Light Field Returns With a Reminder that Experimental Film is Alive and Well

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Still from Malic Amalya, 'Song for Rent, after Jack Smith,' 2018. (Courtesy of Light Field)

San Francisco’s premiere artist-run celluloid-based film festival returns to the Lab this weekend for its third iteration, and it’s about time.

I mean, the festival is about time. It’s about spending time in a physical space with physical film that loops through a projector, and with the help of light, projects enlarged against a surface for everyone in that space to see. It’s about making time itself physical—through image, sound and the feeling you get after spending one too many hours sitting on a folding chair.

Running March 15–17 at the Lab, with seven different programs spanning the evenings, Light Field presents both contemporary and historical experimental films.

If you’re looking for some direction, you’ll find me at any and every screening of Alee People’s deadpan, sun-drenched work (Program 1 on March 16, 7pm)—I’ve been hooked since my first Light Field experience in 2016. Also not to be missed are gems from the recent past, like Cauleen Smith’s fragmented depiction of black female identity from 1995, Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (By Kelly Gabron), which plays twice to demonstrate the mutability of images when overlaid by an “authoritative” male voice. The festival closes with a trio of formal experiments that mine the mechanisms of projection: slowly shifting color, shutter flicker effects and overlapping patterns of “pulsating and swirling interference.”

Richard Tuohy & Dianna Barrie, Still from 'Cyclone Tracery,' 2018.
Richard Tuohy & Dianna Barrie, Still from 'Cyclone Tracery,' 2018. (Courtesy of Light Field)

In a recent essay for Open Space, Trisha Low (one of the festival’s six organizers, who also include Samuel Breslin, Emily Chao, Zachary Epcar, tooth and Syd Staiti) writes about the exhaustion and exhilaration of putting together and pulling off Light Field. “You recommend that no one watch more than eight hours of experimental film in one weekend,” she writes in the second person. One sentence later: “You recommend that everyone watch more than eight hours of experimental film in one weekend.”


I agree with the latter.