Susan Morris | Essays

The New York Film Festival 2022: Landscape, Design Labor, + NY

Films at the 2022 New York Film Festival center on landscape architecture, the labor of design, settings in New York, and creative artisans.

“Gardening is the most accessible of the arts,” says Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) the title character in Master Gardener, who is the head horticulturalist of Gracewood Gardens, an historic estate shot in St. Francisville, Louisiana, which has belonged for generations to an old line family. The formal gardens serve as the anchor and the core of this tale of racism, redemption, renewal and regeneration.  

Traditional agrarian rural life in Alcarràs, a town in Catalonia, Spain is about to be upended. The orchards where the Solé family have lived for generations as peach farmers is being turned into fields for assembling solar panels which will destroy their orchard. It won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale Festival.

Unrest takes place in the Swiss watchmaking town Saint-Imier in the 1870s where we see watches being made in precise detail in design and execution. Photographers and cartographers chronicle and survey the land around the town, while anarchists organize the workers.

Still from Unstable Object II

Unstable Object II takes a close look at the design and process of manufacturing goods in three factories: Ottobok in Germany that makes prosthetics, Maison Fabre in France that makes gloves, and Reakom in Turkey that makes jeans. Each shows in details the design, fabrication and construction of manufacture.  Some are boring, repetitive actions on an assembly line, others are highly skilled — cutting, sewing, molding, sculpting individual hand-crafted items.

A number of films showcased New York, starting with Armageddon Time that takes place in Queens in 1980. We see Flushing Meadows Park, the World’s Fair site with Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere, the borough’s streetscapes, and a field trip to the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. An autobiographical film by director James Gray, it shows his childhood neighborhood growing up in a Jewish household.

In She Said, the tale of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation against media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse that led to the #MeToo movement, we spend time in Renzo Piano’s glass skyscraper NYT building on Eighth Avenue, on Manhattan streets, on subways and in Queens houses as they follow leads. Adaptation is set in the contaminated canyons of NYC in the near future, where life continues as relief workers adapt to this transformed home, a flooded cities amid tall buildings.

Other films featured artists, art historians, and museums. Showing Up features Michelle Williams as Lizzy, a sculptor who works at a Portland, Oregon art school. We see her daily life as she works on an upcoming exhibition of ceramic art, as well as that of her landlady, a fellow art student and rising star. Will-o’-the-Wisp shows a Portuguese prince, who is studying art history, who volunteers at a fire station where the buff firefighters pose in tableaus of famous paintings and ask him to guess which ones by Rubens, Velasquez, and Caravaggio, but he cannot name one. Tiger Strike Red was shot at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London a “jaunt through an alternative art history that finds playful linkages between classical marble sculpture, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, representations of Judith’s beheading of Holofernes, AI art, and an 18th-century South Indian automaton depicting a tiger mauling a British colonial soldier.” Personality Crisis: One Night Only portrays David Johansen, lead singer of the New York Dolls and his alter-ego Buster Poindexter, as he performs at Cafe Carlyle. In Fingerpicking, the workshop of the Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla e Figli in Milan, one of the oldest puppet theaters in the world’s artisans and performing build and manipulate their creations.

Films Mentioned
Adaptation, directed by Josh Kline
Alcarras, directed by Carla Simon
Armageddon Time, directed by James Gray
Fingerpicking, directed by Riccardo Giacconi
Master Gardener, directed by Paul Shrader
Personality Crisis: One Night Only, directed by Martin Scorsese & David Tedeschi
She Said, directed by Maria Shrader
Showing Up, directed by Kelly Reichardt
Tiger Strike Red, directed by Sophia Al-Maria
Unrest, directed by Cyril Schaublin
The Unstable Object II, directed by Daniel Eisenberg
Will-o’-te-Wisp, directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues

Previously, The New York Film Festival 2022 films about buildings, and about borders.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

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