BEST ART CINEMA - 2002
In the wake of Al Milgrom's recent show-stopping announcement--that U Film has finally accepted Oak Street Cinema's long-standing proposal to merge the two organizations, beginning in July--let's take one more opportunity to thank him for four decades of devotion to one of the most distinctive and iconoclastic art-house programs in the U.S. Indeed, few exhibitors anywhere in the world are willing to disregard the bottom line so blatantly in favor of screening international esoterica 52 weeks a year. So even during those weeks when the esoteric seems nearly inconsequential (was anyone really burning to take in the entire load of softcore "Erotic Tales"--including Milgrom?), the cineaste is generally willing to indulge it in trade for the society's continued independence from commercial imperatives. And on a good week, that independence is priceless. Nearly enough to make the year all by themselves were U Film's runs of the apocalyptic Dogme denouement The King Is Alive (whose booking in mid-September was uncannily well-timed to our own end of days); the indelibly surreal Werckmeister Harmonies from Hungarian director Béla Tarr; and French New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda's endearingly scrappy doc The Gleaners and I. The last of these--a resourceful portrait of people who take sustenance from society's discards--was particularly well suited to playing at an organization that has long been a proud gleaner of sorts itself.