ATA's 6th Annual Film and Video Festival is tightly curated into two programs, City Symphonies and Slingshot. Allow us to interpret. If your night is going to begin with prosecco and end with port, you might want to head to program 1. If you're more likely to end up throwing empty cans of PBR off an overpass, program 2 is for you. With live music and sound, and coming in at around an hour run time each, they're equally tempting back-to-back. These are some of our favorites.
Featured in the first program is an enigmatic short from Tunisian filmmaker Nadia Rais. L'Ambouba is an animated 35mm film, and the large format allows for some of the most lushly layered animation imaginable. The story follows a cartoonishly obese woman in a transparent dress. The folds of her breasts and body knead into each other and spill across the frame as she grazes the tips of her pointed heels across the floor. When the woman looks out the window of a city bus, massive apartment buildings are being built and raised in rapid succession, propelled by the swell of North African drums. The majority of the film is covered in the soft and loose sketchiness of pastel and charcoal, but the architectural backdrop is sparingly rotoscoped with the clarity of a real photograph.
Nadia Rais, L'Ambouba, 2009.
Equally hypnotic, if studious, is Alexandra Cuestra's Piensa en Mi. This film also spends time looking through bus windows -- only these windows are marred with graffiti and the grime of years of public service. The setting is Los Angeles, and the camera sits trained on the unsmiling faces of people in transit. The sound is subtle and brilliantly wrought by masking familiar bus noises: no one talks to each other, and there's no music or announcements. The film borrows a title from Agustín Lara's bolero, which includes gentlemanly rebuking lines as "when you feel like crying, think of me." After a long meditation, sheltered in the confines of transit, the camera finally lands in a public park. Dust blows by with the sounds of an ice cream cart, majestic as a temple's bells.
Paul Clipson, Caridea and Ichthyes, 2011.
Lori Felker and Robert Todd's black and white Imperceptihole builds a rhythm of visual patterns as it moves from ethereal shadows on snow to rising smoke to light passing between fingertips. And Paul Clipson's newest Caridea and Ichthyes, with the music of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, is entirely phenomenological. Constructed primarily from in-camera multiple exposures, this 8mm piece pairs neon-glowing fish with the out-of-focus trails of highway tunnels. Half of the works in the first program were shot on film and will be projected in their original format. With only ambient sound (and in at least one case, no sound at all) they are both more traditional and more demanding.
If the ethereality of film haunts the first program, the second is all flash, digital punk-rock. Opening with Chris Matule's Robbie X Ball Playerz, many of the works rip footage from pop culture with camp irony. Matule deconstructs a disturbing and confusing public service announcement (the kind shown to third graders) in which the characters are given the face paint of hobo clowns. Matule uses a range of digital-degradation effects to build on the irony and psychosis of the terrify-the-young television genre.
Chris Matule, Robbie X Ball Playerz, 2011.
Childhood manipulations continue with Tim Gallaher's Whitelick, which features a "G.I. Jesus" and a papier mâché Satan who peers over the shoulder of a Raggedy Ann (he manages to force her to add 6 and 6 to equal 6). The narrative relies on a conventional reversal of roles (Jesus and Satan go from arm-wrestling to love-making) but the visuals are inventive, especially when a satyr plays the keys between icons that spin by like casino slots.
The longest piece on the second program docket is Andrew Wilson's Workers Leaving the Googleplex, an eleven-minute bit of citizen journalism that casts Wilson's former employer as secretive, severe, and fascistic. The PowerPoint visuals in this piece grow tiresome, but the story is captivating, as is Wilson's revealing claim to innocence (from the letter to his boss: "With backgrounds in sociology and political science, I was not approaching this as an act of muckraking, but rather as an analysis of the transition from industrial labor to informational labor, and what this could mean in terms of race and class.")
Peter Freund raises even more questions with Camp, a film that plays on a double entendre, intermixing images of death camps with the oversaturated visuals of the musical camp classic The Gang's All Here. Snippets of Adorno, Wilde, and a half dozen other texts are read between the dramatically juxtaposed images. It's a collage of confounding material, yet sobering considering that Freund's source films were likely shot in the same year.
ATA receives hundreds of submissions for their festival, and it's a testament to their process that they settle on such a diversity of compelling films, from fresh to seasoned, from meditative to risqué. Each night features live music by Marlon Gonzales, more than half the filmmakers will attend, and several filmmakers will perform audio live to accompany their screening.
The 6th Annual ATA Film and Video Festival runs October 19-23, 2011 with screenings on the 20th and 21st at Artists' Television Access in San Francisco. Tickets are $7-$10. For more information visit festival.atasite.org.
Images courtesy the artists and Artists' Television Access.