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Movie Review: 2010 ATA Film & Video Festival: Short Film Reviews (Part Two)

By Mike Everleth ⋅ October 21, 2010

ATA Film and Video Festival

The second night of the 5th annual ATA Film & Video Festival groups its short films under the heading “Lo-Fi Future,” which couldn’t be more apt for this selection.

Several of the films are literally just that, lo-fi visions of the future. Without any special effects whatsoever, these films tell us they take place in the future either just verbally, or through just shooting at unique locations. Other films, though, explore the “future” in a different way, by showing the effect progress has on culture, but through abstract means.

Wasteland, dir. Kathleen Quillian. Quillian brilliantly uses cut-out animation to illustrate the modern food chain, which starts from crop dusting fields and ends with automobiles blowing exhaust into the atmosphere. In between, cows are injected with hormones then are decapitated and chubby suburbanites pig out on hamburgers until they need to control their cholesterol with prescription medication that they wash down with beer.While that description might sound heavy-handed, Quillian actually develops her storyline slowly and deliberately until the audience has to start piecing together her tableaux together in their own heads. She doesn’t hammer the audience over the head to make her point, even though some of the images she uses can be quite graphic and not subtle at all.

Fun’s Over, dir. Whitney Horn & Lev Kalman. Horn and Kalman use a technique I’ve thought about for a long while for this film, so that might be one of the reasons I took to this film so much. Plus, I just think these two are damn clever and funny in a grungy kind of way, as evidenced in their feature film I previously reviewed, Blondes in the Jungle.

Anyway, this is what I like: Horn and Kalman indicate that their film is taking place in the future not through costumes, sets, music, special effects, etc.; but just by having the characters say it’s the future. The entire film takes place on a beach where a woman divulges to her brother that she thinks she has gonorrhea. However, her doctor — through an analysis chip in his hand — tells her she does not. Then, there’s some volleyball playing.

There’s a real lazy quality to Horn and Kalman’s films that’s very appealing. That’s not to say that their filmmaking is lazy. In fact, I think they’re pretty deliberate and calculating in their lo-fi aesthetic.

way fare, dir. Sylvia Schedelbauer. Close-ups of a praying mantis. Primitive huts sitting along a jungle river. A man with an afro trudging through a soggy field. Power line towers stretching up into the sky. Those are just the main images that stuck with me in way fare, another pro-environmental film somewhat in the vein of Quillian’s Wasteland. However, Schedelbauer takes a more ethereal, non-narrative approach than Quillian to illustrate the encroachment of modernity on native environments. Plus, Schedelbauer uses live-action, not animation. Together and separately, I think these are two very powerful pro-environmental films and I like it when experimental and avant-garde film techniques are used to offer a fairly explicit message, even when that image is just being transmitted through simple images.

Principia, dir. Jeff Guay. “In the future, everyone is crazy,” so sayeth Principia. And that’s a good thing because that’s what makes it such a fun place to be! Filmmaker Bob Moricz stars as Mr. Roboto, a post-apocalyptic survivor left to wander the Earth and run into various crazies. (What caused the apocalypse we have no idea — perhaps it was just stupidity that ran us into the ground?) For example, there’s the nutcase who wants to baptize fetuses in utero in order to prevent them from exploding upon birth. Apparently, that’s a problem in the future. Things get really strange, though, when Mr. Roboto accepts a ride from the blue puppet he’s seen driving on a TV show. Like Fun’s Over, there’s a lazy, episodic feel to the film, although visually this is a much slicker looking production. And, again, the idea that this film takes place in the future comes just via narration and a couple barren-looking locations.

A Time Shared Unlimited, dir. Zachary Epcar. Epcar creates a retro-futuristic look just through some judicious framing of Eastern European urban architecture. Everything looks like a cross between Solaris (original) and Logan’s Run. Epcar also places single actors standing in these urban spaces so that they are dwarfed by their environment, lonely figures lost in a cold, uncaring world. These images are then intercut with extreme close-ups of different actors, such as a man choosing appropriate advertisements for himself and an elderly woman being berated by a corporate shill. Both types of images have the same emotional distancing effect. It’s a similar strategy used to great effect in Epcar’s previous film,The Salariat in Parts. However, while that film was contained to very tight spaces — office cubicles — it’s nice to see Epcar really open up his visual spaces without abandoning his unique style.

2005 Census, dir. Bryan Boyce. Up until now, I’d only been familiar with Boyce’s manipulations of newscasts and children’s TV programming. For this brief film, though, he manipulates footage shot by himself while in Korea. It’s a brief street tableau in which a man with a camera watches a parade of bizarrely costumed characters pass by. They look like giant, white, blocky H.R. Pufnstufs. But Boyce mirrors this image so that the photographer stands next to himself while the figures walk towards each other, then disappear in the middle of the screen. Plus, the action is slowed down considerably, so that the scene has an eerie, haunting quality to it. It’s all just kind of nightmarish and hallucinatory to watch.

Somewhere Only We Know, dir. Jesse McLean. This film is a bit hard to review as I think its central conceit is absolutely genius, but I can’t reveal what that is without totally ruining the film. And, as this review is going up as a preview of a festival screening, I really don’t want to spoil that. The best I can describe it is that it features a string of individuals, all shot similarly — from the shoulders up — and none of them speaking. Yet, as the images progress, they become more and more emotional, all without words or understanding of who these people are and why they are being filmed. The ultimate reveal of that is a real exploration of the exploitation of individuals’ heartache as popular entertainment. This is something I’m guilty of myself and I’m not apologetic for that at all, even though I don’t think the film is asking me to be. It’s just asking me to examine an aspect of myself in a way that’s very provocative.

Afterimage: The Flicker of Life, dir. Kerry Laitala. This film I don’t think it’s fair for me to review at all as I didn’t view it in the conditions it’s meant to be viewed. Laitala has been experimenting making films using a 3-D process called ChromaDepth. To view Afterimage properly, one needs to see it projected big and wearing special glasses to complete the 3-D effect. The film is really a series of scenes meant to exploit the ChromaDepth phenomenon, and as I couldn’t do that, a review wouldn’t be fair. That said, though, I’d really be curious to see this under those proper conditions because it looks pretty cool.

Read Part One of ATA Film & Video Festival Reviews!