MIT e4Dev Screening: KATIYABAAZ (Powerless)

On December 4, 2014, MIT’s Energy for Human Development (e4Dev) group, the MIT Libraries, and the Urban Film Series will be hosting a screening of the movie KATIYABAAZ (Powerless):

  • Thur KATIYABAAZ (Powerless): In Kanpur, India, an electricity thief provides Robin Hood style services to the poor in the face of day long power-cuts. With the first female chief of the electricity company vowing to eliminate all illegal connections, the lines are drawn for a battle over electricity. In a summer of crisis, both come to terms with India’s energy poverty. Refreshments will be provided! 6pm, MIT Room 3–133. Info: e4Dev-request@mit.edu

Rebels with a Cause (Nancy Kelly, 2014)

This documentary, subtitled “How a battle over land changed the American landscape forever,” recounts the battles to stop development of the country’s national seashores and other recreation areas. More broadly, it seeks to describe the birth of the modern environmental preservation movement, giving full credit along the way to the “little people” — garden clubs, small farmers, hippies, and community activists — who took the fight to the nation’s capital — and won.

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Narrated by Frances McDormand (FARGO, MOONRISE KINGDOM), the story unfolds from small regional struggles to a national movement with petitions to the White House and eventual action by both the President and Congress. Beginning in Northern California in the 1950s and 60s, the notion of saving the agricultural land in Marin County from development began to took root; with Kennedy’s election, attention shifted to the Cape Cod seashore — but rather than play into the politics of division, the emerging movement grew to embrace both coasts. Soon lands in the east and west — and much more — were on the preservationist agenda. What had once seemed an unconnected string of local fights was a snowballing national movement attracting causes (and supporters) across the country.

Along the way, we hear from an all-star cast of 1960s crusaders, including Stewart Udall (Secretary of the Interior from 1961–1969), Huey Johnson (co-founder of the Trust for Public Land), and Amy Meyer (co-chair of People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area). Importantly, for urban and regional planners, the film is unequivocal about exactly why these lands need preservation: all too often — both then and now — natural areas are consumed by rampant and poorly planned residential sprawl.

The film is directed by Nancy Kelly. If you enjoy it, you may also want to check out her 2002 film, DOWNSIDE UP: HOW ARE CAN CHANGE THE SPIRIT OF A PLACE, which explored the creation of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the role it played in revitalizing the post-industrial town of North Adams.

MIT Urban Film Series: Fall 2014

Happy September and welcome (back) to the new school year. We’ve finalized the line-up for our Fall 2014 MIT Urban Planning Film Series, listed below. This semester, we’ll be featuring an earthquake in China, a rebellion in Newark, informal housing in NYC, and ending the semester with a special showing of Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 classic, ROME OPEN CITY. We continue our partnership with PBS/POV American Documentary to bring some special community screenings to the Boston area.

  • Thur 9/4 FALLEN CITY (2014): In today’s go-go China, an old city completely destroyed by a devastating earthquake can be rebuilt — boasting new and improved civic amenities — in an astoundingly quick two years. But, as FALLEN CITY reveals, the journey from the ruined old city of Beichuan to the new Beichuan nearby is long and heartbreaking for the survivors. Three families struggle with loss — most strikingly the loss of children and grandchildren — and feelings of loneliness, fear and dislocation that no amount of propaganda can disguise. First-time director Qi Zhao offers an intimate look at a country torn between tradition and modernity. Official Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. A co-production of ITVS International. A co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). Directed by Qi Zhao; presented in collaboration with the award-winning documentary series PBS/POV American Documentary. 60 minutes. 6pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thur 9/18 REVOLUTION ’67 (2007): An illuminating account the black urban rebellions of the 1960s. Focusing on the six-day Newark, N.J., outbreak in mid-July, REVOLUTION ’67 reveals how the disturbances began as spontaneous revolts against poverty and police brutality and ended as fateful milestones in America’s struggles over race and economic justice. Voices from across the spectrum—activists Tom Hayden and Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, Mayor Sharpe James, and other officials, National Guardsmen, and Newark citizens—recall lessons as hard-earned then as they have been easy to neglect since. A co-production with the Independent Television Service (ITVS); presented in collaboration with the award-winning documentary series PBS/POV American Documentary. 90 minutes. 6pm, MIT Room 3–133.

