Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nameless Blogger Passing Holy Judgement (with thanks to Mary Shelley)

You might remember what happened the last time the Company tried to catch some Film Festival Fun up here in the great Northwest. Well, this time we bought our tickets early and showed up with oodles of time to spare and see a part of a film festival we sure as heckfire did.

In particular we saw "Shorts II: the Judges Selection," part of the NW Film Center's 35th Northwest Film and Video Festival. It featured nine shorts produced by people living in Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver BC. The judge who did the selecting is a New York director who used Oregon as the setting of her two films. I haven't seen either, but now would like to, if only to look for tendencies or artistic impulses within them that in some way mirror the tendencies or artistic impulses that informed her selection process.

If they were anything, the selections were eclectic. Now I'm not in the business of critiquing fellow filmmakers. I can't say that I was overly delighted with each and every one of the selections. Some I didn't like all that much, though in at least one film, that was the point. I can say that I'm glad we went, if only to see what else is out there, to see what other people are choosing to do with cameras in these northern lands of no sun and so much rain.

The night started out with Smile by Julia Kwan, a film about a Chinese-Canadian family getting ready for their free Sears portrait. It was a subtle character-driven piece about disconnection and other family joys. I thought it worked. Laugh, cry, all that. Of course, I'm a sucker for subtle, character-driven narratives. When you see Fine Arts that fact will no doubt be wholly and perhaps excruciatingly evident.

Smile was one of only two narrative films selected and the only narrative with dialogue. The other nod to story on film came towards the end of the evening, in a piece called The Rifle Workbook by Vincent Caldoni. Set in a nebulous late-nineteenth century Appalachia-esque time and place, it tells the story of towns folk who meet an angel figure in a forest and, after offering up tokens and personal effects, they receive in exchange a lost member of their community. It was a simple story, nicely shot with cool oldey timey film effects. It is also further evidence supporting my position that you can add emotional impact to anything with a soundtrack of either Philip Glass, Godspeed, or, in this case, Explosions in the Sky. No, believe me, it's true. While testing the camera, Brandon filmed me washing the dishes. He edited a two minute bit together with music from The Truman Show and profundity ensued. Try it, you'll see.

Another highlight of the evening was a dance number filmed in Prague called Aboard the Pater Noster by Daniel Conrad. Aboard the Pater Noster translates to "aboard Our Father." In the Q&A following the screenings, Daniel explained that the Pater Noster is the name of the strange (and a little dangerous looking) elevator device that he used in the piece, basically a series of phone booth-sized wooden boxes that are strung along a vertical conveyor mechanism, like beads on a rosary. The short begins with the dancers doing slow, confined movements inside the elevator boxes. This segment goes on long enough to border on tedium, which makes the subsequent explosions of movement and music--on buses, on the streets of Prague, in old museum-like hallways--seem fully alive and unrestrained. Awesome. Beautiful to watch. Made me wish I were more bendy and rhythmically endowed.

The other selections ranged from documentary to performance art to art pieces--all with varying degrees of success. One piece actually elicited a boo from some Podunk audience member. Another made more than one member of the Company physically ill. And of course the warmest applause of the evening was reserved for the tell-it-like-it-is noble homeless guy doc.

In all, I'm glad we went. Sometimes you have to be reminded that it's not just you out there using your strength and will to force something into existence that is bigger and hopefully a little better than its constituent Frankenstein parts. And who knows? Maybe in a year or two from now, some nameless, opinionated blogger will be passing holy judgement on just such a monster offered up by this humble Company. How awesome would that be? Snarky as that future demi-pundit may be, t'would be a blessing that our poor creature was alive enough to be commented upon, before being borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance...

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