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.

MIT Urban Film Series: Fall 2013

Happy Labor Day, and welcome back to the new school year. We’ve finalized the line-up for our Fall 2013 MIT Urban Planning Film Series, listed below. As always, we’ve included some classics—including a 50th anniversary showing of Francesco Rosi’s HANDS OVER THE CITY to start us off—as well as some great new stuff, exploring renewable energy, gentrification, crime and the Mexican drug wars, and the promise and perils of international development. We continue our partnership with PBS/POV American Documentary to bring some special community screenings to the Boston area. And we’ve even included a special pre-Thanksgiving show of 2007’s crowd-pleaser, KING CORN.

(Note: click here to download the complete schedule as a nice pdf flyer. Please feel free to print, copy, distribute—all are welcome!)

  • Thurs 9/12: HANDS OVER THE CITY/LE MANI SULLA CITTA (1963) Rod Steiger stars as a scheming land developer in this blistering work of social realism from 1963. An expose of the politically driven real-estate speculation that devastated Naples’s civilian landscape, the film moves breathlessly from a cataclysmic building collapse to the backroom negotiations of civic leaders vying for power in a city council election, laying bare the inner workings of corruption with passion and outrage. Directed by Francesco Rosi. Winner of the Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival. 105 minutes; Italian with English subtitles. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.

    http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/all/files/styles/banner_image/public/bannerimages/event/hands_over_c.jpeg Rod Steiger in HANDS OVER THE CITY (1963)

  • Thur 9/26: 5 BROKEN CAMERAS (2011) This Palestinian-Israeli-French co-production presents a deeply-personal first-hand account of life and non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village surrounded by Israeli settlements. Filmed by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son Gibreel, the collaboration follows one family’s evolution over five years of village upheaval. As the story unfolds—structured in chapters around the destruction of each one of Burnat’s cameras—we witness Gibreel grow from a newborn baby into a young boy who observes the world unfolding around him with the astute powers of perception that only children possess. Burnat watches from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, protests intensify and lives are lost in this cinematic diary and unparalleled record of life in the West Bank. Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. Winner, World Cinema/Directing, Sundance; Special Jury and Audience Award, IDFA; Nominated for Academy Award, Best Documentary Feature. 90 minutes; Hebrew and Arabic w/English subtitles. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thurs 10/10: CAPE SPIN! AN AMERICAN POWER STRUGGLE (2011) This tragicomic tale explores the surreal and fascinating battle over America’s largest clean energy project. When energy entrepreneur Jim Gordon first proposed putting 130 wind turbines in fabled Nantucket Sound, he had no idea that a firestorm would erupt, as the country’s first proposed offshore wind farm triggered a schism in this idyllic coastal region, pitting neighbor against neighbor and environmentalist against environmentalist. Revealing the root causes of their furor, the filmmakers enjoyed unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the key players on both sides of the controversy. The tale frames the battle over Nantucket Sound as a microcosm of America’s struggle towards energy sustainability. After 10 years, $70 million and 8,000 pages of analysis the Federal Government approved the wind farm project on April 28, 2010—but the controversy continues…. Directed by Robbie Gemmel and John Kirby. Official selection: Woodstock Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival; Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. 84 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thurs 10/17: BEAUBOURG (1977) The great Neo-Realist Roberto Rossellini’s beautiful and languid final film documents the opening of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, candidly presenting the public’s response to this major cultural phenomenon. Shot on the Pompidou Centre’s opening day in 1977, Rossellini hid dozens of microphones throughout the building to create a soundtrack composed of the public’s reactions to this cultural phenomenon—or in the filmmakers own words, “A film without comments or music.” As the Italian director here turns his inimitable eye upon “Beaubourg” in a vision of critical skepticism, we are transported back to experience this highly influential cultural center at its nascence. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. 55 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.

    http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/all/files/styles/banner_image/public/bannerimages/event/beaubourg.jpg Filming BEAUBOURG (1977)

