Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ROXIE / ATA: PLAYBACK (2006-2010)—An Evening Class Question For Three "Personal" Filmmakers

Invited by curators Isabel Fondevila and Shae Green to attend ATA: Playback (2006-2010)—their retrospective screening celebrating the first five years of the ATA Annual Film & Video Festival—I was pleased to join an enthusiastic crowd at the Roxie Theater. Overall, Fondevila and Green engaged their audience by infusing the program with a selection of films that expressed considerable humor; a wise choice for a two-part program profiling 14 films.

There was also a multimedial dimension to the event, with Tommy Becker providing vocals for his piece
Animal, Animal, and Paul Clipson projecting his Bump Past Cut Up Through Windows on his personal 8mm projector. Becker, who has described himself as "a poet trapped in a camcorder " on his website—which, incidentally, is well worth a leisurely browse—evoked the oral cadences of a poetry scene quite popular in the Bay Area in the late '60s-early '70s and, for me, it felt nostalgic to hear his style of delivery. Clipson's 8mm short was a propulsive paean to chlorophyl with superimposed swashes of clover leaves and grass blades evincing a kinetic, Spring-like intensity; its constant movement mesmerizing (music by Tarentel, of which he's a member).

Equally hypnotic and beautiful was the balletic slo-mo violence of Federico Campanale's Kogel Vogel where the camera caresses the angularity of a gun before a bullet shatters sheets of glass in rhythmic, repetitive sequences. In Campanale's own words,
Kogel Vogel "explores the ideas of force, resistance and evolution using high-speed video, time remapping and dynamic's aesthetic."

John Palmer's
Who's Afraid cleverly employed four split screen frames allowing one actor to hilariously enact all four roles in one of the key scenes of Albee's notorious play. Guy Maddin's Sissy Boy Slap Party remains a timeless homoerotic chuckle. More laughs abound from Rachel Manera's I, A Director; a zany send-up of George Kuchar's I, An Actress.

Martha Colburn's animated Myth Labs warrants repeated viewings to appreciate its multilayered critique of meth addiction, colonial conquest and religious intervention; a truly disturbing piece masterfully executed.

Zachary Epcar's
A Time Shared Unlimited combines architectural branding from Prague (the amazing Zizkov television tower) with a narrative set in a near future that—as the Rotterdam International phrased it—"extols life's little joys, consumed alone or together." The film's ironies are delicious.

On hand to discuss their films after the program were Tommy Becker (
Animal, Animal), Douglas Katelus (the cinematographer for I, A Director), and Zachary Epcar (A Time Shared Unlimited). I asked a group question.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Of all the different ways that you can approach film and media making, what is it about the experimental format that has caught your creativity and motivated you to work within this format?

Tommy Becker: For me it's the ability for video to be this hybrid medium that allows me to bring in elements of sound and writing and—in other videos I do—prop making and performance. Video just seems to have the ability to bring in all these mediums together for me. It's perfect for me for that.

Douglas Katelus: I prefer to use the term—and I heard it first from Bruce Baille—"personal cinema". I think the term "experimental cinema" is narrow-minded in a way. Personal cinema opens the borders to endless possibilities. There's no story structure or characters you have to deal with.

Zachary Epcar: I would second that. It's the lack of constraints, no rules, but—within personal cinema—you can still pretty much have a message there. What experimental, or personal, cinema does is that you can say that message formally as well within the structure and the way you organize the images. It's a step further for me. It's a way to explore with the formal possibilities as well as content and the subject matter.