Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Name Has to Go: Super Bowl 26

I had bought my first Hi8 video camera just a couple weeks before this. It was small, a Sony TR30, I believe. I could carry it in my backpack, I could carry it in a pocket.

This was 1992. I was a student at the University of Minnesota and worked a night job that allowed me to sleep. So I had some extra times during the day. I filmed as much as I could that year, I filmed more than I could edit.

I lived in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis. I lived near Little Earth of United Tribes, which was the center of the American Indian community in the city. When the Super Bowl was coming to town, and one of the teams playing was the Washington, D.C. team, the American Indian Movement organized a conference and a protest to ask Washington to change the mascot of their football team, a racist derogative term.

I don't really remember filming this video, and am not sure why I never edited it (until now). At the time I usually liked to film interviews, and for this I just filmed the speeches and the march. I began filming at East Phillips Park, where Clyde Bellecourt, Paul Wellstone, and others spoke. I then followed the march to the Metrodome, where we circled the stadium and then listened to speeches from Vernon Bellecourt and others.

The Super Bowl is once again taking place in Minneapolis this weekend, and it is truly amazing to compare the level of security between the event in 1992 and 2018. In 1992, AIM has set up a teepee on the plaza right in front of the stadium entrance. We marched just a few feet from the open doors of the Metrodome. There were a few police officers around, but their presence was pretty minimal.

This year, a wall of chain link fence on concrete blocks surrounds the new U.S. Bank Stadium for a block. Downtown is peppered with National Guard humvees. It seems like there are hundreds of private security guards in downtown at any time. The comparison is simply unfathomable.

As I was finally editing this video, twenty-six years after I shot it, I had to do some searches to find the spellings of some of the names. It was sobering to see all the people in this video who have since passed on, from Vernon Bellecourt and Paul Wellstone to Brian Roberts, at the time a law student, Dixie Latu Riley, Matthew Little, and E. Randal T. Osburn. Look for a shot of Congressman Keith Ellison standing near me in the crowd around 4:45.

After I did this edited I found a few more minutes of Super Bowl video on another tape. That video had some issues, but I will try to edit a little out of that one too.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

CAVE 2 Day 2

The second day of the second annual CAVE (Festival of Cinematic Audio and Video Experimentation) included lots of moments when the theater of the Bryant Lake Bowl was just full of people talking to each other. Festival director Kevin Obsatz explained that he programmed shorter blocks of films to open up those opportunities for discussion.

Saturday afternoon's screening of Arab-American experimental film was co-presented by the Minnesota Museum of American Art and MIZNA, which puts on the Arab Film Festival. Co-curators Michelle Baroody and Andrea Shaker explained that they selected work for the screening that went beyond the stereotypes and dominant narratives.

The program began with Shaker's On Silence, which included a live performance element. Shaker stood on stage to the right of the screen to read a poetic narration while looking out a video window onto an endless expanse of water, sometimes the view blurred by waving bare branches and curtains, sometimes the view was so clear you could see that there was no distant horizon. She spoke about the luxury of stillness, the luxury of forgetting, and created a meditation both personal and universal on displacement that connected herself and us to the stories of refugees of Syria.

Shaker's use of news footage, both frozen still and rendered without sound, was echoed in other films in the program, many of which appropriated media images and sounds to pin and enlighten them. Ariana Hamidi's The Covenant Adam intercut home movie-like images of young people with TV images of a cartoon incredible Hulk to show how superhero images condition young people to problem-solve with violence. Usama Alshaibi's The Muslim Meme countered rabid anti-Muslim AM hate radio audio quotes with quiet subtitles that detail that pain that comes from being the human-being target of such vicious propaganda.

Following an afternoon break, CAVE resumed with two evening screenings featuring visiting artists. First up was Christopher Harris of Florida, who was also on hand to conduct an in-camera editing  workshop as part of the festival. His films featured lush 16mm images pristinely transferred to video. His 16mm frames were bursting with edge fogging, the sun flying through the edges of his films to re-assert itself, particularly in a dual screen rendering of a roadside passion play where the sun coming through the film edges was like a divine presence trying to strangle the Hollywood phoniness of evangelical Christian crucifixion re-enactors. The sun itself, and the transience of our whole universe, was at the heart of his film Sunshine State (Extended Forecast) which paired primary color images of beach ball planets floating in a swimming pool and suns drawn of sidewalk chalk with an audio track of scientific predictions of the sputtering out of our sun, and the end of the potential for life on earth.

