Plunger by Anderss & Dyer

Posted 19 November 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Filmmakers

Plunger

Björn Anderss and William Dyer, filmmakers

Drama. Global warming uncovers an ancient alien city hidden for millions of years under the Antarctic ice. Will the sweet deal on the theme park franchise satisfy the aliens’ lust for power… and revenge?

Making-Of:

We started out making a comedy but it just sort of got away from us, you know? There’s something so sad and yet unspeakably horrible about this story, it just wouldn’t let us go. Shooting in January gave us natural lighting 24/7, indispensible for the blue sharpness of the images throughout. The aliens were fantastic to work with once we got past the union negotiations.  A word to the wise: don’t make fun of their religion.

Never Mind

Posted 23 March 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Announcements

This blog isn’t working. Fade to black…

You’re Next!

Posted 19 March 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Ktismatics

My daughter’s 10th grade class in American History is studying the Cold War and the 50s. Guess what movie they’re watching and discussing?

Virtual Filmfest via Brakhage Symposium — Saturday

Posted 17 March 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Filmmakers

This past weekend I attended parts of the 5th annual Stan Brakhage Symposium, “focusing on the exploration of moving art, past, present, and future.” Sponsored by the University of Colorado, the Symposium featured film programs compiled by two noted film/video curators. On Saturday, Steve Seid from UC-Berkeley presented “A Cavalcade of Eccentricity” — a series of manic/delirious/antic/ludic works completed over the past twenty years. Seid writes:

The settings for these performances brim with objects and surfaces that acquire uncanny meaning as the artists move about in frantic exhortation. These are not performances linked to the seventies when artists demanded great attentiveness to the minutiae of the everyday. Rather, here, the artist’s presence is just the starting point for an artful journey of sly incantation, physical verve, and pop criticality. [These artists] unravel the mysteries around us as they themselves unravel.

I caught only part of the program — to be frank, I’m not sure I could have tolerated any more. Seen one after another on a big screen with big sound, these films induced in me a state approaching nausea. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing… If you’d like a taste, here are some of the films and filmmakers presented in Saturday’s show.

Shana Moulton has created a series of videos where ordinary domestic situations turn surreal. She features herself as the main character in these works, several of which were presented at the Symposium. I saw a piece entitled Whispering Pines 6, presented here for your pleasure.

I saw two videos produced by Halflifers, the collective name for the filmmaking duo Torsten Z. Burns and Anthony Discenza. The first one, Afterlifers: Extend Dead, explored one of my favorite alternate realities — zombiedom. One of my favorite parts was when these two guys discussed on-camera the possibility that zombie is a kind of space that one can enter and leave. Everything that enters zombie space becomes zombified — people, cats, telephones. As the camera switched from one to the other of  these two suited theorists, suddenly one of them has turned zombie. The putrescent face and hands, the ragged dirty clothes, the bloody mouth, even the desk at which he sat and everything on it — the whole scene had entered zombie space. The camera shifts back to the other guy, still looking alive, then back to the zombified guy, who has just as suddenly been revitalized, brought back from the undead. One of these theorists also proposed that we think of zombies in a glass-half-full way, as “un-alive” rather than “undead.” Hey, maybe it makes them feel better. I could find no link to the movie, but here’s Halflifers’ website.

Here’s one you might like better than I did: Undercover by Brian Bress.

Then there’s Family Tyranny (Modeling and Molding) a disturbing little film from Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.

The last movie I saw on Saturday was A Family Finds Entertainment, a 42-minute weirdfest from Ryan Trecantin. When curator Steve Seid talked about the time he asked Trecantin whether he’d been influenced by John Waters, several members of the audience anticipated Trecantin’s reply: “Who’s John Waters?” Here’s a Youtube of Part 1 of this movie; you can follow the links to the other 4 parts if you like. I found myself enjoying this film more and more the longer it went on.

Oh by the way, during a break in the Saturday program I chatted briefly with Boulder poet and former Ecliptics interviewee Tim Gritsevskiy, who was also in attendance.

Your Results May Vary

Posted 13 March 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Filmmakers

Last spring I attended the world premier of The King of Hearts. It’s a production of Reel Films, a cooperative endeavor organized by Benjamin White-Patarino along with two other creative and energetic fellows who met as students at Fairview High School here in Boulder. I wrote a post about the event on my old blog; here’s the movie trailer:

Recent experience with apparent censorship of local high school filmmakers (see posts here and here) got me thinking about Benjamin’s movie. The story begins with a murder taking place just outside the high school; the student-actors shoot pistols and tommyguns at each other on the night streets of Boulder. How did Benjamin and associates get permission to show this violent film at the high school? Did they do so with the administration’s blessing? Did they have to wait until after they’d graduated and become ex-students before the film could be shown? So I emailed Benjamin, who’s now studying film at university, about his experiences. It took awhile for him to get back to me, what with studying for exams and all. With his permission, here’s what he had to say in Wednesday’s email:

