October 16–22, 2000, HYBRID reviewer Jennifer Prestiagiacomo
and I attended the Cinematexas
5th international short film + video festival.
Cinematexas is a project of the Department of Radio-TV-Film
at the University of Texas at Austin. RTF faculty member
A. Rachel Tsangari founded the festival, which takes place
in theaters, on streets, and at galleries and eateries around
Austin. Staffed mostly by UT student volunteers, Cinematexas
suffers an inverse relationship between the quality of its
programming and its technical organization. Not one of the
screenings I attended began on time. The record was an International
Program that started 50 minutes late. Festival-goers took
it in stride, readily adapting to the way things go at Cinematexas.
More than once, I overheard exchanges like this:
I'd like to go catch that show!"
too tight, it starts in 5 minutes."
can make it — they'll be late."
that as it may, most of the programmed films were well worth
waiting for. The breadth of the programming showed an incredible
knowledge of short films and an equally incredible devotion
to the medium.
than anything else, Cinematexas' programming shows that
short films aren't just practice for the real deal — they
are the real deal. Each program grouped shorts around a
theme. These subtitles represent the programmers' attempts
to categorize short films — a task about as easy as categorizing
Dennis Rodman's hair colors. I'm grateful to have had an
opportunity to see all of these films, even the ones I'm
about to slag. And I can't wait 'til next year.
Play to Agitate: Pirates, Parodists, and Prank-Documentary
are the most important films I've seen all year. I'm not
exaggerating when I say they've changed my life.
video salon was emceed by Craig Baldwin, director of the
classic SONIC OUTLAWS, who described the salon as a collection
of works of "pranksters, hoaxsters, malcontents, media assassins
… what I call the Trojan Horse … appropriation of news media,
coming from kind of a collage-basis."
filmmakers, whose imperatives are decidedly from the left,
used methods ranging from outright creations of prank news
stories to staged media events to subversion of commercial
and news media. One of the best of the "created news" stories
was that of J. Robert Dobbs, whose organization, Arm the
Homeless, was covered by a California TV station. Addressing
the camera earnestly, Dobbs assured the reporter that he
was performing this civil disobedience because there's no
legal channel for those without a permanent address to register
for ownership of guns.
films documented inventive citizen actions. In FAX ATTACK,
a man who's tired of receiving unsolicited faxes strikes
back with a punishment that fits the crime — he runs a document
partway through his faxer, tapes the ends together to make
a loop, then sends the fax, all night long, to the offender.
especially admired the creative actions documented by Igor
Vamos. In one short, a team of suit-clad men and women gobble
from pitchers of red, white, and blue "goop," then march
to a plaza and stage a barf-in in all the colors of the
American flag. Vamos described this as "a reverse peristalsis
painting for Dan Quayle's appearance in Portland."
subversion of existing signage was a common technique for
these filmmakers. Also in Portland, Vamos recorded the work
of a group protesting a controversy over the naming a street
for MLK Jr., by creating and mounting green-and-white "Malcolm
X St." signs over the city signs for Front St. In Vancouver,
Jennifer Lau filmed a group that alters commercial billboards.
With their faces partially blacked out, groupmembers gave
how-to lessons ("you need this kind of 4-in-1 screwdriver,
'cause that's easier than keeping hold of 4 different screwdrivers";
"just go to the hardware store and get regular wallpaper
paste and a squeegee…"). Lau filmed these guerrillas in
the act of "reclaiming public space for social comment."
Some of these reclamations were dead brilliant, as in the
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE advertisement that was changed to read
SUBMISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, with Tom Cruise's picture
papered over by a photo of Malcolm X.
personal fave of the salon was MANIFESTOON, Jesse Drew's
cartoon collage/rant on economic systems. Images of Porky
Pig and the Looney Tunes gang and other stars of early animation
are seen going to work, worrying about the farm's mortgage,
and engaging in family-economic relationships against voice-over
from a famous 1848 work by Messrs. Marx and Engels.
there were Alex Rivera's hilarious shorts. His DIA DE LA
INDEPENDENCIA is a 1-minute Diez y Seis riff on the movie
INDEPENDENCE DAY. WHY CYBRACERO? begins with old Labor Dept.
footage explaining the Bracero Program, then zanily spirals
off into the Cybracero Project, where Mexican farmworkers
operate robotic produce pickers from their homes across
the border via high-speed Internet connections!
to be missed!
