The James Benning Experience at Cinéma Du Réel

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The renowned international documentary film festival Cinéma du Réel is set to kick off its 46th edition from March 22 to March 31 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This year, the festival features a retrospective honoring filmmaker and longtime School of Film/Video faculty James Benning.

Titled The Benning Experience, the retrospective showcases the world premiere of Benning’s latest work, Breathless, alongside screenings of 14 of his films. Among these are early pieces shot on film and more recent productions captured digitally.

Describing his newest film, Benning recounts an unexpected encounter during a filming expedition in California, revealing the dynamic and unpredictable nature of his creative process.

More about Breathless from Benning:

“On November 28, 2023 I drove from my home in Pine Flat, CA across the Great Western Divide, down to the Upper Kern River. I came to film a tree. The leaves were orange. Within a few minutes stuff I hadn’t planned began to happen. I thought, oh shit. In the past few years a number of forest fires burned through this area. The stuff happening was due to this. I began to film. And then I was attacked from the air. War games. My film was to be a non-narrative the length of Godard’s Breathless, but I ended up with something else. It’s breathless.”

Benning, known for his solitary approach to filmmaking, has been a significant figure in the industry since the 1970s. His preference for filming alone, often outdoors, reflects his commitment to capturing life in its rawest form. His techniques may have evolved from traditional film to digital formats, but his core principles of “looking and listening” (also the title of one of his classes at CalArts) remain steadfast.

The retrospective aims to provide audiences a comprehensive view of Benning’s body of work, showcasing the evolution of his style while highlighting the consistent themes and motifs that define his films. By juxtaposing older celluloid-shot films with more recent digital ones, viewers will have the opportunity to observe the subtle changes in Benning’s approach over time. In recent years, several of Benning’s films have been presented at Cinéma du Réel, including L. Cohen, which won the Grand Prix in 2018.

In addition to film screenings, the festival hosts a discussion with Benning on Friday, March 29, offering attendees insight into his artistic journey and the creative process behind the curated program. Joined by critic and programmer Antoine Thirion, Benning will delve into the thematic elements and inspirations that have shaped his work.

For details about the program visit the official festival website.

CalArts Wild Beast | Image by California Institute of the Arts
PUBLISHED BY Elizabeth McRae

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