Fiction and Fact Intermingle at the First Look Film Festival

First Look is the Museum of the Moving Image’s annual celebration of experimental cinema. This year’s edition features an intriguing assortment of films that remix archival materials, blend nonfiction and fiction, or do both. Elene Asatiani and Soso Dumbadze’s Limitation (2023) reconstructs the timeline of the 1991 coup in Georgia entirely through found footage. Similarly, in Behind Closed Doors (2023), João Pedro Bim layers long-buried audio of a secret 1960s meeting of Brazil’s National Security Council over government propaganda from throughout the years of the country’s dictatorship. Sara Summa, her brother, and her son all play versions of themselves in her film Arthur & Diana (2023). And Robert Kolodny takes an unusual tack to the biopic by constructing a fake period documentary following real-life boxer Willie Pep attempting to make a comeback in the 1960s in The Featherweight (2023). 

One film in the program makes particularly abstract use of remix. The Polish essay piece Solaris Mon Amour (2023) is a heady mash-up of Alain Resnais’s romantic drama film Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Stanisław Lem’s landmark sci-fi novel Solaris (1961). Director Kuba Mikurda was inspired by the fact that Lem began writing the book in 1959, the same year Resnais’s film was released. Solaris has been adapted multiple times in many forms, and is likely familiar to most via Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film, an icon of existentialism and Soviet cinema. But Mikurda invokes audio from different radio play versions produced by the Teatre of Polskie Radio, mixing it with footage from over 70 educational works made by Lodz’s Educational Film Studio.

The juxtaposition of coldly scientific images with Lem’s yearning, wounded narration creates an effect similar to Resnais’s film, an enigmatic, montage-heavy rumination on postwar trauma centered on the romance between a French woman and a Japanese man who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Solaris Mon Amour instead suggests the feeling of being emotionally unmoored in Eastern Europe during the tumultuous 20th century, of losing one’s sense of rootedness amid an age of dizzying scientific discovery following some of the worst carnage humankind had ever experienced.

Gasoline Rainbow (2023) has more of a narrative arc holding it together, though it too emphasizes vibes over plot — albeit very differently, and generally much more pleasantly. This is the latest work from director brothers Bill and Turner Ross, who specialize in setting up intricate scenarios that their characters navigate as they follow them. In this film, they focus on a group of teens who embark on an ill-planned road trip across Oregon to the coast. Recent high school grads, these kids naturally have a lot on their minds about the shape their lives will take. The delineation between what’s constructed and what’s genuine feels a lot clearer here than in most of the brothers’ previous works. (When the group hops a train, for instance, a viewer is unlikely to think this is an unexpected improvisation.) But the kids’ thoroughly mundane, often deeply relatable conversations and confessions makes them feel all the more honest and raw. That kind of artistic adventure perfectly crystallizes the ethos of First Look.

First Look 2024 continues at the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria, Queens) through March 17.

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