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  • Thur 10/2 KOCH (2012): New York City mayors have a world stage on which to strut, and they have made legendary use of it. Yet few have matched the bravado, combativeness and egocentricity that Ed Koch brought to the office during his three terms from 1978 to 1989. As Neil Barsky’s KOCH recounts, Koch was more than the blunt, funny man New Yorkers either loved or hated. Elected in the 1970s during the city’s fiscal crisis, he was a new Democrat for the dawning Reagan era—fiscally conservative and socially liberal. KOCH finds the former mayor politically active to the end (he died in 2013)—still winning the affection of many New Yorkers while driving others to distraction. Directed by Neil Barasky; presented in collaboration with the award-winning documentary series PBS/POV American Documentary. 90 minutes. 6pm, MIT Room 3–133.

file:///home/eglenn/mit-files/events/films/images/koch.jpg KOCH

  • Thur 10/9: DARK DAYS (2000) Independent filmmaker Marc Singer explores the underground world inhabited by residents of New York’s underground tunnels. Music by DJ Shadow. 6pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thur 11/13 ROME OPEN CITY (1945): A harrowing drama about the Nazi occupation of Rome and the brave few who struggled against it, ROME OPEN CITY is a shockingly authentic experience, conceived and directed amid the ruin of World War II, with immediacy in every frame. Marking a watershed moment in Italian cinema, this galvanic work garnered awards around the globe and left the beginnings of a new film movement in its wake. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. 100 minutes. 6pm, MIT Room 3–133.

Watermark: Reflections on a Vital Resource

For one week starting April 11, the Kendall Cinema in Cambridge will feature a new film called WATERMARK by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky. It’s a clever and fitting title, as the film’s main theme is both transparent and indelible: by exploring the myriad ways that water connects, supports, and shapes life on earth, and the reciprocal ways that humans exploit, worship, transform, and increasingly threaten this precious resource, we come to appreciate the changing nature of our relationship to the limitless world of water and the limited water of the world.

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Similar to the team’s 2006 award-winning collaboration, MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES, the film follows Burtynsky as he travels around the globe to create large-format photographs of large-scale phenomena. Together, we confront stunning examples of just how profoundly our species has altered the planet’s natural water systems: the concrete walls of the towering Xiolangdi and Xiluodo dams; the technicolor contamination of tannery runoff sluice-ways in Dhaka; the immense “Water World” grid network of floating abalone farms in the South China Sea; and the dry river beds and toxic dust storms left behind from the thirsty snaking aqueducts in California and elsewhere. Added to these environmental and infrastructural landscapes — again, as in the previous film — Burtynsky’s eye seeks out massive rivers and oceans of humanity as well: beaches thronging with people at the U.S. Surfing Open; crowds, mesmerized hourly, by the Bellagio’s Dancing Fountains in Las Vegas; and the obligatory story of 30 million pilgrims streaming down to wade in the Ganges River each year.

Through Burtynsky’s lens and the still images he creates, we see these people, places, and problems transformed into luxurious, wall-sized, 60-megapixel color prints; the flow of the film is punctuated with pauses as the finished photographs emerge and expand to fill the entire screen. At the same time, through Baichwal’s lens and the moving images she captures, we learn how these photographs were made and — perhaps more importantly — we learn how read them and make sense of what we are seeing. In the words of the director, “Watermark tries to create a space to think about something in a different way. After three years of almost total immersion, I will never turn on a tap with the same unconscious nonchalance that I did before we embarked on this challenging and deeply rewarding film.” Taken another way, the “watermark” of the title could therefore evoke this hidden sigil, a promise of potential transformation for those who look: that is, the life-altering change in perspective that great art is able to bring about may require us to stop for a moment to seek it out.

