ATA Film & Video Festival

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Set in a cozy venue the size of a living room, the Artists' Television Access Film & Video Festival offers a certain intimacy that can only be associated with such small-scale events. It's not uncommon to chat up directors while waiting in the bathroom line or share a drink with them at the bar and discuss the hodgepodge of experimental films featured in the program. Grouped under two themes, "Human Nature" for Thursday night and "Lo-Fi Future" for Friday, the Festival's eclectic fare ranged from eyebrow-raising to outright psychedelic.

Now in its fifth year, the Festival embodies ATA's mission to promote film and video art in San Francisco and worldwide. Nestled in the hub of the Mission District, the all-volunteer artist-run venue offers regular screenings, exhibitions and performances and even produces a weekly cable access TV show. The room aglow from the fluctuating graphics of Shalo P's projected video installation "Liquid Light" and Sam Manera's interactive projector "The ?? Box," a happy crowd filled the rows on each night, bustling in anticipation of the uncharted cinematic territories that lay ahead.

-Nastia Voynovskaya & Cynthia Kang

Thursday's Showcase Provides Engaging Interpretations of Age-Old Human Themes

Thursday night of the festival revolved around a "Human Nature" theme. Short videos and animations focused on interactions between the mind and the outside environment, which pretty much means that it could be about any possible topic in the universe, an explanation for the interesting array of stories that were displayed. A couple of projects played off the nature aspect of the title and discussed relationships with the outdoors, but the majority of the videos explored larger themes of betrayal, emptiness and loss.

The evening kicked off on a bizarre note with Paul Clipson's "Union." It's about distorted perspectives, trapped shades of ourselves, confinement in nature - on second thought, I still have no idea what it is about. All we see are blurry, overlapping shots of the silhouette of a girl weaving through trees, set against hollow and ominous swells of music. Despite being visually engaging, it becomes an eyesore after 15 minutes of repetition.

Just as I ease back in my chair, hoping to finally watch something that I can at least decipher, "Reduction" comes on the screen. An animation by Sam Barnett, it cleverly depicts a man's almost robotic process of receiving thoughts and his subconscious struggle with an anomaly. But I didn't have this epiphany when I watched it; it came from perusing the film descriptions online. To see a man and a treelike figure exchanging black chips, which can be ejected out of his arm, and immediately connect it to the process of human thought is probably nothing short of genius.

Thankfully, the rest of the films were more accessible than the first few, as they chose to focus on offbeat topics rather than offbeat techniques. John Palmer's "Who's Afraid" takes the script from Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and casts Palmer as all four of the characters. Originally designed as an installation with each of the characters projected on a separate wall, it still retains its dynamic when pieced together on one screen. Playing off a similar humorous appeal, "Found: Nothing Missing" (Patricia McInroy) is a comical take on lost-pet signs, filling the screen with shots of flyers and providing witty commentary that alludes to the larger concept of loss.

Loss is given a more concrete adversary in "Disconnected." Director Karl Lind combines animation and live action to paint an all-too-familiar image of a girl waiting by the telephone. Radiating hearts and cascading tears add a childlike and playful air that harshly contrasts the protagonist's bitterness towards the telephone. Enhanced by a soundtrack of disjointed "hellos," it's a nostalgic commentary on the desolation that comes with dependence on technology.

There were times throughout the night when it was difficult to pinpoint the exact emotion a film evokes. In "All That Sheltering Emptiness" (Gina Carducci & Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore), what begins as a blithe narration of an escort's fascination with hotel lobbies abruptly turns a dark corner as the line between work and rape is blurred. The lighthearted, blatantly naive account of his job description set the audience chuckling but the laughter cut short when he launched into an incredibly vivid description of anal rape that makes the fictionality of the plot questionable.

The films may be short, averaging between four and five minutes, but the stories they tell are hard to forget. Though the overarching theme of "Human Nature" calls for rather generic concepts, each director deals with them in unique ways, whether it's the script, technique or memorable characters, and draws empathy from the audience.

-Cynthia Kang

Friday's Eight Shorts Twist Tropes Into Uncanny Commentaries on Humanity

En el futuro, todos estan locos," proclaims the narrator of Jeff Guay's "Principia," effectively summing up the general consensus the films from the second day of the Festival seemed to project. Loosely lassoed together by the night's theme, "Lo-Fi Future," "Principia" and the seven other short videos billed for the evening reworked their footage with a variety of experimental techniques, yielding an eclectic mix of each filmmaker's bizarre commentary concerning human fate.

Far more nebulous than the predictions of ancient Greek oracles or tabloid horoscopes, the videos in "Lo-Fi Future" constructed worlds of their own using familiar elements of present reality. From collage-like animation to eerie soundscapes, each film's individual aesthetic offered a brief glimpse into the alternate reality of its creator's imagination.

Perhaps the most easily decipherable of the Festival's selections that night, Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman's "Fun's Over" nearly had the audience choking on their pastries and Pabst with laughter. Aficionados of all things overacted, Horn and Kalman culled a drama-filled script in the vein of "Laguna Beach" and "The O.C." Except their black-and-white version of teen drama takes place in a seemingly post-apocalyptic future, where the emotional tension and beach volleyball games never end. With Horn's narration (she even recites the end credits in her delightfully blunt monotone) and a desolate beach run amok with wild terriers, the film's exaggerated coming-of-age plot mingles with the salty spray of the absurd.

Working with the notion of abandoned landscapes of the future, Jeff Guay's 2010 "Principia" follows the wanderings of Mr. Roboto, a former underwear model who inhabits a sparsely populated wasteland. Strangely reminiscent of David Lynch's psychological thriller, "Mulholland Drive," and Pink Floyd's "The Wall," the film courses with disparate surreal elements that connect in cryptic, unexpected ways. As Mr. Roboto wanders through his barren world, his slow Spanish narration indoctrinates the viewer into its seemingly scrambled cosmic order. Despite the comically simplistic dialogue, a creepy, gaping Muppet-like creature and the shrill musical score render the video an opaque, ironic blend of its various influences.

While Guay, Horn and Kalman twisted cinematic tropes, some classic and some cliche, into imaginings of the future, other featured filmmakers conjured decidedly more abstract visions. Jesse McLean's "Somewhere Only We Know" shows a montage of reality show contestants' faces as they await their judgments from the shows' hosts. (Who knew watching hours of "America's Next Top Model" could help you interpret obscure cinema!) Through anxious lip-biting and strained glances, each face speaks of the combination of feigned Hollywood composure and deep-seated hope recognizable to any avid reality TV viewer.

Perhaps the most extravagant of all of the works in "Lo-Fi Future," Kerry Laitala's fluorescent, mildly nauseating piece de resistance, "Afterimage: The Flicker of Life" bombards the viewer with cacophonous sounds and ChromaDepth holographic images. To prepare for the visual journey, the ATA volunteers passed around multicolored Jell-O shots and 3-D glasses. A dizzying array of realistic and abstract primary-color images (like cats, dancers and geometric spirals that float and swirl as if levitating above the screen), the film regaled the audience with its spontaneity and exotic technique.

The evening's loose theme allowed for a wide variety of artistic interpretations, drawing together many filmmaking styles and philosophies currently practiced in the Bay Area and beyond. The glow of the screen filling the dark room like a psychic's crystal ball, each video revealed a different, distorted reflection of a "Lo-Fi Future."

-Nastia Voynovskaya


Wait by a phone with Cynthia at [email protected] Take a Jell-O shot with Nastia at [email protected]

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