The 8 Fest: a short defense of short/small gauge film

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by Jacqueline Valencia

It’s been an amazing week of watching short films. Sometimes I had the opportunity to screen some of these in the comfort of my home for review or interpretation. Occasionally I’d get a comment from a passerby wondering what the hell I was watching. I’d have to add the word “experimental” to my response of “short film” for people to fully grasp the idea that I had taken the time out to watch these films.

Short film is an amazing medium for artists of all kinds to experiment with. While poets express thoughts through eliciting images with words, filmmakers call upon images to provoke thought. A full feature film can be broken down into short films by extracting bits of the techniques used in lighting, sound, angles, sets, and colour. I enjoy short film because the constraint makes the filmmaker or artist buck the trend in what constitutes film.

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Still from Pablo Marin’s Denkbilder

At The 8 Fest, I watched a film by Don Best called I Best, a film made without a camera. Best scratched, typed, and hole punched found live action footage onto coloured processed 35mm film stock. It’s a refreshing discordant experience to watch images pass by that were manipulated by human hands. It was like watching a moving painting. Similarly, Pablo Marin’s Denkbilder takes geographical images and makes collages out of inter-splicing visuals. A speckled sunburst, dots of light breaking into the frames merge alternating compositions. It was reminiscent of seventies new age film footage where serene imagery was interspersed with subversive self help narrative.

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Still from Alisa Berger’s Island Story

Taking bits from the films I watched this week, I am struck with the fact that many little films like this are the basis for groundbreaking work within the giant umbrella of the film genre. We wouldn’t have the groundbreaking pastiche of something like Upstream Color without the collage effect. We wouldn’t have something like Inception without the inter-splicing of visuals to distort a viewer’s sense of time. Alisa Berger’s Island Story (click for the mini-write up on it) has all the elements of a science fiction mini horror film, but because of its length and visuals, it fits better into the short experimental film category.

You wouldn’t have the films you have today without Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Chris Marker, or Man Ray.

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Behind the scenes at The 8 Fest.

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Andrew J. Paterson, co-ordinator extraordonaire.

Film is just another artistic medium. It’s a medium that can be used for propaganda, expression, and narrative, but down to its core, it’s a medium that can transform any thought, idea, or fantasy into a visually rendered art piece by the viewer. Throw interpretation and intention out the window and one finds film to be an experience; a moment. It is with that power in the moment, that I feel that short film and experimental film should be given more exposure, more breath of life of its own. Maybe short film has taken a backseat to the bigger productions and full features because they can be obscure or considered to “out there” for popular consumption. However, while personally observing a full house at the Polish Combatant’s Hall this weekend, there is definitely an interest in the genre.

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The 8 Fest progam.

It’s not just short film that brought me to the fest, but the small gauge aspect of it as well. When was the last time you heard the whirr of a projector in person? When was the last time you sat in a darkened theatre watching the film’s lights pulsate before you as the film reel spooled through the projector’s gears? The organic feel, the hands on manipulations, the genuine love by the filmmakers/artists for their work goes beyond the aesthetic. Short film/small gauge filmmakers and supporters don’t get into the craft for financial reasons, they do it because it is a medium that supports creativity, varied perspectives, investigation, and analysis.  In the overwhelming freedom of computers and CGI, analog methodologies in all mediums warrants exploration because in its constraints it breeds ingenuity and a sharper focus for the details.

What is experimental? What constitutes a short film? What makes a projected image a film? What is avant garde film? What’s avant garde? When was the last time a film fan asked themselves these questions? 

I hope that The 8 Fest continues and that through my exposure to it and places like Wavelengths at TIFF, and the Pleasure Dome, that people will continue to be amazed by the wonders of what people can do with a little reel of film at their disposal. 

(TGOF would like to thank to Stephen Broomer and Andrew J. Paterson for their help.)

************

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* Save Small Gauge Film:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBgK1yeyixY

* Anchorman 3 was Paramounts Final Release On 35mm: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/01/anchorman-2-was-paramounts-final-release-on-35mm-film/

* With 35mm Film Dead, Will Classic Movies Ever Look the Same Again?:   This year, Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s editor for the past 40 years and a three-time Oscar winner, called Grover Crisp, the executive VP of asset management at Sony, for a 35mm print of Scorsese’s 1993 film The Age of Innocence for the director’s private collection.*

“He told me that they can’t print it anymore because Technicolor in Los Angeles no longer prints film,” Schoonmaker recalled. “Which means a film we made 20 years ago can no longer be printed, unless we move it to another lab—one of the few labs still making prints.” (Age of Innocence has since been printed in another lab).

* Short Films of The Week: http://www.shortoftheweek.com/

* The Most Popular Short Films: http://www.imdb.com/search/title?title_type=short

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