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March 30, 2006
Space orb, drive-in bingo,
furry judge to make film fest cameos
30th Annual Humboldt International Short Film
by RICHARD STENGER
Eight-year-olds and sailboats. Iranians and party
drugs. Turks and love in the mountains. What do they have in
common? They are the directors and subjects of films submitted
to the 39th Humboldt International Short Film Festival, which
runs in Arcata from April 3-8. (Schedule
Only a handful of the more than 130 works submitted
for competition will play in the Minor Theatre for the public.
First they must clear a pair of daunting hurdles: The Humboldt
State University student screening committee and the official
trio of judges.
Yet festival organizers promise a bumper crop of
quality cinematic works and workshops throughout the week (compliments
of the judges), a special guest and, of course, during the final
two days, the competition filmmakers.
"I was impressed by the quality of works we
received," said Mary Cruse, the HSU faculty advisor to the
festival. "The bar has risen this year," she said,
mentioning in particular those shot and edited in digital format.
The submissions, which range from 5 minutes to
more than 30 minutes, cover a range of styles: experimental,
animation, found footage, documentary, narrative and non-narrative,
according to Viva Soffian, a student festival co-director. Some
that might survive for the final weekend of public viewing include:
Big Ass World of Science: This wacky, whimsical
animation from Mike Wellins uses a stream of-consciousness approach
to tackle some of science's biggest questions, such as "How
Big is Too Big?" and "When is Never Enough?" A
nude university, a giant bowling ball and a space shuttle that
spits out toast from the payload bay into orbit provide the answers.
Second Sight: Highly experimental, this
film is like a time-elapsed collage of fast-moving and morphing
shapes, colors, patterns and sounds. Giant gray circles give
way to cobwebs of blue, red and white. Hailstones of tiny yellow
blobs turn into dancing stars, as chaotic jazz horns flutter.
If Jackson Pollack were around, he might be making films like
this one from Stephanie Maxwell and Peter Byrne.
The Orb: When a metal ball from space moves
into their home, two roommates lose their jobs, their sanity
and any hope for a normal dating life. It's tiny, but extremely
loud and obnoxious, and makes an incessant whirring racket as
it hovers around them non-stop. The orb in this black comedy
from Matthew T. Burns is the complete opposite of the pleasure-inducing
orgasmatron in Woody Allen's Sleeper. A hidden knob might
turn it off, or alter the fate of Earth. Must not give away ending.
The fate of these and the other shorts rests in
the hands -- or the thumbs, as in up or down -- of the judges,
Melinda Stone, Matt McCormick and Vanessa Renwick, all notable
West Coast filmmakers. Their selections of top animation, documentary,
narrative and experimental shorts, the Best of Fest I and II,
will play at the Minor Theatre on Saturday, April 8.
And in the hands of the student festival committee
members. Their picks, the People's Choices I and II, will screen
the same place and times on Friday, April 7.
The judges, along with special guest Chuck Hudina,
a San Francisco experimental filmmaker who briefly taught at
HSU, will show selections of their films at the Minor at 7 p.m.,
from April 3 to 6. In the afternoons on the same days, they will
host free public workshops from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in room 117
of the HSU Theater Arts building.
Stone, a Eureka native and HSU grad who teaches
film at the University of San Francisco, looks forward to returning
"Humboldt's fest has always been known as
a haven for more experimental work," she said. "This
is a good thing, as so many festivals these days seem to overwhelmed
by cookie-cutter approaches to narrative filmmaking."
She likes to push the viewer film experiences beyond
traditional boundaries, regularly wowing film audiences in the
Bay Area with works best described as off the wall, or off the
side of buildings, or off whatever surface is convenient.
Stone showed one flick on the side of a hill, relying
on a carpet of white flowers and a big dose of flour as the screen.
Another took viewers on a surreal, back-to-the-future tour of
San Francisco's Market Street, ending with a shot of the Ferry
Building from the same perspective as the audience that was watching
Perhaps her most ambitious project, The California
Tour, an odd collection of amateur films, archive footage, experimental
works, sing-alongs and bingo games, paid homage to the nearly
extinct American tradition of drive-in theaters, and played on
many of the remaining outdoor screens in the state.
"Growing up in Humboldt County is what inspired
me to do the California Tour," said Stone, who fondly recalls
her visits to the Midway Drive-in between Arcata and Eureka.
"I remember going there when I was a [teenager.]
Sneaking in, making out. Where do [high-school kids] go now for
that kind of play? The backdrop of the huge images flickering
was magical. Someone should buy the place and turn it into a
huge alternative paradise. It feels good to be outside watching
The other judges live in Portland, Ore., a rising
star in the experimental film, music and art scene.
"There is definitely a lot of stuff going
on up here. I think that Portland has become the new San Francisco,
the town that young artists from around the country move to,"
said McCormick, one of the most respected experimental filmmakers
in the country.
His documentaries are often non-narrative, a polite
way of saying there is absolutely no plot or rational theme.
Brilliant, absurd and funny, his works have combined
found footage with a modern voiceover to chronicle the heartbreak
of a man in a polar bear suit; stared unblinkingly at a tugboat
until it fades into abstract oblivion; and stitched together
1970s TV commercials to create a disaster epic about advertising.
In The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal,
McCormick wryly makes the case that city workers employed to
paint over urban graffiti are themselves artists, comparing their
cover jobs to such abstract masters as James Rothko.
Renwick, a self-described cinematic "rabble
rouser," has made documentaries that zoom in on a home birth,
showcase freeway paintings by a Greek artist and watch a yard
art installation grow over time.
When she turns the camera on herself, she is no
less probing. One short enlists flaming tampons and Molotov cocktails
to dramatize her suffering with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Another
puts blurry focus on her feet as she recalls going shoeless for
"The Earth feels really good no matter what
it is covered in," she said.
Renwick has nothing but praise for the student
organizers of the festival, whom she described as quite accommodating
on the subject of a special friend, who will serve as an unofficial
"They were into me bringing my dog, Jack.
He's seen a lot of films and knows what's up," she said.
FILM FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Monday, April 3. Chuck Hudina leads a workshop
including the use of multiple projectors at 2 pm, and presents
a selection of his own films at 7 pm. www.chuckhudina.com
Tuesday, April 4. Matt McCormick leads a
workshop focusing on self-distribution for the independent filmmaker
at 2 pm, and presents a selection of his own films at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 5. Vanessa Renwick leads
a workshop focusing on the ethical dilemmas of documentary filmmaking
at 2 pm, and presents a selection of her own films at 7 p.m.
Thursday, April 6. Melinda Stone leads a
workshop focusing on travelling cinema at 2 pm, and hosts a discussion
about the filmmaking process while presenting a selection of
her own films at 7 p.m. sites.cca.edu/curatingarchive/archives/000135.html
Friday, April 7. Peoples Choice Night I
at the Minor Theatre: 7-9 p.m. Peoples Choice Night II at the
Minor Theatre: 9-11 p.m. (Favorites of the screening committee)
Saturday, April 8. Best of the Fest I at
the Minor Theatre: 7-9 p.m. Best of the Fest II at the Minor
Theatre: 9-11 p.m. (Official award winners from the judges)
All workshops are in Room 117 of the HSU Theater
Arts building. Admission is free. All films screen at the Minor
Theatre in Arcata. Admission is $7.25 ($6.25 with Humboldt State
ID, $5.25 for seniors and children). For more info call (707)
826-4113 or visit humboldt.edu/~filmfest.
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