Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wednesday Night in Long Island City: Outdoor Cinema 2009 presents "Waltz with Bashir" at Socrates Sculpture Park

Since we got an afternoon email saying that Summerscreen's McCarren Park showing of Fame had been canceled due to "inclement weather," we went east to Long Island City tonight for clearer skies and the 2008 Israeli film Waltz with Bashir (ואלס עם באשיר‎) at Socrates Sculpture Park.

We don't really think it rained anywhere in the city tonight, but the early forecasts were pretty ominous. By 6 p.m. we observed that Outdoor Cinema 2009 had tweeted
Outdoor Cinema is on! Scattered showers are possible, but we will not stop rolling unless it rains. Pack an umbrella and take your chances! so we headed for Long Island City.

The G train we got on wasn't very cool, and we were schvitzing, so we got off at Greenpoint Avenue and caught the chilly B24 bus at its first stop, taking it across Greenpoint Avenue to Sunnyside. There we walked a couple of blocks and caught the Q104 for its entire route, which took us on a nice ride up Broadway through Steinway and Astoria to Vernon Boulevard, where the Socrates Sculplture Park is.

For those who don't know, it's a gorgeous park filled with fun and thought-provoking art. Lori wrote on the informative SiteBits:

Until 1986, the site of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, was an illegal riverside landfill, abandoned and ugly. A group of local artists [led by Mark Di Suvero] got together and decided to turn the area into a park and outdoor museum.

In the summer, Socrates hosts a a free outdoor cinema featuring international films and sometimes live music. All are invited to bring a picnic and a blanket, and watch the film starting at dusk. Also throughout the summer, Socrates offers sculpture and art classes for all ages, tai chi and yoga on Saturday mornings until September 30 (all which are also free).

The park foundation awards several artists a residency each year. They may work on site, and have the opportunity to display extremely large scale work, the only location like it in New York. The sculptures change about every 6 months. Visitors are invited to look, play, climb, learn, photograph and let their dogs run around the sculptures and park.

The stats aside, the park is totally amazing. Not only is it an actual grassy space with trees, but it has a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline and East River. There are a few meandering paths and river overlooks that SOME people might deem "romantic" (yes, there are stupid kissing couples everywhere). [Lots of dogs, too!] A walk through the park really creates a sense of detachment from the hustle and bustle of New York. The sea smells like the sea, the trees are thick in areas and private, the space is open and lush. How can this be New York?

Not to mention the amazing sculptures!

We walked around for a while, looking at the sculpture and wandering the gentle slopes around the waterfront.

The skyline looked so beautiful as the sun set.

The crowd was mixture of all kinds of people and, like the animated film being shown, featured more dogs than little kids.

In its eleventh year, Outdoor Cinema at Socrates Sculpture Park is an international film festival in cooperation with The Museum of the Moving Image, which is always worth a trip to Astoria (we've been there twice in recent years). There's also international music, dance and food, "celebrating the cultural diversity of Queens."

So tonight Naomi's Kosher Pizza and Israel Falafel from Flushing were being enjoyed by the people around us, including several guys with yarmulkes and women with hijabs.

The music by Israeli cellist Yoed Nir was sublime.

Here's a sample, from a 2007 concert in New York (he lives here now):

The movie began after Sean Leonardo, Socrates Sculpture Park's events director, welcomed us to the park and asked people to donate $5 to support the programming and get a glow-in-the-dark bracelet and after a speaker from the Museum of the Moving Image introduced Waltz with Bashir, a 2008 animated film by Ari Folman, who also is one of the writers on the TV show In Therapy.

We found the movie gripping, hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing from its opening scene with a pack of wild dogs in a recurring dream.

A.O. Scott, reviewing Waltz with Bashir in the New York Times, called it
a memoir, a history lesson, a combat picture, a piece of investigative journalism and an altogether amazing film.

Directed by Ari Folman, an Israeli filmmaker whose struggle to make sense of his experience as a soldier in the Lebanon war of 1982 shapes its story, “Waltz” is by no means the world’s only animated documentary. . . But Mr. Folman has gone further, creating something that is not only unique but also exemplary, a work of astonishing aesthetic integrity and searing moral power.

Tired of sitting cross-legged, we stood up for the final 20 minutes of this hallucinatory film. There were tears in our eyes most of the time as it moved to its unspeakably horrific conclusion, the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Phalangist fighters which Israeli leaders let happen.

It ends switching from animation to the graphic, horrifying images of real dead bodies and screaming, mourning Palestinian women which will always be seared into our consciousness from that summer of 1982.

That year, along with others, we signed a petition opposing the Lebanon war that appeared in a Jewish weekly.

A few months later, at our Davie, Florida address, we received a letter from a rabbi in Lynn, Massachusetts, informing us that because of that ad, we'd been excommunicated by a rabbinical court.

We hadn't known that Judaism even had such a thing as excommunication, but it looked pretty official - so that's how we became Episcopalian.

The film ended around 9:40 p.m. and we got home to Williamsburg over an hour later by taking the Q104 and then the N and 7 trains for one stop each and the G train from Court Square home to Metropolitan Avenue.

It was a great evening, and we're grateful for Socrates Sculpture Park and the Museum of the Moving Image for making available such a terrific movie for us tonight.

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