historic themes in a beautiful manner, exploring Islam’s underlying meditative, universal, and spiritual values. It is time we see new imagery dedicated to truly understanding a religion filled with mysticism and beauty.”
Rituals: Like a Prayer
Dir. Ivan Olita
Ivan Olita goes from pope culture to pop culture in a spirited celebration of Catholic Mass
Italian-born filmmaker Ivan Olita pulls up a pew for one of Catholicism’s most symbolic ritual moments: mass. Premiering on the occasion of this year’s Met Gala, whose theme is Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the Los Angeles-based filmmaker celebrates the culture and composition of a spiritually charged and exquisitely designed practice.
“Mass was a fundamental part of my upbringing. In this way, I was able to approach the film from a 'pop' angle by looking at its social context, where mass – and the Catholic Church itself – is a very important community aggregator. It goes beyond the spiritual and digs into real people who are part of a community, creating a shared moment, almost like attending a club – a place to hang, catch up, and take a break from daily life.
“This isn’t a sacrilegious film. I want to celebrate the gestures and carefully defined moments of mass and its community. Inspired by Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino, I wanted to explore ‘Italianity’ and Catholicism by portraying the ritual of the mass as if I was working for the Vatican’s ad agency – producing a catchy commercial for the Instagram age.”
Centerstage: Precious Adams
Dir. Leonn Ward
English National Ballet's rising star brings her youthful moves to the great outdoors.
For her latest film, Irish director Leonn Ward wanted to push the conventional ballet film outside of its comfort zone. Featuring Precious Adams, a rising star of the English National Ballet, Ward's dynamic portrait of the young First Artist presents a youthful take on the rule-bound etiquette of ballet. Rich in color, the film empowers Adams to tell her own story through dress and movement, while deploying dance in unconventional scenes and spaces.
"When Nowness and the English National Ballet approached me asking if I would like to create a film with Precious Adams, one of the few black rising stars in the world of ballet, I was honoured," explains Ward. "I wanted to create a piece of work that pushes beyond the traditional limitations of ballet. I loved that Precious was a tap dancer before she went onto ballet, so I really wanted to incorporate that into the film and sound. I wanted the film to feel real and honest and reveal Precious in her truest form."
Dancing about Architecture: Ecos
Dir. Andres Arochi, choreography by Nohbords, produced by Cineburó
A body-bending performance plays out in architect Luis Barragan’s iconic colorful house
Iconic Mexican architect Luis Barragan’s Casa Estudio – an iconic modernist house in Mexico City – hosts a body-bending dance troupe who twist and move through the geometric building’s colorful spaces and rooms.
Director Andres Arochi explains his interest in experimenting with the physicality of Barragan’s architecture: “I wanted to play around with and explore the architect’s design. He knew exactly when and where people stand, and how the combination of light and space makes them feel.” Continuing, he notes that: “When we began shooting, magic started to happen. Light burst in through the window, and the dancer’s bodies started to flow in a way I had not anticipated.”
Dir. Thibaut Grevet
NOWNESS joins forces with Nike and Matthew M Williams on a film for their new collaboration that explores the potential of movement in different visual dimensions
Nike has joined forces with New York-based designer Matthew M Williams for a new collaboration that uses data to enhance performance. In this collaboration with NOWNESS, directed by Thibaut Grevet, the power and versatility of the collection is embodied by the intense training movement of two dancers, choreographed by contemporary talent Leo Walk.
The performances, shot in a quarry in Ukraine, follow the footsteps of the isolated dancers sporting the new, cutting-edge apparel, where digital renders and human movement demonstrate seamless shifts between the robotic and the rhythmic.
Dir. Andrew Ondrejcak
The traditional operatic diva receives a transgressive update for the modern age
New York-based director Andrew Ondrejcak presents an experimental take on the traditional operatic diva, replacing them with queer and trans performers who are on the forefront of contemporary performance. Lip-synching to Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689), they infuse energy and meaning to the iconic myth – which receives a radical update for 2018.
The film, featuring Love Bailey, Bebe Huxley, and make-up star Gottmilk – among others – centres on Purcell's lingering lyrics: "Remember me, remember me, but never forget my fate." It is a chilling reflection on the treatment and experience of marginalized LGBTQIA+ communities across the world.
Private View: Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace
Dir. Mike Nybroe, produced by the Blenheim Art Foundation
The eighteenth-century country pile feels the shock of the French artist's iconic blue
Scattered among the sumptuous scenery of Oxfordshire's Blenheim Palace are bolts of shocking blue: the tell-tale signature of French artist Yves Klein's lifetime obsession with a remarkable hue that he himself mixed and owned. From pure color-fields to coated objects and paintings, this powerful pigment contrasts creatively with the array of deep, rich, and glittering colors within the landmark property which has, as the Blenheim Art Foundation, exhibited work by the likes of Ai Wei Wei, Jenny Holzer, and Michelangelo Pistoletto.
Produced in collaboration with the Yves Klein Archives, the exhibition coincides with what would have been the artist's ninetieth birthday year. Combining archive footage and exhibition shots, the film – shot by Mike Nybroe – takes us on a deep dive into the ultramarine world of one of the twentieth century's most iconic artists, and is scored by Klein's own Monotone-Silence Symphony.
