The first film in the first program of Crossroads, San Francisco Cinematheque’s annual festival of experimental film, wittily probes an animated character’s inner despair. Thai filmmaker Tulapop Saenjaroen employed a cadre of artists for his wildly creative and weirdly disturbing 18-minute marriage of live action, animation and digital manipulation, yet Squish! plays like a pastel shriek of isolation depression. And that's just the festival's Side 1, Track 1, as it were.
Organized across 10 programs this weekend (Aug. 26-28) at Gray Area in the Mission, Crossroads 2022 includes some 67 works, all carefully arranged by longtime Cinematheque director and curator par excellence Steve Polta. The majority were created over the last year—that is, post-lockdown. Yet many of them, crafted start to finish by a single filmmaker, exude a delicate feeling of introspective solitude. Maybe it’s the occasional whiff of obsessiveness that wafts through the lineup, or perhaps just my imagination that the 13th Crossroads festival is as much a reflection (and record) of the pandemic as last year’s edition.
Pensive portraits of states of mind, no matter how piercing or profound, may not comport with those hustling across town or around the globe to recapture lost social time and shed the pandemic mentality. But Crossroads’ return to in-person screenings, and the mysterious magic of strangers sharing tone- and mood-shifting experiences in the dark, should counteract the manic impulses of the present moment.
Given its dearth of images and reliance on sound, Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati’s feature-length Expedition Content (program 5) represents a unique act of mass conjuring. The filmmakers excavated the 1961 audio recordings made by one Michael Rockefeller (an heir to the Standard Oil family fortune) during a five-month Harvard Peabody expedition focused on the Hubula (or Dani) people in West Papua, then known as Netherlands New Guinea. Expedition Content exposes the fault lines in ethnography (fascinatingly), and colonialism (naturally), from a historical distance that shrinks as the work progresses.
Poetry and film are both web-spinning art forms, of course. Jodie Mack’s color 16mm marvel, Wasteland No. 3: Moons, Sons (in program 2, table of the elements) mesmerizes with time-lapse studies of flowered orbs that transport us from wherever we are to a strange yet familiar world. It is preceded by a pair of digital videos by Oregon artist Brandon Wilson: The Day Lives Briefly Unscented honors his late grandmother and the fleeting, ephemeral nature of life through vintage snapshots and images of water, fire, smoke and suburban life, while the monochrome, electrified Ghost is Hungry evokes an elemental, non-human force field hunting in the woods.