Big Ears and Knoxville microcinema masterminds Public Cinema are thrilled to announce the core of the film screenings at the 2019 festival, which will turn the University of Tennessee’s UT Downtown Gallery into a provocative movie house throughout the month of March. The works of four filmmakers with very different but equally compelling approaches to the screen get their own days in the Gallery, with their works shown as repeated loops or in enormous uninterrupted blocks. Like the music festival itself, the film component of Big Ears 2019 is honored to bring challenging, riveting, and rewarding work to Knoxville.
Public Cinema’s partnerships with Big Ears have been artistically audacious from the start: During their debut at the festival in 2016, they showed a 35mm print of Sun Ra’s landmark Space is the Place, hosted a Q&A with Laurie Anderson around Heart of a Dog, and invited Jodie Mack to sing and rap to Dark Side of the Moon. In 2017, they showcased films by Jem Cohen and Jonathan Demme and a series of experimental shorts, followed by a tantalizing assortment of 3D programming and the 50th anniversary of Canyon Cinema in 2018. MovieMaker Magazine even named these events one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world. Though the size of the screen and room is smaller this year (in part in an effort to begin planning for some colossal 2020 surprises), this year’s filmmakers—Beatrice Gibson, Wang Bing, Johann Lurf, and Jodie Mack—are some of the medium’s most vital modern voices.
Public Cinema has compiled a one-hour loop of three Beatrice Gibson shorts, all inspired by the British filmmaker’s surprising relationships to music, including serialist composers. On Thursday, March 21, the opening day of Big Ears 2019, Public Cinema will also screen I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead, a visceral, timely, and recent reminder of the power of protest in art during times of political upheaval. Following screenings at the Tate Modern last year, this is the largest-ever installation of her work in the United States.
On Friday, March 22, the 2018 masterwork of acclaimed and challenging Chinese director Wang Bing, Dead Souls, runs for 495 uninterrupted moments. Dead Souls excavates an often-buried dark element of the rise of the Communist Party in China, when thousands of Chinese dissidents were exiled to hard work and penury in the Gobi Desert. Featuring interviews with some of the last survivors, Dead Souls was made in secret over the course of a decade. It is a profound film, as human as it is political.
The work of Austrian structural experimentalist Johann Lurf, who had two shorts at Big Ears 2018, returns this year with the ever-evolving opus ★. Built from overlapping excerpts of footage of the night skies clipped from more than a century of filmmaking, ★ uses montages to build a suggestive, elliptical history of film. Lurf endlessly adds to the movie, making it a living work of art; the cut at Big Ears 2019 is a world premiere.
Two recent films by Jodie Mack, a visiting artist and integral component of Big Ears’ film programming in 2016, will alternate on the afternoon of Sunday, March 24. The Grand Bizarre mixes footage of global textiles manufacturing with her stunning stop-motion animation and an original electronic score, while the new Hoarders Without Borders puts an immense mineralogical collection at Harvard in stroboscopic relief. Both films suspend seemingly mundane objects in fascinating new light and are as delightful and approachable visually as they are conceptually.
Beginning March 1, these screenings begin on a daily basis at UT Downtown Gallery (106 South Gay St.), running every Wednesday through Saturday until the festival begins on Thursday, March 21. All of these screenings are free and open to the public, and limited tickets are still available for Big Ears 2019. Big Ears will unveil more film programming in the coming weeks.