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DCA Film Club Week 8

22 May 2020

Welcome to week 8 of DCA Film Club! We'll be recommending great films to watch at home, before meeting in our Facebook group or your preferred social media to chat about the film using #DCAFilmClub!

DCA Film Club sees our Cinema Team talk about our favourite filmmakers by looking at their short films. We hope they will inspire you to go off and watch something else, be it online or at a cinema near you (when it reopens of course). You can read our Head of Cinema Alice's full introduction to DCA Film Club here.

This week, Cinema Coordinator Michael has chosen The Black Ballon from director duo the Safdie brothers: 

THE BLACK BALLOON from Red Bucket Films on Vimeo.

*Please note there's one instance of outdated, offensive language in this short film.* 

"Josh and Benny Safdie are a film-making brother duo from New York"

Josh and Benny Safdie are a film-making brother duo from New York, whose films have long been critically acclaimed if not mainstream hits. At just 36 and 34 years old respectively, they’ve been directing features for over a decade, and have amassed an extensive back-catalogue of short films at the same time. Intense, chaotic and incisive glimpses of life in the Big Apple, often shot guerrilla-style on the streets of New York with non-professional actors, their films feel alive with a real underground sensibility and the Safdies seem to have an innate understanding of, and ability to recreate, the stressful experiences of modern city life.

Their protagonists are often flawed, sometimes unlikeable, and there is always a sense of desperation; a sense that they are scrambling to keep their heads above water in some ways, whether that be through drug addiction, divorce, theft (both petty and federal) or crippling gambling habits. The last few years have seen a definite step-up in terms of scope and budget for the duo’s filmmaking: both 2017’s Good Time and last year’s Uncut Gems featured knockout performances from established stars (Robert Pattinson and Adam Sandler) and topped many Film of the Year lists. Jewish New York natives born and raised, the Safdies spent their childhood living between their cinephile father in Queens and their mother and stepfather in Manhattan, and it’s easy to see the influence their upbringing had on their filmmaking: 2009 film Daddy Longlegs tells the story of a divorced father who works as a projectionist in Manhattan, while today’s short film pick features a girl trying to stop her mother and boyfriend from kissing in front of her. Likewise, Uncut Gems is set in New York’s Diamond District, an area of the city that the Safdies’ father worked in when they were young. In drawing so clearly from their own personal experiences, the Safdies are able to create worlds which feel utterly believable and immersive; at times, it feels like we too are shuffling along crowded New York streets, the sounds of car horns and engines surrounding us and filling our heads.

"create worlds which feel utterly believable and immersive"

Today’s short film, 2012’s The Black Balloon, features several of the Safdies’ directorial trademarks: real-life grimy New York street locations, a roving camera that often feels like we’re watching documentary footage, desperate characters, and an evocative score. Yet it also displays something of a surreal and playful quality. Inspired by one of the most celebrated shorts of all time, Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon, the short tells the story of a black balloon that escapes a bunch of brightly-coloured balloons at a birthday party and undergoes a kind of rebirth, returning to the busy streets as something of a solitary wanderer. In its travels, the balloon comes into contact with three disparate groups of people who each react differently to its strange presence. Extremely open to interpretation, it’s an impressive 20 minutes, covering a range of subjects and emotions while bearing its creators’ unmistakable stamp.

Join us to chat about The Black Balloon in our DCA Film Club Facebook group next Tuesday 26 May at 13:00, or feel free share your thoughts and impressions with us at any time, along with your own must-watch movie tips on the group or on your preferred social media using #DCAFilmClub - we'd love to hear from you!


Further Reading

The Safdies’ feature films are available on a variety of online platforms:

  • The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008)
  • Daddy Longlegs (2009)
  • Lenny Cooke (2013)
  • Heaven Knows What (2014)
  • Good Time (2017)
  • Uncut Gems (2019)

The Safdies have consistently made shorts as well as features throughout their career. Here are a couple to get started:

                                                                                    

This video where the Safdies visit the ‘Criterion closet’ and pick films from the Criterion collection to discuss and then take home with them. As well as being a great glimpse at their relationship and generally chaotic presence, it’s a great chance for the Safdies to talk about some of the films that mean a lot to them. As you can probably imagine there are some unusual picks!

A Q&A with the Safdie Brothers following a screening of Uncut Gems for MoMA FILM.

An in-depth piece about the Safdies and Uncut Gems from December 2019.

Vice selected The Black Balloon as part of their ‘I'm Short, Not Stupid’ series in 2014 and spoke to the Safdies about the film.

A piece from 2017 that looks at the Safdies’ careers up until the release of Good Time.

Footage of the Safdies winning Best Director for Uncut Gems at the 35th Film Independent Spirit Awards and bringing their unique sense of anarchy to the medium of acceptance speeches.

The 1956 short film The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse, which inspired this film.

A Little White Lies interview from around the time of Uncut Gems discussing practicalities of shooting in NY.

A discussion with the Safdies and crew-members as part of the 57th New York Film Festival from October 2019.

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