If you are still interested in hearing my story, I’m glad to tell you, though I’m afraid it is extremely mundane. First, though, I’ll provide a bit of pre-history.  In April 2008, a friend, Christopher Wu, and I organized a student film festival at Fairview with the assistance of Student Council [Christopher is also a co-founder of Reel Films].  The idea was to provide a place for student filmmakers in the school’s film production class to show their work.  The festival also featured an art display and auction put on by IB art students.  All the money raised from admissions, the auction, and Donations was put toward a fund that had just been started in honor of the student who died last year (the money was to be used to buy AEDs and train a few people in their use).  When the festival finally took place, it included perhaps 30 short films, not all of which ended up being played on account of a lack of time.  However, among the short films played was one that was of a very graphic (for a school festival) nature.  This film, which was called something like “Zom-B Attack” featured overt sexual references, graphic violence, swearing, and a scene in which two “girl zombies” make out for an extended period of time.  No efforts were made to block the film (Made by a group called “A-Doosh A-Bags Films”) from being shown or to leave out any scenes. I think this puts my story in context, given that “The King of Hearts” had no such content.

So, when I was looking to play “King of Hearts” at Fairview, I had a pretty easy time.  I met with the principal, and he readily gave his support (we ended up having a fun, hour-long conversation about film and ethics).  Mr. Stensrud even gave me permission to put up more flyers advertising the film than were typically allowed (the school typically allowed four to be put up; I was allowed to put up about 20).  However, Mr. Stensrud did not ask me about the content of the film.  After gaining administrative support, I talked to representatives of Student Council to gain their blessing, which I did.  Finally, I worked with Mr. DiBlasi [drama teacher at Fairview] to get equipment for the premiere, such as the speakers, a DVD player, and a cart to hold the projector (Chris Wu provided the projector).  That was literally it.  The Fairview administration and faculty were extremely supportive of me the whole way through and made the entire process as simple as could be. Needless to say, I find the matter at [the other high school] to be peculiar.

My story is probably too boring for any kind of weblog post.  Let me know if you still want me to post it on your weblog, though I am hesitant to do so, since there seem to be lawyers spying on your page.  I would hate for them to see my post and then get my friends in the Fairview faculty and administration in trouble for not having censored me or something silly like that.  Of course, if “King of Hearts” were in theaters, it’d probably only be PG or PG-13 at most, so I doubt there’d be any trouble, but I don’t want to repay the hospitality and goodwill of FHS with legal controversy.

I am curious to see how this all turns out, so keep me posted!

So, no worries for Benjamin and colleagues at Fairview. What accounts for the apparently more restrictive policy imposed on student films by another high school in the same school district? Or is there still something I don’t understand, some information not yet revealed that would make more sense? The longer this mystery remains unresolved, the more eager I get to discover the truth. Maybe I should hire street-toughened Private Detective Jack Hunter to investigate. I know his card is around here somewhere…


Doing My Civic Duty

Posted 12 March 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Ktismatics

Once I start writing posts about jury duty I know I’ve lost focus. It was kind of an interesting process though. About fifty of us randomly-selected residents of Boulder County watched the video about why we were there and how through the process of voir dire we might or might not be selected to sit on a jury. Afterward a clipboard-toting functionary entered our holding tank and read off the names of half of the people in the room, who followed her into the corridor. The rest of us waited another half hour or so before we too were escorted out of the waiting area and into one of the courtrooms.

We filed into the three rows reserved for those who watch the trial. The judge sat directly opposite and facing us. Facing the judge and to our right was a table at which were seated the defense attorney and the defendant; to our left sat the D.A. and someone who was never explicitly identified — presumably it was the complainant in the case. The judge informed us that this would be a misdemeanor criminal case in which the defendant was charged with “reckless endangerment,” allegedly having driving his pickup truck (with attached snowplow blade) aggressively at the complainant. We were also informed that this was a domestic dispute between the reckless driver (man) and his target (woman).

After the preliminary explanation the judge read off twelve names, mine among them. We were instructed to fill the seats in the jurors’ box, situated on the far left side of the room. Cordially the judge asked us about our brushes with the law, both as victims and as alleged perpetrators. It seemed she was interested primarily in whether we felt the system had treated us fairly, or whether our experiences had left us with persistent biases. The young guys on either side of me claimed that, as a result of their prior encounters, they felt themselves predisposed to doubt the credibility of the police. Both of these potential jurors were removed for cause and replaced with two of the remaining selectees still seated in the audience section of the courtroom. One woman had been involved in a domestic disturbance; another had been raped; both felt biased against the male defendant and for that cause were replaced. The judge went out of her way to assure the dismissed jurors that the dismissal wasn’t their fault, that maybe this just wasn’t the right trial for them, that maybe they’d have better luck next time — perhaps an overly optimistic assessment of people’s motives.

