When I heard that Feast of the Epiphany, the inaugural feature film from the publication Reverse Shot, melded documentary and fiction, I assumed it would resemble the more formally audacious hybrids of filmmakers like Robert Greene (Kate Plays Christine, Bisbee ’17). No such porous boundary exists, however. The film resembles something akin to a centaur in its arrangement of narrative and actuality. I’ll leave you to decide which half is which, though no disrespect to whichever portion is meant to be the equine-resembling one.
Instead, Feast of the Epiphany provides a fairly compartmentalized experience. The first half revolves around a Brooklyn dinner party where friends gather with a palpable sense of grief. While tensions never boil over, the entire affair feels freighted with an unspoken but pregnant emotionality surrounding an omnipresent grief. The second half, meanwhile, transports us to the bucolic Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, N.Y. to provide a tranquil look at how the keepers of the soil strive to take a more holistic approach to their cultivation. The film’s 80 minutes pass by with an elegant simplicity that belies the intellectual rigor behind the endeavor.
Though it’s possible to read the film in a way that pits the two halves against each other, searching for parallels and echoes feels a bit nitpicky for the relative sparseness of the piece. Contorting Feast of the Epiphany into a yin and yang based on the diptych layout does the film’s structure a disservice. It’s not strictly about sections that complement or contrast one another. Rather, there’s a tenuous but important yoke between the two portions that speaks to an overarching aim in the film.
Feast of the Epiphany is primarily defined by small gestures that convey a great deal. This extends to every aspect of the project: Ashley Connor’s intimate yet never claustrophobic cinematography, Ben Garchar’s emotionally intuitive editing, the entire cast of actors’ naturalistic performances as guided by dramaturg Shonni Enelow. But for a brief moment between the two segments, it takes a step backwards and zooms out to the macro. We leave the dinner party and observe the snow falling on a quiet block. The camera inches further away in successive still shots before cutting to the moon, only to lead us out of the firmament and into the terrestrial domain of the farm.
The transition provides the most fragile of connections between the sterile domicile and the verdant fields, but it collapses what feels like a world of difference between these two domains into a single sequence. What rural and urban dwellers, food producers and consumers, or fictional characters and real people share is precious little, so it might seem. But they inhabit the same natural world. They gaze up at the same sky. It’s to the immense credit of filmmakers Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert, and Farihah Zaman can sell such a linkage as earnest, not risible. There’s a very real universe where the slightest misstep might have turned the Venn diagram between the film’s two halves as something akin to “Everyone Poops.”
In the press notes for Feast of the Epiphany, Zaman notes feeling “there [are] so many films based in Brooklyn that were concerned with the idea that people of our general age are unable to communicate with each other.” The film she and her co-creators crafted successfully provides a rejoinder — if not a full antidote — to the indie trope she pinpoints. They allow for the truth that sometimes people do, in fact, say what they mean or provide an honest look to another person … but this dialogue or non-verbal language is still not necessarily where they connect. It’s in the singing of a familiar song or convening over the ritual of a diner party where their characters find true communion. (The farmers, likewise, establish bonds through recitations and large gatherings.)
This inextricable connection between the Brooklyn urbanites and the land to which the humble folks upstate tend is difficult to verbalize or pinpoint. I suspect that the Reverse Shot team also finds it a bit intangible, perhaps even ineffable. This modesty and humility sets Feast of the Epiphany apart from similar products by film critics, theorists, or other incredibly literate cinephiles. If this is their manifesto, conversation with cinema at large, or even a statement of principles, it’s strikingly free of didacticism or ironic distance. Koresky, Reichert, and Zaman push — or perhaps gently nudge — their audience towards an ontological examination of how cinema connects disparate items. The experience is not without a fair share of frustrations and head-scratching, particularly on a first viewing where every instinct urges over-examination and hyper-focus on authorial intent. But with time and some contemplation, those willing to let the film kick around inside their heads should find it quite illuminating and cerebrally satisfying.