Lab | Log

Cinematic Sites: Paul Dallas on His Film Series at the Guggenheim

Film screening

The Lab hosted film screenings in all three of its locations, including Mumbai, above. Photo: UnCommonSense © 2012 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Participatory City opened to the public last week, bringing with it a diverse slate of programming attached to the exhibition. One of those programs is a film series entitled Cinematic Sites—a series of films, screened every Friday in the Guggenheim’s New Media Theater in the Sackler Center for Arts Education.

The films were selected by Paul Dallas, organizer of the New York Lab’s film series; when I heard that Paul was behind Cinematic Sites, I felt both excitement, and jealousy that I couldn’t be there to attend each and every screening, because I knew it meant the series would be breathtaking. As a curator and critic of film, Paul is truly an artist in his own right. He combines this craft with his background in architecture and passion for cities, skillfully weaving a complex, poignant narrative of the city as an entity through cinematic exploration.

This time around, Paul has chosen to do all this through the lenses of 10 cities: New York, Berlin, and Mumbai, the three cities that hosted the Lab, and also Cairo, Chengdu, Los Angeles, Recife, San Francisco, Tehran, and Vienna. “The very simple idea was to make a series that dealt with place and really had the audience focus on the relationship between a city and the stories that get told in that city, and how story can relate to the very physical built environment. In each of these films, that’s addressed in a different way,” he told me. Variety and Square Times for instance, the two films about New York that were screened on Friday to kick off the series, both take place in the city’s iconic Times Square in separate heydays in New York’s artistic lifetime. The films are not about Times Square, but rather the stories lived there. Paul also wanted to think about cities and their stories in terms of interior and exterior spaces—not just parks and streets, but also domestic and private spaces in the city.

With such care put into the selection of these films, I wanted to give viewers a little insight into Paul’s own personal inspiration behind each of his choices that will be airing in the coming weeks. Here’s what he had to say. (Click through the film titles for more info on each film.)

People on Sunday, Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak et al., 1930 (Berlin)
Friday, October 28, 3 pm

“I love the sort of city film that takes place in more rural environments. This is really just outside of Berlin, in these sort of park-like settings, but you almost feel as though you’re far removed from the city. I like that condition, especially in the context of talking about urban films. Not everything has to happen on the street. Part of the experience of living in the city is also that desire to escape.”

Salaam Bombay!, Mira Nair, 1988 (Mumbai)
Friday, October 25, 3 pm

Salaam Bombay is one of my absolute favorite films of Mira Nair. As a piece of art, it’s extremely entertaining, but it’s also deeply engaged with the conditions of Mumbai, like child poverty and these very serious issues. So I guess what I really respond to in [Nair’s work] is the way she’s able to bring her documentary experience to the film. Also, the performance she’s able to get out of these kids is just amazing.”

Museum Hours, Jem Cohen, 2012 (Vienna)
Friday, November 1, 3 pm

“I’m a huge fan of the fiction/non-fiction hybrid film. Museum Hours is a very subtle portrait of Vienna, but it’s equally a subtle portrait of these two very odd and compelling characters. What I love about this film is the way Cohen weaves together the history and landscape of Vienna and the narrative of an unlikely friendship, and how he situates his filmmaking in relation to [an] art historical tradition of documenting unadorned daily life.”

People’s Park , J.P. Sniadecki and Libbie Cohen, 2012 (Chengdu)
Friday, November 8, 3pm

“I especially love films that push the medium formally to explore space in new ways, and this one is a great example of how the properties of video (in this case the ability to shoot continuously) can capture an immersive experience of a place. It’s a film that needs to be seen in a theater.”

Side/Walk/Shuttle, Ernie Gehr, 1991 (San Francisco) and Get Out of the Car, Thom Andersen, 2010 (Los Angeles)
Friday, November 15, 3 pm

“I’ve always wanted to pair these films together, both because L.A. and San Francisco are two of my favorite American cities and because these films in particular have a great dialogue about how the camera can be used to transform the ordinary into the mysterious.”

Wildness, Wu Tsang, 2012 (Los Angeles)
Friday, November 22, 3 pm
Friday, January 3, 3 pm

“In 2008, I was living in Los Angeles and some friends took me to a Tuesday-night party downtown called Wildness; I love the film Wu has made about his experience because it’s a love letter to an L.A. we rarely see presented on screen.”

This is Not a Film, Mojtaba Mirtahasebi and Jafar Panahi, 2011 (Tehran)
Friday, December 6, 3 pm

“This is without a doubt one of the best films of the past decade, and what I love about it is that it brings us closer, not just to a place that we have little access to, but to filmmaking itself.”

Neighboring Sounds, Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2012 (Recife)
Friday, December 13, 3 pm
Friday, December 27, 3 pm

“I’m especially fascinated with Brazil—its landscape, its architecture, its culture—and what I think is amazing about this film is how it captures the spirit of the country at this important transitional moment. It’s also one of the best films of 2012.”

Cairo Station, Youssef Chahine, 1958 (Cairo)
Friday, December 20, 3 pm

“It was important to me to show a film set in Cairo because it’s become the epicenter of a massive social and political shift, but I also thought that it was important to present a film that reaches back into that city’s cultural history and to show us a Cairo many of us many not be familiar with at all.”