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Movie Review: 2007 ATA Film & Video Festival: Shorts Review

By Mike Everleth ⋅ October 5, 2007

ATA Film & Video Festival

I didn’t know much about the Artists Television Access center in San Francisco before they contacted me a couple months ago, but they’ve been in business for over 20 years helping experimental and avant garde filmmakers. This year is only the second year for their festival of short films and, as selected and programmed by co-directors Isabel Fondevila and Shae Green, man it’s a doozy. I got to see most of the shorts ahead of the festival and fell in love with so many of them that if I lived in S.F. or could get away somehow, I would go to the fest and watch them all over again with an audience. It’s an amazingly bold and impressive lineup of daring and provocative short flicks that I urge anyone in S.F. to go to at least one of the nights if you can. The festival runs Oct. 10-12 and check out their website for more info.

This isn’t a totally complete review of all the films playing at the fest. First, the 10th is more of an opening night party and features an installation film that will loop through the night. There’s a couple installation films that will run continuously during the fest and I didn’t see those. Here’s a rundown of the films I did see, organized by the night they are playing:

Oct. 11:
8:00 p.m.: “Auteur Space”
For(r)est in the Des(s)ert, dir. Luiso Berdejo. This is a haunting short film that hovers in a nebulous space of what may or may not be found footage, poetry, narrative, real-life horror and science fiction to tell the story of child abduction. Or is it just a contemplative insight into the journey from boyhood to maturity? Berdejo packs a lot of fascinating meditative questions into his extremely simple story.

Their Circumstances, dir. JiHyun Ahn. This is a brilliant, colorful animated film that’s told a) backwards; and b) as if it’s playing on DVD menus. A young girl is haunted by a ghost demanding it’s leg back, then as the story progresses backwards in time we see the girl’s parents complicity in the case of the missing leg. Then Johnny Depp shows up. Wonderfully bizarre and a real forehead slapper once all the story elements eventually fall into place.

I Am the Eggman, dir. Sam Barnett. This is a disturbing, abstract claymation piece about the futility of life. That’s what I got out of it anyway. A blobby white figure in a white room tears off pieces of himself to feed a greedy machine that converts the white paste into blood. Extremely uncomplicated clay figures and sets evokes a total nightmare world.

False Friends, dir. Sylvia Schedelbauer. It’s quite impossible to tell if this film is made up entirely of old found footage or is some combination of found and new. Some shots make are too elaborate to think this is all new stuff, but it could be that, too. Odd things are going on at some creepy orphanage/hospital kind of place. The film owes a lot to David Lynch, particularly in the droning, machinery-esque soundtrack; and the dreamlike way concurrent stories are cut together. But never so much that the film is unoriginal. It’s really a great unsettling piece. But still, made me think of Lynch.

Paradise Drift, dir. Martin Hansen. Hands down the best film of the entire festival and one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. But damned if I can tell you exactly what’s going on here. Villagers flee their home in the night and travel over a rocky terrain to see … what I don’t know. Are they having a religious experience? Is there some threat they are fleeing? Did Hansen engineer this all as a story or did these events actually take place and he was just documenting the action? It’s impossible to know — and I don’t want to know, frankly. The mystery is what lends the piece it’s magic. Shot in a haunting night-vision black-and-white, even the location of where this was shot, revealed in a title card at the end, came as an explosive shock. This is the film to go see.

The Apollos, dirs. Nick Parker & Jazmin Jones. This documentary only half-way works. The subject matter is educational and inspiring. It’s the true story of the students who pushed to have Martin Luther King Day made a state holiday in California. But the material would have worked better as a straight doc or if it pushed the experimental envelope a bit more. As it is, it just kind of hovers without committing to either format. Nice effort, though.

To Watch After the White House Press Briefing, Or With the Apathetic, dir. Mack McFarland. This brief short didn’t work for me at all. A younger me maybe would have found it amusing, but an angrier, crankier, impatiently older me thinks that non-specific stabs at easy targets for political humor doesn’t do anybody much good.

Marmot, dir. Olga Chernysheva. This is a very simple, one-shot documentary of an older woman preparing herself for a political march in Russia. I mean, I’m assuming it’s a documentary and not a set-up. Either way, it really works as you sit and wait during an uneventful buttoning of a coat and whatnot for the eventual payoff, which pays off greatly.

Tetescha Us, dir. Stefanie Wuschitz. This simple black-line on white screen animation starts with a history of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, where they still have no basic human rights, then evolves into the story of a community group that teaches animation to teenage girls. This is the only place these girls really have to express themselves and it’s interesting to see their first tentative steps to speaking their own mind, where their wants and needs are generally simplified into tales of love and friendship. Really evocative film where the animation enhances the emotion of the story, as opposed if it was just a straight-up doc about these girls.