The reflection or absorption of light on faces was referenced in Reckless Eyeballing, which set up a conversation between the lynch-victim Gus from D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation with Pam Grier, star of Blacksploitation films in the 70's. Both The Birth of a Nation and Grier could have flashed on the screen of The Criterion Theater in St. Louis, whose deterioration Harris documents in detail in still/here, an excerpt of which closed the screening. The long-closed building's brick walls were burst open to let in the sun to the Criterion's dusty tumbled seats, both suggesting the liveliness and community that once happened here with the devastation and emptiness that is its dereliction.

The final screening featured work of Jesse McLean of Milwaukee, who introduced her films by saying that she is a collagist, both in that she appropriates images and sounds, but also in that she collages ideas. Her films look at how media gets to the middle of our brain, from the mediated spaces of big box stores and surface parking lots, which may be our actual homes, to the sparkling international postcards we get in our email boxes via spam.

Her film See A Dog, Hear A Dog, was all about intelligence, and its YouTube images of a dog playing the piano and singing, and its dog facial expressions acted out by humans, really pointed out that it isn't really intelligence and emotion that distinguish humans from other animals, it might just be that our difference is that we have the media, and that doesn't really make us better.

Although we humans had media, we also had each other at CAVE. And after the very human Q and A with Jesse McLean ended, the unmediated humans in the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater formed a collective voice to sing Happy Birthday to Kevin Obsatz as a chocolate cake topped with slightly skewed burning candles was carried to him. But we also could also have been singing a happy birthday for CAVE, which lives and will live another year. Obsatz announced that there will be a CAVE 3 in 2019.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

CAVE 2 Day 1

CAVE (the Festival of Cinematic Audio Visual Experimentation) is now officially annual, and once again taking us to a place of light and sound on some of the coldest winter days. You enter CAVE 2 at the Bryant Lake Bowl past all the crashing of bowling balls on pins around the corner of the kitchen and that strange box office inserted in a cubby that could have once held a phone booth and grab the luscious printed program in black and blue with a brown paper insert of Andy Sturdevant words about other equally cold nights when people gathered to watch movies together in town and found warmth and inspiration, wonder and community.

The 7 pm Friday show featured local work, mostly videos that featured images and sounds of nature, of water and waves and physically improbable human shadows in Julie Kouneski's Shapeshifter, of the interplay of water and rock with fingers and insects as landscape in Jonathan Kaiser's Canyons, with water and ice holding and releasing in Jason Cole's Same Bare Place and Kate Casanova's Slow Black Glow. Trevor Adams' Rumors of Train Barn broke the nature line with his images of night and people-rich places filled with ghosts etched and painted over and behind the lights and shadows of somewhere somewhat familiar but also maybe not. There were also a couple short videos by me.

For the 9 pm slot, both the cinema and the audience expanded, with people sitting on the walls and standing by the door and John Marks starting things out with his great wall of 16mm projectors to show Spirit Leveling, a four movement sonata for trees, water, water lilies, sun and sound. The sound was created on the spot with his analogue synthesizer, which he operated while turning projectors on and off. At one point the side by side sun was two eyes reflected in water looking back at us. The piece ended with one joyous sun reflection circling and sketching delirious commas on gently lapping water.

HIJACK (Kirsten Van Loon and Arwen Wilder) performed Volleyball, Basketball, Hanky, a dance that doubled down on Janis Ian's "At Seventeen," channeling teenage awkwardness into movement of body with repeated shadows on the screen and a dance-partner TV set with a clip of the volleyball/basketball they didn't get called to play. Kleenix turned into the pom poms of beauty queens but also reminded me of the snow and cold outside, and the cold inside that sometimes comes from seeing yourself through the eyes of others rather than just thinking about how great you really are.

The last piece, Kinski Wanted Herzog to Direct but He Turned It Down by Guillaume Vallee and Hazy Montague Mystique of Montreal, combined a film clip of Klaus Kinski that was transferred to videotape, distressed, and then transferred back to film and expanded and repeated with live video feedback to give us a multiplying brightly hued approximation of Kinski's grinning theatrical madness, or impatience and recalcitrance in general. Film scratches and dust conspired with the teeth of TV static to take us further and further down into a place of extreme color and lunar brain echoes. Mystique's synthesized sounds reprocessed voices and other kinds of unidentifiable blips and beeps and hums that kept on rising and up falling to match the feedback of the images. It was both cave painting primal and futuristic techno, eye opening and closed-eye rattling.

