Who doesn’t love a good blockbuster? Big budgets, thrilling action, and entertaining set pieces will continue to drive audiences to the movies, and for good reason. However, cinema art can also provide us with great moments that capture our curiosity and spark our imagination. In fact, some of the most critically acclaimed movies of all-time, and many Academy Award® winners, could be labeled as “cinema art.”
So, what is “cinema art?” Frequently produced and distributed outside the major studio system on a relatively small budget, cinema art movies typically handle serious matters in an artistic and often experimental way, geared towards more of a niche market rather than for a mass audience. In an artform where social realism takes precedence, on-location filming is favored over studio sets and sometimes amateur actors are even used.
Stretching back to the origin of movies, the genre has provided some of the most recognizable and talented filmmakers in cinema who have put their uncompromising visions onto the screen with a unique flare and style that is all their own. Foreign language movies are also included in this genre, recognizable by many of the same features with the addition of subtitles, although rarely referred to as “cinema art” in their respective countries. Instead, they are more commonly known as “auteur” or “national” cinema, the former originally coined in France to distinguish filmmakers of the French New Wave (a movement and form of European cinema art from the 1950s and 1960s).
Below are a few cinema art movies to keep an eye on this week as they debut in select Regal theatres nationwide:
Circle Collective / Utopia Select
Genre: Documentary, Biography
Runtime: 1hr 35min
Starring: Steve Bannon, Errol Morris
Directed By: Errol Morris
Director Errol Morris sits down with political strategist and former Donald J. Trump advisor Steve Bannon to discuss the controversial strategies and associations he employed in past political actions and delve into his present-day opinions on the American economy.
Errol Morris is the director of such critically acclaimed documentaries as The Thin Blue Line (1988) and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003), the latter of which won Morris an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature. Morris returns to the political realm for American Dharma (2019), an interview-style documentary that premiered at the 76th annual Venice International Film Festival.
Runtime: 1hr 34min
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA twigs
Directed By: Alma Har’el
Written By: Shia LaBeouf
A young actor struggles to reconcile with his father through cinema and dreams and deal with mental health as he navigates a stormy childhood and early adult years.
Famed actor, producer, and now screenwriter Shia LaBeouf experienced a quick rise to stardom as a child actor, followed by a subsequent rough patch that threatened to derail not only his career but his life. What began as a writing exercise ordered by his therapist has now blossomed into LaBeouf’s first feature-length screenplay, Honey Boy, which is based on the actor’s troubled childhood and fraught relationship with his father. Director Alma Har’el brings LaBeouf’s screenplay to life in what is her feature debut.
Noah Jupe plays the 12-year-old character inspired by LaBeouf, named Otis, and Lucas Hedges plays Otis at age 22. LaBeouf takes on the challenging and therapeutic role of James Lort, the father of Otis who was inspired by LaBeouf’s real-life father. “I guess I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” says LaBeouf. “My relationship with my father has shaped a lot of who I am. Being able to put an incredibly personal and painful time of my life onscreen is one of the biggest achievements in my career. I don’t know where I go next, but this is something I am proud I was able to do.”
THE WARRIOR QUEEN OF JHANSI
Runtime: 1hr 42min
Starring: Devika Bhise, Rupert Everett, Nathaniel Parker, Derek Jacobi, Jodhi May
Directed By: Swati Bhise
Written By: Devika Bhise, Swati Bhise Olivia Emden
The legendary Rani (translation: Queen) of Jhansi, Lakshmibai, fiercely leads her army into battle against the British East India Company in the infamous mutiny of 1857, becoming one of the greatest generals of the Indian army and forever shifting the balance of power in the region by setting in motion the demise of the British East India Company and ushering in the beginning of the British Raj under Queen Victoria.
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi presents a portrait of a prominent figure in Indian history, the name of which many may know even if they do not know the full story of her life. “We grew up with her story,” says director and co-writer Swati Bhise. “I think every young child in India grows up listening to this real-life tale through the oral tradition as well as school textbooks. There are statures of her all over India.” Swati Bhise joins her daughter, Devika Bhise, in bringing this true tale to life. Devika, while also serving as a co-writer, takes on the lead role of Rani Lakshmibai. “I think that’s quite common with people from India or from an Indian background,” says Devika. “They know the story of her bravery, they know her name, but they don’t know the context of her life.”
To tell Lakshmibai’s story, the production traveled from India to the United Kingdom then to Morocco, locations that added an authenticity and realism to the settings that permeated into all aspects of the movie. “This is not Bollywood,” says Swati. “If she’s in a dungeon with Ellis, talking to him, she has to have a shiny face with sweat. I said, ‘I want her to look grungy when it was hot.’ If she’s weeping on her horse and her nose is running, that’s fine with me. I want it to be natural as far as possible.” Swati’s daughter Devika embraced a similar mindset, embarking on long, arduous journey to physically prepare for the role, learn horseback riding, train for the action sequences, and study the ancient martial art of Kalaripayattu.
The years of preparation and attention to detail served Swati Bhise’s realistic approach to the movie. “I’m not trying to make a mythical tale,” says Swati. “I wanted to tell the true story of a determined young woman who could have been of any color or creed. I’ve tried to tell her story as a woman ahead of her time—who was also a mother, wife, queen, and friend—but who finally went down in the annals of history as a freedom fighter who believed in the unyielding feminine force.”