Takahiro Suzuki's 9214 begins calmly enough, with white clouds drifting across a lazy blue sky. Waving leaves on high branches draw our eyes to the edges of the frame, and birds call to each other on the soundtrack. Then warning bells start to ring, and all of a sudden a freight train clanks across our line of sight, blotting out the sky. Now we've got our bearings, and can identify the camera's point of view: On the tracks, looking straight up.
The seven-minute short leads off Voices For New Atlantis (Sunday, May 20 at 7:30pm), the eighht and final program in San Francisco Cinematheque's wonderfully curated annual survey of the best experimental films of the last year (augmented by a program or two revisiting great work of the past). 9214, like so many films in the program, shows us the world as we've never seen it and likely never even imagined it.
Perhaps you consider that job the domain of narrative features and documentaries. One key difference is that art and personal expression are not often the primary goals of filmmakers working in those genres -- their focus is typically on storytelling, entertainment and social action. Art comes first, however, in avant-garde cinema, whether the piece is exploring the effects of light on celluloid or digital video, the delicate tone of a favorite (and perhaps obscure) work of poetry or fiction, or the ominous mood summoned by the juxtaposition of aggressive visuals and electronic music.
That's precisely what Sylvia Schedelbauer conjures in Sound of Glass, 10 minutes of black-and-white intensity comprised primarily of still photographs animated and fueled by a spinal cord-jostling strobe effect. This mysterious, disturbing film evokes one man's state of mind, though the precise state is wide open to interpretation: is he a criminal on the run, or are we simply privy to the images lodged in his subconscious from a lifetime of watching movies, or is he revisiting the world (both personal and universal) that he's seen and experienced in his time on Earth?