The recent Wojnarowicz aside, I find most documentaries about the arts about as interesting as the proverbial drying paint. I’ll gladly sit through a 14-hour long art film, but 90 minutes about (insert your least favorite artist or artistic style here)? Forget it!
Sometimes, though, I feel duty-bound to put aside personal preferences and prejudices and watch films such as Tell Them We Were Here (currently streaming via Pacific Film Archive), an overview of the Bay Area’s contemporary art scene. And surprise, surprise — it’s a lively, engaging and inspiring feature that completely held my attention. Perhaps I’m not such a philistine after all!
Directed by Griff and Keelan Williams, Tell Them We Were Here features a dozen local artists I’d never heard of (likely proof that I really am a philistine) plus former “MTV News” star Tabitha Soren, who I probably haven’t thought about in 30 years. They’re a decidedly eclectic bunch, but none of them are working on projects likely to bring fame or fortune. In other words, they’re making art for all the right reasons.
A broad range of work is highlighted: Amy Franceschini incorporates public art and gardening; Sadie Barnette turned her Black Panther father’s FBI file into a significant piece; and the incredible Lynn Hershman lived an entire pre-internet year posing as a woman named Roberta Brightmore, even acquiring a driver’s license in her fictional alter-ego’s name. Try pulling that off in the digital age.
For me, though, Tell Them We Were Here’s most memorable character is Michael Swaine, who spent 12 months wheeling a vintage sewing machine around the Tenderloin and repairing neighborhood residents’ clothing for free. I’m not sure any of his sewing is MoMA quality, but improving the lives of everyday people is reward enough.
If you’re in the mood for an action movie doubling as a critique of toxic masculinity, check out Retfærdighedens rytt (Riders of Justice), opening this weekend at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas. The film will be available for streaming beginning on Friday, May 21.
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, Riders of Justice stars Mads Mikkelsen as Markus, an emotionally crippled Danish soldier caring for his daughter after the death-by-train-wreck of wife Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind). Though declared an accident by the authorities, mathematician and logician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) suspects it was no random twist of fate: Among the dead was a witness scheduled to testify in an upcoming murder trial.
Though he’s unable to convince the police, Otto finds a more receptive audience in Markus. Narrowing down potential suspects with the help of computer nerds Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), the motley group of avengers quickly decide to take matters into their own hands.
Despite sounding like a Danish Death Wish (1974), Riders of Justice is no gleeful endorsement of vigilantism. Jensen’s screenplay (penned with Nikolaj Arcel) provides a voice of conscience in the form of Markus’ teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), who spends much of the film calling out her father’s constant anger and cold demeanor.
In short, while this is a violent film, it’s not an immoral one: indeed, below the surface lie questions about ethical decision-making and our reliance on problem-solving algorithms. Its unsatisfying conclusion notwithstanding, Riders of Justice is the most entertaining critique of masculinity and the computer age you’re likely to encounter this week.