Some favourite cinematic moments of 2008

It's been a year of much travelling for me. With 'Seaview' on the festival circuit, I ended up all over the world introducing our film and watching other films whenever I could. A year of meeting other filmmakers, film fans, programmers, and artists in festival bars and cinemas from Berlin to Brazil - from an oddly fabulous/tedious Quantum of Solace style cocktail party with insanely heavy security in Santa Teresa, to a white chocolate mango birthday cake from the Cheapies at the Gossip Studio, or driving through the south of Morocco and over the Atlas mountains imagining all the way how this place could be captured in a film, or dancing with new friends to Donna Summer on a very sticky carpet at the Sheffield Scottish ceilidh roller disco... it's been an amazing year.

I think the year began when I left Brooklyn for Berlin, where we premiered 'Seaview' at the Forum. And now I'm getting ready to pack my bags and head to Berlin again, where the film will start its German theatrical tour. In between it's been a year of extremes, losing loved ones too soon, finding new friends, and hopefully the end of one horrific era and the beginning of something more human.

I thought of putting together a 'top 10 films of 2008' list here, but realised that I've been popping around so much that I really don't know what was in the cinemas where, what was released, what wasn't. I've also missed seeing a lot of the films that were showing here in New York. So instead, here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite cinematic moments from the year. Some of these films were even on top lists and in cinemas last year, but I only got around to seeing them in 2008.


My Winnipeg - Guy Maddin
This was at Berlin last year. Hilarious, inventive, unexpected, and possibly the liveliest film about cultural narcolepsy ever made.


Bad Blue Boys - Branko Schmidt
I saw this film with Nicky at Hot Docs in Toronto. A 25 minute portrait of an ex-soldier in Croatia. We never see his face... just his family, his hands, his stash of hidden guns he uses to go shooting with other ex-military mates. It's a disjointed, disturbing, fractured insight into what happens to soldiers when the fighting stops.


Impovvisamente l'inverno scorso
Suddenly last winter - Gustav Hofer/Luca Ragazzi

From two perfect Italian gentlemen, a film that is as delightful as it is troubling. Gustav and Luca find themselves making a film in the midst of a huge homophobic backlash to proposed changes in the Italian law that will grant equal rights to same sex couples. They document the events from their own perspective in a way that is disarming, genuine, and wonderfully human. It's never easy for documentary filmmakers to put themselves so centrally in a film without it seeming uncomfortable, but these two do it with such honesty and lack of pretence you cheer and weep with them through the frames.


General Idea: Art, AIDS, and the fin de siècle
Annette Mangaard

With gallons of blue paint and amazing archival footage, this is a great art documentary about knowing what to do with the times you find yourself in.


Steve McQueen

From the piss running under cell doors, to the cigarette butts crushed in disposable metal ashtrays, this film captured so powerfully both the horrors of the Maze prison and the violence of the times. The approach to storytelling is visually driven in a way that I really found perfect in describing the cold brutality of the events. The acting, the camerawork, the meticulous research... it all came together to make possibly my favourite film of the year.


Stellet Licht
Carlos Reygadas

Having tried to create a similar shot to the opening shot of this film myself in Mexico, it's wonderful to see someone do it and get it right. This film brings us the miracle of the unexpected. Mennonites in Mexico with a crumbling marriage and forbidden love. For me, the most perfect cinema of our moment has these instances of compacted unexplainability - the compression of our time with spikes that erupt - like in Stellet Licht, like the rocket in Still Life, like the murderous red raincoat. An outburst - one we should see daily, and cinema still gives us. Again possibly my very favourite film of the year.


La Frontera Infinita
The infinite border
Juan Manuel Sepulveda

Here's another one of my favourites from Berlin. La Frontera Infinita is a beautifully paced documentary about people attempting to get through Central America to the Mexico-US border. Rather than take us on a literal journey, the film hovers in certain points along a train line, and witnesses the passing through of hundreds and hundreds of people. We're often unsure where we are along the route, but this is the wonder of the film - it's like the whole journey is folded into a single location, and that location is a loop.


Corridor 8
Boris Despodov

From everyone's favourite Bulgarian friend, Corridor 8 takes us from the Black Sea through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania to the Adriatic, along an EU-proposed highway that was supposed to link all three countries. This description does little justice though to a hilarious and clever film that follows a simple line to show how ridiculously absurd and complicated our world has become. The highway was never built, train tracks stop a few hundred feet short of connecting, and locals grow mushrooms in the half-dug tunnels...


