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America on screen: Unknown Pleasures 2019

The 10th edition of Unknown Pleasures film fest keeps its back turned on Hollywood. It's on Jan 1-21 at Kino Arsenal and Wolf Kino.

Image for America on screen: Unknown Pleasures 2019

The 10th edition of Unknown Pleasures film fest keeps its back turned on Hollywood.

Smartly programmed US indie showcase Unknown Pleasures offers Berlin audiences a chance to see hotly-anticipated awards contenders ahead of general release, and catch critical favourites that may not otherwise make it to German cinemas. For its 10th edition, the programme kicks off on January 1 at Arsenal with Kent Jones’ Diane, a quietly affecting portrait of a selfless woman who pushes herself to breaking point in her attempts to help others. It makes a worthy double-bill with Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary Monrovia, Indiana, as both tap into themes that permeate much of this year’s programme: rural life in America and the move from urban comfort zones to the countryside. Wiseman observes the life of the 1400 residents of the titular Midwestern town with a profound and non-judgemental appreciation of daily rituals. It’s a change of pace from his epic exploration of the public institutions of the Big Apple in last year’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, but it shows once again Wiseman at the summit of his craft. Dealing with similar themes is Patrick Wang, who will present his two-part, four hour A Bread Factory: For the Sake of Gold (Jan 3) and A Bread Factory: Walk with Me a While (Jan 4), an audacious and engrossing exploration of performing arts in small-town America that sees clashes within a New England community.

Big names this year include The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Jan 2), the story of a teenage girl forced into a gay conversion therapy centre, which won writer-director Desiree Akhavan the US Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival; and Paul Schrader’s awards-tipped First Reformed (Jan 5), a sumptuous-looking, slow-burn meditation on the nature of faith with a career-best performance from Ethan Hawke.

Noteworthy this year is the festival’s four-day run at Wolf Kino, featuring some eclectic and controversial highlights: Larry Clark’s sexually charged teen diptych Marfa Girl (2012) and Marfa Girl 2 (2018, screenings Jan 11-12); Ted Fendt’s witty and intellectually bracing Classical Period (Jan 13), followed by a Q&A with the director; and The Pain Of Others (Jan 10), Penny Lane’s sometimes harrowing found-footage documentary about sufferers of Morgellons, a rare illness that causes symptoms ripped from horror films. Lastly, like the festival, Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (Jan 12) just turned 10, and an anniversary screening is worth attending to appreciate the beginnings of Hollywood’s YA craze.

Jan 1-21 Kino Arsenal, Mitte and Kino Wolf, Neukölln