Alumni curated festival showcases films shot in retro formats

by Tori Bilcik / Beacon Correspondent • November 6, 2013

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While some filmgoers might consider low resolution, lo-fi image quality, scratching and flickering tape recordings, and other types of visual or auditory distortion distracting, two Emerson alumni have made it their mission to challenge the notion that the most respectable films are created through the latest innovation. 

The Basement Media Festival showcases filmmakers whose work is classified by video and sound qualities that have been phased out by increasingly sophisticated modern  technology.

Basement was founded in 2010 by roommates LJ Frezza and Nicholas Tamburo in their Cambridge apartment while they were studying visual and media arts with a concentration in experimental media at Emerson.

“We started [Basement] because we felt like there was work that wasn’t getting the exposure it was supposed to be getting,” said Frezza. “We didn’t have any experience with film festivals, but we figured we’d give it a try.”

Frezza and Tamburo met Paul Turano, a visual and media arts professor at Emerson, in 2008 through a former student organization called Emerson Experimental Media, which Turano advised.

“In the fall of 2010,” said Turano, “they told me they felt that what they really liked and what they liked doing wasn’t being seen a lot, so they wanted to create an opportunity [like Basement] to show that work.”

Most of Emerson Experimental Media’s members graduated with Frezza and Tamburo at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, and the organization dissolved due to a lack of interest from underclassmen. But by this time, plans for the first-ever Basement Media Festival were already in the works, and it wouldn’t be long before it became a major outlet for experimental filmmakers both at Emerson and outside the city of Boston.

Since its conception, Basement has reached cities across the continent, like Baltimore and Winnipeg, entertaining audiences with compilations of experimentally-driven short films. This year’s festival featured 10 projects that were submitted to and selected by Frezza and Tamburo in the months leading up to the tour’s kick-off back in June.

The festival stopped by the Bright Family Screening Room at the Paramount Theater for the second time since its creation on Tuesday, Oct. 29, and although the festival only drew 13 audience members, it offered an outlet to aspiring filmmakers who are interested in a non-traditional style.

“We want to keep introducing [current] students to this kind of work and show them that there are alumni that are interested in these types of films that can help them,” said Turano.

Students who decided to stop by the event were brought to the edge of their seats by the unique nature of the work shown.

“The concept of these films is really cool,” said senior visual and media arts major Pete Norton, who attended the festival. “It was interesting to see what the artists intentionally did with the distortion of video and audio and tampering with the film.”

But it isn’t just the visual and auditory uniqueness that makes this festival stand out. All of the films in each festival are pieces of an overarching idea or theme that Frezza and Tamburo develop as they receive submissions every year.

“We try to create a program that is diverse, but also interrelated in some ways,” said Frezza. “[A theme] develops depending on what we have. In general, all the work we show is opposed to the idea that technological progress is necessarily positive.”

This year, the festival’s focus was centered around user-generated content.

“There have been a lot of pushes for user content, like on Tumblr or YouTube,” Frezza explained. “There is a fair amount of do-it-yourself technologies in both hardware and software. We wanted to explore work that captures that idea. When you look at something like Instagram, these outlets provide you with very narrow tools to manufacture your content, so we wanted to explore people who created their own.”

Turano had a film featured in the festival called Fallout, which featured distorted radiation maps recorded after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster of 2011. According to Turano, tradition al experimental media creations stemsfrom the altering of recordings on 16mm or 8mm film, but the popularity of social media sites now allows these experimental artists to appropriate content from the internet and produce new kinds of art with it.

“[Fallout] was prompted by a Google search of the Fukushima nuclear fallout,” said Turano. “I was perplexed because [creators of the maps] would often associate beautiful colors with the power plantsso I used the colors and glitches and interference to represent contamination like the radioactivity from the plant.”

Although Emerson’s screening of the festival marked this tour’s close, Frezza and Tamburo are already taking submissions for the fourth Basement Media Festival program, which is expected to take place in the spring of 2014.