Highlights from the BOS Film Festival

The First Bushwick Open Studios Film Festival
Andrea Monti and Elle Burchill are two independent cinema devotees who have brought Microscope Gallery to Bushwick, NY. From the video they exhibit, to the lectures, screenings, and BYOK nights (“bring your own Kodachrome“), these two are fostering an appreciation of the moving image in all forms and formats.  Last June, Monti and Burchill turned the the attic-like performance space of Goodbye Blue Monday’s backyard into a cinema-salon to host the first Bushwick Open Studios Film Festival. They screened works from a mix of emerging and established artists while switching between video equipment, film projection, a record player, analog video, and live performances.  Below is a recap of several highlights from the festival:

 

And Then They Watched the World Around Them
Throughout And Then They Watched the World Around Them,  one senses that his/or her eyes become the mechanical eye of Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa’s film.  In one frame, our vision focuses on the reflecting surface of still waters, a Monet moment via 16mm.  Slowly, a shift in the lens then causes the reflection of the waters dissolve and visible before us are gentle leaves and stray, floating stems. Seconds later in this same frame, the lens shift again and we find the leaves/water erased so that slim plant stalks from some sort of weed stand as the only distinct  item in view. Several lengthy, meditative shots move this way.  They recall nature documentaries, though—to the piece’s benefit—it’s unclear exactly what the subject of study may be. Perhaps the act of looking is the focus. If the camera is supposed to act as an eye, then these sights might come from a deeply pensive persona, like Henry David Thoreau.
The film’s sound component, composed by Tristan Shepherd, gives the footage a gentle anxiety. In the beginning, we hear what one might identify as insect chirping, creaks, and buzzing noises; soon, (according to my ears) a flapping sound enters, as if very small rapidly moving wings are speeding though none are in view. A gurgling noise, a twisting noise, then sounds that are more reminiscent of instruments begin to vibrate and pulse.  Three quarters of the way into the piece, we reach a climax of beats and hums, one of which recalls a wooden board, or wooden toys cluttering together.  All of the descriptions above rely on images from the natural world, yet Shepherd composed this piece mostly using turntables and a Serge Modular Synthesizer. The oddity of this dated instrument makes it a fitting accomplice to Schultz-Figueroa’s 16 mm footage.
Garden
Allison Somers’ works often remove viewers from the New York City landscape. While shooting scenes in Wonder Valley, CA for Garden, the artist captured the knick-knack remains of a backyard surrounding an abandoned homestead. We see blurry black and white portraits of cacti, rocks, shrubs, and wrinkly desert mountains in the distance. We also see “The End” cryptically scribbled in cement, a weather vane, and pebbles left in an old frying pan. The focus of each portrait is off, and the frames all shake a bit, recalling the sub-standard hand of home-made movies. Somers’ footage may be inexact but it glows and creates another sensation that cannot be expressed by the hyper-real technologies.  Her footage mimics the sensation of memories. 

Images from Garden are courtesy and copyright of Allison Somers

Any conversation regarding memories remains pertinent to Wonder Valley as hundreds of similar small empty cabins exist in the area. During the early 20th century, the government attempted to populate  places through passage of the Small Tract Homestead Act and similar bills that gave free land to settlers who built homes on federal territory west of the Mississippi River. Throughout the years, the first settlers, the “jackrabbit homesteaders,” have departed the land leaving behind sites such as the house explored in Garden.Abandoned homes remain full of a mystique that seems continually attractive to artistic energies.  Consider Martha Rosler’s writings on art from Detroit’s urban wasteland. Or an earlier example– Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, specifically the chapter “Time Passes,” which is devoted to an empty house, once full of life. The photographs depicting the thousands of foreclosed homes across the country also come to mind and make Somers’ work related to our current cultural anxieties. While a number of artists have made the historical homestead the subject of their work, those art pieces have been exhibited mostly through events on the West Coast and Wonder Vallery’s desert communities. Thus, Garden presents a rare glimpse for those of us stationed on the East Coast. Uniquely in this film presented to the Bushwick arts scene, Somers never directly uses the image of the homestead.  Instead, she gathers snapshots of all the peculiar details surrounding this structure as if to describe some indistinct nature  surrounding the empty house.  Meditative and ghostly, lonely and yet filled with some nameless thriving beat, Garden is a fitting art piece to follow up the legacy of the West. 

