I was going to write something about this a long time ago, and then I never really got around to it. Such is life at a hurry-up-and-wait job: plenty of time to do something on the side, but never enough of a guaranteed stretch to avoid breaking the flow.
A few weeks ago, Nate Young and I went to an expositional screening of films from TIE, the International Experimental Film Festival that accompanies Telluride each year. This collection was their anniversary reels, a catalogue of highlights from the past 7 years of the festival. It also included a couple premieres, including a film from South America that had been intentionally water damaged, resulting in beautiful coloring.
It was an incredibly rainy night — pouring, really — and at times during the screening, during silently screen reels or during the deliberate stretches of leader placed between films to give the viewers time to process the imagery, the rain on the metal roof of the theater offered a texture to the viewing that was irreplaceably special.
Though all of the films did something for me in one way or another, upon reflection, I’ll bring up the ones that really hit hard. There was a beautifully ambient documentary called Den of Tigers, shot in India. The interplay of sound and image is very nice — it is non-sync, with resonances occuring naturally, never too deliberately. It fit very much into my ideal of experimental documentary — a film that transports you in either time, place, or both, gives you some explanation/informantion, but mostly just sends you into another world. Beautiful. Aesthetically, it was often like a well-shot travel home-movie; it was truly the editing and the soundtrack that brought it to a higher level of being.
The program included a Martin Arnold film (Passage a l’Acte) that I saw the first or second week of film production classes with Leslie Thornton, the screening that made me want an optical printer like it was nobody’s business. This film takes a tiny clip from an old sixties film — a scene at the breakfast table where the kids are about to leave for school — and incessantly plays with its frames, repeating anywhere from a few to one frame several times in a row, then slipping to a set-up a few frames later and pursuing a variation on the effect. Hypnotic, funny, and all done on film. Amazing.
Alpsee, another Austrian film, made me write the note “film your childhood” on my program. Highly psychosocial, color-coded, and with the kind of attention to detail that once again just transports you into another place, another perspective.
My favorite film of the night by far was A Fall Trip Home by Nathan Dorsky. This one layered imagery of leaves and forests, football games and cheerleaders, a family in the yard — all interlaced in varying ways on top of each other, all to a low and sparse pan-flute soundtrack. It was unbelievable. Slow and beautiful. It really did move me to tears, with the sound of the rain on the roof only heightening this effect. I couldn’t shake this imagery out of my mind for days afterward — I made my entry to the Middle of Nowhere Film Festival based on seeing this film — and I would love to see it again. It could have gone on far longer than it did; it was just so lovely.
The last piece in the program was The Dante Quartet by Stan Brakhage. For this, he painted on IMAX — 70mm film — and we saw a 35mm print. This is the kind of stuff you just can’t rent the DVD for, and seeing it on screen, projected was quite an experience.
Which brings me, finally, to the TIE manifesto: FILM ONLY. It says on their website:
For over 100 years, film has been the standard that other mediums have striven to achieve. Unlike it’s electronic contemporaries, the finer nuances of the format have remained unchanged. Film speaks a language all its own, and when combined with an artist’s vision, images are given a life that only film can provide. In a world dominated by new moving image technologies, when we see film, we know we are taking a special voyage.
And they’re right. It is special to be in the presence of projected film. I felt that instantly when I was in the theater, and was intensely reminded of it the next day when I began my digital editing. It is not the same to work with video. Practical, yes. But more than anything, I left the screening with a drive to shoot on film again, to force myself to deal with the cost. I’m now also on the lookout for a Steenbeck flatbed editing table.