The film illustrates Burtynsky’s process, guiding us through his unique way of inquiry as he visits each location and uses his camera to reflect critically and think deeply about our dependence on water and the effects of our actions on the planet’s natural systems. We see him approach each image – often with a jeweler’s loupe fastened to his eye — to probe the pictures and extract the stories contained within them: to help us learn this process ourselves, the film likewise zooms in to the actual scenes and animates the stories, restoring the context and life frozen (or perhaps encapsulated) by the camera. When treated as such — by a truly inquisitive, reflective, actively-engaged viewer — Burtynsky’s photographs can be recognized as a form of fully “synoptic art” (following Allan Bloom’s introduction to Rousseau’s Emile): similar to great works of philosophy, they present “something with which one can live and which becomes deeper as one becomes deeper.”

Finally — again, as with a true watermark — the images in the film also serve as proof of the distinctiveness and quality of this particular product, and no written review can convey the power and complexity of these images: Burtynsky has selected the perfect medium to make his points; Baichwal’s equally important contribution is to guide us (wordlessly; artfully; showing, not telling) so that we may learn to see in new ways and begin to think with an active eye that connects what we observe with what we know, feel, experience, and perhaps ultimately, choose to do about it.

Living in Boston, we are extremely fortunate to be able to see this film on the big screen, as it must be seen, even if for just one week.1 Consider these brief comments as a teaser for the film, not a replacement: go see it, pause, and think about the landscape of water you inhabit.

Footnotes:

1 The film is also scheduled to screen throughout April and May in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Seattle, Portland, and elsewhere — see http://burtynsky-water.com/watermark/us-screenings-theatre-listings/ for complete listings.

Blow-Up: the Filmerick

As described previously, I’ve been exploring a new medium, the “filmerick” (limericks to summarize great films). Over the weekend my daughter and I were fortunate to catch a special screening of BLOW-UP at the Harvard Film Archive, and here’s what I came up with:

BLOW-UP (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
With all of its visual glories,
And behavior abhorrent to Tories,
Mr. Antonioni,
has certainly shown he’s
proficient in shaggy-dog stories.

The film itself is great, of course: a wonderful, touchingly sad meander through 1960s London, ushering in what would later be recognized as a golden age of the cinema of urban alienation and the search for meaning amid the chaos of modern life.

I was especially moved by how beautifully Antonioni filmed both the perfectly balanced “design world” (fashion shoots, bohemian artist “live-work space”) and the eclectic clutter of “real London” (crowds and demonstrations, junk shops, construction sites). Both draw you in – part of the mystery implied in every shot – and one leaves the film with an appreciation for the eye’s uncanny ability to frame and capture the art all around us. (Although whether we can every truly grasp and understand what we capture is another story altogether…)

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“Filmericks” from my “City in Film” class

This semester I’ve been teaching a new course on “The City in Film” in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. As the syllabus describes:

Using film as a lens to explore and interpret various aspects of
the urban experience in both the U.S. and abroad, this course
presents a survey of important developments in urbanism from 1900
to the present day, including changes in technology, bureaucracy,
and industrialization; immigration and national identity; race,
class, gender, and economic inequality; politics, conformity, and
urban anomie; planning, development, private property,
displacement, sprawl, environmental degradation, and
suburbanization; and more.

My plan is to vary the films shown in the course from year to year, but to always include a balance of classics from the history of film, an occasional experimental or avant-garde film, and a number of more recent, mainstream movies. This year’s lineup includes the obligatory (and excellent) METROPOLIS, an NYC romp in ON THE TOWN, a touch of photo-realistic noir in THE NAKED CITY, some psycho-geographic dérive in LONDON, and much more — 13 films in all.