  • Thurs 10/24: GOOD FORTUNE (2010) A provocative exploration of how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa may be undermining the very communities they aim to benefit. In Kenya’s rural countryside, Jackson’s farm is being flooded by an American investor who hopes to alleviate poverty by creating a multimillion-dollar rice farm. Across the country in Nairobi, Silva’s home and business in Africa’s largest shantytown are being demolished as part of a U.N. slum-upgrading project. The gripping stories of two Kenyans battling to save their homes from large-scale development present a unique opportunity see foreign aid through eyes of the people it is intended to help. Directed by Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine; presented in collaboration with the award-winning documentary series POV (www.pbs.org/pov). Winner: Witness Award, Silverdocs Film Festival; official selection: IDFA Festival; Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. 90 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • 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 (note different time), MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thurs 11/14: MISSION HILL & THE MIRACLE OF BOSTON (1978) Once a predominantly Irish neighborhood of houses, churches, and small stores, after World War II Boston’s Mission Hill began to change: thousands of units of public housing were built—and allowed to decay there; nearby hospitals expanded, displacing people from their homes; developers and speculators bought and sold property and built twenty-story apartment buildings. A new, poor population and an affluent professional population arrived to compete for parts of the old neighborhood. Through the voices of the people of Mission Hill, the film tells the story of urban renewal, racial conflict, and the struggle of a neighborhood to survive through changing times. Directed by Richard Broadman; special award winner, Boston Society of Film Critics, 1984. 60 minutes. Special guests: Karilyn Crockett, MLK Visiting Scholar, MIT; John Grady, Professor of Sociology, Wheaton College (producer). 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thurs 11/21: KING CORN (2007) Special Thanksgiving feature. A feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In the film, two friends move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm. Directed by Aaron Woolf; written and featuring Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, with a special appearance by Michael Pollan. Winner: George Foster Peabody Award; Official selection: SXSW; Big Sky Documentary Film Festival; Chicago International Documentary Film Festival. 88 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.
  • Thurs 12/12: MY BROOKLYN (2012) Billed as “the real story behind the takeover of America’s hippest city,” the film follows director Kelly Anderson’s personal journey, as a Brooklyn “gentrifier” seeking to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. Anderson moves to Brooklyn in 1988, lured by cheap rents and bohemian culture, but by the election of Michael Bloomberg in 2001 a massive speculative real estate boom is rapidly altering the neighborhood. She watches as an explosion of luxury housing and chain store development spurs bitter conflict over who has a right to live in the city and to determine its future. While some people view these development patterns as ultimately revitalizing the city, to others, they are erasing the eclectic urban fabric, economic and racial diversity, creative alternative culture, and unique local economies that drew them to Brooklyn in the first place. No less than the city’s soul is at stake. A film by Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean. 85 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133.

    http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/all/files/styles/banner_image/public/bannerimages/event/my_brooklyn.jpg MY BROOKLYN (2012)

As always, all films open to the general public, free, first-come/first-served; most shows to include previews, shorts, and/or additional video ephemera. Special thanks to MIT’s Rotch Library for help tracking down titles and rights and MIT A/V Services for troubleshooting the tech with us. Times and locations subject to change; please check prior to coming. For more information, contact eglenn@mit.edu.

MIT Urban Film Series: Spring 2013

It’s February, Groundhog Day is behind us, New England in hunkering down for a REALLY BIG STORM, and here at UrbanFilm we’re putting the finishing touches on our MIT Spring 2013 Urban Planning Film Series.

This semester, we’re pleased to be able to feature a couple fiction titles, in addition to our usual lineup of the best new documentaries on urban and related issues. We’ll continue our tradition of welcoming film-makers, urban scholars, and local planners, activists, and organizers to attend and offer commentary on the films, thereby building community as we share these films, and expect to partner with PBS/POV American Documentary on a few special events as well. The complete schedule should be up here within a week or two, but for now we wanted to at least tell you what’s up for the start of the series:

  • Thurs 2/21: STREET FIGHT (2005) Chronicles the bare-knuckles race for Mayor of Newark, N.J. between Cory Booker, a 32-year-old Rhodes Scholar/Yale Law School graduate, and Sharpe James, the four-term incumbent and undisputed champion of New Jersey politics. Directed by Marshall Curry. Academy Award Nominee, Best Documentary (2005). (Last semester we tried to screen this one, only to be foiled by a rare blackout that hit the MIT campus back in November; hope for better luck this time.) 83 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

    http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/all/files/styles/banner_image/public/bannerimages/event/street_fight_a.jpg