Oct. 12:
8:00 p.m.: “Mnemonics”
Photo-Synthesis, dir. Lisa Danker. Danker begins with beautiful close up shots of flowers and foliage, then switches gears midway into Brakhage-esque abstraction of placing leaves, grass and stuff on the actual film. At least, that’s what it looks like. Very hypnotic and I love the punny film title.

1,2,3 Solution, dir. Tommy Becker. As the title suggests, this film is broken into four parts with each exploring the meaning of life as lived in an increasingly mechanized world. We get old school birthing films, Shamu performing tricks and life passing us by out the car window. But what’s the “solution” to living an increasingly disjointed world? Abstract film, of course! Great soundtrack, too.

Iceland, dir. Fabienne Gautier. Don’t know if this is literally Iceland or just an “Iceland frame of mind,” but, man, does it look like a one desolate, godforsaken place. Especially in black and white and on a split screen joyride through the countryside.

Candy Apples, dir. K.Laitala‚Äôs SFAI Optical Techniques for Film Class project (Spring 2007). As a class project, this looks like it’d be mega-fun to work on. Very cool optical effects and objects flash by very quickly. Don’t watch if you’re prone to get epileptic fits.

Flight Home, dir. Tadashi Moriyama. A tiny window into the big city hangs in space far, far above the streets below, while a clothesline, birds and airplanes fly from one world into the next and random abstractions dance around it. Very simple animations and a playful jaunt.

Traces, dir. Hubert Sielecki. This is a beautiful paint animation film with big, bold strokes so you can see the actual texture of the paint as it’s sloshed around. Sometimes there are identifiable objects, e.g. an eye, a cityscape, feet, but mostly it’s abstract dashes swirling about. Meanwhile, a poem about perception drones on in the background. Are we seeing what’s being spoken about? Possibly.

Echo Park, dir. Paul Clipson. I kind of live near the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, but there’s no indication if this abstract film was actually shot there. Instead we move from the plant world into the blurry city streets. The film is shot mostly out of focus, so that it’s just a collage of light splatters through a rainy windshield and car and store lights flashing by. The soundtrack also wavers between just noise and actual music, but it’s all very relaxing.

Window, dir. Lukas Lukasik. Not quite sure where this was shot, but if I had to take a guess it would be in and around either an abandoned prison or mental hospital. We get closeups of a lot of birds, gates, a dirty sink in an empty room and, yes, plenty of windows. I really like the look of this film and the disparate shots really flow together nicely.

“States of Matter”
Pursuant to the Subsection, dir. Gordon Winiemko. This is a very funny, manipulated video of a Board of Supervisors meeting with extremely boring testimony from some dude.

Better to Kiss You With, My Dear, dir. Dina Ropele. This brief short is an extreme closeup of a woman putting on lipstick. As you watch her, you hope and pray she doesn’t do what you think she’s going to do. And then she goes ahead and does it. What is it? Here’s a hint: Her action is the title of a little seen short by John Waters.

I, a Director, dir. Rachel Manera. Directed by Manera, but written by the legendary George Kuchar. Manera, who also stars, is trying to get a dramatic scene right, but keeps flubbing it even with the constant intrusion of her coach. Or is he the director? A great parody of high drama that Kuchar is known for, but Manera and the coach/director’s constant repitition quickly gets increasingly grating and irritating — which is exactly the point and why the short is so much fun.

Sissy-Boy Slap-Party, dir. Guy Maddin. This was the first film I’ve ever seen by Maddin, who got literally a ton of Internet ink this year for his feature Brand Upon the Brain. This is an extremely silly short and the title says it all. It’s hard to tell if Maddin is parodying old Hollywood or parodying Jack Smith parodying old Hollywood. It’s like a less flamboyant Flaming Creatures, if that’s possible, and with sync sound. (Watch Online)

Phantom Canyon, dir. Stacey Steers. Allegedly based on a true story, but I have my doubts since it’s about a guy who can turn into a bat who falls in love with a woman who can turn into a fish. However, the film is animated and made up of classic Victorian images, some of which are photographs taken from an old text book by Eadweard Muybridge. Very lovely to look at. Edward Gorey would be happy.

Bulb in the Head, dir. Melika Bass. An odd tale of love, or maybe it’s just a case of a stalker and his victim. A deranged figure crawls through the dirt like the worms the object of his affection digs out of the ground. We’re all worms when it comes to the power of love, right?

5 Cents a Peek, dir. Vanessa Woods. A woman reminisces about how, as a young girl, she wished to run away to the circus and, from what we can tell, she probably still wants to. Nice modern black-and-white photography of a woman dealing with her own body image is contrasted with old found footage of circus acts, chiefly an amazing tightrope group performance, a lion/tiger trainer and a bear riding a bicycle. Do they still do that kind of shit at the circus because how they treat the animals is really hideous, though it must look like fun if you’re a kid. Who wouldn’t want a bicycle-riding bear as a pet? Sad movie.

To wrap it up, as you can see, it’s an amazing collection of films, most of which are total home runs. For more info, please visit the ATA Film Festival website.