The sixth annual Chicago Underground Film Festival runs Friday through Thursday, August 13 through 19, at the Village, 1548 N. Clark. Tickets for most programs are $6; a $25 pass will admit you to five regular programs, and a $75 pass will admit you to all festival screenings and events. For more information call 773-866-8660. Films marked with a 4 are highly recommended.


Amerikan Passport

In early 1989, 23-year-old film student Reed Paget embarked on a trip to see the ancient wonders of the world but got sidetracked after filming the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Over the next year or so, by accident or design, he traveled to hot spots around the globe–Cambodia, Nicaragua, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Moscow–and documented political crises as they unfolded. In his narration Paget frames this 1998 journal as an ideological debate with his grandfather, an oil man in China during the 40s who helped U.S. intelligence in its efforts against Mao. Yet Paget’s rather naive knee-jerk liberalism betrays a shallow understanding of the countries he briefly visited, and his swaggering self-importance (hey, I’m an eyewitness to history!) gets in the way during interviews. The pictures, edited from more then 50 hours of footage, are far more eloquent than his rambling commentary–in particular the dead bodies documented after the Tiananmen massacre. (TS) On the same program, Billy’s Balloon, an animation by Don Hertzfeldt. (7:00 and 9:00)


Bury Me in Kern County

A working-class girl holds up a liquor store to bail her boyfriend out of jail and pay for his mother’s funeral. Julian Nitzberg directed this 1998 feaure, described as “a black comedy with a nod to the Coen brothers.” (1:00)

Yes, Ms. Davis! A Vaginal Creme Davis Retrospective

Six whacked-out videos from drag queen and punk rocker Vaginal Creme Davis. She’s credited with directing only some of them, but all six are shaped by her personality: loud, rude, crude, and hysterically goofy to a point that well exceeds self-parody. She helps her friend Fertile LaToyah Jackson deliver “eleventuplets” in That Fertile Feeling and portrays Dorothy Parker in Dot, complete with such witticisms as “I never give a bad review to a premature ejaculator.” Perhaps the most interesting is the enigmatic and heterogeneous The White to Be Angry, in which, watching TV with some apparently racist punks, we see short vignettes ostensibly by Woody Allen, Bruce LaBruce, and others. (FC) On the same program: Live Action Murder, VooDoo Williamson–The Dona of Dance, and Designy Living. (1:30)

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Melvin Van Peebles’s 1971 independent film touched off a wave of imitative black features, few of which shared Van Peebles’s startling originality and fierce attack. The story of a male “performer” at a ghetto bordello and his run from the law, the film is a shrewd and powerful mix of commercial ingredients and ideological intent. (DK) (2:30)

4 Delights, Depravity, and Delirium

This program of animated and experimental shorts isn’t very consistent, but two superb entries make it well worth seeing. In Jim Trainor’s fanciful The Bats, a bat that died in 1361 tells us about its life in voice-over while Trainor illustrates with simple but suggestive line drawings. Avoiding the prepackaged cuteness of so much animal animation, the creatures–most of them hanging upside down–evoke an almost magical world we can never fully comprehend (“Every time I defecated my mother would lick my anus”). In The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase, Carey Burtt tells the true story of a cannibalistic serial killer, using a densely woven mix of drawings, animated dolls and cutouts, and live-action shots. The film’s antiliteralism is a wonderful rebuke to our glut of graphically violent movies: when Chase’s parents argue, cutout jaws move in front of a doll representing Chase, and when the narrator tells us that Chase killed a dog, Burtt shows us a live dog without simulating its death. These representational shifts are pleasurable to watch, but they also critique illusionistic violence: Burtt’s playful depiction of the gruesome story encourages us to think about it rather than wallow in it. The four Martha Colburn films on the program were not available for preview, but her work is eccentric and fascinating in both style and theme. (FC) On the same program, films by Adam Cohen, Jeff Koone, Mike Mitchell, Simon Tarr, Eron Sheehan, Emerson Balla, Lee Lanier, Robert Banks, Olivier Boulanger and Martin Koscielniak, and Andrew Jeffrey Wright and Clare E. Rojas. (3:00)

Distorted Reality

The title gives you a good sense of what you won’t find in this program of mostly excellent experimental videos–realistic, representational imagery. In the best of them, 60Hz by Gene Ertel, James Woodfill, and John Sjoblom, kinetic installations–a spinning disk, a swinging lightbulb–produce repetitive but evocative light patterns that complement the slow trance music. Brian Trecka’s Movement is a lovely, gentle study of abstract colors and animated dolls. In Miranda July’s The Amateurist one woman seems to control the poses of another who’s seen on a video monitor; both are played by July. Filmed in supple black-and-white eight-millimeter, Paul Tarrago’s Human Error in the Mechanical Age is a cryptic narrative that includes the shooting of a toy dog. In Spank, Diane Nerwen manipulates a very short clip of a little girl getting spanked, distending the tiniest moments, her repetitions creating a strong metaphor for the characters’ entrapment in their roles. On the same program: Bryan Boyce’s witty Special Report and Jennifer Reeder’s Nevermind, which turns Nirvana into endless drone music. (FC) (3:30)

