Home USA News Off the Radar: ‘News From Home’ Captures Urban Loneliness and Fleeting Memories

Off the Radar: ‘News From Home’ Captures Urban Loneliness and Fleeting Memories

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Off the Radar is a weekly column that profiles overlooked films and is available to students for free through NYU’s streaming partnership. News From Home is available to stream on Kanopy.

Alia Lutra

News from Home, Chantal Akerman’s 1977 documentary, tells the story of her life in New York. The film is available on the Kanopy website. (Illustration by Alia Luther)

New York is no stranger to screens. Time and again, it sets the stage for gritty crime dramas, juicy rom-coms, and billion-dollar superhero blockbusters. For viewers from all over the world, this city is immediately associated with the grandeur and spectacle of cinema.

However, the camera lens selectively distorts outsiders’ perceptions of the city. Especially for those who came to find a new life in the sprawling area, be it for their studies or professional careers, the scenes of Times Square and the Manhattan skyline take on new meaning. Chantal Ackerman’s documentary News from Home (1977) is a very unique and moving portrayal of life away from home; it’s an ode to New York and its dreamer population.

Filmed in the summer of 1976 following the release of her critically acclaimed Jeanne Diehlmann, 23, Promenade 1080 Brussels, this documentary features everyday scenes from city life. It prominently features the neighborhoods and places she visited when she lived in the city in the early 70s, including TriBeCa, Hell’s Kitchen, and Times Square. Ackerman preserves the aesthetic qualities of New York – both the architecture and the people of the city. For her, one of the most intriguing places in the city was Times Square – the 42nd Street Station, which she described as “Like Dante, but organized!” with its multi-layered platforms and constant flow of people.

As the film moves from one locale to another, the viewer periodically hears Akerman reading letters from his mother back home. Her mother keeps urging her to write home more often, while she tells Ackerman about family and friends in Belgium. The endearing, but at the same time reprimanding tone of the letters sounds like a soulful melody in the pictures of crowded city streets and subway cars.

Ackerman perfectly captures the alienation anxiety that comes with being away from the warmth of home. While Manhattan is usually filled with frenetic energy and spontaneity, life in the city is littered with scenes of intense loneliness and longing.

Illustrating the intense homesickness she felt while living in the city, Akerman recalls the end of her youth. City scenes play out like retold memories from a bygone era; she uses cinema to recall her everyday life from the not-so-distant past.

At the end of the film, Akerman captures foggy Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry. The sharp glass and metal structures crossing the horizon are slowly disappearing in the thick fog. She understands that moments are ephemeral and we can only watch as time dissipates into the unknown.

Contact Mick Gow at [email protected]

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