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Movie Review: 2009 ATA Film And Video Festival: Short Film Reviews (Part Two)

By Mike Everleth ⋅ October 22, 2009

ATA Film and Video Festival

Read Part One of my review of the fourth annual ATA Film and Video Festival, which includes an overview of the entire festival plus individual reviews of the short films screening on the fest’s first night, Oct. 22.

Below are reviews of the short films screening on the festival’s second night. Please note that I did not actually attend the festival. These reviews are based on a screener DVD sent to me by fest director Isabel Fondevila. Either way, this was another highly successful year for one of the world’s best experimental short film festivals.

Second night (Oct. 23): “Stories We Tell Ourselves”

A Poem to be Read into a Flashlight with a Microphone Placed Above the Breast of a Pregnant Mother, dir. Tommy Becker. This film does indeed include a poem that is read and a microphone placed over a woman’s breast. The flashlight, though, is misleading and is the most fascinating thing about this nice short film. Personally, I’m very interested in how moving image capturing and projection is evolving in our new, modern digital age. With that in mind, through half of this film, Becker does something simple but supremely interesting. Becker films half of his images, not directly, but through the image viewer on an iPhone, so that the audience is two-times removed from the initial object that’s being filmed. But, rather than feeling more distanced from what I was viewing, I felt more involved since it was such a unique technique.

To Be Regained, dir. Zach Iannazzi. This is one of the most nightmarish films I’ve seen in a good long time and it’s not even a horror movie — unless you’re a fish. Iannazzi has compiled several found films of fish farming, slowed them down considerably and paired the images with a low, droning soundtrack. Fish — I think all the footage is of salmon, but I can’t say for certain — are thrown into lakes so they can populate and be fished down the line. Other female fish are captured and have their eggs squeezed out into buckets so they can be sifted later for what reason I don’t exactly know. It all ends up looking very diabolical, insidious and evil. Watching the film I thought if I saw this and I were a fish, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for a year. But then I thought, do fish even sleep?

The Acrobat, dir. Chris Kennedy. This is a compilation of old found footage, mostly of urban streetscapes and buildings under construction. The footage is extra hazy, foggy and unclear, but it’s hard to tell if this is the result of image manipulation or simple deterioration of the actual film stock. (I’m not good like that.) But, the haziness gives off a very ghostly feeling to the material as if to say that not only are the people in this film are now ghosts, but that they constructed their very own ghost world. Interesting commentary on the past. Even though we have literal documentation that these people and places existed, did they really?

Naomi & Irving, dir. Laura Bouza. We don’t know if Naomi and Irving are aware of each others’ existence. They are, it is assumed by their appearance, retirees spending their days being physical. Naomi does a water ballet for the camera, while Irving aimlessly wanders his suburban streets. Naomi and Irving narrate their own stories, but we don’t see them speak. They are captured in voiceover on the soundtrack, as if they have passed already and are speaking fondly of their final days.

Spaghettidog, dir. Elham Rokni. A woman covers herself in cooked spaghetti, no sauce, and entices a dog to come eat it off her body. The woman rolls around on the floor in a seductive manner, as if she is trying to attract the attention of a lover. The dog does eat the spaghetti and when it’s muzzle gets close  enough to her face, she attempts to kiss it. Passionately. Yes, we watch the whole dance back-and-forth between the dog, the woman and the spaghetti as if they are lovers entangled, praying — depending on our own predilections — that the film does or does not end with a final act that would be illegal to capture on video. As a person who likes animals himself, whether or not that act occurs, I still couldn’t help to not feel horribly bad for the dog even if this was just an art project. Even though I’m thinking that’s the point, I haven’t yet come to terms if that is “right” or not. Kind of disturbing, even though it’s not as disturbing as it could have been.

Destination Finale, dir. Philip Widmann. I am terrible at both fashion and automobiles, as in I can’t date material just from looking at these two things. So, I didn’t pick up on clues in this film that others may get right away. Destination Finale consists of private vacation footage from Paris, London, Greece and other locations in which an Asian man poses on or around famous monuments — the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, et. al. The Asian man tries his best to look serious and uninterested in the camera, until the last second of the shot when he waves the cameraperson off that he can’t keep his composure any more. After a few shots of this, it becomes somewhat clear that the footage was meant to be edited differently. That each shot should have cut before the Asian man “breaks character” and waves. But, every shot has him waving. So, you end up not knowing, if you don’t pick up on the fashion and/or car cures, if this is found footage or if it was deliberately edited in this anti-intuitive pattern. What’s the commentary on travel or home movies or what here? It isn’t until the final shot, then a text screen telling us where the footage is from that we clue into the meaning and reasoning behind it all, which I don’t want to give away because it’s genius. And horrifically sad.

My Tears Are Dry, dir. Laida Lertxundi. Two women lie in bed. Not together. In separate beds. One clicks a radio on and off. The other strums a guitar. Are these women thinking about each other? In fact, we don’t see their faces, so are they even different women? Overall, this appears to be a film of longing and sadness resulting from longing, the things we do to try not to think about something else, but probably make us think about what we’re trying to forget even more.

Myth Labs, dir. Martha Colburn. I previously reviewed Myth Labs when it screened in Los Angeles as part of Mike Plante’s Lunchfilm series. But Colburn’s films are so dense and so fast-paced in their denseness, they beg to be seen multiple times over. Watching it a second time, I really tried to follow the “story” the best I could this time, even though that’s probably beyond the point of the film. The gist of it, that I got and think I can relate, is that the pilgrims came to America to give the Indians religion and crystal meth; and no matter how much religion tries to stamp out crystal meth since the Pilgrim days, it’s a sad, losing battle. In addition to being dense, Myth Labs can also be described as heady, satirical, political, hilarious, surreal, frighteningly realistic and several other words I can’t even conceive of. And Colburn accomplishes this without dialogue or clear narrative. It’s a film that only seems more brilliant the more one sees it.

Chorus, dir. Paul Clipson. Has there ever been a “Hypnotic” film movement, i.e. an underground film movement where all the films were specifically designed to put an audience into an hypnotic state? If not, Paul Clipson should start one with Chorus, a dizzying examination of light. Clipson’s camera focuses in and out on several light sources. At first, the sources seem generic — a window, a lightbulb, a reflection in a puddle. Also, the focusing in and out starts out very mellow and methodically. But soon the tenor of the images changes. The light sources become superimposed one upon the other while the focusing becomes more rapid and the camera moves from left to right in addition to in and out. Soon we are getting strictly urban light sources — neon signs promising girls, gambling and alcohol. The light sources spin around frantically. Once, where there was a center, is no more. There is no focusing in on any one source. It is a light freakout. Eventually, the swirling lights calm down and we get our single sources once again, which come as a very welcome relief.

Read Part One of the Underground Film Journal’s 2009 ATA Film and Video Festival reviews.