2012 Festivus Film Festival: Abstract - Experimental Shorts

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2012 Festivus Film Festival in Denver, Colorado.
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2012 Festivus Film Festival in Denver, Colorado.

Short film programs at festivals offer a chance to see things many will never get to experience. Unless filmmakers upload their work for free online, chances are these small gems of cinema will touch but a few brave festival goers. Festivus Film Festival gave Denver, Colorado, such a chance with seven different blocks of shorts.

With Abstract or Experimental Shorts, films veer into challenging territory, pushing the limits of narrative, visual, and aural expectations. Yet, under the guidance of Festivus, audiences can trust that programmers have sat through hours of weirdness to select the finest. The 2012 Festivus block of "Abstract - Experimental Short Films" offered an eclectic spectrum of talented filmmakers.

Scott Renk's "Dias de los Muertos" was a frenetic display of artful stop-motion photography. Simple composites of clay skulls, matchsticks, and beads unfolded a symmetrical dance of familiar imagery from the Mexican holiday. As Renk mentioned at the screening, he banged out an original score on an aluminum ladder, giving the imagery a primal tone that gets into your bones.

Brian Zahm's "Wiggah" is a crack-inspired urban musical which made me crack-up and cringe. It's a densely packed short that takes a Wiggah into a downward odyssey through pimpin', pushin', and a poundin'. Zahm's comical rap-opera style probably exists as a genre in some accumulative sense of rap videos, but the young director might be forging a whitesploitation genre all his own.

The dreamy ambiance of Canadian synthpop duo SolarSolar set a chilling tone to Robert Waldeck's video for their song "I Can't Find You." The video was produced by SolarSolar's Dan Drysdale and seems to star children who bare his surname as well. It's an imaginative journey through childhood sentiment without the sappiness. Paper cutouts and fanciful hideaways conjure up something like if Michael Gondry had done "Where the Wild Things Are" instead of Spike Jonze.

Another music video was featured from Steve Gatlin for Big Daddy & Rockin' Combo's song "I Wasn't Surprised." Melons, muffins, and cookies, or at least the hotties holding them, become the vehicle for a frazzled grocer under the envious gaze of his wife watching surveillance.

Returning to Festivus from winning the 2011 Best Experimental Film was Adam Badlotto with a new mind-bending video for "Love Hitch" from the electro-rock group Young Circles. The hypnotic image-play Badlotto mixes is the perfect mesh of uber-cool music video and experimental filmmaking. The video was like a dancing girl cracking a whip, sending sound waves of spiraled electro-graphic glitter smeared on metallic liquid. As Badlotto said at the screening, he is fascinating and inspired by what sound looks like.

There was also the intriguing Montreal filmmaker Syl Disjonk and his hallucinatory short "Ethereal Chrysalis." It's a mixed bag of fleshy effects set to a monstrously good classical film score from Martin Gauthier. The short film is a head trip of demonic delights, with Cronenberg-esque insects swimming through a nightmarish dreamscape that would make Clive Barker giddy. Disjonk left me with some of the most haunting imagery seen at Festivus this year.

From the depths of Disjonk's nightmare, the shorts program took a deep inhale of the epic intimacy in Scott Brignac's film. "Self-Sabotage" is like a filmic novella of impressionism set to Derek Webb's gorgeous instrumental compositions. The expansive cinematography and poetically choreographed dreamscapes give the film a sense of spiritual catharsis, underlined by a melancholic juxtaposition of "The Lord's Prayer." At times "Self-Sabotage" felt like a manipulative commercial for an antidepressant, but the melodic filmmaking reaches emotionally moving moments, not soon forgotten.

Filmmakers Scott Brignac, Scott Renk, Adam Badlotto, Brian Zahm, and Jacoti Sommes were present for post-screening Q&A. Bravo Festivus!

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