Dir. Alexander George with James Capper, produced by Erin Moy at Entropico, cinematography by Ella Gibbins, score by Laurens von Oswald
When mysterious machines appear in the Australian outback, a remote mining community confronts its own history of industrial boom and bust
In the midst of the Australian outback, a strange yellow machine scratches at the earth. There is no operator; no engineer in a plastic helmet. The object – more a sculpture than a machine – is the product of British artist James Capper, who joins filmmaker Alexander George in this hybrid art film; a project from Edward Campbell, founder of Forth Arts, which organised the residency. As Campbell explains, the project "aims to bring artists working in different disciplines and from different places together and enable to collaborate with each other, alongside a local community."
Capper's works are, properly, mechanical sculptures that walk and crawl across the earth. Alexander George, with whom he collaborated on the project, is well known for creating surreal and emotional filmic worlds. "These two artists had never met one another before," explains Campbell. "I had good creative feelings from the outset of their collaboration, because James' work immediately resonated with Alexander."
The ultimate brief of the residency was to create a film that explored the relationship between people, machines and landscape. "We had an idea of the type of film we wanted to make but, as with all great expeditions, you never know what will happen until you get out there. We had to work in a very agile, collaborative and flexible way." Shooting in unfamiliar and raw light, on 35mm film, in the heat and dust of the desert, was an acute challenge. "There were some very tense moments – it was incredibly exciting."
Beyond the mechanical, it was important for Campbell to cast among the local community—"to represent the human element." And so, the crew "cast members of the local community and they each added their own character to the film. The film is their's. It belongs to Broken Hill."
Capper – whose work has been exhibited around the world, from Hannah Barry Gallery, London, to the Frieze Sculpture Park – explains that "the work I create spans drawing, software engineering, hydraulics, and performance to radically push the boundaries that exist between art, sculpture, and engineering. Having been interested in the site of Broken Hill for years, due to its legacy as an inaugural mining colony, an invite from Edward saw me finally able to venture there. Blue Frame is a record of our expedition, a film that concerns the sociology and landscapes of communities affected by the history of mineral extraction in the remote towns of the Australian outback."
George, in a similar vein, has long been interested in what he describes as the "lore of Australian cinema and communities that have seen mining booms come and go." Not only was carrying Capper's two art machines to the site a great feat, but the shoot itself also carried many risks: "We brought a battered Arriflex 35mm motion picture camera with us, and only eighteen minutes of film stock."
Dir. by Andrew Ondrejcak, producer Jonathan Ignatius Green, floral artist Louesa Roebuck, set design and prop styling Alexys Oliver
Get emotive with this contemporary artistic update of a traditional still-life 🎨🌺🍇
American artist Andrew Ondrejcak's latest film breathes energy into the historic genre of still-life painting, dragging it forward into the age of digital communication. The Mississippi-born creator mixes bowls of fruit and wilting flowers with Japanese soda and those most unavoidable items of modern technology – emojis.
"Historically, still life has been the lowliest subject of painting," explains the New York-based artist and educator, "but I'm moved by the care and devotion to objects that a painter must make – particularly in the Flemish still lives of the 16 Century, in which each object was carefully curated and representative of something beyond itself. I’m also interested in visual pairings of objects; how the spots of a duck egg relate to a decomposing pear, to the craters of the moon, and of how this simple juxtaposition helps me to understand each object in a new way.
"This conversation between objects creates an unofficial history of iconography (though admittedly idiosyncratic and playful). The creaminess of that gross Japanese soda matches the creaminess of the rose, the butterfly disappears in front of a decomposing plum – and so on – until we come to our time, our age, where this conversation through objects continues, now as icons of fairies, barfing faces, bows, love through beating hearts."
Dark Web: Windows
Dir. Jason Allen Lee
Artist Jason Allen Lee asks: who is watching us while we are looking at others?
Taking inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, American filmmaker and artist Jason Allen Lee subdues the explosive 1954 classic by drawing metaphorically on the act of surveillance. Lee exposes the ways we are perpetually and passively looking at strangers – on smartphones and computers – just as others are looking at us. The windows seen in the film mirror the windows we hold in our hands, which draw us into a world of infinitely recurring and mutual surveillance, even while we are in public.
The Memphis-based artist explains: "There's something very cinematic about windows, where the eye is drawn to them in a sea of dark building façades. An open window becomes an invitation to look inside – but who is watching? In the digital world, our private lives are being shared with others, and it's not always being shared voluntarily."
Inouï (and free)
Dir. Alessandra Leone, music & concept Zoe McPherson, 3D animation Andreas Barden
Traditional Inuit culture meets techno-futurism in this beguiling audio-visual explosion
Part of an ongoing audiovisual album – titled 'String Figures' – from Belgian-based musician Zoë McPherson, this film – directed by Italian director Alessandra Leone – explores the interface between traditional Inuit culture, Western commercialism, and virtual spaces.
Combining analogue electronics with traditional Inuit throat singing and ethnographic samples, the creative duo behind the film explain that: "The constant shifting of the music’s rhythm is powerful and disturbing, while the visual textures evolve and engage in dialogue – as if they were creatures stranded or suspended in an unknown place."