Sunday, February 17, 2008


Yesterday my brother and I attended the Third Annual Indiana Festival of Independent Film and Video in Bloomington, Indiana, put on by Cinephile Film Arts at the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

But first we had to go have Burmese food (I had a great pork curry) and hit two of my favorite B-town shops, Vintage Phoenix and Boxcar Books, where I loaded up on zines and comics.

The opening speaker was Hoosiers scribe Angelo Pizzo, who talked about the new moviemaking incentives coming to Indiana (over the governor's veto, interestingly) but was asked, strangely enough, mostly about YouTube. I thought it was good that he answered, wisely, that YouTube and downloads and all that are all well and good, but dramatic three act structure has been around a couple thousand years and isn't going anywhere right away. He left before I got to wax nostalgic with him about my time as an extra on Hoosiers many years ago.

The first short was First They Came For by Kate Chaplin, basically a nice little adaptation of the Martin Niemoller poem, set in a near-future Orwellian setting.

Next was the darkly absurdist comedy short Human Resources by Brenan Campbell, a
Kafka-esque short speculating about who is on the other side of those "time and temperature" phone calls.

Zach Kahl then served up In Chicago: A Jazz Documentary about the long-lived scene in the Windy City. The short doc was a bit ragged around the edge production-wise, sometime leaving me unsure about whether Kahl was making style choices or technical mistakes, but the content was engaging.

Foxy Madonna vs. the Black Death was a Grindhouse-style short long on style and laughs (and longtime readers may recall I predicted this trend was coming, much as we ended up with a million Pulp Fiction-style projects a decade ago). Again I wondered whether Jakob Bilinski's rough-hewn style was entirely intentional, but he earns points for creativity. I especially liked mute, poker-faced minion "Chalkboard" who writes dire threats on a scrap of schoolhouse waste.

Next, Ben Williams' The Gingerbread Slums was a cute-ish 120 seconds of animation where a gingerbread man fights a couple of criminals. More an exercise than a real short but interesting to look at.

My pal Peter O'Keefe, who I taught a workshop with at Microcinema Fest a few years ago, logged in Infidel, where a hitman waiting to finish a contract strikes up a conversation with a street preacher at a diner, a meeting that holds dire portents for both. Very nicely shot, with good performances, and serious religious and social themes. When I added this to the other shorts I've seen of Peter's, I realized he still has a lot of Catholic guilt to work through, and I wish him well.

Little Sister Manipulator from 19th State Productions was a breezy slacker comedy where a twenty-something brother and sister pass a lazy afternoon in age-old rivalries. I thought this short had a nice energy in its production and presentation.

I thought Ben Williams' LesPsych was a little less sure-footed, set up as a "behind the scenes" documentary about the making of a z-grade horror movie, and how the lead actress begins to slowly unravel during the process. The horror movie scenes I'm sure were intentionally funny, but I was unclear whether the other aspects were intended to be, or whether the short was trying to find a higher plane. Uneven, and self-referential, but certainly interesting.

Mikel J. Wisler's Cellar Door was a lyrically shot, but thematically muddled, story about a young woman who begins to fray around the edges after the death of her father, and how she tries to put the pieces back together by visiting the family's remote cabin. The nonlinear storytelling is interesting but I thought the storytelling was a little soft in spots. However, Rachel Cottom basically carries the whole piece herself and shows a nice range as the troubled lead. Overall, nice solid work.

Brenan Campbell's The King of Pop was a raunchy sketch about the death of a popcorn magnate named Orville, and the wayward brother who is brought in to save the company. One of those "throw everything at the screen and see what sticks" comedies with a lot of smart-ass style and enough laughs for its short running time.

Semantics from Kathryn Gardner was a nice character sketch, with some stylish production riffs, about a socially stunted professor who is confronted by a friend about her actions. The twist at the end takes a moment to sink in and left me wondering what was going to happen next. Nicely done but left me wanted to see the short expanded, to see more of these characters.

Pearlessence from Rob Dietz and Phyllis Chen was a dreamy exercise in animation which surprised me by having a live score, performed by Chen silent movie-style. Chen's performance was excellent and the animation interesting. Probably the most curious work in the festival.

I enjoyed my day in Bloomington and will be seeking out Cinephile's next festival.

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