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We liked you better when you were a dissident.

We liked you better when you were a dissident. (photo)

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Once upon a time, it was much simpler to pick out the important world auteurs. For example, it was a good sign if someone was a dissident. Pretty much all of the post-’30s Soviet directors worth a damn — Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Parajanov, Kira Muratova — got banned, and the correlative relationship between the outlaw and the great artist made things easier to parse.

These days it’s trickier. Abbas Kiarostami, one of the undisputed masters of Iranian cinema, seemed to issue nothing less than a direct challenge to Iran’s rulers, complete with a woman with her head-scarf off, in 2002’s “Ten.” But lately, he’s emerged as a bit of a toady, lambasting countrymen Bahman Ghobadi and Ja’far Panahi for the social critiques embedded in their films.

Jia Zhangke, once an underground filmmaker, is now a director whose movies at least one person I know refuses to watch because of how he responded to the Uighur problem. Jia, a Sixth Generation filmmaker parallel to the Fifth Generation’s Zhang Yimou, is, just like Zhang, transitioning from a righteous aesthetic/political force to a filmmaker potentially compromised on both fronts.

Even five years ago, Zhang’s trajectory from frequently banned filmmaker to state artist still gave us some great art. “Hero” is arguably propaganda for “strong leadership,” but it’s also propaganda that translates gorgeously (and, without context, seemingly apolitically) from China to the rest of the world. Now his “Blood Simple” remake “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” is being condemned for representing (as Marie-Pierre Duhamel puts it) “more the goals of the official industry than the more creative trends of Chinese cinema.”

02192010_tenkiarostami.jpgKiarostami, Zhang and Jia’s active cozying up to the regimes in question unnerves me, but not half as much as the efforts to castigate them. For one thing, we’re all operating through half-verifiable information; for another, we all have our political prejudices. Mine are as predictably lefty as they come. This makes me distrust everyone. History’s treatment of filmmakers who settled on the wrong side of the ideological line has generally been kind if they came through aesthetically — we’re still studying “Triumph of the Will” and D.W. Griffith.

But in the past, most admired directors also happened to be on the “right” side of things politically — in many cases, they were entangled in situations that earned them the equal admiration of the left and right. Such is indeed the case of Kiarostami, Zhang and Jia: once dissidents who’ve cooled down and continued working at the same level of aesthetic rareification (or, in Zhang’s case, literally using the state’s resources towards an overwhelming goal, culminating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony). Now Kiarostami is condemning his successors for no obvious reason, Jia’s playing ball with the state, and Zhang appears to have lost interest in having all of his movies banned (and the reviews for “A Woman” remake are wretched to boot). And what of someone like Alexei Balabanov, the Russian director whose past work has included some undeniable racism, yet whose formal skill is seductive to anyone prone to being sucked in by that kind of thing?

It was once an axiom that fascism can’t produce great work. Well, maybe not, but repressive regimes can produce great art (Zhang’s “House of Flying Daggers” is major to me, though some prefer “Hero”; Balabanov’s “Cargo 200” is brilliant, but also xenophobically nationalist and unthinking in a way suited to its era) in a way that was less clear in the 20th century. So now what? How we can judge and (possibly) condemn filmmakers whose accommodations to pragmatism we can’t possibly understand is becoming a harder question by the day.

[Photos: “A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010; “Ten,” Zeitgeist Films, 2002]

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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