Blood of the Family Tree (Christine Panushka)

Symbolic animated film… maybe the MOST symbolic animated film. Red on white, cut-out humans becoming family trees. I made it less than ten minutes into this hour-long feature, up to the part where it’s just blood-related words/text on screen. Reminder not to watch movies with “inherited/generational trauma” in their descriptions.

Mud Man (Chikako Yamashiro)

People in a mud field chat vaguely, trying to understand their circumstances. They find a stock footage war scene montage over a beatbox soundtrack. Joyous movie, this is someone to watch out for.

Assemblage No. 2 (Nik Liguori)

Chiming bells… blurry closeups of flowers, then again through a prism. Experimental cinema 101.

Forms with Space and Distance and Hills (Jason Moyes)

More exp. cin. 101 – filming electric towers on Scottish hills, degrading the image, adding color filters, while messing around with a a lecturer’s voice on the soundtrack. This one worked for me though.

Beautiful Figures (Soetkin Verstegen)

Beautiful is right… figure animation on a scientific notebook. Text at right angles, nerve-rattling music on the soundtrack, tides come in and out, invisible water lines cutting characters into cross sections.

Laika (Deborah Stratman)

Deborah brings her star-person mirrors to the beach, reflecting sun and sea. Mammal-eyes shine in infra-dark. A space capsule parachuting to sea reverses, catching a thermal back into space. Sound “Laika” by Olivia Block.

Jill, Uncredited (Anthony Ing)

Background actor Jill rubs elbows with Meryl Streep, Topol, Anthony Hopkins, Mr. Bean and more. No narration, just some nice music and ka-klunk steenbeck sfx. Playing “spot Jill” becomes more fun as the movie goes on and her credits rack up, ending with a a title stating this was only 5% of her screen appearances. Reverse Shot: “Something about these many cinematic universes is exposed to be a sham. Indeed, the film’s intense attention to details that are not supposed to be noticed borders on conspiratorial.”

Looking Backward (Ben Balcom)

A hard one to describe. Stammering professor talks over depopulated images of buildings, then becomes coherent and profound when we finally see people in the stock footage. Really well done.

Light’s Return (Kathleen Rugh)

Cool frog sounds! Somebody took their camera down by the lake and filmed nothing much, then superimposed things over each other.

Der Blaue Reiter (Marcin Gizycki)

Color-field horses in motion interspersed by Kandinsky quotes and backed by dance music, ehh.

Of Wood (Owen Klatte)

Impressive work, a stop-motion carving, getting deeper into a chunk of wood as the film progresses. Relief drawings of wood-based nature and civilization advances, then a wooden human figure emerges and spends a few minutes just getting pummeled by all the objects springing from the tree (baseball bat, lincoln logs, “Between the World and Me” in hardcover) until he escapes at the end to read “Walden” under what’s left of the tree. Would’ve got the point just fine without some blocks spelling out “consume more.”

All the Blue Cats Look Like the Same Color (Wenzhe Xu)

Mannequins roam the deserted city (Scott Stark would approve), an apartment fills gradually with sand, a funeral parade mechanically walks by. Supposedly about internet slang replacing human language so I thought there’d be… any language… but I guess the lack of it is the point.

The Moon Rises During the Day (Na Li)

Abstract line patterns transmogrify across the page, sometimes forming figures, shapes, faces, and sometimes roaming free in their natural spaghetti mode.

Pigment-Dispersion Syndrome (Jennifer Reeves)

Brakhage-flicker of color blob corrosion, the occasional image relating to vision or color peeking through. Three sections with different audio: ambient music reversed, ambient music, mad science lab. Lovely.

Lo-Tech Reality (Guillermo Garcia Lopez)

Bookending narration of aliens coming to Detroit and finding no people, just vibrations. The rest is a drum loop music video of remixed urban decay, finding morse code in blinking lights and broken windows, with some nice compositions of dead buildings mirrored against the sky.

In the Big Yard Inside the Teeny-Weeny Pocket (Yoko Yuki)

“Here I am again, trapped in my sanity.” Peak Japanese cartoon-color explosion, ranting comic chaos with intertitles. Great widescreen design. I’ve gotta post this at work if it comes out on vimeo. Music by Honninman, who is on bandcamp.