And then it was time to get out of there quickly to catch our bus. There are still two more days of CAVE! CAVE is presented by Cellular Cinema, which is a monthly series of screenings at the Bryant Lake Bowl.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Drawing A Day December 2017

Here is one drawing I made every day of December 2017. All were done pretty quickly, some by pencil, some by pen and some by brush. Some were images from my imagination, some were observational on location.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Silence with Sound: Sam Hoolihan

"Silence with Sound" was the name of the program of films by Sam Hoolihan at the Trylon Theater last night, part of the quarterly Northern Exposure series. The program featured 45 minutes of films of which the only soundtrack was the sewing machine hum of the super 8 and 16mm projector, as well as any audience sound in the packed theater. The last part of the program was a multi-projector piece with live music performed by Crystal Myslajek and John Marks.

Hoolihan's show began on super 8, with what he called, "diary films." They mostly presented sunsets filmed one frame at a time, so that the trees shiver as the sky darkens, and clouds try to cross the sky before they bleed to darkness. Sometimes he would mount the camera vertically, so that the clouds would spill like marbles dropped down a slope or rise up like escaped balloons.

In a longer super 8 piece, filmed at an art residency, he cuts between single framing the passage of the sun and shadow over paintings of landscapes with showing the changes of light over actual landscapes. All these super 8 films were in blazing sunset color, which contrasted radically with his next film, made on 16mm in Black and White.

His "City of Lakes" is  a quiet meditation on the city of Minneapolis and its movement and stillness. Often filmed through a telephoto lens that flattens space, the images have the character of classic reportage still photography, but with slightly slowed-down movement that gives it all the feel of a waking dream. Most of the filming happened in 2015, but the images almost seem to want to overlap all of the city's years one on top of the other, so you can see the trails and trees that came before the streets and buildings, and even into the space age city that expands the city into the sky and stars. You can almost feel yourself as the disembodied observer standing a mile or two away from some scene but able to witness it with complete clarity, a time traveler in a world of life and presence that might also have happened before or yet, or never actually did or will happen.

The title of the film refers to the lakes of Minneapolis, but the film is really about the city's river, and the horizontal and vertical river movement that influences all motion there, plant, vehicle and human. When the people do make their first appearances in the film, after some time, they come in a river, one face after another, one bit of movement or action or expression after another, like waves and rolls on water. The city is full of people, and then it is empty again, or just single figures, bent wearily over a bench or framing themselves beneath a bridge while the river plays on.

The film ends with both a July 4th fireworks show and a snowstorm, the farthest extremities of the Minneapolis atmosphere, and in the night sky as millions of snowflakes defy all expectations of assumed motion and all we see are white dots on velvet black making swirls and streaks of pure beautiful chaos.

The river motion and the chaos also frame the last piece in the program, "Stasis and Motion," a collaboration between the two musicians and the filmmaker, though from the Q and A after the show it was clear that all three makers' roles were anything but firm. Most of the visuals were created based on musical ideas from Myslajek, and Marks, who distorted and looped Myslajek's piano and vocals through an analog synthesizer, shared filming duties with Hoolihan. Sometimes one would re-shoot the same roll of film that that the other had already exposed to create blind collaborative double exposures.

The double exposed film projected dually multiplied the play of light and dark, and expanded by the music, the effect was many times euphoric. Images of trees and water, abstracted into patterns of white and black through the hand-processed high contrast black and white film, tugged you in all directions. A rock in water was the setting for a final exploration of the dance of sun on water, a dance like that of the snowflakes in "City of Lakes," an orgy of forest spirits singing in circles of light and Myslajek's haunting echoed vocals.

Hoolihan's "Kenilworth Sketch," the last of the silent films to play, used double exposure in vivid color to turn the screen into a painting made on waving grass. One image, of a blooming white bush against a field of fading grass that suddenly turns into a gently waving lake through superimposition, is one that particularly holds to my retina and brain.

Hoolihan explained that his films were not so much about telling stories but making you look at things. He compared his filmmaking to music, and his role running the percussive projectors in back of the house as being part of the band with Myslajek and Marks, playing their keyboard and synthesizer up front beneath the light. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Three Nights in a CAVE

For many years, the middle months of winter, January and February, meant experimental films to me. That's because the Walker Art Center always seemed to show programs of experimental films during those months, and I would go as much as I could to the Walker Theater and sit with some people and also many empty seats to expand my mind and also hear in person from many of the makers who had come from far away to share with us the zero degrees outside.

