Let’s Talk Arts: ‘Cinema Live’ Brings the Directors to You

Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi in a Peshmerga armored car on the Kurdistan border with Iraq.
Beginning this weekend, Sag Harbor Cinema (SHC) will host “Cinema Live,” a new four-part series built around the virtual screening of a newly released film followed by conversations with the directors or film writers.Moderated by SHC Artistic Director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, the series begins January 24 with director Gianfranco Rosi discussing his documentary “Notturno.” On January 31, the award-winning film “Identifying Features” will be offered in collaboration with Cinema Tropical followed by a live discussion with its director Fernanda Valadez. On Saturday, February 6, Pietro Marcello discusses his latest film “Martin Eden.” On February 14, NPR’s John Powers discusses the romantic and stylish films of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. Also coming up, with a date to be determined, will be a conversation with Ramin Bahrani, director of “The White Tiger,” which will be released on Netflix this month. Also available in SHC’s virtual cinema starting February 5 will be “Escher: Journey Into Infinity” an eye-opening portrait of artist M.C. Escher through his own words and images.

Vallan recently talked about the upcoming offering and how it came to be.

Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan

Q: What are the themes of these films and how did you find them?

It’s a mix. These are films upcoming in our virtual cinema, and they are first-runs in the U.S. that I had the privilege of seeing. “Notturno” I saw in Venice, and it’s coming to other cinemas in the U.S. “Martin Eden” was in Europe a year ago, then [Barack] Obama put it on his favorite movies of the year list.

Q: But it’s not just the films, you’ll also offer live discussions about them.

We added this extra thing with the conversations. In the past when we could, we brought people into the theater to talk about the movies, but for this, we thought let’s go the other way, let’s go far — Gianfranco from Rome, Pietro from Paris, John Powers is in Pasadena and Fernanda Valadez is in Mexico. She made “Identifying Features” with mostly a crew of women, and that film was one I wasn’t aware of until two weeks ago.

Q: I Imagine the filmmakers were happy to have an outlet for speaking about their work during this pandemic.

The filmmakers immediately said yes. It’s interesting for them to be speaking to an American audience, and given where we are, they were passionate about doing it. I got in touch with Pietro Marcello through a friend of another filmmaker and said this is for a cinema that’s being rebuilt. He wanted to do it and talked about the importance of theater and defended the theatrical experience. We can’t open, and that makes people want to do it.

Q: The Sag Harbor Cinema must strike them as very unique because it’s opening at a time when many theaters are shutting down.

It’s a big story. I think filmmakers tend to be very supportive of the idea of preserving movie theaters, and that’s part of the attraction. The cinema has built a reputation for conversations and they see they’re in good company, and I have many relationships with filmmakers.

Q: So why this series, now?

It was important. Our other series was Sunday late afternoon, with the virtual cinema, people can see the films whenever they want, so we thought, why not create a weekly appointment where they can come and ask questions? It was an attempt to create a chance to meet.

In a virtual cinema, we’re limited because there are only so many releases. These are all related to new films, there’s no theme.

Q: Can you tell me about the relationships with some of the guests you’ll be speaking with?

Bahrani is New York-based and wanted to have a conversation about a movie we can’t show, “The White Tiger,” which will be on Netflix in January. The film is a great film and one that has been very much talked about, so I thought it was interesting to have him come speak about it and wanted to keep it open and not tie ourselves into what comes into the virtual cinema. I’ve curated his work for a long time. He’s very aware of the Sag Harbor Cinema project and he immediately said, “Let’s do it.” In fact, when we were supposed to open for Christmas and his film was coming out, we had talked about him coming to Sag Harbor.

Gianfranco I’ve known a long time. I’ve shown his films for decades and we are friends. John Powers is an author and well-respected writer. He’s been a critic for Vogue and “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. He’s a wonderful cinemaphile and worked on the book about Wong Kar-wai.

Q: This must be a strange time for you since this cinema is ready to go, but you aren’t yet able to open it to the public.

It seems like a holding pattern, but it’s not because we’ve been very active. I’m just finishing a new set of Cinema Minutes for the website, like the ones I did for the Christmas films. It’s time consuming. I watch films and select scenes. I do a lot of work with distributors and filmmakers, but it’s very similar to the work we will be doing once we’re open, it’s just virtual. The idea of doing the conversations is to encourage people to look at the films.

Q: But I imagine the upside of being virtual is that you are attracting a wider audience than you would otherwise.

Potentially, yes, we get audience members from all over. There is so much stuff online, and I think we’re all exhausted about all the offerings out there. The idea of not putting up too many movies, but really good ones and attaching conversations is making it special. You create a special environment for audiences. That’s very good. Plus a portion of the tickets go to the cinema, so it’s another way to support us.

