SF Urban Film Fest, Nov 3-8, 2015

We are please to pass along this info from our friends on the west coast:

The SF Urban Film Fest (SFUFF) is a unique film festival that focuses on cities and civic engagement inspired by great storytelling. We believe that compelling stories can help shape urbanist ideas, practice and project implementation.

The way we approach urban problems has resonated and our film festival is growing quickly. Entering only our second year, we have added two new partners, the University of San Francisco (USF) and the Exploratorium. And we are very grateful our inaugural host, SPUR, has agreed to be our partner again this year.

“Beyond Dystopia: Utopia, Resistance and Reclamation” is our festival theme this year. Throughout the week, we will screen narrative fiction and documentary films that highlight utopian visions that guide us to resist dystopia and reclaim our environment. After each screening, we will convene expert panelists who will tie the themes in the films with relevant urban planning issues such as the role of artists in the urban fabric, the relationship between urban planning and economic inequality, what are ideal cities?

Not to be missed will be a special screening of the classic urban dystopian film Blade Runner at the University of San Francisco’s stately Presentation Hall auditorium. We are also very excited to offer family-centric programming at the Exploratorium’s high-tech Kanbar Forum theatre on the theme of reclaiming urban rivers. For those who want go deeper, we will offer a full day guerrilla filmmaking workshop combining found footage of the Bayview and Hunter’s Point communities and new footage filmed on your own iPhone.

The festival dates are November 3-8, 2015. For more information please visit http://www.sfurbanfilmfest.com.

Don’t Tell Anyone: November 5, 2015

On Thursday, November 5, 2015, the MIT Urban Planning Film Series will feature a screening and panel discussion of Mikaela Shwer’s DON’T TELL ANYONE (NO DIGAS A NADIE).


Since the age of 4, Angy Rivera has lived in the United States with a secret that threatens to upend her life: she is undocumented. Now 24 and facing an uncertain future, Rivera becomes an activist for undocumented youth with a popular advice blog and a YouTube channel boasting more than 27,000 views. She steps out of the shadows a second time to share her story of sexual abuse, an experience all too common among undocumented women. DON’T TELL ANYONE (NO LE DIGAS A NADIE) follows Rivera’s remarkable journey from poverty in rural Colombia to the front page of The New York Times. A co-presentation with Latino Public Broadcasting.

Presented in collaboration with MIT’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, the DUSP Students of Color Committee, and the Mel King Institute for Community Building, in partnership with the award-winning documentary series POV.

After the film, please join us for a discussion with special guests Justin Steil (Professor, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT), Cristina Jo Perez (Visiting Scholar, MIT Department of Women’s and Gender Studies), and representatives of local organizations advocating for immigrant’s rights.

Directed by Mikaela Shwer, Thur 11/5, 7:00pm, MIT Room 3-133. Click here for more info.

Revolution of the Present: October 1, 2015

On Thursday, October 1, 2015, the MIT Urban Planning Film Series welcomed Director Marc Lafia to a special screening of his new film, REVOLUTION OF THE PRESENT.

Humanity seems to be stuck in the perpetual now that is our networked world. More countries are witnessing people taking to the streets in search of answers. REVOLUTION OF THE PRESENT features interviews with thought leaders designed to give meaning to our present and precarious condition. This historic journey allows us to us re-think our presumptions and narratives about the individual and society, the local and global, our politics and technology. This documentary analyzes why the opportunity to augment the scope of human action has become so atomized and diminished. REVOLUTION OF THE PRESENT is an invitation to join the conversation and help contribute to our collective understanding.

As sociologist Saskia Sassen states at the outset of the film, “we live in a time of unsettlement, so much so that we are even questioning the notion of the global, which is healthy.” One could say that our film raises more questions than it answers, but this is its goal.

REVOLUTION OF THE PRESENT is structured as an engaging dinner conversation: there is no narrator telling you what to think, it is not a film of fear of the end time or accusation, it is an invitation to sit at the table and join an in depth conversation about our diverse and plural world.

Directed by Marc Lafia, Thur 10/1, 6:30pm, MIT Room 3-133. Click here for more info.

Free Screening of NEIGHBORS (1977)

On April 23, 2015, there will be free screening of NEIGHBORS: CONSERVATION IN A CHANGING COMMUNITY (1977), hosted by The Alliance/Stand Against Racism, The Mel King Institute, and the YWCA of Boston.

April 23rd, 2015:

  • 9:00 am – Networking
  • 9:30 am-11:30 am – Viewing and Discussion

MassHousing, One Beacon Street, 4th Floor, Boston, MA

“The film, NEIGHBORS: CONSERVATION IN A CHANGING COMMUNITY (1977) examines the challenges and opportunities of neighborhood revitalization through the stories of 12 South End residents. The older, working class population is juxtaposed with the more affluent newcomers who are attracted by the prime location and historic architecture as well as the ethnic mix of the neighborhood. While documenting the differences among these residents, the film also reveals their common goals – to make their neighborhood a better place to live. The film remains remarkably relevant for 21st century audiences.”

Click here to register.

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.


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.

file:///home/eglenn/mit-files/events/films/images/revolution67.jpg REVOLUTION ’67

  • 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.


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.


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…)