Friday, April 30, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Experimental/Avant Garde Shorts Programs

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

The San Francisco International Film Festival has two programs of experimental (or as Brakhage referred to it as "personal cinema") and avant garde (ultra-quirky!) shorts programs: "Something Like a Dream" (the experiments) and "Pirate Utopias" (the avant garde).  They contain a total of 17 pieces.  I'll start with the quirky ones.

One and One Is Life (dir. Martha Colburn, USA 2009, 5 min)  Another collage animation from Martha Colburn, who is just not to my... taste or aesthetic. Mind you, this semi-kaleidoscopic fantasia/tribute to Wonder Woman came close to gripping me, but in the end, I find her stuttering camera work distracting.

Release (Bill Morrison, USA 2009, 13 min) Oh. My. Gawd!!  To say that I am a "Bill Morrison Fan" is now an understatement. I am on record as loving Decasia,  Light Is Calling and How To Pray.  Although this piece actually had audience members hissing, I found it to be "ART"!  Morrison repeats a piece of newsreel, ever expanding the amount of frames, over a fifteen minute period.  It became apparent to me that we were outside of a prison, awaiting someone's release. The film then became an allegory, and obviously to some audience too physically real, as to what waiting for a release must be like.  The frame paces the scene, over and over, illuminating details that were unseen, as each pass is made.  Underneath the visuals, is yet another brilliantly devised soundtrack, this time featuring music by Vijay Iver.  I loved it and hiss back at those detractors!

Fiddlestixx (dirs. David and Nathan Zellner, USA 2009, 3 min) Simply put in the program guide: "The first episode in the chronicles of a super-sensitive, megalomaniacal, perhaps magic monkey: Fiddlestixx!"  This is one whacked out video! When asked during the Q&A what was their 'inspiration', one of the Zellners replied, "We were able to rent a monkey for the day, and decided to put him in front of a green screen!" Sort of fun and worth exploring the rest of the series at their website!

Embrace of the Irrational (dir. Jonn Herschend, USA 2009, 18 min)
Locally commissioned by San Francisco gallery Southern Exposure, this video deconstructs educational and documentary form. It exposes the behind the scenes drama of an educational video and then goes one more step to behind the scenes of the making-of, in itself. All of it is a dramatic ruse, which is its punchline, of course!  It could have gone one much longer and entered the fabulous world of Luis Buñuel!!

Spin (dir. Max Hattler, England 2009, 4 min) A CGI'ed animation of toy soldiers are given a Busby Berkeley treatment. Yet, in the end, Hattler doesn't hesitate to shock the audience of what the reality of the situation is. Visually complex and fascinating, as well as emotionally profound by the end.

M (dir. Felix Dufour-Laperriere, Canada 2009, 8 min) A still frame can not do this postindustrial animation justice! It is moody, creepy and beautiful. I was not ceased to be amazed at how the director was able to create images that were completely alien, yet mechanically recognizable. I was swept away in a strange rush...

Zef Side (Sean Metelerkamp, South Africa 2009, 3 min) Well. I suppose that this IS an international film festival, so a South African rap video is not totally out of place. However, I am not a fan of either the music, nor of the imagery that Metelerkamp created.  I sort of did not understand why it was here, actually.

Blink (no site link available) (dir. Silas Howard, USA 2009, 12 min) I saw this at last year's Frameline Festival, or at least a rougher cut of it, as there were a couple minor moments that I don't exactly remember. And I believe that Howard cleaned up the business with the sea cucumbers.  Yes, sea cucumbers.  Transexuals and sea cucumbers.  You tell me. It remains to be bleak and depressing, even with the appearance of Ben Foster as a skinhead. Yes, a skinhead.