To help liven the class up a bit (as if all these great city films isn’t enough!), and also to help us all keep the films straight, I’ve challenged the class to come up with limericks for each film. Writing a few of my own, I think I may have invented a new artform: the “filmerick.” Here’s what I came up with for the first three films:

METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, 1926)

Joh Frederson’s city is smart,
The brains tell the brawn when to start.
       But inspired by Hel,
       The workers rebel:
The HEAD and the HANDS need a HEART.


BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A CITY (Walther Ruttman, 1927)

Made from hundreds of meters of stock,
And covering block upon block,
       This film, like a rhyme,
       Shows a town keeping time:
BERLIN is one big cuckoo clock.


MODERN TIMES (Charles Chaplin, 1936)

With all of its plot twists and swerves,
This film, like a clarion, serves
       To give the impression
       That the Great Depression
Did a hell of a job on our nerves.

Stay tuned for more…

My Brooklyn to Air on PBS

We’re pleased to pass along the news that MY BROOKLYN (recently screened as part of the MIT Urban Planning Film Series) will be featured in a special national PBS Broadcast on TV on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.

The screening is part of the PBS series America ReFramed, curated by the American Documentary team (the producers of POV). America ReFramed brings nonfiction independent films to the airwaves and cable, showcasing films that give viewers a “snapshot of the transforming American life—the guts, the glory, the grit of a new and changing America.”

Most of the screenings are on PBS World channels, but some regular stations (like WGBH — yay, Boston!) are showing it on their main channels too. To find out if you have PBS World via broadcast or cable, go to http://worldchannel.org/schedule/localize/ and enter your zipcode. The program you are looking for is “America ReFramed” and the date for My Brooklyn is Jan. 14th, 2014. (It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and there are some other amazing documentaries on the series so it’s worth knowing how to find it.)

My Brooklyn will also be streaming free from the America ReFramed site for a month. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is your chance; and if you have seen this amazingly personal gentrification narrative, please help us spread the word.

Gaining Ground at MIT: Wednesday, December 11, 2013

There will be a free screening of GAINING GROUND: BUILDING COMMUNITY ON DUDLEY STREET at MIT on Wednesday December 11th, 6:30pm, MIT AVT/Long Lounge, Room 7-341, 77 Massachusetts Ave. Food provided, Q&A to follow.

The film — a one-hour follow-up to the award-winning documentary Holding Ground (1996) — shows how one diverse Boston neighborhood has stemmed the tide against enormous odds. In the midst of the economic meltdown, GAINING GROUND explores the innovative, grassroots organizing efforts of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in Boston. DSNI was created 25 years ago when the community had been devastated by bank redlining, arson-for-profit and illegal dumping, and has become one of the preeminent models for community-based change. Over the course of two years, we watch a new generation of leaders working to prevent foreclosures and bring jobs and opportunities for young people to one of the city’s most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods.

This screening is sponsored by the MIT Office of the Dean For Graduate Education.

Just Added: Shift Change (2013)

Thanks to some great students at New Economy@MIT and our awesome partners at MIT Rotch Library, we’ve been able to fill a gap in our fall schedule with one more film:

  • Thur 11/7: SHIFT CHANGE: PUTTING DEMOCRACY TO WORK (2013) With the long decline in US manufacturing and today’s economic crisis, millions have been thrown out of work, and many are losing their homes. The usual economic solutions are not working, so some citizens and public officials are ready to think outside of the box, to reinvent our failing economy in order to restore long term community stability and a more egalitarian way of life. SHIFT CHANGE tells the little known stories of employee-owned businesses that respond to this challenge, competing successfully in today’s economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces. Directed by Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin. Co-sponsored by New Economy@MIT. 60 minutes. 6pm, MIT Room 3–133.

Note: Unlike all other films in the series, this one will start at 6pm. As always, free and open to everyone. Please join us, bring friends, spread the word.