Mainstream cinema, at its most ambitious, can occasionally straddle the line between art and entertainment, but rarely does it leap with both feet into the aesthetic. And for good reason. No matter how many Oscars a movie wins, someone somewhere has to get paid enough to justify its existence.
On the flipside, the world of experimental film is free to fill its lungs with the rarefied air of inspiration and indulgence. The marketplace is ignored and scorned in equal doses. Dreams of Oscars are traded for arts grants and academic appointments and screens are filled with work that, frame for frame, matches the quality-to-dreck ratio of Hollywood. Still, it's rare for filmgoers to experience anything other than what the local multiplex throws up (um, pun intended) on the screen, and so Media City's festival of experimental film is a chance to see how the other half creates.
The good folks at Artcite Inc., Detroit Film Center and House of Toast Film and Video Collective have put together four brief days, during which audiences can experience film and video unvarnished by the clumsy hands of capitalism. Starting Tuesday, Feb. 13, and running through Saturday, Feb. 17, galleries and theaters in Windsor present a bevy of video installations, film retrospectives, panel discussions and competitive screenings from emerging artists around the world.
Running all throughout the fest is Tony Cokes' timely and ever-so-subtly titled multimedia installation, The Evil Series. Offering a scathing critique of America's war in Iraq, Cokes juxtaposes pop music from bands like the Notwist and Alias with newspaper editorials, quotes from the Bush administration and critical comments from opponents of the war. The piece's hyperkinetic use of fonts and colors is effective, but the message is relentlessly predictable.
A trio of film retrospectives offers audiences the rare chance to see work by German Super 8 filmmaker Helga Fanderl, Russian documentarian Sergei Loznitsa and Detroit native Peter Hutton. Known for his silent portraits of cities and landscapes from around the globe, Hutton will be on hand to lend insight into his process and career.
Friday night's spotlight on Loznitsa's work should draw experimental cineastes in flocks. Of the three films scheduled, Factory is the most visually arresting and surprisingly unnerving selection. For 30 minutes you will experience the fusion of man and machine as workers toil beside the blast furnace of a Soviet industrial plant. Also on the agenda is Loznitsa's award-winning Portrait, a series of cinematic snapshots, depicting Russian peasants and their quickly disappearing culture.
The international competition is, of course, the festival's centerpiece, with 30 short subject experimental works spaced over three nights. With advances in technology and greater accessibility, Media City not only recognizes the growing importance of video; it embraces it, presenting artists who work in celluloid, magnetic tape and pixels. Of the pieces screened, Tim Shores' ruminations on Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber) in Cabinet and Michael Robinson's The General Returns from One Place to Another are particularly intriguing. Robinson makes terrific use of Frank O'Hara's writing, turning a humorous monologue (from a play by the same name) into an ominous declaration of war against nature.
Though this year's program doesn't have quite the international palette of past fests, Media City still offers local audiences their best chance to see film as a medium that transcends its commercial roots and strives to emulate the best of fine art. From lyrical visual essays to impenetrable social metaphors to abstract tapestries of light and motion, there's bound to be something to challenge your notion of what film is and can be.
The 13th Media City Festival runs Tuesday, Feb. 13 through Saturday, Feb. 17. Main screening venue: Capitol Theatre and Arts Centre, 121 University Ave. W., Windsor. Wednesday, Feb. 14 to Saturday, Feb. 17; screenings nightly at 8 and 9:30 p.m.; 1 p.m. matinee on Sat. Feb. 17. Opening night screening is at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the Detroit Film Center, 1227 Washington Blvd., Detroit. Additional events: The Art Gallery of Windsor, Artcite Inc., Cranbrook Art Museum and the B-Movie Ballroom. For info, go to houseoftoast.ca/mediacity or call 519-977-6564.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.