Next each of us answered a series of questions about ourselves posted on the wall next to the jurors’ box. As I recall the questions were: age, how long we’d lived in the county, education and academic degrees, job, spouse’s and children’s jobs, parents’ jobs, whether we had friends or relatives who work in criminal justice, hobbies, what we read, what we listen to on the radio, what we watch on television. Afterward the two attorneys asked some of us to elaborate on some of our answers. Of particular interest was the extent of our familiarity with the justice system. One of the candidate jurors has a son who is a D.A. in Pennsylvania; the D.A. in this case wanted to know whether this man would hold him to a higher standard because of his understanding of the job requirements. Because I had a doctorate in psychology, the defense attorney wanted to know if I’d ever counseled people (yes) and whether my clients had ever been involved in domestic violence situations (they had).

At the end of the voir dire process each attorney is obliged to dismiss three potential jurors. The two attorneys consulted first with their clients, then with each other, compiling the list of six dismissals. My name was the first one called. The judge assured us rejects that we had done nothing wrong, better luck next time, and we were free to go.

I did feel disappointed to have been rejected. I’ve never sat on a jury before, and probably because of my tainted background in psychology I never will get that opportunity in the future.

Black Maria

Posted 11 March 2009 by ktismatics
Categories: Filmmakers

On Monday night I paid a visit to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, which houses the creative writing and film department at Naropa University here in Boulder. Naropa was the first fully-accredited Buddhist university in the US; the Kerouac School was co-founded by poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, both of whom studied Buddhism here in Boulder under Naropa’s founder.

Anyhow, I went there on Monday night to attend the Black Maria Film Festival. Now in its 28th year, this traveling festival brings its jury-selected collection of  short avant-garde and art films to universities and galleries around the country. For each showing, founder and director John Columbus assembles a particular set of films from among the 50 titles included in the Festival’s portfolio for the year. Columbus travels with the films, introducing and discussing them with the audience.

It’s a free event, which I suppose partly explains why the auditorium was SRO: I’m guessing 300 or more people, comprised mostly of students from Naropa and the University of Colorado, packed themselves into the place. I arrived early, so I struck up a conversation with the projectionist and the guy standing next to him. This fellow turned out to be Chris Pearce, professor of animation at the U. of Colorado and the local coordinator for the Black Maria Festival. Apparently the U. and the Festival have a long collaborative history, owing to the influence of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who chaired the film studies department at the U for many years. When I mentioned to Chris that I’d seen some of the recent student films and had profiled two of the filmmakers, he told me that Ingrid Echeverry had made her film as an assignment in his class last semester. “There’s Ingrid now,” Christ remarked as she and her boyfriend took seats a few rows in front of us. So I got out of Chris’ way and joined Ingrid and her friend for the show.

I don’t believe I’ll discuss in detail any of the twelve films that comprised the Boulder showing. It was striking to me how each of the purely abstract experimental films had been assembled in a similar way: a series of scenes are shot from multiple angles, with each shot being split up into segments of a few frames each and then jumbled together with segments from other shots of the same scene. By preserving the continuity of particular scenes within the quick-cut discontinuity, the film conveys a sense of almost-seeing, of seeing beneath the threshold of perception, of something like unconscious vision. It’s ironic that such a precise, mechanical, and painstaking technique for constructing a film frame by frame would be used to instill such vague impressionistic experiences in the viewer.

One of the films was made by Patti Bruck, a faculty member in the U. of Colorado film department. Afterward she and John Columbus discussed the film, and the filmmaker entertained questions from the audience. The questions weren’t particularly probing, and afterward I kind of wished I’d said what was on my mind: this is a film that gets me thinking about making my own film. Much of it was assembled from found footage shot mostly in the 1950s, interspersed with freshly-filmed shots of ordinary objects watched intently, almost obsessively, often from odd angles and distances, bestowing on them a kind of eery nostalgia that veered toward repressed memory. Art is as much about ways of seeing what’s already there as it is about making new things; Bruck’s movie made me want to see.

Recall that Josh Minor’s film on this blog was a riff on The Wizard of Oz. Incredibly enough, one of the films shown in the Festival worked this same vein. In it we’re shown a very short clip of Dorothy singing Over the Rainbow, cut into even shorter segments and distributed across grids of images of the same scene: first 4, then 9, then 16, then 25 separate images, each contributing its own fragmented sonic elements. The result is an undulated abstract musical performance completely unlike the original — the same assembled-abstraction technique I described previously, this time applied to sound rather than image. I think Josh’s rendering is more effective, frankly.

I love this idea of taking a film festival on the road. Between February and June Columbus takes his show to more than 70 different venues. If the crowds elsewhere are anything like the draw in Boulder, that’s something like 20 thousand people who get to see and to discuss these unusual and challenging films.