I’d heard vaguely about this festival, figuring it was just another regional film fest like Atlanta but hopefully better, but suddenly I discover it’s “the oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival in North America” and that most of its programming is available online for cheap, so here we go! Alas, I tried everything to get screenshots but no luck.

Grasshopper (Jussi Eerola)

Abandoned commercial mall, the window-covering peels back and an unpopulated flashing-light dance party begins. The light rigs are often visible, and motion gets sped up and reversed. I would’ve preferred if they actually blasted dance music and re-recorded it reverberaating through these spaces, but it’s just clean techno on the soundtrack. The Finnish director previously made a TIFF documentary about nuclear power.

Language Unknown (Janelle VanderKelen)

Fade in on a fuzzy brain, pull out from a Blue Velvet ear in a field. Stop-motion eyeball in a time-lapse flower. Beautiful mushroom blooms. The spacey sounds and film scratches give the impression of a 1970’s plant invasion horror. She previously made a movie about a slug.

To Do (Saul Pankhurst)

Guy murmurs through wakeup routine then brings up The Daily Calm which triggers a high-speed desktop-cutout animation while he rattles off a to-do list (“cancel amazon prime, acknowledge my disempowering habits”). Very playful and short, the only one I watched twice. Saul’s got a fair number of things on vimeo.

Aralkum (Daniel Asadi Faezi & Mila Zhluktenko)

“Only humans remained” – a sad extinction story. But in the next scene there are farm animals. Drones stalk landlocked boats. Titles tell us about Aral Desert plant life and personal stories from when the Aral Desert was the Aral Sea, which we finally see in windowboxed archive footage, in all its fish-filled glory. Sad organ music and a sad-eyed man let us know that the desertification is a sad thing. Daniel previously made a short about a valley that became a lake, so these two films balance out.

Glazing (Lilli Carré)

Nude animation, a woman changing forms by hurling herself against the walls, short and good. The director also has books (out of print) from Fantagraphics and teaches in Los Angeles.

Eclipsis (Tania Hernández Velasco)

Nervous string music and whispering narrator accompanies a study of Mexican butterflies, a report on one non-migratory monarch who can only be distinguished from others by ultraviolet light, and their hallucinogenic effect on humans. Then unfortunately the music goes away and we spend some time in close-up with a dancer pretending to be a butterfly. Some nice prismatic insect-eye views and wing pattern closeups. She previously made an hourlong leftist farming documentary.

Diomysus (Emily Elizabeth Morus-Jones)

Short interview doc on polyamory using mouse puppets. A bit of silliness.

11 (Vuk Jevremovic)

Peak animation by Vuk, absolutely wild color and lines and paint, even a callback to his Panther. I’d like it even more if it wasn’t about how soccer is the representation and culmination of all global endeavor, with huge bombastic music.

Super Natural (Jorge Jácome)

I’m lumping the two features I started watching in with the shorts, since I only sampled them. Normally this would mean I wouldn’t include them at all, but it’s my blog, and I can change the rules if I want.

Very patience-testing intro, soft new-age music with subtitled conversation about nothing under softly shifting color fields with major banding issues. Then surveillance footage, then video of dudes sleeping and sea spiders, the subtitles all vaguely friendly affirmations accompanied by an electro-chirp sound. It’s weirdly peaceful but entirely useless to me – I imagine the World’s Fair girl falling asleep to it. I did enjoy some drawings of birds as seen through a spherical magnifier, but at the half-hour chapter heading I skipped to the end.

I guess this was about disability and affect. Jácome is Portuguese, had a previous feature with a confusing plot description on the Criterion channel.

Roses, Pink and Blue (Julia Yezbick)

Ringing drone sounds with singing at the end, one-word-at-a-time titles telling the story of a girl’s balloon that flew away on a beach trip. No big deal. Our friend the psychedelic monarch butterfly makes a brief appearance. Yezbick has worked with the Sensory Ethnography Lab.

South Los Angeles Street (Leighton Pierce)

The Avant-Garde Balcony Movie, sans conversations with neighbors, just perched at a window watching cars and helicopters. The description calls it “acoustically rich and visually stunning,” but I wouldn’t. First I’ve seen from Pierce since Nashville in 2008.

