Menkes, Nina: Truly Independent Filmmaker

A filmmaker who has broken cinematic ground on multiple levels and has completed six feature films in which she controlled all aspects of production, Nina Menkes has created works that have been met with hostility nearly as often as they’ve incited praise and admiration. Anthology and UCLA Film Archives will be partnering for a bi-coastal celebration of her films with a New York & Los Angeles career retrospective. Alongside showings of her past works, Menkes’s most recent feature, DISSOLUTION, will be playing the full week of the NYC retrospective.

The Menkes retrospective will be held in March 2012 at the Anthology Film Archives in New York and the UCLA Film Archive’s Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles.

Nina Menkes “has remained one of the few American directors whose feature films — in both form and thought — are genuinely radical. Menkes’s main preoccupation across her films is violence in all its forms, and her approach is oblique yet intuitive and insightful.

Menkes has produced, written, directed, shot and edited her own features, for manyyears working closely with her sister Tinka Menkes, who was both her lead actress and creative collaborator.

Her films have shown widely in major international film festivals including Sundance, Rotterdam, Locarno, London, Viennale, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Cairo, Toronto as well as at La Cinematheque Francaise, The British Film Institute, the ICA in London, the Beijing Film Academy in China, the Whitney Museum ofAmerican Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, MOCA and LACMA in Los Angeles. Menkes’s many honors include a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Annenberg Foundation Independent Media Grant, an American FilmInstitute Independent Filmmaker Award, three Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships and two Senior Fulbright Research Awards–one to the Middle East/North Africa, and one to India.

The retrospectives will feature eight of Nina’s films, including her two early short films–A SOFT WARRIOR (1981), documenting a serious illness suffered by Tinka as experienced by Nina – in which Tinka plays Nina– and THE GREAT SADNESS OF ZOHARA (1983), which traces the solitary, mystical journey of a Jewish girl , also played by Tinka, who leaves Jerusalem for Arab lands. The latter film won awards at the San Francisco and Houston International Film Festivals and was named “One of the Decade’s Best Films” by director Allison Anders.

The sisters collaboration continued with MAGDALENA VIRAGA (1986), shot in East Los Angeles, about the inner life of a prostitute, imprisoned for killing her pimp. The film received the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for “Best Independent/ Experimental Film of the Year,” and was featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial and in over 40 other international film festivals. Filmed on location in Las Vegas, QUEEN OF DIAMONDS (1991) revolves around the life of an intense, alienated blackjack dealer, played by Tinka Menkes. The film was listed as one of the Year’s Ten Best in the Los Angeles Times and Film Comment.THE BLOODY CHILD (1996) is a mesmerizing look at the desolation of violence. Inspired by a real event – a US Marine, recently back from the Gulf War, was found digging a grave for his murdered wife in the middle of the California Mojave. Her last film with Tinka and considered by many to be her most radical, THE BLOODY CHILD was described in the Los Angeles Times as “an awe-inspiring, rigorous work of art on the highest level.”

In 2002, she shot and co-created a feature length, experimental documentary in Beirut, Lebanon, MASSAKER, about the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, which premiered at the Berlinale in 2005 and received a FIPRESCI Award.Switching to black and white photography in a work that Variety described as “Pure cinema- not since Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies has black-and-white looked so stunning”, PHANTOM LOVE (2007) is a powerful psychodrama about a young woman trapped within a suffocating family.

Loosely inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, shot in modern-day Tel Aviv, and also in black and white, DISSOLUTION (2010), Menkes’ most recent film, combines an almost surreal fairy-tale energy with brutal realism to explore the condition of violence which permeates contemporary Israeli society. The film marked her first work with the Israeli David Fire, a musician and philosopher, whoplayed the lead role as well as collaborated with Menkes on writing and editing. The film won “Best Israeli Drama” at its premiere at the Jerusalem International Film Festival in July 2010.

Menkes is currently in development on a new feature, HEATSTROKE, executive produced by Gus Van Sant, and set to be shot in 2012 in Cairo, Egypt and Los Angeles.

The complete lineups for the Anthology Film Archives and UCLA retrospectives will be announced in December. Menkes will be present in both cities to participate in discussions after the screenings of her films.