Steady buzz for the Cincinnati Film Society (CFS) reboot emerged from the underground thanks to recent screenings at the Northside Tavern, which have given way to a new collaboration with The Greenwich, scheduled to kick off in May with The Towering Inferno (screenings set for the first Thursday of each month). There’s a real sense of an accelerated evolution taking place, especially for the faithful followers who go all the way back to the initial incorporation of the CFS back in 1979 — the narrative highlights can be found online. But I prefer, oddly enough, to recall the tumultuous period prior to the current rebirth, and rather than wallow in the administrative mire that eventually ground things to a halt, I believe it is best to focus on the programming, which featured a full-run of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. Where else could regional cult film fans go for that beautifully surreal head-trip?
There’s a small collective of film groups attempting to make some noise in the arts scene, offering distinct brands of programming — and why not, with the diversity that exists in terms of indie and foreign titles streaming and touring on the festival circuit — but CFS has the advantage in that it has longevity, despite a few infamous years in the mix. With a new team at the helm that includes locally based journalist/screenwriter Adam Stovall on board as creative director, the group is ready to let the past remain just that, while embracing the only aspect that truly matters — presenting the best films available paired with an opportunity for lively debate.
Upstream Color, the new film from Shane Carruth, is tailor-made for festivals and cinematique screenings. Like Primer, his debut, Upstream Color bends minds and warps sensibilities to such an extent that multiple viewings and heated post-screening discussions are mandatory to crack the coded frames
Too much, right?
Well, Upstream Color demands repeat immersion; its narrative opens up and it provides a key that unlocks a secret door in the minds of the audience as well. Is it a date movie? Why, yes it is, but for the kind of date that never ends. You and your companion may find yourselves linked by a psychic bond on an astral plane, a dreamscape where only the two of you exist. We talk about wanting/desiring intimacy, but this might be far more than we could ever imagine.
The film is about an organism, a worm capable of generating a toxin that, once ingested, creates a link between others that can even cross species. The science embedded in the fiction is epic in scale and scope, but Carruth’s execution is at once lyric and plainly rooted in familiar elements of the everyday like pig farms and identity theft.
Likely no other film this year will feature a thief with a carefully obscured face who explains, “I have to apologize. I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun.”
That sounds crazy, surreal and more than a little daunting — and it is. I wonder if I’m over-hyping the film, just like I’m certain that you’re concerned that you might attend one of these screenings and once the lights come up, you might feel like you didn’t get it.
Which is why it is so important and impactful for the renewed CFS to present Upstream Color. The partnership between CFS and the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where Upstream Color is being screened, offers a home, a safe haven for this film’s particular audience of cult-ish film seekers. This is a place where anticipation and expectation for wrestling with the narrative are welcome, where audiences should have no fear of reaching out to other attendees, gathering outside the doors, blinking in the light, asking questions, wandering into an Over-the-Rhine bar to test their theories and find themselves making plans with their new comrades-in-arms to see the film again.
Upstream Color has an exclusive run through Sunday with one daily screening at 7:30 p.m. (except for an additional 5 p.m. matinee on Saturday). There will be a formal Q&A with a panel of regional film critics (including yours truly) following the Saturday night screening. For more information, go to cincinnatifilmsociety.org.
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