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SF IndieFest Is Upon Us: Lucky Thirteen
by Tony Reveaux
Three women find their virtual you in 'Second Life.' photo courtesy: SF IndieFest
The 13th San Francisco Independent Film Festival rolls into the Mission District's Roxie Theater February 3-17. Edgy and unpredictable, Indiefest’s programming flies free over several genres with pieces that you may not see anywhere else. Or ever again. Here are some of the between-the-lines, interdimensional and headspace entries as we might expect here, ready or not.
Pip Chodorov’s “Free Radicals” is a worthy, if lengthy, documentary on avant-garde and experimental cinema. It is introduced as a personal tribute to his and his family’s years of experimental home moviemaking. His father, Stephan, had been a TV producer in New York, and in his arts programming, presented interviews with many of the pioneer icons of avant-garde film. Chodorov goes on to do several more. Many of the artists have long since passed on.
We see German painter Hans Richter discuss and demonstrate his “Rhythmus” films, the very first purely abstract cinema. New Zealander Len Lye shows his “universe” project, after we enjoy his hand-scratched animation “Free Radicals” (1958-79). There is background on the WW I era of Dadaism and surrealism, as with Viking Eggeling’s “Symphonie Diagonale” (1921).
Post-WW II we see American filmmakers like Maya Deren, animator Robert Breer, and the Lithuanian immigrants Jonas and Adolphus Mekas who founded Film Culture magazine and then the Filmmakers Coop for distribution and the Anthology Film Archive for exhibition. Canadian Michael Snow, Austrian Peter Kubelka, New Yorker Ken Jacobs and early TV experimentalist Nam June Paik are interviewed. Collagist Stan Vanderbeek, who influenced Monty Python, is shown in his Moviedrome and creating early computer graphics. Stan Brakhage is visited in his last days in Canada. And a word from Andy Warhol.
With many candid and even intimate memories, revelations and asides by the filmmakers, and the rich flow of stills, films and footage, “Free Radicals” is a treasure chest of our alternative imagery heritage and the hard-won arts of achieving it.
Virtual warriors click and mouse to win their daily treasures. photo courtesy: SF IndieFest
In the 60s it was in science fiction stories like some by William Gibson where cyberspace had become a permeable, actionable and inhabitable yet limitless environment. As in Ge Jin’s documentary “Gold Farmers,” we see that it has already moved in to encompass workaday applications to the computer gaming world. There are 50,000 professional gamers in China, all clicking and mousing away to harvest the virtual rewards from the phantom fields of massive role-playing games such as World of Warcraft where there can be as many as a thousand players logged in from all over the terrestrial world.
“When I was in America,” said Tie Tou, a Shanghai-based gold farm owner, “everything was eight times more expensive than here in China.” He sells in online auctions like eBay the value-objects such as gold, weapons and upgrades, as well as player services like ‘powerleveling,’ taking the customer’s place in the game to bring him up to a higher level. “When you are playing a game, it seems real,” said David in Las Vegas, Tou’s American business partner who facilitates the international monetary exchange.
“I never imagined you could earn money and play games at the same time,” said one of Tou’s employees. All young men, they work ten-hour days and live together “like brothers,” comfortable and content in the collective atmosphere of non-stop gaming.
“I don’t know what reality is,” said one of the three women in “Second Bodies” by Sandra Danilovic. Each of the three has risen, or transposed from, a troubled selfhood to strut, soar and assert themselves in the online virtual reality world of Second Life.
We see their childhoods and the problems that burdened them. One woman has been disabled all her life. Now a single mom in a wheelchair, in Second Life she walks without a care. She experiences a Second Life second chance when she ‘dates’ an ex-boyfriend in virtuality, yet to find to her chagrin that she reached an intimacy there that they never shared in the real world.
The woman played by the director grew up as an immigrant child who never fit in at school or in society. In "Second Life" she is equally both special and as normal as anyone else. Meredith is openly suffering from bipolar disorder, with the avoidance and rejection it stimulates contributing to her ongoing depression. Shy and overweight, when she first started designing an avatar to mirror her own image, she stopped with the realization that, “I don’t have to be pudgy!”
As girls they coveted their Barbie dolls in different degrees, even flinging it into a romance with Ken. The dolls represented the perfection they futilely yearned for. In the creation, inhabitation and direction of their avatar, each woman engages in a self-Barbiezation and reinvention of their personal form, and with the ability to freely modify, change and enhance it. It is penalty-free risk-taking. “Its so much fun to create my own dreamlike Meredith in Second Life,” she said.
A simple subway takes a machinima charactar away on a dream journey in 'The Wind-Up Life.' photo courtesy: SF IndieFest
The Wind-Up Life
From The School of Visual Arts in New York floats Yi-Jen Chen’s delightful animated short “The Wind-Up Life,” featured in the An Animated World program. An adolescent wispy student figure boards a ghostly subway whose car lets him off under the ocean. He slowly swims up the fathoms to then arise from a tub in a bathroom that fills with swimming fish. Up he goes through the ceiling, only to find himself under his bed. A short rest is abruptly swept up in a flood of bubbles as he is released to plunge down through the chasms of the deep, and placed in a factory of giant machinery with hundreds of other boys. A Little Nemo helpless but unharmed, he is turned, spun and propelled through the wheels and cogs and then back in the blue water, to awake on the subway, where it was all a dream – or was it? “The Wind-Up Life” has the poetic quality of figurative visual music, in that it can be seen over again with equal pleasure.
Tony Reveaux is a long time Bay Area educator and writer on the realms of cinema, notably cutting edge tech and art.
Posted on Jan 16, 2011 - 05:08 AM