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These 9 Films Are a Must-Watch for Any Photographer

Metrograph screens films by Magnum Photographers Susan Meiselas, Martin Parr, Eli Reed, and Elliott Erwitt.
June 11, 2017, 12:10pm
Martin Parr’s Teddy Gray’s Sweet Factory (2011). Images courtesy of Metrograph.

In what looks like a Victorian factory, a young man in a white cap rocks back and forth, rolling a giant column of sugary goo into an increasingly thinner and harder lollipop. I'm watching Martin Parr's short film Teddy Gray's Sweet Factory (2011), and although I'm surprised that Parr ever made a film, I am unsurprised by its content—the portrait of industrialism and consumption in the UK fits well into his body of work.

Of course, Parr isn't the only photographer to foray into film. A whole slew of famous Magnum Photographers experimented with moving image. And starting on June 15, you can see some of these films in New York. Metrograph is screening a series called "Magnum Photos at 70: Celebrating Masters of the Still and Moving Image from the Most Prestigious Photo Organization in the World."

If the title of the program isn't enough of a handful, then its wide variety of photographic perspectives is. With Susan Meiselas, Martin Parr, Eli Reed, and Elliott Erwitt, the theater celebrates the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos by exposing lesser-known and better-known films by famous Magnum photographers.

What's unique about this series is its timing. Every screening will be accompanied by a talk from the Magnum photographer who directed the film, because they are all in New York for an annual meeting and to celebrate the organization's anniversary. Director of Programming and Artistic Director at Metrograph Jacob Perlin describes how it all came together: "Susan Meiselas is a friend and supporter of Metrograph, so when she mentioned that the 70th anniversary was coming up, we leapt at it." Meiselas offered to help out, so planning became "a very happy experience all around." According to Perlin, "there's a reason to do it [because it's a 70th anniversary], there's someone involved who's gonna help make it happen, and then there's all this work that we really already like and are interested in sharing with people."

Naturally, Meiselas is one part of the five-part series. But not in the way you think: Metrograph is screening Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1985) and not her more famous film, Pictures at a Revolution (1991). The choice makes sense, because although Living at Risk is lesser-known, it depicts the equally important story of the pro-revolutionary Barrios family as they navigate life after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua.

Photo of the Barrios Family, featured in Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1985/58 mins/digital)

Eli Reed's photographs are always relevant, and his movie, Getting Out (1992), is especially so. It follows three young gang members living in Detroit as they describe the rules of the game they must play to survive. In this short film, the stunning black and white compositions Reed is known for shift and build nuance with the addition of time.

Photograph by Elliott Erwitt of The Misfits cast

I was most surprised by Elliott Erwitt's mesmerizing and distinctly American films. Perlin will screen three: Beauty Knows No Pain (1972), a depiction of beauty standards and gender struggles in Texas, Red, White and Bluegrass (1963), a portrait of the America in North Carolinian traditions, and The World-Renowned Incomparable Marching 100 (1981), a look at the famous marching band at historically black college Florida A&M University. In addition to Teddy Gray's Sweet Factory (2011), Metrograph will screen Parr's Think of England (1999). Both chronicle the identity of England with Parr's classic dry wit.

Still from Getting Out (1992/13 mins/digital)

To top this celebration off, Metrograph will screen the epic western The Misfits (1961), the filming of which was documented exclusively by the Magnum Agency's own cast of heavy-hitters: Eve Arnold, Cornell Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Erich Hartmann, Inge Morath, and Dennis Stock. It is clear that stars of all kinds will fill Metrograph's seats during this series, but a basic question remains: what is their favorite movie-watching snack?

Still from Beauty Knows No Pain (1972/26 mins/Digital)

From June 15 to 24, Metrograph celebrates the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos by screening films directed by masters of the still image.

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