When programmer Sean Uyehara introduced this selection of shorts, he proffered a warning that there was going to be explicit sex in the final piece, which was directed by Guy Maddin.  Well, I was sort of intrigued and excited to see just what Maddin would come up with! The Little White Cloud that Cried! (dir. Guy Maddin, Canada 2009, 13 min)  Guy Maddin continues to frustrate me!!  Just as I come back to love him after seeing his short online, NIGHT MAYOR, I then turn around in a couple of weeks and see this. Apparently, it was commissioned by the Berlinale for a Jack Smith film festival, I found it to be not so much a tribute to Smith or Kenneth Anger (though it is definitely derivative of them), but a nearly exploitative homage to the baser motifs those two directors worked in. In the end, I just felt it was transsexual pornography. Not pleased, at all.  I'll have to watch SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD again to get the taste of this out of my mouth.

Before continuing on into the pieces included in the experimental program, I should mention that I am not quite as open minded regarding 'personal cinema' as I am with the avant garde. I try to understand why and where the images are coming from, within the artist. That said...

Ghost Algebra (dir. Janie Geiser, USA 2009, 8 min) Is an animated collage of a "battlefield of fragile creatures and nervous dreams".  I didn't quite get that. I did get the dreamlike suggestion with Geiser's editing of images. However, I do not portend to understand what the imagery could have meant to her.  Since it was so personal, it did feel a tad long and redundant. However, she does have a unique vision that with some editing would be more readily appreciated, I believe.

De Luce 1: Vegetare (dir. Janis Crystal Lipzin, USA 2009, 5 min) During the follow-up Q&A, Lipzin explained her process and what she was creating. It was highly aesthetic and technical and actually, was more information than I personally needed to enjoy it. I was simply taken out of myself for a bit in this exploration of color and vegetation. Yes, that sounds sort of quirky, at best, but it was a lovely few minutes...

The Soul of Things (dir. Dominic Angerame, USA 2010, 15 min) Simply put in the program guide: "Using lush black-and-white reversal film, Angerame portrays a city—our city—deconstructed, reconstructed, torn down and built up once again."  And, yes, Angerame is able to instill a ghost or "soul" in the footage of buildings that he has processed and edited together.  Though it took some extra time to get there, once his cinematic thesis was broached, I found it remarkable. (There are no stills available.)

Somewhere Only We Know (dir. Jesse McLean, USA 2009, 5 min) In a montage of "found footage", mostly comprised of competitive reality show contestants awaiting judgment, McLean produces a near dizzying melange of anxiety in portraits. Once I got past the recognition factor (yes, I watch way too much trash TV!), I began to become involved in the unspoken fears and dilemmas of the nameless characters on screen.

Arnos Tonlabor (dir. Christophe Janetzko, Germany 2009, 8 min) Again, the program guide probably explains this as well as anything: "This piece of musique concrète constructs a fascinating, abstract portrait of film sound-recordist Arno Wilms as he works in his studio."  Frankly, I was not so fascinated.

People’s Republic of Zoo (no site available) (dir. Sun Xun, China 2009, 8 min)  Though the program notes vaguely jog my memory of this piece, I can not say that any of the visuals stuck with me, much less intrigued or engaged me.  Ah well... "Sun Xun and his [Pi] Animation Studio’s beautifully hand-drawn and painted animal figures are woven into a series of parables that, inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, draw on history, politics and the natural science."

Bolinas (dir. Marcia Scott, USA 2008, 13 min) Marcia Scott's silent montage of color and light swept me away in a cinematic equivalent of sitting before a Mark Rothko painting. Her use of shadow, light and color was extraordinary and I couldn't help but to run up to her after the screening to tell her so!  I could have stared at this in meditation for quite some time...

Shu (Blue Hour Lullaby) (dir. Phillip Lachenmann, Germany 2008, 13 min)  Simply, an extended shot of a landscape during twilight and into the night as stars take over the sky above California's Security Housing Unit. There is something poetic about the dichotomy of the peaceful sky versus the scenes that are probably taking place within the prison below it. (No stills available.)

Maxxxxx says re RELEASE and BOLINAS: "Whoooooo! Such a pretty bird!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

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