As a medium, the short form invites experimentation, allowing filmmakers the opportunity to break away from the rigid confines of narrative filmmaking and expand the visual language of cinema. The form also offers filmmakers the opportunity to develop their unique aesthetic and voice without going bankrupt making a feature. Resfest, which rolls into town this week (September 21-25), has always been an incredible proponent of the short form and of cutting-edge digital filmmaking.
Although, initially part of the digital boom that swept the filmmaking world in the late '90s, Resfest has managed to move beyond the glory days of the Dot-Com era and deliver a globe-trotting festival showcasing nine programs of short films from around the world, ground-breaking music videos, and Mike Mill's first feature film Thumbsucker (see review later this week).
Unlike feature films, which are accompanied by plenty of publicity and orchestrated hoopla, short films usually exist with no past, waiting to be discovered by an audience. As the lights dimmed during the Resfest screening, I longed to unearth a short film that defied my expectations and to discover a new filmmaker whose work I could look forward to in the future. I was both pleased and surprised to find that two of my favorite films were by Bay Area filmmakers and one was by a former resident.
At first glance local filmmaker, John Hardin's La Vie D'un Chien is the kind of movie making, I usually dislike. The visual aesthetic and structure is a direct spoof of Chris Marker's legendary La Jetée, a film about memory, love, loss, fate and the rampant power of a totalitarian state. The original is shot entirely using stark black and white still photographs, with only a single moment of movement, as a young woman's eyes flutter open from the depths of a dream. Poignant, romantic and deeply political, La Jetée is a brilliantly executed film with an innovative style and structure.
Despite my usual aversion to spoofs and a deep reverence for the original film, I ended up laughing along with La Vie D'un Chien. The piece is so sincere and complete that it moves beyond simple parody and stands alone as an incredibly humorous and well-crafted movie. It still manages to convey some of the political undercurrent of the original, but with a heaping dose of bawdy humor. I don't want to give away too much of the narrative, but the story revolves around a young scientist who develops the K-9 formula, a drug that allows people to leave behind their repressed existence as human beings, transform into dogs and run unabashedly wild through the streets of Paris at night. Meanwhile, amidst the intrigue of secret formulas and repressive governments, the young scientist falls in love and is ultimately willing to risk life and limb for his true love. xoxoxo.
In another locally produced film, America's Biggest Dick, filmmaker Bryan Boyce utilizes a brilliant sense of comic timing, found news footage (courtesy of Fox News), deft editing and low-end digital effects to create a biting political commentary about our diabolical second in command, Dick Cheney. Boyce re-contextualizes the speech given by the Vice President at the 2004 Republican National Convention by superimposing another man's mouth onto Cheney's and replacing his empty rhetoric with Al Pacino's dialogue from Brian De Palma's Scarface. The speech he gives is shockingly fitting for the Vice President and ultimately more honest. America's Biggest Dick, once again proves that no budget, simple technology and a lot of ingenuity can produce a really strong film.
The featured keynote speaker at Resfest, Mike Mills, began his career designing album covers, went on to direct music videos for Air and is opening the festival with a screening of his first feature film Thumbsucker. In an early short work, The Architecture of Reassurance, Mills embraces the narrative form with a unique sensibility and a sweetly self-conscious style. Although clunky at times, the film establishes Mills' talent at evoking a strong mood without relying on the clichés of conventional narrative filmmaking and his ability to integrate documentary elements into the heart of a short narrative.
Told through the perspective of an adolescent girl reminiscent of Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), The Architecture of Reassurance critiques the perfection and plasticity of the suburban milieu. As Alice wanders the streets, she longs so badly to fit into the nondescript suburban neighborhood that she can't see past the façade of perfection to the loneliness, isolation and forced conformity that peeks out from behind the surface of flawlessly uniform structures and matching cars. Ultimately, the neighbors realize Alice does not belong and, as in all fairytales, she is banished. There is no place for an outsider in the perfect suburban world.
This is just a sampling of the over 150 films that will be screening at Resfest between September 21-25 at the Metreon (opening night only) and Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.
For a complete schedule of screenings visit Resfest (at Resfest.com).