FRANK PROGRAM #1: ME AND MY BROTHER, PULL MY DAISY
audience of mostly film students and filmmakers (esp. of
the faculty type turned out for this late night program,
which, yes, started late.
Jarmusch introduced the films, telling us that ME AND MY
BROTHER was recut by Frank just last year. Robert Frank
became know for his book, "The Americans," then began to
make films so he that wouldn't be pinned down as a creator
of static images. The film M&MB, about Peter and Julius
Orlovsly, said Jarmusch, is strong in that Frank made the
structure of the film out of alignment, just as the mentally
ill Julius was out of alignment. For PULL MY DAISY, Frank
told Jarmusch that they recorded Kerouac's word-jazz narration
in two takes at the Bleecker Street Theater.
PMD starts, and the film freezes in front of the bulb and
melts. Audience horrified, not the least from having just
heard that these beautiful prints are on loan from a Houston
art museum. Instead, the projectionist spools up M&MB
fist, and five minutes in, I'm thinking, "The emperor is
nekkid!" Basically the film involves hauling Julius around
the country while Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg rant
and read their poetry and stage sexual scenes with persons
of both genders. This may have seemed like raging against
the machine once, but now it just seems like Peter used
his own brother, Julius, who was surely non compos mentis
at the time, for his art. M&MB does have bizarre appearances
by a very young Christopher Walker and Roscoe Lee Browne.
MY DAISY is a better (as in entertaining), less morally
questionable work, about a family, music, and houseguests,
with running commentary by Kerouac, based on his play "The
Beat Generation." There's a momma, a poppa, a son, the neighbors,
a piano, some brass, and an incredibly young bishop and
his momma and sister, all in a dingy little apartment one
night. Just when it starts to seem the storyline might start
to make some sense, Kerouac veers away like he put his hand
down on a hot burner. Indescribable but strangely compelling.
PROGRAM #1: Stay Out of My Room
#1 started out pleasingly with THE MOSCHOPS, from the Highlights
of the Permian Era Series, an animated tale of the evolution
of love from sex. This was followed by three examples of
the kind of experimental works that unfortunately produce
tedium more often than revelation. Pawel Lozinski's SIOSTRY
(SISTERS) captures eight decades of sibling relationship
in 12 minutes during which we observe the dominance hierarchy
of the two surviving sisters of a once-large Polish family.
You can learn everything you need to know about how these
women get along by just watching their exchanges at the
best in show, however, was Anula Shetty's thesis film, PADDANA.
Ms. Shetty melds the ululating songs of the ancestors, mother-daughter
troubles, and a locked room into this literal coming-of-age
tale about a questioning young girl in India. This was last
on the program, and I was jolted from my drowsiness by it.
First of all, it's really nice-looking, plus it gave these
American eyes some "foreign" sights to take in. The Indian
settings, music, and clothing just underscore that this
movie is all about universality — universality of the relationships
of mothers and daughters, the universality of the experience
of being a woman. Highly recommended.
PROGRAM #7: Text on the Brain
difficulties caused this program to start nearly one hour
late. And then, only the 16 mm shorts could be shown. What
I saw was "cherce."
KEEP A GOOD SNAKE DOWN used found black-and-white footage,
much of it seductive stuff used to advertise movies from
the 1920s and 1930s, and backed it with music of harps,
pipes, and bodhran. There were lots of burning eyes and
a recurring snake (and even snake eyes!) in this not-so-subtle
"Voulez vous…?" short.
NU, writer-director Marah Strauch filmed a 3-minute daydream
of black-and-white male nudity. "I dreamed I asked him to
be in my movie, nude," she muses, to the tune of the pop
song "Ce Petit Coeur" (by yè-yè girl Francoise
Hardy) plays in the background. Really beautiful.
