Corrections or additions?
Author: Nicole Plett. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January
19, 2000. All rights reserved.
New Jersey Film Festival
Look at almost any film critic’s "Best of 1999"
choices, and the chances are you’ll find all the top independent picks
mirrored on the schedule of this spring’s New Jersey Film Festival.
The Spring ’00 festival, presented by the Rutgers Film Co-op/New
Jersey Media Arts Center, curated by Albert Nigrin, opens Friday,
January 21, with "La Ciudad (The City)," David Riker’s debut
feature film, a tapestry of interrelated stories about the lives of
Latin American immigrants in New York City. The opening night
screening features guest appearances by the director and some of its
actors; screenings continue Saturday and Sunday, January 22 and 23.
Filmed between 1992 and 1997 with a cast of immigrant workers from
every part of the Americas, "La Ciudad" is somewhat unique
in film art — it took its young director, an NYU film student,
from the ranks of would-be filmmaker to committed community activist.
In the opening shot of "La Ciudad," daybreak over the New
York City skyline, an elevated train moves laboriously across the
urban landscape. Filmed in black and white, Riker’s gritty vision
says much about the diminished experiences of these cultural and
economic refugees, away from native lands we know to be full of
sunshine and lush landscapes thick with colorful fruits and flowers.
A photographer’s studio, specializing in the needs of the Hispanic
community, provides the visual crucible for Riker’s heartfelt portrait
studies of dozens of Latino immigrants. It is also the meeting point
for the various disparate laboring characters who provide the grist
for four sad tales of struggle and displacement. A series of florid
painted scenes form the backdrops for these portraits to send home,
and the photographer’s painstaking process is punctuated by a blinding
burst of flash that carries us into each subject’s story.
"Bricks," the opening story, begins on a street corner at
dawn where dozens of men elbow each other for a chance to hop on a
truck to be carried away for a day’s labor. Here we meet an organizer
— a key to filmmaker Riker’s journey from film student to labor
activist — as well as a contractor claiming to offer $50 each
to 10 men for a day’s work. Transported to a bleak demolition site
in the contractor’s windowless panel truck, the workers are asked
to scavenge bricks at a rate significantly below what was promised.
But how can they challenge the new terms — in a borough they do
not know, without means of transportation or communication? A tragic
accident seals the fate of one of the crew, minutes after reading
a well-fingered and quietly desperate letter from his young wife back
Sounds of a salsa band and the camaraderie of a young
Mexican woman’s Sweet 15 Party provides the setting for the second
vignette, wryly titled "Home." Francisco is the party’s
interloper, a newly-arrived young immigrant who has lost his way in
the labyrinthine housing development and crashes the semi-formal
affair. On the dance floor, he is immediately attracted to Maria, a
melancholy young woman
who we learn labors daily for money to support her family in Mexico.
In cautious conversation, both these hard-pressed young adults confess
to the same inchoate pain: "I don’t know why I’m here." Yet
when the pair discovers a shared family home, in Tulcingo, in the
Mexican state of Puebla, an emotional bond is formed that may prove
significant for both.
The third story of the quartet is the first Riker created during his
student days. "The Puppeteer" is a wistful, somewhat
Fellini-esque study of a homeless puppeteer and his beloved daughter,
Dulce. A striped puppet theater on a litter-strewn empty lot in the
South Bronx amidst forbidding high-rise apartment blocks is the
entertainment’s sad setting. Despite his desperate circumstances, the
father, a dedicated reader, decides it is time to enroll his daughter
in school. The intensity of the young girl in plaid overcoat and
watchcap who plays Dulce is a scorching presence in the story. The
father’s ambition is thwarted when the public school clerk demands a
rent receipt as proof of residency.
"La Ciudad’s" final story, "Seamstress," set in one
of Manhattan’s notorious garment workers’ sweatshops, is its bleakest.
Yet its brief climactic moment of a group labor action also gives
it the quartet’s greatest element of hope. Ranked behind their sewing
machines, the frantically busy garment workers are supported by the
relentless piece work, but frustrated by the erratic pay schedule.