Arrest in Flight (Adrian Flury)

A seeming reference to the Battles video I watched last week, the one with the escalator. Someone is having a helluva time glitching out their 3D software… but there’s also stop-motion in here and it’s upsetting when I can’t tell which is which. Chairs and stairs and a vacuum-powered pair of legs cavort in a a dollhouse set. Otherworldly. Swiss.

Mangrove School (Filipa César)

Mangrove leaves make excellent cable ties. Long take of someone tying up branches while a voiceover tells us the Portuguese tried to murder children by bombing schools when Guinea was fighting for independence. More quiet branch work by the river, making me very sleepy until it ends with applause. César’s feature Spell Reel is on my radar, and the cinematographer worked on Outside Noise.

Camera Test (Siegfried A. Fruhauf)

A nice eyewash/brainwash… green leader, quick L-R shot out a train window, black, same shot flopped R-L, green, etc, etc, with chugging train(?) noise on the soundtrack. Water and trees, with less horizontal motion in the middle half. Fruhauf has made dozens of shorts, some collected on an Index DVD.

2 Cent 10 Coil (Monteith McCollum)

Black-masked strips of printed words telling of a trip to Alaska. Extreme textural closeups of who-knows-what, objects that seem to breathe, microscope exams of stamps and coins. Reminds me I haven’t seen anything by David Gatten in a while. The closing credits tell us the source of all texts and tools and objects, nice.

No Thoughts Head Empty (Quinn Franks)

Machinima Velma has a migraine.

I bought a day pass to the Sundance Film Festival. On one hand it’s cool to see all these premieres… on the other, this was just sitting in bed watching TV all day. And sure, fests are curated, but it’s nice to read the first round of critic reviews (like I’m doing right now with Berlin) and decide which few sound the most exciting, instead of relying on the one-paragraph plot descriptions like I did when choosing these.

I started the day with a TV pilot, a shorts series, a feature, half of another shorts series… and going into the next feature, I reloaded the schedule page and noticed all the non-premieres (the movies that had premiered a couple days earlier and were now on-demand) had changed status from “sold out” to “watch now.” Not sure which status was a bug, but I quickly made some adjustments. Catching Strawberry Mansion (and having to eat meals to stay alive) threw my schedule, and I skipped my reservation for We’re All Going to the World’s Fair in favor of Knocking, wanting to get in something from the Midnight section, oops.

I like that the opening titles tell me to “please turn off all electronic devices,” even though I’m watching the movies on one. Since the Roku is on the fritz, I hooked the laptop to the TV and could therefore get screengrabs – funny that I can do this with restricted world-premieres, but can’t while watching The Saddest Music in the World on Criterion Channel. The intros must’ve been pre-taped… Ana Katz said “hello and good evening” at her movie’s noon premiere (2pm in Buenos Aires). I first noticed during Mayday that the picture looked film-grainy… but more like static than grain, and saw the same pattern on all subsequent movies, what was that all about?

These Days

The pilot (from the “Indie Series” section) was chosen for costarring William Jackson Harper. Marianne Rendón (who recently played Patti Smith in a movie) is lonely, going on a series of bad quarantine zoom-dates when she meets charming Harper. But he’s only there to write a magazine story about lonely women who go on virtual dates, as we learn in his next call to his editor. His mom zoom-bombs them on his personal link, a dated detail thanks to the software update that sticks everyone in the waiting room. Marianne’s zoom dance is good, as are all of Harper’s line reads, but I dunno how this would sustain a series, nor who would fund it now as a hundred million vaccine shots are heading to the states. Director Adam Brooks, who wrote the Bridget Jones Diary sequel and is not the Adam Brooks who made The Editor and starred in the latest Guy Maddin movie, calls it “our film,” and says the whole cast was mailed camera gear and filmed their own scenes.

In the Earth (Ben Wheatley)

I started this after Knocking, giving myself a midnight bedtime, so watched about fifteen minutes. So far, an unmasked guy got tested extensively by some park rangers before setting out on a journey with one of them joining him. They were pitching tents on their first night when I ditched, so it hadn’t gotten good yet… but why was everyone masked at the beginning except the outsider they were testing? Shouldn’t the rule be that he stays masked until he passes the tests? The poster shows a backlit axe murderer so I’ll surely get back to this at some point.

