News From Home – a film by Chantal Akerman

How long is a long take? That’s the question I was asking myself as I began watching this mesmerizing film which is basically a lot of long takes in New York City while the director reads letters (with English subtitles) her mother had sent her from Belgium when she had lived in NYC in the early 70’s. The film was shot in the summer of 1976.

I timed a few shots.
28 secs
39 secs
42 secs
99 secs
50 secs
INSERT SCRIBBLY ADDITION AND DIVISION HERE

You get something like 51.3 secs average but taking the anomalous 99 sec shot out it is closer to 31.8 secs if my poor math skills are close to correct. So I rounded it down to 30 secs and concluded that that would be an interesting film, one that is completely made up of 30 sec shots.

Anyway, as the film went on I noticed that there was wild variations in the shot times – the final glorious shot is around 8 minutes I figured.

From the wiki page

News from Home is a 1977 avant-garde documentary film directed by Chantal Akerman. The film consists of long takes of locations in New York City, set to Akerman’s voice-over as she reads letters her mother sent her between 1971 and 1973, when the director lived in the city.
In November 1971, at the age of 21, the Belgian film director Chantal Akerman moved to New York City. There she took petty jobs, made films and befriended filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas and the cinematographer Babette Mangolte, who became one of her recurring collaborators. According to Akerman, she spent the period living “like a vagabond.”[1] Principal photography for News from Home took place in the summer of
1976, three years after the director moved back to Belgium and after she achieved critical success with the 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Locations chosen for News from Home correspond to the areas where Akerman used to take walks, which include the Times Square subway station and a long shot driving up Tenth Avenue from 30th to 49th Streets in Hell’s Kitchen. Other scenes were filmed in Tribeca and on the Staten Island Ferry. None of the sound was recorded with the images, but was added later.
The film was released on DVD in France through Carlotta Films on 18 April 2007.[2] The Criterion Collection released it through their Eclipse series in 2010, as part of a set called Chantal Akerman in the Seventies. The set included four feature films Akerman directed in the 1970s as well as a number of short films.[3] News from Home is included on the first disc of the set, called The New York Films

I really enjoyed this film. Chantal Akerman is one of my favorite film artists.

I took some stills.
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It is a gorgeous film with lots of great shots of NYC that would be difficult to reproduce here in stills but I am using these to kind of give a sense of how the film  works. Lots of really good street scenes with New Yorkers of the day casually going about their lives.

That final  8 minute shot I mentioned is taken from the back of the Staten Island Ferry and we can see that we are pulling out of the terminal and we keep going further out until we can see the skyline of  Lower Manhattan begin to fade back. And I know that the filmmaker would never have guessed just how sad and awesome this final shot would become in the eyes of viewers today.
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