When one of the women gets a phone call from her parents asking her
to send $400 immediately for medical expenses for the daughter she
has left in their care, the delicate edifice of her world seems to
Appealing to her employers for wages already earned — or even
for compassion — proves fruitless, and we watch the formerly
self-sufficient young woman descend into despair. A ray of hope is
introduced when, unable to control her grief, the seamstress stops
sewing and her co-workers stop in sympathy. This is the kind of united
effort that is presumably rarely seen among such disenfranchised
workers. As everyone stops work, the room takes on an eerie stillness
that gives Riker an opportunity for another succession of glorious
"La Ciudad" closes on the train creeping once again across
the perilous urban landscape. A gentle but insistent music score for
brooding strings, composed by Tony Adzinikolov, gives added poignancy
to the film that is almost balletic in its grace and form.
Born in Boston, but raised in Brussels and London, Riker
began making photographs at age 13. As an undergraduate at Tufts
University, inspired by such socially committed photographers as
Dorothea Lang and Walker Evans, Riker began his first documentary
photography project. At 21 he had a difficult revelation that caused
him to shift course: "I realized that I didn’t know any of the
people in my pictures, certainly not well," he says. "It was a
strange feeling. I had always wanted my pictures to be truthful, but I
now realized that I needed my subjects to speak, to have a chance to
contradict what the viewer might think is going on. This was a very
painful moment for me. I put down my still camera and decided to learn
"The Puppeteer" was his first fictional film, shot in six
days in 1992 on the streets of the South Bronx, as a project for New
York University’s Graduate Film School.
Deeply affected by the Latin American experience in New York, Riker
became more and more involved. He worked in community theater, learned
Spanish, and also came to know community residents of all backgrounds.
Feeling that professional actors were already insulated from the shock
of the immigrant experience, he cast his films instead with
non-actors, using the dramatic workshop as a way to draw out the
participants’ most heartfelt experiences. Thus, a lifelong interest in
socially-committed documentary photography, paired with his personal
commitment to social action, makes Riker uniquely suited to craft this
fictional but very real document about the Hispanic immigrant
— Nicole Plett
Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center Fridays through Sunday in Scott
Hall, Room 123, College Avenue campus, near College Avenue and
Street. Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass
campus, near the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street; with
free events at Borders Books, Route 18 South, East Brunswick. Films
are $5, $8, & $10; all programs begin at 7 p.m. Call 732-932-8482.
First screening features introductory appearances by the director and
various actors, Friday through Sunday, January 21 through 23.
director Ildiko Enyedi about 20th-century technology and the lives
of women. Subtitles. $5, Thursday, January 27. Black Cat, White
Cat , Emir Kusturica’s 1999 comic feature, emerging from the ashes
of the Yugoslav wars, about a Gypsy grifter and his get-rich-quick
plan. $5, Friday, January 28, through Sunday, January 30.
starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Subtitles. $5, Thursday,
3. Boys Don’t Cry, The 1999 Kimberly Peirce fictionalized
of the life and murder of Brandon Teena, played by Chloe Sevigny.
Voted one of the year’s best films, $5, Friday, February 4, through
Sunday, February 6.
film (1947) by Hans Richter, about dreams for sale, provided by
Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Alexander
$5, Thursday, February 10. My Best Friend, Werner Herzog’s 1999
documentary about his relationship with cinema maniac Klaus Kinski.
On a double bill with Herzog’s 19973 "Aguirre, The Wrath of
starring Kinski, $8, Friday, February 11, and Saturday, February 12.
juried show of its kind that attracts entries from across the U.S.
and abroad, $6, Friday, February 18, through Sunday, February 20.
won this year’s Golden Palm at Cannes for their film about an
young woman desperate to find work and dignity. $5, Friday, February
25, through Sunday, February 27.
hunts against Hollywood by Thom Anderson and Noel Burch. 1996. $5,
Thursday, March 2. Chelsea Girls, Andy Warhol and Paul
legendary 1966, 3-1/2 hour marathon, in dual screen projection, about
the counterculture entourage living in New York’s Chelsea Hotel. With
guest introduction by Paul Morrissey. $10, Friday, March 3.
