After having a long Friday night, I accidently slept through my alarm on day 3 of True/False and had to run a 20-minute distance to get to my desired screening. Just barely making it on time, the sweatiest version of myself arrived at the Jesse theatre around 10 minutes before The Price of Everything screening began. Boy, was I lucky it was at the Jesse! This is for two reasons: 1) The Jesse is the largest theatre at True/False, so there were plenty of open seats right before the screening. 2) All those vacant seats result in me being able to sit my sweaty self far away from everyone else.
Right before the screening began, director Nathaniel Kahn came out on stage and told us that he thinks of the film as his Robert Altman movie. It’s a documentary with a big cast of characters and threads that become entangled in surprising ways. All of which, he explains, reveals the corruptive relationship between commerce and art, value and price.
If you’re like me and know very little about the art world, do not fear: The Price of Everything does an excellent job at telling you all you need to know. Even more impressive, I walked away from The Price of Everything feeling like I had a competent understanding of the way economics market worked. Although loyal to its educational messages, it will ultimately be remembered larger-than-life personalities, which lend the film an infectious energy and a lightness that make this one a real crowd pleaser. If you can catch it at True/False, do. If not, it has a distribution deal with HBO and an upcoming theatrical release. Wide-spread appeal is what gets you Oscar nominations, and so I’m willing to bet it ends up getting an Oscar nomination in the coming year.
The post-film discussion went overtime, so my preferred midday screening fell through. This is how I ended up seeing a film I knew virtually nothing about. Oh, what a way to meet Leigh Ledare’s The Task, a film in which the True/False staff, as well as the film’s description in their booklet, encourages audience members to walk out if they so wish.
Ledare’s film, which initially premiered as part of a 2017 art exhibition entitled “The Plot”, is most accurately described as a documentation of a social experiment. Having organized a 3-day conference in Chicago, Ledare recruited 30 participants, 10 psychologists and a film crew to create an experiment that seems to be asking us to consider group power dynamics and personal identity politics.
I’m going to try to explain the experiment here, but the film intentionally makes it difficult for the viewer to understand. Basically, the 30 participants—a wildly diverse group—sit in a semi-circle and occupy a room for what feels like hours over what seems like several days. They and analyze their perceptions of each other. Some of the chairs are dubbed to have more authority over the others, and some of the people are as well. It’s just as confusing for us as it is for them though. They are constantly questioning what their task actually is, and if Ledare, who is often in the room as a very visible observer, is intentionally doing things to complicate the group’s dynamic. If all this sounds maddening, it is.
The Task is not an easy watch. It’s two hours of people be horrible to each other, and virtually no progress gets made; I’m not even sure what they would they be progressing towards anyway. However, if you are interested in identity politics, the way power dynamics emerge in groups, or even confronting your own prejudices this one is for you. I, for one, know I will be buying The Task when it makes its way to physical media, so that I can keep unearthing new things and with new people to discuss the film with. It’s surely one that’ll get new and surprising reactions out of you with each viewing.
What happens to a lifelong friendship when one party becomes a documentary subject for the other? This is a question I had on my mind while waiting to see my last film of the day; Steve Loveridge’s new documentary on his friend Matangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam, better known as the popstar M.I.A.. I am still wondering what the answer is to that question, especially since the one in the documentary is rumored to not like film, but the final product, in this case, is a remarkable accomplishment.
Loveridge’s Matangi/Maya/M.I.A is edited from over 600 hours of video footage and most of which Maya shot herself. We see scenes of her early childhood in Sri Lanka and her return back to the country after a 16-year absence. The war in Sri Lanka is able to take on a major role thanks to the footage she shot there. We get intimate glances into the artist herself through video diaries she recorded when touring with the brit pop band Elastica.
The film is all over the shop, but Loveridge manages to weave it all into one moving portrait of an artist, activist and friend. Best of all, its director respects his audience enough to give us space to make up our own minds about the woman in the frame. If you’re a fan of M.I.A., like I am, you may recall Lynn Hirschberg’s slanderous profile of the artist for the New York Times; it’s nice to see that someone finally gave her the profile she deserved. | Cait Lore