Archive for the ‘Filmmakers’ category

Plunger by Anderss & Dyer

19 November 2009


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?


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.


Virtual Filmfest via Brakhage Symposium — Saturday

17 March 2009

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

13 March 2009

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…

Black Maria

11 March 2009

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.

Animated Video: Case Study

1 March 2009

This isn’t a local undertaking, but it illustrates in spades some techniques we witnessed in Josh’s and Ingrid’s movies. Thanks to Alexandra via Kenzie for this link.

It turns out that an entity called Groupusqule is responsible for the video part of this production — here’s another one of theirs I found via Google:

Now if could just track down Groupusqule itself, I’d see if whoever did this work would be willing to subject itself to online questioning by me and others who are intrigued by this sort of thing. However, the Groupusqule website seems to have vacated itself — perhaps this entity has disintegrated.

Freedom of Suppression

26 February 2009

Here’s a report about some missing interviews with [deleted] and what’s preventing me from conducting them.

So now I’ve been asked by someone close to the situation to take down the video describing this situation. Despite serious skepticism — censoring a post dealing specifically with censorship strikes me as something straight out of 1984 or the Bush White House — I’ve decided to accede to this person’s wishes. Maybe there’s more to the story than lawyers clamping down on freedom of expression in this American town.

Kimberly Reed at BIFF

14 February 2009

I didn’t interview this filmmaker, but I liked her responses to audience questions following the screening of her movie, Prodigal Sons, a documentary in which she is one of the central characters. I don’t think it’s necessary to have seen the film: the Q&A stands on its own. Watching it, you get the sense that Reed has made a connection with the audience through her story. And even though this is her first feature-length film, she’s able to generalize her experiences in a way that might be helpful to others. It was Reed’s birthday, so the Festival people presented her with a cake and everyone joined in singing Happy Birthday. Kind of cute.

I learned something about my little pocket videocam here: the combination of zoom and bad lighting seems to throw off the focus. YouTube cuts out a lot of the resolution from the high-def image anyway, so the diminished quality coming out of the camera isn’t as dramatic once it’s posted on the blog.