Program 2: Can’t Get There from Here
because I'm Sicilian and my dream, for as long as I can
remember, has been to travel to Italy, I enjoyed BLOOD ORANGE
SKY. This short consisted of about 30 minutes of non-narrated
shots of Catania, Sicily. Scenes ranged from shots of Sicilians
conversing to beautiful orange sunsets. I could almost smell
the scaly fish in the Catanian seafood market. Interesting
high-speed scenes showed a volcano spewing forth blood-orange
lava against the inky backdrop of night. A vast array of
background music, from local Italian music to heavy metal
accompanied the shots. Throughout the short I felt like
I was watching director Jem Cohen’s home movie from his
trip. It made me long for my own Sicilian home movie.
was a disjointed documentary memorializing Jonathan Michal’s
deceased grandmother, Babie (pronounced Bobby). There were
a couple of cool images peering out a rain-studded window,
but other than these few stylized shots, the five-minute
narrative was uneventful.
the end of the program, the shorts became progressively
longer. I have never done this before, but I actually walked
out on THE LOST DAYS (46 minutes). A voice-over narrator
(as if writing a diary entry) took the viewer on an unknown
journey through blue-filtered, distorted alleyways and landscapes.
Dripping with existentialist apathy, the journey represented
the narrator’s search for meaning in life and relationship.
Unfortunately, the journey never ended, and I had to end
it for myself.
Competition Program 2: Breaking Some Eggs
shorts in this program weren't worth mentioning. I merely
present the highlights.
was unique in that it was comprised of side-by-side projectors
displaying two adjacent images. The shots were artfully
manipulated so that one character would continue his motion
into the other image. Two roommates, the directors, Jeremy
Fleishman and Jonathan Thornhill, carry out the not-so-simple
task of making breakfast. BREAKFAST posed the challenge
of focusing on two ongoing shots at the same time. The plot
was artfully laced with situational humor. As one roommate
would make coffee and turn his back, the roommate in the
other shot would come in, mistake it for his own coffee,
and drink it. Simplistic yet innovative, this short distinguished
itself from the other single-screen shorts.
in the extreme, PILLOWFIGHT explored the comedic side to
sharing a bed with a spouse. Snoring like a chainsaw, the
wife squirmed about, stealing all the covers. The husband
timidly tried to salvage a corner of the sheet for himself,
until his wife’s spasmodic arm motion whacks him in the
head. After many attempts to coexist in bed, the husband
has just enough time to whisper "I love you" in
his wife’s ear before her snoring begins again. It was sheer
Program 2: Resistance Through Absurdity Pffft!
favorite Cinematexas program, Midnight Program 2 was screened
at the Alamo Drafthouse, a restaurant/movie theatre in Austin.
Again, this program contained a gazillion shorts so I'll
briefly recount the highlights.
was a refreshing look at an old theme — cartoon characters
beating the crap out of each other. Animator Don Hertzfeldt's
hilarious stick figures did everything from poking each
other’s eyes out to spewing torrents of vomit. It cracked
a poignantly funny look at auto consumer culture, CAR HUNTER
followed a distraught native in his exploration of vehicles
on the University of Texas campus. The car hunter, dressed
only in a loincloth, antagonized motorists on "the Drag"
and other streets near campus. The voice-over translation
of the car hunter's grunts totally made this short riotously
SPAGMAR, director Sebastian Castillo showed us a man eating
a bowl of spaghetti that soon became a man-eating-bowl-of-spaghetti.
After the man indulges in his bowl of noodles, the pasta
begins to cover him completely in high-speed motion. Although
watching it made me hungry, I wasn’t exactly sure what this
film was trying to tell me. Beware of man-eating spaghetti?
Or try pizza next time?
NUTTY PROFESSOR was definitely the most bizarre of all the
shorts I viewed. Basically this three-minute short, by Buck
Spoonley, consisted of a man trying to suck his penis up
with a vacuum cleaner. Using the avant-garde technique of
shock, this short left me with a not-so-fresh feeling.