Saturday, November 9, 2013

Oskar Alegria: Leave Oskar Alone.

In setting out to see the film The Search for Emak Bakia, I mistakenly went to the wrong movie theater. Billed as “an endlessly enchanting experimental documentary,” the film had been chosen as one of the selections for the Starz Denver Film Festival; unsurprisingly, the festival's roster incorporates multiple screening locations. So, whoops, I goofed-up by going to the theater on East Colfax (the same box office where I'd recently gone to have the order that I had purchased online changed, since I had accidentally purchased a Saturday showing for the film, rather than for earlier on Friday, as I had initially intended). Easy enough to rectify geographically, last night: back on the express bus to downtown, which had its delays when a confused middle-aged Latino man who hobbled with a cane -- due to having been shot through the legs, he would soon claim -- held things up with the driver, the passenger appearing unsure which direction he was supposed to be heading. Although I made it to the correct theater with plenty of time to spare, it turned out a good thing that I'd gotten off from work earlier than usual, by chance, because otherwise I might have missed the start of the presentation.

It soon became apparent that the film was making a name for itself, that it had festival buzz. In addition to selling out, I heard a film-studies professor mention that a movie critic friend had called it a “must-see.” [Update 11/19/2013: The Search for Emak Bakia won the Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film at the Starz Denver Film Festival.]

The Search for Emak Bakia (“a film about chance”). Going through the festival's programming a few weeks back, the name, the synopsis, and the trailer had stood out -- practically called out, in some way -- to me. A man attempts to find a palatial house in Spain named Emak Bakia (which translates as “Leave Me Alone” from the Basque language), which Dada and Surrealist artist Man Ray (someone whose painting, photographs, sculptures, I enjoy) had included within an arty film of the same name. In addition to clips from Man Ray's own film, there was a resonating image of Alegria's within the trailer: a discarded plastic glove blowing down the street, then seemingly doing a courting dance with a paper napkin in the breeze. The film takes circuitous detours before arriving at multiple conclusions: as just two for-instances, it also researches the fate of a clown whose image appears on a gravestone, as well as where a postcard that has just one line written on it (“Are you behaving yourself?”) had been sent and why it had been inscribed the way that it was.

As fortune would have it, filmmaker Oskar Alegria spoke afterward, something which I hadn't realized would be occurring.

Alegria said the following:
  • “I love to work with chance: you don't have to pay him. He's a good partner.”
  • “I like to search [for] things; I don't like to find them.”

  • “I love mistakes. I think the best inventions of human beings are mistakes: penicillin...Viagra, LSD, etc."

  • “I'm a journalist. But in this project I wanted to kill the journalist. I wanted to be another person: more poetical, more creative.” Rejecting his previous TV-work experience, Alegria set out to find a fresher path: “I think we all have to do something called 'Emak Bakia' in our life.”
Alegria discussed how he'd discovered -- by chance -- the Man Ray film, which had set in motion his own odyssey to find the house and why it was named “Leave Me Alone.” Alegria had thought of Man Ray as being just a photographer. But at the Tate Gallery in London, he walked into a projection room, part of the extensive Man Ray exhibit. Alegria soon saw the film with the words “Emak Bakia.”

“That's Basque!” he realized.

Just like himself.

Alegria described how his father had come from a small village. In his later years, he wrote down all the Basque words that had been disappearing. His father wrote down the names of rivers and birds, for instance, in his own little dictionary. His father believed that “if the word goes, the bird disappears.” Alegria says, “I tried to do the same thing with the [film] screen, not paper.”

Afterward, I had a chance, along with others, to speak with Alegria. In a magician-like gesture, he fanned black postcards out in his hands and asked people to pick a card, any card. On the underside, the cards contained various stills from the film. One of the cards stood out to me, the paper stock appearing darker than the others.

On it was a darkened, black-and-white Man Ray seaside image: “A section of undeveloped low coast. It was the only clue Man Ray gave about the place where he was filming the beach.”

I took the card fate had dealt me. And my leave.

Back to my own apartment, back to my own Emak Bakia.

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