Rachel Handler in Vulture, on pandemic movies:

I could conjure the 2019 version of myself that might’ve enjoyed them, but the 2021 version of me, who has the hair and temper of a cartoon Disney villain, could not find the patience for dreamy, moody movies where an imaginary sickness stood in for something else, where it was desperately mined for meaning … I wondered if every movie ever made had actually been about people being alone and sad and I just hadn’t noticed.

The President Has AIDS (2006, Arnold Antonin
Totally ineptly made movie with honorable intentions, defended by lead actor (the Haitian from Heroes) in post-movie discussion. Apparently the Haitian independent film scene isn’t all that it could be. Not about the “president”, but a super popular entertainer (and, inexplicably, a regular guy who looks identical to him). Good to hear that it did well in Haiti and got people talking, anyway.

Salud (2006, Connie Field)
Documentary on Cuban medical system, but mostly set in other countries where Cuban doctors set up to help poor populations that local doctors can’t or won’t treat. Pretty okay doc, but I mostly remember the less-okay post-movie discussion led by an alternative-medicine advocate who loomed in front of Katy and me.

Daughters of the Dust (1991, Julie Dash)
I spaced out during the entire movie, and whenever I looked up I saw some languid images and heard conversations that I could only barely understand when I tried hard. Didn’t seem worth trying that hard. Sorry, acclaimed african american director Julie Dash!

First movie I’ve seen from Chad. Simple story with few characters told in chronological order and classically shot: so obviously not similar to anything else that’s out right now.

Atim and his grandpa hear on the radio that the civil war criminals have all been pardoned, so grandpa gives Atim the family pistol, and he very simply sets out on a quest across the country to the city, to find and kill the man who shot Atim’s father. Hits town and immediately meets Moussa, an overly friendly kid who gives Atim clothes (I think) and food and a place to stay. Soon finds killer Nassara and fidgets with his gun a lot when no one’s looking. Idly stalks Nassara outside his bakery for a while, refuses free bread, finally agrees to work for him. Why? To get closer to him, to understand how he lives, to get closer to his family and kill them too? More likely, Atim seems like a nice kid and Nassara is a wonderful father figure, so the attraction was mutual.

Atim works the bakery for a while and learns some lessons along the way. Don’t get too familiar with Nassara’s new wife: he’ll beat her. Don’t hang out with Moussa anymore: he’s a thief. Listen to Nassara: he’s been around and knows what’s what… but he also gets hurt, gets drunk, and has his business wrecked by wily competitors. Only human, then.

Atim gets too close, ends up bringing N. home “to get Atim’s family’s permission for N. to adopt him” and sets up the execution in front of his blind grandpa. Pushes N. down and shoots into the air. Really the only way it could end without us hating somebody.

Should we hate somebody? Are we all good at heart? Is revenge a fool’s game? The writer/director’s obviously big into forgiveness, but I can’t tell if he agrees with the post-war amnesty completely. Anyway, it brings up some complicated feelings and ideas, and very well shot and acted. A completely worthy movie. I think I liked it even more than Katy, who initiated our round-trip drive to Nashville to see it.

More: Atim has been beaten by some nasty cops when Moussa first meets him, and later Atim gets his chance and beats one of the same cops down in the street. Justice is served. Another cop walks by slowly, missing a leg, slowly over a bridge, Atim aims his gun, fires. At the cop? Don’t know, it was offscreen. Katy thinks he was aiming away and I think he was aiming for the cop (even though aiming away makes more sense for his generally moral character). Also Katy thinks Atim’s rejection of Moussa on the basis of M’s being a petty thief is ridiculous, since everyone in the city steals to get by, but A. is from a small, very rural town, where he might have been taught otherwise.

Waited too long between seeing and writing, so I’ve lost some textual details. There was a little music, some interesting shots, I think a pretty great film overall.

Oh, we saw a short beforehand, Namibia, Brazil, which had no real point (except to show how pretty Rio can be), but the credits say it’s an excerpt from a longer film so maybe that’s why.