Although the Rubenstein Arts Center’s film theater is quiet this semester, Screen/Society is finding ways to keep bringing the cinematic arts to Duke and Durham. This semester’s lineup is called “New Releases/New Restorations,” a timely selection of films to acquaint cinephiles with the current film landscape.
The seven-film slate features a curated selection of six newly released films and the 35th anniversary restoration of 1985's “Smooth Talk," which stars Laura Dern in her breakout role. The other films are diverse in their genres and countries of origin, with the series ranging from a dark comedy about the Israel-Palestine conflict (“Mayor”) to a Hungarian psychodrama about female obsession ("Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time").
“It’s always part of our mission at Screen/Society to bring in films from all over the world, films with an international focus, that are not otherwise available to the local Triangle viewing public, and the Duke student and faculty community. We try to fill in the gap and bring in interesting films that have flown under the radar,” said Jason Sudak, an instructor in the Cinematic Arts program and part of the programming team for Screen/Society. For Sudak, the genre-hopping films have a particularly relevant unifying core in just how cinematic the mundane can feel.
“What struck me, during these pandemic times, is how small moments feel so big,” he said. “As I’m watching these smaller films, I’m finding myself completely engrossed in these everyday exchanges between people, especially in public spaces, that are just so far away from us now.”
Screen/Society tends to intersperse their two main seasons throughout the fall and spring semesters with screening events as films are released, but with the upending of the film industry, the program decided to group their releases into one block.
“Generally, we approach every semester’s programming by trying to find a mixture of new releases that we’re excited about and new restorations… it’s always a kind of centerpiece, often in the early part of the semester because they’re things real film lovers will have heard about. But this was an unusual time period in a difficult year,” said Hank Okazaki, program coordinator for Screen/Society.
This shift to block programming has been Screen/Society’s main innovation since the pandemic happened. Normally, Screen/Society holds live theatrical screenings in the Rubenstein’s theater. Now, people can schedule their own viewings.
Now, say you want to schedule your own virtual screening of New Releases/New Restorations. What films might be of particular note?
“Mayor” has the special distinction of screening at the Durham-area Full Frame Film Festival last spring. The jurors praised the film for its “virtue of being funny, gripping, and sobering all at once” and awarded the film the Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award.
Another noteworthy film is “The Inheritance,” director Ephraim Asili’s feature-length debut, which chronicles the personal and political stories of Asili’s time in a Black socialist collective while threading in the history of the MOVE Organization and the Black Arts Movement.
The film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020 and develops upon Asili’s resistance and justice-charged body of work. As a special bonus, Screen/Society’s screening features a discussion about “The Inheritance” between Asili and Duke Art, Art History & Visual Studies assistant professor Franklin Cason.
“New Releases, New Restorations” runs until Feb. 28 and is available free of charge via virtual streaming. For more information, visit https://cinematicarts.duke.edu/screensociety
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