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.

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