1999 offbeat musical, "On Connait La Chanson." Subtitles.
$5, Saturday, March 4, and Sunday, March 5.Psycho, Janet Leigh
and Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious 1960 thriller
— on the big screen, $5, Thursday, March 23. American Movie,
Chris Smith’s comic 1999 feature, set in Memomonee Falls, Wisconsin,
about a filmmaker’s two-year struggle to make a movie. $5, Friday,
March 24, to Sunday, March 26. Las Hurdes, Luis Bunuel’s 1937
pseudo-documentary about poverty in Spain. Borders Books, free,
of Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour. $5, Thursday, March 30.
Mike Leigh’s unexpected 1999 prize-winning musical about the life
and times of London’s comic opera duo, Gilbert and Sullivan. $5,
March 31, to Sunday, April 2.
running documentary about 14 British post-war children and how they
grew. $5, Friday and Saturday, April 7 and 8. Earth, Deepa
trilogy about life and conflict in post-colonial India. In Hindi,
Urdu, Parsee, and Punjabi, with subtitles. $5, Friday and Saturday,
April 14 and 15. All About My Mother, Pedro Almodovar’s Cannes
Film Festival winner, set in Madrid and Barcelona, about a woman who
loses her son and sets out on a quest to find his wayward father.
Subtitles. $5, Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 23.
Pleasure Dome," from "The Magick Lantern Cycle," starring
Curtis Harrington and Anais Nin. Borders Books, free, Wednesday, April
26. Stalker, the eerie 1979 film by Russian director Andrei
Tarkovsky about a journey through a government quarantined
where it is rumored one can fulfill one’s innermost desires.
$5, Friday and Saturday, April 28 and 29.
Confirm titles with theaters.
of a Nervous Breakdown’) directs Cecilia Roth. Garden,
against experience on the football field, where Al Pacino plays a
crumudgeony coach to a quarterback played by Jamie Foxx. AMC,
Destinta, Loews, Mercer, Montgomery, Regal.
Mendes’ dark drama about two dysfunctional suburban families.
star in a sumptuous retelling — without song — of the `The
King & I’ epic. AMC, Loews, MarketFair, Regal.
accidentally enters Malkovich’s mind in this Spike Jonze original.
household appliance who wants to be a man. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
of John Irving’s 1985 best-seller about a doctor who plays father
to a group of orphans. AMC, Loews, Regal.
as Orsen Welles, Ruben Blades as Diego Rivera, with Vanessa Redgrave
and Susan Sarandon as America’s titans of 1930s culture. AMC,
cleaner mistaken for a male escort. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
play an adulterous couple during World War II. AMC.
by aliens to save their planet. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
in the real-life story of Susanna Kaysen’s stay in a mental hospital.
AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Montgomery,
in a screen version of Stephen King’s prison story. AMC, Destinta,
Loews, MarketFair, Regal.
of the New Jersey boxer accused of murder. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
through the San Fernando Valley brings together an assortment of
characters, starring Tom Cruise. AMC, Garden, Loews, Mercer,
comedian Andy Kaufman of `Taxi.’ AMC, Loews, Mercer.
novel starring Frances O’Connor and Harold Pinter. Mercer.
`Friday.’ Cube plays a fish out of water, as his family moves from
the ghetto to the suburbs. AMC, Destinta, Loews, Mercer.
brought to the screen, starring Ethan Hawke and Youki Kudoh. AMC,
Loews, MarketFair, Regal.
White’s beloved mouse to the big screen. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
Mercer, Montgomery, Regal.
space thriller.AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal.
star in this thriller based on the Patricia Highsmith novel. AMC,
Destinta, Loews, Mercer, Montgomery, Regal.
Loews, MarketFair, Montgomery, Regal.
Denise Richards and Sophie Marceau as the new Bond girls. AMC,
AMC Hamilton 24 Theaters, 325 Sloan Avenue, I-295 Exit
65A, 609-890-8307. 24-screen, stadium-seating multiplex. $7 adults;
$5 matinees; $5 twilight.