A Reasonable Man
A Reasonable Man stood apart from other works of the festival because of the simple nature of the film’s components. Filmmaker Brian L. Frye pairs raw footage of a high speed car chase with the courtroom dialogue from the U.S. Supreme Court trial that followed the chase.  By itself, the black and white footage is engaging and almost hypnotic.  Because it’s nighttime, you only see street lamps moving alongside the headlights and taillights of other cars passing in the dark, similar to a tunnel of shooting-stars. The footage might even be a romantic experience if the car wasn’t swerving or moving at such a high speed.  While watching all of this, the courtroom dialogue informs us that this is criminal evidence recorded from the police cars pursuing the speeding vehicle. The chosen segments of courtroom dialogue—at times tense, other moments comical—also let us know that the car will crash. The deputy who induces the crash will also be sued by the driver of the speeding car, Victor Harris, who was left a quadriplegic afterwards. 

In another post reflecting on  A Reasonable Man, Mike Everleth, pinpoints a judge’s comparison of the event with The French Connection, and the familiarity of car chase scenes in Hollywood action movies. From the earliest heist films to the more recent technological wonders like Inception, filmmakers seem to be increasing the standards of good chasing with new forms of brutality.  Though we’ve certainly grown comfortable watching these scenes, we are not accustomed to seeing the raw footage present in Frye’s film.  Even the famous car chases delivered through local news media, carry obvious forms of hype. A Reasonable Man differs in its bareness. With few alterations in the footage and dialogue, Frye gives us room to think of the event without an action-movie background or a clear hero. Smartly, he also lays the burden of deciding who the title describes upon the audience.

Cloud Cuckoo Land 
Erik Moskowitz and Amanda Trager’s “seductive cinematography and richly layered” film reads as a forlorn music video starring a cast of J. Alfred Prufrocks who experiment with ideas of progress.  In the plot, a mom and dad move into a commune with their young son, where they find that they cannot thrive in this progressive, utopian setting. Some characters cannot be tolerated. Personal space seems violated. The family’s journey ends with a brawl involving the mother and a man representative of the community. All lines are also dubbed in the same slow voice along with a stream of sentimental guitar music. The slow, hypnotic opera strengthens the sense of absurdity in every sentence, as it drowns out the severity of each overly intellectualized conversation.  For example, “there is division between the doctrine of separation of powers and democracy,” is just one snippet of dialogue from the last episode. Imagine how un-serious that phrase becomes when it is sung by a lifeless, electronic voice against soppy rock music. 

In one of the more widely circulating images from Cloud Cuckoo Land, Robert Janitz and the actor playing his young son lie awake wearing pajamas. They do not face one another. Both seem deep in thought. It’s clear that the 2 actors are both standing straight up, but the image behind them displays an illustration of a large bed seen from above, implying that the characters are lying down.  Or pretending to lie down.  The scene expresses a true tension and an inability to feel comfort even in what ought to be the most comfortable of places–one’s own bedroom.

Using  similar scenes in a stream of dream-like sequences guided by hypnotic music, Moskowitz and Trager describe a hypocrisy in community pride, what David Finkelstein provocatively writes of as “part of something terribly wrong with the entire utopian experiment of America.” By this, he points toward the tendency to idealize one’s own beliefs while looking down on the ideals established by outside communities. As interpreted from Cloud Cuckoo Land, everyone seems to represent and reject some sort of niche.  For a nation as large and as varied as the United States, that sort of metaphor could assist us in understanding the complex social issues we face as a country.

 

My Water Broke  

On a night cooler than most June evenings, the playful brutality of Genevieve White’s performance work manifested as she invited the audience to burst cold water balloons hanging across her torso. Politely, White approached nearby viewers as if to pass out raffle tickets. People were free to choose any balloon to burst.  The splashing water combined with the artist’s upfront gestures created a sort of awakening among festival attendees who had been sitting through two and a half hours of onscreen works  by this point of the night.  No longer were viewers absorbed in documents but in live movements, which seemed enhanced by the previous lengthy hours watching projected images . In each other, the group formed part of a moving spectacle, our attention shifting from White and her heavy costume, to the water at our feet, and to each balloon popper.

 

 

 

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