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.