That all seemed to disappear at some point - one recent year I realized that I wasn't going to experimental films in the year's first months, but it seems like that tradition may have returned with something called the CAVE Festival, which Festival guy Kevin Obsatz kept referring to as the "first annual."

Is it Plato's Cave, where we can't see the real world but only shadows cast by fire on the wall, or is it the cave we all want to climb into when we really think about who is going to be our next president? No, CAVE stands for Cinematic, Audio, Video Experimentation. There were three very cold nights in three very warm places with visitors from even colder and much warmer places to present films projected on film and video, some with sound and some without.

Limited evening bus service and nights so cold that I didn't want to stand outside too long waiting for transfers meant that I missed some of the films when I had to exit in the darkness, images still flickering, to catch a bus. But I saw and heard far more than I can digest and process, and many of the images are still torturing and delighting me. It was three nights of layers and nylon coat scrapings and snow pack scrunching and industrial rat-a-tatting and microphones rubbed upon flesh.

The first night featured films from Winnipeg and the Twin Cities. Visitor Aaron Zeghers said hello from his belly with a "Hello, How Are You" Daniel Johnston t-shirt that took us completely into the world of his northern city, that and a program that included an absurd and hilarious documentary about what happens when beer bottles strike famous heads in Winnipeg, to his own piece of snowy crystal cinema, "Everything Turns..." featuring super 8 film of geography and geometry and numbers and then bursting into a projection through a crystal that turned the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater into a cathedral of colored light.

I had to leave midway through the local films to catch my bus, but I was so honored to have my own little video about an operation I had as part of it.

The second night filled to more than capacity the Mediatheque room of the Walker Art Center, which probably had the most high tech projection facilities but also the most technical issues. But I will never forgot the third shot of Nashville's Jonathan Rattner's film "The Interior," an extended image that put me as completely as I could ever imagine into the mind of a dog. Rattner's films, made during a four week stay in a remote part of Alaska, documented the life of dog mushers and their dogs.

After a couple images that both oriented and disoriented us to where we were, we kept on the expressive face of one dog as others began to howl in the snow. We were so close and intimate to this dog in image that I began to think, do I howl yet? And then, when it was time to howl, I howled too, or at least the dog that I was seeing so closely howled. With the movement of that dog's face and eyes and fur I was sharing some kind of thought with it.

This wasn't the kind of anthropomorphizing you do in a fairy tale or Disney film, it was a direct connection with a being very different from you, but still an intimacy of dinner and morning and night and speed and snores and the moon.

We shared a more remote intimacy with the humans in the film. It may even have been as cold in Minneapolis as it was in the places of these films, but this wasn't a cold of skyscrapers and bus stops, it was a cold of headlamps and constant overcoats and snow. Life was completely covered in ice and white, and had retreated completely into steam and breath.

The second program of the second night, curated by Hannah Piper Burns of Portland, I also only saw part of, but I remember a young woman defiantly defining herself against the monochrome men and the polychrome media that engulf her, a flea and servant allegory around a smoky fire, the hats and glasses of internet psychics.

The third night was at The White Page Gallery, in two storefront spaces. The white interior walls were a perfect setting for the winter films of Robert Todd of Boston. While we seek out eyes and smiles and facial clues from the dogs and people we see on screen, he denies us these to give us the most intimate, mundane and eternal details of the physical things around him. His film "Threshold," which he described as a piece about not wanting to walk out his door, begins and ends on Greek columns but mostly revels in water drops on a window that explode into a machine gun of splintered and sliced images that combine the negative with the positive.

The third night's second program, presented by Ariel Teal representing the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles, presented us sunny images of swingset leg-shaving, Griffith's elephants blasted by Mountain Dew, and that bright summer sun burning through paper messages to us.

In the Gallery next door to the screenings was Colby Richardson's Inner Vision, an exhibit that sent a video feedback TV signal to three other TV screens in the room. Because the signal was actually broadcast from the room and traveled to the other TV's through their antennas and not through a cable, the images on those other TV sets changed as you walked between them and you interrupted the broadcast signal. By walking around these TVs playing, appropriately, TV snow, I could affect the image, I could create the technical difficulties that broke it all up and made it strange or interesting, I could dance my quick exit between the antennas before I rushed out into the dark and extreme cold to catch my bus.

Thanks to the Cellular Cinema crew, I have many many images and sounds that have broadened my own horizons, that can brew inside me and inspire me to brave some new trails of my own to illumine the rest of these cold dark days.