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ND/NF 2010: “The Oath,” “Northless,” “3 Backyards” and “Bilal’s Stand”; More

The Auteurs Daily

The Oath

Friday's New Directors / New Films lineup: Laura Poitras's The Oath, Rigoberto Perezcano's Northless, Eric Mendelsohn's 3 Backyards and Sultan Sharrief's Bilal's Stand.

"As she showed in My Country, My Country, in which she interviewed a Sunni physician in Iraq," writes Howard Feinstein for indieWIRE, "New York-based documentarian Laura Poitras — among the top docmakers anywhere - peers into lives and issues missed by both the mainstream and alternative media."

The Oath "places the audience in an ambiguous and untenable relationship with the movie's subjects, particularly its central figure, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard and current Sanaa-based cab driver Abu Jandal," writes Andrew Schenker for Artforum. Throughout, there is a "constant uncertainty as to the nature of truth — compounded by Poitras's dense web of material and her strategic withholding of information — that gives the film its dizzying charge and serves as a welcome antidote to the damaging simplicity of the official us-versus-them narrative."

More from Brandon Harris (Hammer to Nail) and Lauren Wissot (Slant). When the film screened at Sundance, AJ Schnack collected a round of reviews.

Update, 3/27: IndieWIRE interviews Poitras. Update, 4/1: Viewing. Mekado Murphy talks with Poitras for the New York Times.


"Northless, the estimable feature debut of Rigoberto Perezcano, centers on a young Mexican trying and failing and trying again to cross into the United States." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "From its opening, with the dawn lighting up the sharply drawn hills, an image that simultaneously evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Light (by Carlos Reygadas, one of the brightest stars in the new Mexican cinema), you know you're in the hands of a real director. With a confident eye, dry humor, expansive warmth and stealth-like politics, Mr Perezcano follows the itinerant Andrés (Harold Torres), as he makes his way to Tijuana and into the lives of a storeowner, Ela (Alicia Laguna); her helper, Cata (Sonia Couoh); and Asensio (Luis Cárdenas), a wary butcher who maintains a proprietary relationship with both women."

More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Howard Feinstein (indieWIRE) and Andrew Schenker (Slant). Earlier: Daniel Kasman here in The Notebook.

3 Backyards

"Eric Mendelsohn's first film since 1999's Judy Berlin suggests Little Children as helmed by a nature documentarian," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "But in spite of the obsessive fixation on leaves and the menacing blare of the sun, Mendelsohn skirts naturalism, treating the life of his characters as artifice. The sounds of a melancholic flute, sometimes the screeching of crickets, dominate the persistent soundtrack, accentuating the already storybook tenor of the film. The characters are obsessed with time and speak in abstractions, their faces sometimes hard to see, and rarely does anyone leave the periphery of their doll-like homes, and when they do, it's ethereally, some spilling in and out of bushes like rabbits; a conspicuous emphasis is placed on borders, whether manmade or of nature's construction, and so locations come to resemble pushed-together dioramas. Welcome to Long Island as Alice in Wonderland."

More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Howard Feinstein (indieWIRE) and Nelson Kim (Hammer to Nail). Back in January, Scott Foundas interviewed Mendelsohn for LA Weekly.

Update, 4/1: Viewing. Mekado Murphy talks with Mendelsohn for the NYT.

Bilal's Stand

Brandon Harris in Hammer to Nail: "Made piecemeal over four years, Sultan Sharrief's Bilal's Stand is a brazenly autobiographical, starless, penny-pinching production from Detroit about one black Muslim teen's decision to go to the University of Michigan despite the naysayers in his family and in the diverse, suburban high school he treks out to in order to avoid the substandard education offered in Detroit's toxic public schools."

For Nick Schager, writing at Slant, this is a "case of a heartwarming backstory failing to elevate substandard filmmaking."

Update, 3/30: IndieWIRE interviews Sharrief.



"Four international premieres and nine US and North American premieres are among the highlights of the 14th Annual City of Lights, City of Angels French film festival that runs at the Directors Guild of America April 19 - 25." Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

"Many Angelenos know Ross Lipman as the man behind stunning film restorations — Shadows (1959), Killer of Sheep (1977), The Exiles (1961) — but fewer are aware of his double life as an internationally acclaimed film, video and performance artist." Doug Cummings: "He's a keen-eyed, softly bohemian globe-trotter and a wizard with the optical printer, and his exploratory and personal works investigating the theme of urban ruins will screen at REDCAT on Tuesday, March 30."

Also in LA Weekly, David Cotner on William Sachs's Galaxina, featuring Dorothy Stratten's last performance and screening on Saturday at Cinefamily.

Warsaw Bridge screens on Sunday through Thursday at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum. "[Pere] Portabella's film is made just for people who can never get enough of the essence of cinema, which is, of course, photography," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "The director de fotografía, Tomás Pladevall, is the brightest star of Warsaw Bridge."

New Yorkers will want to see Aaron Hillis's spring preview for the Voice.



From Catherine Grant comes news that the latest issue of Scope is up. Featuring original articles and film reviews, the online journal of the Institute of Film & TV Studies at the University of Nottingham is especially notable for its book reviews and conference reports.

"Thirty-five years after Pier Paolo Pasolini's battered body was found on a bleak beach near Rome, the government is under pressure to reopen the inquiry into the mysterious murder of the iconoclastic filmmaker," reports Michael Day in the Independent. "Walter Veltroni, the former leader of the opposition, has written an open letter to the Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano, asking why, despite the mass of unanswered questions, authorities have yet to make amends for an investigation that 'was riddled with holes, like many others of the time.'" Corriere della Sera is running the letter in full — and in English.

"The balcony is closed, this time for good." Dave Itzkoff for the New York Times: "After nearly three decades, At the Movies, the syndicated television program that introduced many viewers to the film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, as well as to film criticism in all its thorny and contentious glory, will cease production this summer, the studio that produces the show said." Blogs Ebert: "Don't blame Tony Scott and Michael Phillips, the final co-hosts, critics I admire who still have five months left on the air.... Blame the fact that cable TV and the internet have fragmented the audience so much that stations are losing market share no matter what they do."

Kevin Smith chose a fine week to rage against critics. Karina Longworth reports for the Voice.

"Robert Culp, the veteran actor best known for starring with Bill Cosby in the classic 1960s espionage-adventure series I Spy and for playing Bob in the 1969 movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, died Wednesday morning. He was 79." Dennis McLellan for the Los Angeles Times.

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