  • Thurs 2/28: NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) For this special fiction feature, we’ll travel around the globe with Jim Jarmusch: five cities, five taxicabs, a mad-cap collection of strangers in the night. For this [celebr|explor]ation of everything that makes cities eternal, unique, and endlessly fascinating, Jim Jarmusch assembled an extraordinary international cast of actors (including Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Beatrice Dalle, and Roberto Benigni) for a quintet of tales of urban displacement and existential angst, spanning time zones, continents, and languages. Jarmusch’s lovingly askew view of humanity from the passenger seat makes for one of his most charming and beloved films. 128 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133

    http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/all/files/styles/banner_image/public/bannerimages/event/night-on-earth-5.jpeg

  • Thurs 3/7: THE WORLD OF BUCKMINSTER FULLER (1974) Architect, engineer, geometer, cartographer, philosopher, futurist, inventor of the famous geodesic dome and the dymaxion car, and one of the most brilliant thinkers of his time, Fuller was renowned for his comprehensive perspective on the world’s problems. (It’s safe to say that Bucky Fuller was one of the main reasons I got into planning in the first place; his 1981 book, Critical Path gave me the optimism to imagine that we humans could actually plan for a better world…). For more than five decades he developed pioneering solutions reflecting his commitment to the potential of innovative design to “do more with less” and thereby improve human lives. Now more relevant than ever, this film captures Fuller’s ideas and thinking, told in his own words. 80 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

    http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/all/files/styles/banner_image/public/bannerimages/event/fuller_pavilion.jpg

  • Wed 3/13: note change of day DETROPIA (2012) Detroit’s story encapsulates the iconic narrative of America over the last century—the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos.

    With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. Detroit’s soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future. “The most moving documentary I have seen in years.”—David Denby, The New Yorker. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. 86 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

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The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (Chad Freidrichs, 2011)

There are a number of important films that tell a story that you’ve never heard before; THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH, on the other hand, tells a story you’ve heard many times over, but does so in a way that makes you stop and question what you thought you knew, leaving you in a state of mind to keep thinking about it long after the film ends.

In brief, the film recounts the history of the now-infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project, through the voices of past residents (as well as a couple notable experts in housing policy and urban history, including both Robert Fishman and Joseph Heathcoat). The details of this story are known by all: built in the early 1950s in Saint Louis in an attempt to eliminate slums and provide new modern housing for the city’s anticipated post-war growth (and perhaps also maintain color lines in this deeply-segregated city), the project soon came to symbolize the ills of large public housing projects; by 1972—less than two decades after opening—work began to raze all 33 structures at the site. The dramatic images of the demolition—a huge public housing project literally imploding—now serve as haunting reminder of this past, a visual shorthand for the failure of modern planning and the sad shift from noble ambition to national resignation.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1b/Pruitt-Igoe-collapses.jpg/760px-Pruitt-Igoe-collapses.jpg

“Haunting” is a good word to describe the atmosphere of the film as well: the camera lingers on empty corridors and barren trees; crying and speechless men and women, once children who called the towers home; grainy images of times now gone. But rather than offering up a resigned funeral dirge—or even a reproachful eulogy—over the death of public housing, the film takes time to explore the space created by this loss, probing for meaning like a tongue forever seeking out the hole left by a lost tooth. Through the stories and recollections of people whose lives were shaped by Pruitt-Igoe, we come to share the fears and the joys it once housed, revisiting the timeline in a reflective, non-linear way. Like Kurosawa’s classic RASHOMON, one senses that there is no simple answer to this puzzle of Pruitt-Igoe, no absolute lesson to be learned from this past, but rather many questions to continue to ask; the “myth” to be busted is that we can pin all of the problems on a single element (the design, the density, the racist bureaucracy and white flight, the drugs and gangs, the breakdown of the family in northern Black cities, etc.) and prescribe a pat prescription so “this will never happen again.”

At a pivotal moment, Brian King (a former resident and the real moral anchor for the film) describes the day his older brother was shot in front of their building: watching his mother—helpless and overwhelmed and grief-stricken—frantically trying in vain to shove her son’s viscera back into the hole in his chest. In the end, at least for the space of the movie, we feel the same mix of loss, frustration, anger, and helpless over the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe—wishing more had been done, but knowing full well that the problems facing cities in the 1960s and 70s were bigger than one housing project alone could solve.

