Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) is a short film made for television and produced by Danny Boyle and BBC Northern Ireland. Set amid the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the short presents 18 matter-of-fact murders with a coldly observational approach, providing limited dialogue and utilizing the predatory look of steadicam follow shots. The film takes its title from Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty’s description of the Troubles as “the elephant in our living room,” and it served as an inspiration to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), a film that likewise attended to the broader social problems that underlie American school-shootings and gun violence.
Clarke’s short is overdetermined in its intentions, being full of intense men and purposeful walks, yet it is also disturbing empty. Despite its apparent single-mindedness, there are no explanations of the hows and whys of its killings and there are nearly no sounds of surprise or panic, yet there is always the banality of violence and death, a lifeless body in a drab room and a getaway that rarely strays from the same purposeful walk. For more on Elephant and the psychology it embodies (or withholds) in its particular cinematography, MMC! offers Jordan Schonig’s impressive and insightful video essay, The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants (2018). Schonig’s essay provides a concise exploration of what may be contemporary cinema’s most ubiquitous and conspicuous shot and perfectly unpacks the themes and tensions at work in Clarke and Van Sant’s respective films.
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival went globe-trotting to start Day 2. The “Drawn from Around the World” block of animated shorts offered some enthralling works. Many conveyed a sad or lamenting poignancy. Keiro (Tatiana Jusewycz, Benoît Leloup, Franck Menigoz, Zoé Nérot, and Charlotte Poncin, 2016) traced a girl’s journey to adulthood and its effect on the giant creature that accompanies her, Beyond the Books (Jérôme Battistelli, Mathilde Cartigny, Nicolas Evain, Maéna Paillet, Robin Pelissier, and Judith Wahler, 2017) envisioned the highly detailed collapse of an impossibly immense library, the Spanish short Dead Horses (Marc Riba and Anna Solanas, 2016) revealed the brutality of war from a child’s perspective and amid fabric devastation, and the Indian film Schirkoa (Asian Shukla, 2017) imagined political strife in a world where citizens wear bags and boxes on their heads. Others brought the funny, like Daniel Sterlin-Altman’s Hi, It’s Your Mother (2017), about motherhood, blood loss, and middle class living told in crude claymation, and Deuspi (Megacomputer, 2017), a very short work about a pair of astonishingly inept stick-up men and their hilarious fates.
With the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, John Grierson, the British documentarian and the NFB’s first commissioner, set upon a project to foster and shape the national identity, and the outbreak of World War II was a timely context for Grierson’s nationalist aims. One of the NFB’s first efforts was Canada Carries On, a series of theatrical shorts aimed to boost morale during wartime. Its producer, British documentary filmmaker Stuart Legg, found early success in the endeavour when he received two Oscar nominations for the new documentary short category. Relying heavily on stock footage and “voice-of-God” commentary, Legg’s Churchill’s Island (1941) and Warclouds in the Pacific (1941) are remarkable documents of their periods. Churchill’s Island won that first documentary Oscar, but Legg has failed to garner the kind of recognition given to his close colleague Grierson.
As per the NFB:
This film won the NFB its first Oscar® and was also the first documentary to win this coveted award. It presents the strategy of the Battle of Britain, showing with penetrating clarity the relationships between the various forces made up the island’s defences. Here is the Royal Air Force in its epic battle with the Luftwaffe, the Navy in its stubborn fight against the raiders of sea and sky, the coastal defences, the mechanized cavalry, the merchant seamen and behind them all, Britain’s tough, unbending civilian army.
As per the NFB:
This short film examines the Japan that emerged at the beginning of the 1900s and was firmly established as an industrialized nation by the outbreak of World War II. Facing the greatest threat in their history, the democracies of the Pacific took careful stock of this new Japan and its strength, and erected a vast system of defence across the world’s greatest ocean.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Thy Broad Domain: Essential Works of the NFB.
For 75 years, the National Film Board of Canada has been a pioneer in film art, producing and distributing more than 13,000 films and winning more than 5,000 awards. The NFB’s collection represents some of film history’s greatest and most influential works of social documentary, auteur animation, experimental film, web series, and interactive productions. Across an endless of variety of filmmaking techniques, these inventive works represent domestic and international concerns from a distinctly Canadian perspective and provide a cinematic influence still felt today. This collector’s set brings together some of the NFB’s most celebrated films since its establishment under the watchful eye of famed British documentarian John Grierson to its present day innovations in digital media.
- New digital restorations, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray
- New introductions and audio commentaries to the films by critic Leonard Maltin, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, director Guy Maddin, scholars Mick Broderick and Rodney Hill, physician and activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, music scholar Paul Sanden, comedians Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, and others
- New and archival interview programs featuring filmmakers including Kaj Pindal, Ishu Patel, Cynthia Scott, Terre Nash, Cordell Barker, and Katerina Cizek
- New and archival documentaries on the making of these films, including Alter Egos, Laurence Green’s hour-long documentary on the making of Chris Landreth’s Ryan
- PLUS: A booklet featuring a foreword by Government Film Commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur and essays by film scholars Gary Evans, André Loiselle, Gene Walz, and Zoë Druick
Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.
Virtually unknown in the West, Tatyana Lioznova’s 12-part mini-series Seventeen Moments of Spring is Russia’s most popular and acclaimed TV production, playing annually to millions of viewers since its release in 1973. Soviet spy Maxim Isaev (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), working in deep cover as a prominent SS officer named Max Otto von Stierlitz, receives direction from Moscow in February 1945 to gather information on peace talks rumored between the Americans and Nazis and frustrate any efforts that might allow the Germans to focus all their military power to the Eastern Front. What follows is a complicated battle of wits set within the Nazi administration with mortal consequences for Stierlitz and all of the USSR. This methodically suspenseful and widely successful espionage thriller celebrates the Russian war effort during World War II, valorizes the nation’s security agencies through the patriotic and canny Stierlitz, and subtly critiques Soviet bureaucratic authority in an era of thawing Cold War relations.
Includes the original version and the 2009 colorized version, with notes by historian Stephen Lovell.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Underground.
Emir Kusturica’s epic masterpiece recounts the demise of his native Yugoslavia through the metaphorical relationship of Blacky and Marko over fifty years. The pair booze and brawl their way through World War II, enhancing their reputations as communist guerrilla fighters and black marketeers until Marko tricks Blacky and others into hiding in his cellar where they manufacture weapons for twenty years under the false understanding that the war continues. This raucous and tragicomic parable won Kusturica the Palme d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and inspired a flurry of controversy that resulted in the filmmaker’s temporary retirement from the cinema. Included here is Kusturica’s stunning, savage, and hilarious theatrical release and his five-hour television version, Once Upon a Time There Was a Country.
- New 4K digital restoration of the theatrical version, approved by director Emir Kusturica, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
- Once Upon a Time There Was a Country, the 5-hour mini-series cut of Underground for Serbian television
- New interview with Kusturica on his influences, the film, its reception, and its legacy
- Journalist Tommaso Di Francesco on Underground
- Shooting Days: Emir Kusturica Directs Underground, Aleksandar Manic’s 73-minute documentary on the making of Underground
- Underground at Cannes, footage from the post-screening party at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival
- Guernica, Kusturica’s 1978 short film
- Interviews with cast and crew
- Behind the scenes footage
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Sean Homer and production photos