J.P. Sniadecki spent three years filming his latest documentary The Iron Ministry on China's railways, and what he found was a rampaging microcosm of the country's rapidly changing economy and identity. This immersive film experience embeds the viewer in cramped corridors and temporary living quarters hoping to convey an experiential view of a dynamic country constantly evolving.
The camera often lingers low to the ground, scouring and searching for artifacts while the train barrels forward. Trash litters the floorboards and human bodies are crammed into every corner. Some people try to adjust their placement, as if they were ambitious sardines trying to find that extra inch inside a small can.
But this is not a grotesque scene; it's one of transition. Travelers speak about politics, economics and future plans in cordial fashion, hoping to pass time between stops. These conversations are indicative of the passion and anger living underneath the façade of what could be construed as a stuffy or repressed environment.
A student of Harvard University's Sensory Ethnography Lab, Sniadecki (Yumen) has been making avant-garde documentaries in China for years now, exploring the complexities of everyday life through a strikingly Spartan lens. His latest effort is an exercise in proximity, how people share space and why it matters. The doldrums of a long train ride offer much in the way of discourse and debate, but also simply the opportunity to rest free of the usual frantic thoughts that fill the mind.
The Iron Ministry, which opens Friday, Aug. 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, is a deft meditation on the passage of time in a country that has very little of it to spare. The film sees Chinaís new reality as a web of interlocking narratives left unspoken, each story colliding off of each other in silence because, at this point, there's just too many competing for air.
American Ultra: Jesse Eisenberg plays a stoner/convenience store clerk who is so high he can't remember being trained as a government agent. That is until his fellow spies turn up to exterminate him. Co-starring Kristen Stewart.
Being Evel: Director Daniel Junge's documentary tells the real story behind the myth of American daredevil Robert "Evel" Knievel. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 27, at the Digital Gym Cinema.
Best of Enemies: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley argue about the flipsides of politics and culture in this documentary about the famous televised debates.
Hitman: Agent 47: Rupert Friend takes the reins from Timothy Olyphant as the next bald super killer out to expose the mysteries of his ancestry.
4th Annual Julian Film Festival: The environmental film festival will showcase 20 documentary films ranging in length, to highlight nature, wildlife, adventure with a purpose, land preservation and focuses on important themes of water and connectivity. Screens on Friday, Aug. 21 and Saturday, Aug. 22, at an outdoor screen near Julian Station.
Muerte en Buenos Aires: This crime thriller about a hard-working cop trying to solve a mysterious murder in Buenos Aires circa the 1980s stars Demian Bichir. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 27, at the Ken Cinema.
Meru: In the high stakes game of Himalyan big wall climbing, Mount Meru is one of the most coveted prizes. This documentary looks at the climbers who try to balance the physical and emotional pressures of this profession. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 27, at the Ken Cinema.
Phoenix: A disfigured woman (Nina Hoss) returning home from the concentration camps at the end of WWII has reconstructive surgery before trying to reconnect with her possibly disloyal husband.
The Iron Ministry: J.P. Sniadecki's roaming documentary is an immersive look at China's expansive railways. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 27, at the Digital Gym Cinema.
One Time Only
Shadow of a Doubt: Joseph Cotten's Uncle Charlie might not be the man he seems to be in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller co-starring Teresa Wright. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at Scripps Ranch Public Library.
Point Break: Kathryn Bigelow's masterful crime film is about a young FBI agent (Keanu Reeves) who infiltrates a Los Angeles gang of robbers known as the "Ex-Presidents." Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Jaws: Too bad nobody listens to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and scientist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) about that big shark roaming the waters on July 4 weekend. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, at Althenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla.
Pretty in Pink: Molly Ringwald's brooding teenager has the impossible task of choosing between a guy named Duckie (Jon Cryer) and a rich, sensitive playboy named Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 20 and 21, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Splash: Human being Tom Hanks and mermaid Daryl Hannah try to work out their physical differences in Ron Howard's quirky romantic comedy. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21, at Postwood Pier Plaza in Ocean Beach.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "We named the dog Indiana:" Classic Sean Connery shade. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, at the Ken Cinema.
Pretty Woman: Julia Roberts takes the old adage "prostitute with a heart of gold" to a new level in Garry Marshall's iconic romantic comedy co-starring Richard Gere. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22 and 23, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Heart of the Beholder: The true story of a couple who opened the first VHS rental store in St. Louis and was caught up in a battle with the Citizens for Decency after offering Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ to customers. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24, at San Diego Public Library in East Village.
West Side Story: It's hard out there for a gal named Maria (Natalie Wood) who's looking for love in all the wrong places. Screens at 8 p.m., Monday, Aug. 24, at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
Danny Collins: Al Pacino plays an aging rock star that discovers a letter written to him by John Lennon 40 years before. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Weekend at Bernie's: Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman try to save their skins by making it appear their deceased employer is still alive. Hilarity ensues. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 26, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.