Kickstart This Film: Metropolis (2012), by Tides of Flame

Most of the reviews on this site describe films that already exist, but from time to time we highlight stories on upcoming or proposed projects. One particularly exciting development in recent years is the potential for “crowd-sourced film production” enabled by sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Unfortunately, it can also be time-consuming to sift through all the projects listed to find those of real interest to viewers of urban film. Here’s one that’s worth a quick look, and possibly even a small donation.

With a Kickstarter pitch-page that reads like a cross between a prophetic bible tract and the out-takes from a William S. Burroughs rant, this film was bound to catch my attention. Requesting only an extremely modest (and symbolically spooky!) budget of $666, the filmmakers — known only as Tides of Flame, “a collective of radical film makers from the Pacific Northwest” — are proposing to create an “anti-commercial” “negative production,” using film to alter the way we think about cities, capital, production, networks, modernism, and reality itself.

The description of the project just seethes with ambition. In their own manifestoic words:

“In Fritz Lang’s classic, METROPOLIS (1927), the rulers of the
city and the workers of its sewers come to an understanding at the
end of the film. The workers will act as the body, the rulers will
act as the head, and the intellectual will act as the heart. Our
film will destroy this broken harmony forever.”

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Master Plan (Robert Todd, 2011)

I first saw Robert Todd’s Master Plan over five months ago, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s a beautiful documentary of the best kind: one that presents stirring images and thought-provoking juxtapositions, but once stirred and provoked the viewer’s thoughts are allowed to marinate a while. The film shies away from any pat conclusions, seeming much more comfortable presenting a landscape of places, ideas, and lines of inquiry for us to wander and ponder along with Todd, rather than a single “punch line” he wants us to “get”; I was reminded of the line from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where Pirsig talks about the importance of thinking about “what things are,” and not just “what things mean.”

http://www.roberttoddfilms.com/images/MasterPlanJAIL5wall.gif

Indeed, the film had a certain Zen-like quality, both in its attention to small details and quietly “just being” in the places it explores, as well as its non-attachment to a single-purpose narrative. Although described as “a feature length film about housing,” its scope extends far beyond simply looking at physical housing: its subject is homes, habitats, communities, neighborhoods, buildings, landscapes, and the ways people interact in, around, and with them; the bulk of the footage presents a wonderfully rich portrait — or perhaps nonstop pan — of the ways humans live in places. Beyond all this — and the luxuriously decompressed pace takes plenty of time meandering before arriving at this point — the focal point of the film finally settles on a prolonged meditation on the homes and communities of incarcerated individuals, which is apparently a longer-term project for Todd. (An earlier film, In Loving Memory, explored the experiences of prisoners on death row; his next major project will examine ways that former prisoners are re-integrated into their home communities.)

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Waste Land (Lucy Walker, 2010)

As part of the 2012 noon-to-midnight MIT Urban Planning Movie Marathon, we screened Waste Land, which has already won a number of awards, including the 2010 Audience Award for Best World Cinema Documentary at Sundance, an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, and the Amnesty International Human Rights Film Award given out in Berlin. It is really a great movie: clever dialog, complex characters, a well-paced story that develops over the course of the film in unpredictable ways, a compelling (but not overpowering) soundtrack, and stunning camerawork that makes great use of the entire screen. Added to all of this, it calls attention to a global policy problem that is all-too-easy to ignore: what happens to the waste we all create, and what are the environmental and human consequences of our very way of life.

http://www.wastelandmovie.com/images/gallery02.jpg

The film follows Brazilian-born Brooklyn artist Vik Muniz as he travels to “Jardim Gramacho,” a sprawling landfill located outside of Rio de Janeiro. He’s a fun, interesting protagonist – clearly believing in the importance of his work but also able to see the absurdity in the entire world of art – and he seems comfortable navigating easily between the slums of Rio and the art galleries of London. Early in the film he dreams up the crazy idea of making portraits of Gramacho’s garbage pickers – not with film or paint, but by literally drawing them in garbage.

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