Black Panthers

“The worst day of my life happened this year,” says independent film programmer Kathleen Sachs.

Sachs was not alone in that sentiment. Cinephiles around the world felt heavy-hearted following the March 29 death of Agnès Varda, the Belgian-born French filmmaker touted as the “godmother of the French New Wave.”

Which is why Sachs—a contributing writer for the Reader and self-identified Varda superfan—teamed up with fellow programmers at Block Cinema at Northwestern University and Filmfront as well as the Consulate General of France in Chicago to celebrate Varda’s extensive career with a free shorts program featuring 35-mm, 16-mm, and digital screenings.

“We curated it from a large body of work and made it about a certain perspective that Varda brought not just to cinema but to life as well,” Sachs says.

The program, titled “La Politique des Autres,” aims to give Chicagoans a taste of the wide breadth of artistic work Varda created throughout her life rather than focus on one specific theme.

“I think that’s definitely part of the challenge of programming, and the delight of programming Varda’s films is that she worked across six decades and her body of work is so diverse and represents an amazing array of styles, from documentary to narrative, experimental, and political reportage,” says Michael Metzger, curator of media arts at the Block Museum.

The first night of programming, hosted at Block Cinema, features personal and political films released between 1958 and 1982, including Résponse des Femmes, Du Côté de la Côte, L’Opéra-Mouffe, Ulysse, and Uncle Yanco.

Résponse des Femmes is really all about [women] reclaiming their own vision of themselves and defining what it is to be a woman in society outside of the sort of constructs that is provided through media or through patriarchal culture,” Metzger says.

The second night, hosted at Filmfront in Pilsen, focuses on Varda’s short work from the late 1960s and 1970s: Elsa la Rose, Plaisir D’amour en Iran, Salut les Cubains, and Black Panthers.

“You think of Agnès Varda as this woman going places that not a lot of filmmakers, much less female filmmakers, were going at that time,” Sachs says. “Black Panthers [1968], which is probably one of her most well-known shorts, shows her not only engaging with radical groups, radical politics, but kind of being at the forefront of that.”

If there’s a central theme to tie these shorts together, it would be the intimate ways Varda portrayed her subjects regardless of genre or style. She often depicted them how they wanted to be seen, Sachs says, rather than imposing a directorial intent like other auteurs associated with the French New Wave.

“She approaches things so thoughtfully and through so many dimensions of how she’s crafting images, crafting space in relation to herself and her subjects,” Malia Haines-Stewart, programmer at Filmfront, says. “She was constantly embodying this ferocious curiosity cinematically, but also in a humanistic way.”   v