Visit sagharborcinema.org to access films and conversations.

Sunday, January 24, at 4:30 p.m.

A still image from Gianfranco Rosi’s film “Notturno.”

Conversation with Gianfranco Rosi, director of “Notturno.”

Filmed over three years on the borders between Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon, “Notturno” captures the everyday life that lies behind the continuing tragedy of civil war, ferocious dictatorships, foreign invasions and the murderous apocalypse of ISIS. Rosi constructs a sublime cinematic journey through the region finding peace and light within the chaos and despair in the aftermath of war. A mosaic of intimate moments and luminous images, “Notturno” is a profound and urgent cinematic achievement from a master of the documentary form. The film will be available in the virtual cinema starting January 22.

Sunday, January 31, at 4:30 p.m.

A still image from Fernanda Valadez’s film “Identifying Features.”

Conversation with Fernanda Valadez, director of “Identifying Features,” offered in collaboration with Cinema Tropical.

Middle-aged Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez) has lost contact with her son after he took off with a friend from their town of Guanajuato to cross the border into the United States, hopeful to find work. Desperate to find out what happened to him — and to know whether he’s even alive — she embarks on an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous journey to discover the truth. At the same time, a young man named Miguel (David Illescas) has returned to Mexico after being deported from the United States, and eventually his path converges with Magdalena’s. From this simple but urgent premise, director Valadez has crafted a lyrical, suspenseful slow burn, equally constructed of moments of beauty and horror, and which leads to a startling, shattering conclusion. “Identifying Features” will be available in the virtual cinema starting January 29.

Saturday, February 6 at 4:30 p.m.

Still image from Pietro Marcello’s film “Martin Eden.”

Conversation with Pietro Marcello, director of “Martin Eden.”

Adapted from a 1909 novel by Jack London yet set in a provocatively unspecified moment in Italy’s history, “Martin Eden” is a passionate and enthralling narrative fresco in the tradition of the great Italian classics. Martin (played by Luca Marinelli) is a self-taught proletarian with artistic aspirations who hopes that his dreams of becoming a writer will help him rise above his station and marry a wealthy young university student (Jessica Cressy).

The dissatisfactions of working-class toil and bourgeois success lead to political awakening and destructive anxiety. “Martin Eden” will be available in the virtual cinema starting February 5 together with Pietro Marcello’s acclaimed 2009 film “The Mouth of the Wolf.”

Sunday, February 14 at 4:30 p.m.

Image from the Wong Kar-wai film “Chungking Express.”

Conversation with John Powers, critic-at-large for NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” and co-author, with Wong Kar-wai, of “WKW: The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai” (Rizzoli, 2016).

Wong Kar-wai is known for his films that explore — in saturated, cinematic scenes — themes of love, longing and the burden of memory.

His style reveals a fascination with mood and texture, and a sense of place figures prominently. In the first book on his entire body of work, Wong Kar-wai and writer John Powers explore Wong’s complete oeuvre in the locations of some of his most famous scenes. The book is structured as six conversations between Powers and Wong (each in a different locale), including the restaurant where he shot “In the Mood for Love” and the snack bar where he shot “Chungking Express.” Powers explores Wong’s trademark themes of time, nostalgia, and beauty, and their roots in his personal life. “World of Wong Kar-wai” (including seven of his best films, released each week) are available in the virtual cinema through February 28.

Date TBD

Conversation with Ramin Bahrani, director of “The White Tiger.”

Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) narrates his epic and darkly humorous rise from poor villager to successful entrepreneur in modern India. Cunning and ambitious, the young hero jockeys his way into becoming a driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), who have just returned from America. Society has trained Balram to be one thing — a servant — so he makes himself indispensable to his rich masters. But after a night of betrayal, he realizes the corrupt lengths they will go to trap him and save themselves.

The film is based on the New York Times best-seller and 2008 Man Booker Prize-winning novel.

The White Tiger will be available on Netflix starting January 22.

Available on the virtual cinema February 5

An M.C. Escher design in the film “Escher: Journey To Infinity.”

“Escher: Journey Into Infinity” directed by Robin Lutz.

“Escher: Journey Into Infinity” is the story of world famous Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher (1898-1972). Equal parts history, psychology, and psychedelia, Lutz’s entertaining, eye-opening portrait presents the man through his own words and images: diary musings, excerpts from lectures, correspondence and more are voiced by British actor Stephen Fry, while Escher’s woodcuts, lithographs, and other print works appear in both original and playfully altered form.