Two great shorts about work from Silverdocs. The Tailor by Oscar Perez is one of the funniest docs I have ever seen... pure genius. What would the drop know about that by Jan Zabeil is a beautifully shot portrait of a monumental building and those that stay inside alone at night to clean it.


Still Life
Jia Zhang Ke

This film I think was probably more of a best of 2007 film, but I only got to see it early this year. Bodies buried under blocks and addresses wiped away by rising waters from the three gorges project. I loved this film. There's something too about the falling off my chair moment in the middle that is all the more stunning because of just how unexpected it is. I also loved Useless by the same director which I saw at the Rio de Janeiro Film festival, especially the first sections shot in the garment factories. You could put these scenes and the opening factory shots from Jennifer Bachiwal's Manufactured Landscapes together on loop and I would be very happy.


Christine Molloy/Joe Lawlor

An intro of sorts to their debut feature Helen which I am very much looking forward to seeing. This for me is the perfect culmination of their extended period of research into the long, single take short film. It's a wonder that takes you by the hand and leads you gently to somewhere you've never been before.


Wild combination
Matt Wolf

A really smartly made doc about a fascinating figure that many had already started to forget. Lights on the water and balloons on the ceiling - our history is always with us.


Syndromes and a century
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Another film that was really a last year pick, but again it was 2008 before I found a way to see it. This is just perfect filmmaking. I could talk a lot about why I love this director, but among many things, I love the way he uses pop songs in his films - the most tender sugary pop, or the most insane hi-nrg disco. That one music video track from Worldly Desires is on constant play in my head. I recently found a load of 60's and 70's Thai pop music that I listen to a lot in the studio. Playing these tracks, while thinking of booze hidden in a prosthetic leg, outdoor mass aerobics, smoky sexy slow dolly shots... it doesn't get much better than this.


Isaac Julien

There is a lot I like about this film. Most of the footage I'd seen before back in the day it was broadcast, but it was great to see it put together so carefully. Tilda Swinton's voiceover worked well too - especially the gentle but urgent battle cry at the end...less money, more films...

But what I really loved about this film was when I saw it first in a press screening in Berlin. For some reason the surround channels got scrambled... the voiceover was practically inaudible, and the images were buried under waves of interfering surround sound. The images flickered on the screen while this music, which I think could be described as the sound of memory, played out. It was amazing. I was stunned at how courageous the filmmakers were being, how they were making a film about Jarman and remaining so close to his aesthetic.

Then the reels were rewound after 10 minutes and the film re-started. This time everything seemed normal again. The film played out, but the mistake stayed with me. It was a momentary glimpse into a film I want to make some day.


The mad fox
Tomo Uchida

This was maybe my favourite replay of the year. BAM had a huge Uchida season. This film just blew me away with its exploding sets and lights and fox masks.


4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days
Cristian Mungiu

This only made it over the New York in 2008. So tense it was almost a full-on thriller - a real time stalking of a personal and political crisis. Top art-house cinema.


Residential Erection
Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung

Demented political animations that lampoon everyone from every angle and get across big political ideas in less time than it takes you to read the front page of the New York Post.


The 7 lights
Paul Chan

I saw this gorgeous video show at the New Museum earlier in the year. There's certainly a lot to be said for turning the video projector on its side! The videos to me read as part lament, part a record of a hopeless time. But their beauty revealed an optimism or glimmer of hope that could be taken away and saved for later.


Three soundtracks/architectural space
Dennis McNulty

A cinematic three way tour de force. And not a film at all. Sitting in chairs we watch xeroxed stills reflected inside black plexiglass while listening to a series of soundtracks and narratives on headphones. We made our own films. The room filled and flowed with sound from other pieces, and yet everything in the room came together as one.


Muhheakantuck - Everything has a name
Matthew Buckingham

Matthew Buckingham's film screened on a water taxi navigating the Hudson river. As the tracking shot on screen played, the taxi brought us up and down the river to match the film's movement, and the voiceover gave a perfect and much needed context to the island of Manhattan.


Wishing you all the very best for 2009.



Transgender Scientists

Collage is how I first started making art. I've been making these cut-out works on and off for almost twenty years now, and when not distracted by moving images, I come back to focus on these simple layouts and juxtapositions. Unlike films, which take me years, each of these takes just a few minutes to complete. Here's the first batch of a new series. I was thinking about famous transgender scientists when I was working on them.