Experimenting with celluloid

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • October 11, 2012

Jakeseven experimentalfilm
Jake Seven, directed by Mary Beth Reed, is a story about death.
Courtesy of Christopher May
Jake Seven, directed by Mary Beth Reed, is a story about death.
Courtesy of Christopher May

On Tuesday night, the Bright Family Screening Room belonged to the avant-garde.

The second annual International Experimental Cinema Exposition demonstrated 12 16mm short films, projected in their original formats.

The event was curated and hosted by Christopher May who founded TIE, a non-profit organization that facilitates various experimental film festivals across the globe.

“It’s exploring what you can do with 16mm,” said May. “There’s a lot of character that gets lost when switching from prints to digital filmmaking.”

Filmmaker Paul Turano, director of Not Clear Cut, was at the screening to take questions from the audience. Turano’s film features audio from an interview with his father about his decision to clear a forest, along with footage of the woodlands.

“It was a personal movie. It was about my family,” said Turano, whose film reveals that his father cut the trees to remain financially solvent. “And I like to put myself in a lot of my movies.”

Turano’s eight-minute short captured the devastation of deforestation by filming himself alongside the wreckage. Others filmmakers at the festival, including Josh Weissbach, also used the medium to express personal stories. 

Weissbach’s six-minute flick, 106 River Road, presented a recorded reading of a court document, exposing the rifts in his family life while the screen showed his house. The home slowly disintegrated from view through the use of hand-processed film techniques.

“I made it for me as a cathartic experience,” said Weissbach. “It represented years of a building family dysfunction.” 

Others told fictional stories with their pictures, without straying from the blatant realism that the genre encourages. 

The film A Life’s Work directed by filmmaker Adam Levine, follows D.J. Blanton, a 76-year-old retired power company worker living in rural Indiana. It captures his hobbies, which include trains and metal working.  Levine asked the audience to question their mortality by highlighting Blanton’s own struggle with the inevitable. 

“I’ve tried to control everything,” said Blanton in the film. “But there are some things you just can’t do.”

Awe Shocks, created by Anja Dornieden and Juan David Gonzalez Monroy, is a three- minute visual swirl of the surreal. Audio from a kitschy, old-fashioned advertisement for widgets plays as a kaleidoscope of sexually explicit scenarios unfurls on the screen.

Kathy Rugh, a film production professor at Emerson, attended the gala to pursue her interest in experimental arts. 

“[Experimental films] are a little more open for interpretation,” said Rugh. “It pushes the idea of what a film should have in order to be a film, and the visuals are more distinct.”

May, who hosted the event which ran a little over two hours, said he hoped to open a new window of conversation about the direction of independent theater. 

“My goal is to get a dialogue going with you guys,” said May, speaking not to just the audience, but the broader film community. “We want to explore what’s going on with contemporary cinema in different ways.”