Video may be spreading like wildfire, but there is still no better city to get out and see short films than San Francisco, and no group as boundless as Artists' Television Access to screen a great selection of them. This week presents a chance to see some striking works from five years of their Film and Video Festival in a screening called Playback: 2006-2010 at the Roxie Cinema. While Playback boasts national and international headliners (one of Guy Maddin's early shorts is on the bill), it's the locals that take the cake with films that are hip, witty, and worthy of another look.
Last fall BAM/PFA released "Radical Light," a book that chronicles Bay Area video art. It's evident that the groundbreaking work of Bruce Conner, Bruce Nauman, and Ant Farm is still resonating with Californian artists, as can be seen in the rough-hewn aesthetic that predominates in Playback but also in the filmmakers' high-minded, conceptual approach. Shae Green, who co-directs the festival with Isabel Fondevila, concurs: "Bay Area filmmakers give winks to the history of film here. They are more motivated by ideas than technology."
Rachel Manera, a San Francisco native, challenges George Kuchar directly in I, A Director, a parody of Kuchar's 1977 short I, An Actress. In the original, Kuchar continually interrupts a female acting student's monologue, stepping into the frame and showing her how to make her body movements more explicit for the camera; Manera reverses (doubly reverses?) the role and portrays Kuchar playing the woman. Paul Clipson's abstract, layered video Bump Past Cut Up through Windows reflects the spirit of Brakhage during his short San Francisco tenure, only Clipson maintains a more placid air. His transitions are smooth and even-paced as we pass continually through zooming-landscapes of plants, water black as oil, and flashes of electrical lights.
Ariel Diaz, "Elro." 2009.
Ariel Diaz presents an enigmatic short called Elro with rhythmic, inventive cuts and a disjunctive, creative narrative reminiscent of Jim Henson's Time Piece. Elro explores a woman's body as a robot-human hybrid, her stomach covered in painted buttons and her open mouth receiving a stream of tickertape. Nearly half of this work is built into opening and closing credits, but even they are filled with small surprises. Tommy Becker's Animal, Animal is similarly poetic, burying a critique of animal treatment between rapid beat-cuts of footage from a zoo, the animals caged in black and white, evoking simultaneous empathy and adoration. Becker will perform a live soundtrack to accompany the screening.
There are few narrative works, a reflection of the festival's mission to present films that defy categorization. One such work by John Palmer features the artist performing each of four characters in a scene from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the four identical talking heads lining the lower screen. While the ambition is grand, Palmer's characters blend together, and the work achieves more through subtle repetitions, as when Palmer's lips break into the same smile in a domino effect.
Martha Colburn, "Myth Labs." 2008.
Animations dot the program, including an ecstatic work from New York-based Martha Colburn that envisions the arrival of colonialists in America. Colburn's paint-smeared caricatures rumble across a frame filled with expansive, color-filled backdrops. The sea gurgles over and lighting bolts fall from the sky, Bible-toting Puritans cascade off a rickety ship -- history unfolding so fast that we become wrapped up in the disaster.
There is no guiding theme to Playback; ATA favors a community-based approach to curation, and while Green and Fondevila had the final word, a dedicated audience prescreens all the festival works. But as Green points out, a screening at ATA is more than just a screening; it's a community gathering.
Playback: 2006-2010 screens April 19, 2011, 7:30pm at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Tickets are $10. For more information visit festival.atasite.org. Playback is sponsored by the Video Transfer Center.
Images courtesy the artists and Artists' Television Access.