Destinta, Independence Plaza, 2465 South Broad Street,
Hamilton, 609-888-4500. Stadium-seating 12-screen multiplex. $6.75
adults; $5 matinees.
East Windsor Cinemas, Routes 130 and 571, 609-443-9295.
$3 adults; $2.50 matinees. Features Indian language films.
Garden Theater, 160 Nassau Street, 609-683-7595. $6.50
adults; $4 matinees.
Loews Theaters, Route 1 South, New Brunswick,
Stadium-seating multiplex. $8.50 adults; $5.25 matinees.
MarketFair-UA, Route 1 South, 609-520-8700. $7.50
adults; $4.75 matinees.
Mercer Mall General Cinemas, Route 1, 609-452-2868.
$7.25 adults; $4.75 matinees.
Montgomery Center Theater, Routes 206 and 518,
609-924-7444. $7 adults; $4.25 matinees.
Regal Cinemas Town Center, 319 Route 130 North, East
Windsor, 609-371-8470. Stadium-seating, $8 adults; $5 matinees.
auditions for "The Importance of Being Earnest," Wednesday,
January 19. Also auditions January 19 for "Pecos Bill." Call
609-586-4800, ext. 3582.
for Web distribution. Send headshot and resume to New Breed
Box 149, Lambertville 08530.
on Sunday, February 13, for a production April 27 to May 27. To
call 856-858-5230 after January 31.
Call for Entries
Association invites entries for a juried art exhibit, "Small Works
of Nature." Deadline is Saturday, January 29, for the show that
will be on view from February 5 to March 25. For guidelines, call
at Prallsville Mills, Stockton, from April 9 to 25. Artists may enter
up to three slides for a $25 fee; deadline is February 23. Jurors
are watercolorist Elizabeth Osborne of the Pennsylvania Academy of
Fine arts and photographer Klaus Schnitzer of Montclair State. Prizes
totaling $5,000 will be awarded. Call 609-397-3349 or 215-794-0970.
its ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes for new
beginners (Tuesday) and advanced level ESOL (Thursday) classes. Late
registration will take place at Princeton High School on Tuesday,
February 1, and Thursday, February 3, at 6:15 p.m., for the 10-week
spring sessions that begin February 1 and 3. For information call
graders to write and illustrate stories for the Reading Rainbow’s
Young Writers and Illustrators Contest. Entries will be accepted
Friday, March 10. For application form, call 609-777-5078.
grant program for projects relating to New Jersey history as well
as general operating support for museums, historical societies,
sites, archives, and libraries. Application deadline is Tuesday,
1. Contact Mary R. Murrin at 609-292-6062, or e-mail:
for spring semester, spring break, and Summer Arts Camp for children
and adults. Experience in ceramics and sculpture a plus. Send resume
and cover letter to the Arts Council at 102 Witherspoon Street,
theaters, has published a new edition of "Toward Knowing By
a comprehensive guide to the educational and outreach programs
through its member theaters. For a free copy of the arts resource
guide, call 973-593-0189, or e-mail email@example.com.
to compete in the United States Junior Olympic Team Tournament in
Tucson, Arizona. Call 800-853-5508.
nominations for its awards program to recognize state and local
projects. Nominations close March 1. For materials or information,
contact Sally Yerkovich at 973-596-8500, ext. 247, or e-mail:
housing near both its Trenton and West Windsor campuses. The college
will serve as listing agent for residents willing to rent a room or
apartment. Call 609-586-4800, ext. 3435.
21 to help manage community projects and develop educational programs
to benefit children in the Mercer, Middlesex, and Bucks County area.
for volunteers for its BRAVO! program to help usher, sell concessions,
and administer. Call theater manager Cindy Alexander, 908-231-8801.
24-hour hotline for people with problems. A training course for
begins Tuesday, March 7, at 9:30 a.m., and 7:30 p.m. Classes are held
at Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church, 2688 Main Street, in
For complete information, call 609-883-2880.
Corrections or additions?
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