Classified X

Mark Daniels directed this 1997 video of militant filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles (best known for 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) delivering a polemic on racism in Hollywood cinema. Clips from old films (a string of submissive characters saying things like “yes’m”) are cut together rapidly to illustrate Van Peebles’s argument, and while the clips are often taken out of context, the confrontational energy of these sequences is appropriate to Van Peebles’s point: that “our minds have been colonized” by Hollywood’s humiliating stereotypes of African-Americans. Van Peebles also presents an engaging analysis of the subtler racism pervading current films. (FC) (4:30)

The Love Machine

Smug and rancorous, Gordon Eriksen’s mockumentary about East Village residents who use an on-line dating service lacks the soul of Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer (1961), the trailblazing French documentary on which it’s modeled. Becca (Marlene Forte), an investigative reporter and one-woman morality brigade, hunts down some of the site’s pseudonymous users and confronts them with their fibs and sexual fantasies; clearly her agenda’s not journalistic, but Eriksen’s script never explains what she’s after or why all but one of her quarries are black, Latino, or Japanese. Some of her interrogations are natural and hilariously candid, but most of them seem forced; Eriksen settles for cheap laughs at the characters’ embarrassment rather than insight into their desperate need for sex or companionship. (TS) (5:00)

4 The Target Shoots First

Christopher Wilcha’s fascinating feature-length video reminds us how seldom we’re allowed to see certain businesses operating from the inside. Wilcha, a 22-year-old college graduate and alternative-rock enthusiast, was hired by the Columbia Record and Tape Club–apparently as a fluke–to help launch a whole new niche-marketing division, which brought him face-to-face with the contradictory meanings of the term alternative once it’s been embraced by the mass market. He brought his video camera to work every day, and what emerges are selective glimpses of–and thoughtful reflections on–his extended stint with the company. He notes the mythological and practical differences between various floors of the company’s Manhattan headquarters and shows what happens at the national headquarters elsewhere; he describes how the club’s guide is written and edited, how changes in staff affect his own peace of mind, and how certain people behave at parties and staff meetings. This is a good deal better than your typical 60 Minutes segment, registering as autobiography as well as investigative reporting, and Wilcha’s wry intelligence kept me glued to the screen. (JR) (5:30)

The Acid House

British documentarian Paul McGuigan makes his dramatic debut with this taut trilogy of stories by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting), set in the bleak workers’ precincts of Edinburgh. In “A Soft Touch” a meek young grocer (Kevin McKidd) is forced into marriage and then cuckolded by his brazen wife; McGuigan and his actors effectively convey the frustration and pathos of life in the tenements, where people are condemned to repeat their mistakes. Realism gives way to surrealism halfway through “The Granton Star Cause,” when God turns a soccer-crazy slacker into a fly so he can wreak vengeance on those who’ve betrayed him. It’s a parable of sorts, exposing the working class for all its crudity, selfishness, and kinky sex; with his cinema verite instincts, McGuigan zeroes in on telling gestures and verbal jousts, making us care about an insignificant life that ends abruptly and ironically. All three stories are visually striking, creating claustrophobic spaces and noting hints of color amid the drabness, but “The Acid House” is dizzyingly inventive as it replicates the highs and lows of LSD. A tripping raver named Coco reverts to infancy as his mind is transferred to the body of a middle-class couple’s newborn baby, and what follows is a heady farce about class differences and pretensions, highlighted by the baby’s lust and foul slang. It’s MTV meets Merchant-Ivory, at once manneristic, hallucinatory, and exhilarating. (TS) (6:30 and 10:30)

Close Up: Films From the Avant-Garde

Patrick Friel of Chicago Filmmakers curated this thought-provoking program of films–most of them excellent–that makes us more conscious of the viewing process. The strongest and weirdest is Brian Frye’s The Anatomy of Melancholy: huddled figures mouth fragments of dialogue, apparently rehearsing for a play, until images that seemed stilted and static become powerfully iconic, almost frightening. Michael Johnsen divides Surds/Turds into 18 short sections, playfully exploring the suggestive possibilities of rephotographing graphic imagery. In Test, Kerry Laitala refilms a multiple-choice test (perhaps from a filmstrip), the torrent of images mocking the haste we bring to such exercises. In Luis Recoder’s Bare Strip, a fragmentary image of a nude woman appears on the right of the frame, while the remainder is taken up by blank space and sprocket holes, forcing on us a voyeurism that’s never quite satisfied. Julie Murray’s New York by Night and Elizabeth Powers’s Untitled 1998 each show a grid of four images, two of them upside down, which filmmakers will recognize as “unslit regular eight-millimeter”; the format creates a tension between the subject matter and our awareness of the medium’s physicality. (FC) On the same program: Aaron Scott’s Ambulo, Ellen Smithee’s Oona’s Screen Test, Scott Stark’s Back in the Saddle Again, and Stephanie Barber’s Shipfilm and A Little Present. (7:00)

Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes

Fans of the famed porn star, who died of AIDS in 1988, will want to catch this exhaustive 1998 video biography. Holmes fabricated much of his life story–he and his agent propagated the tale that he also worked as a high-priced gigolo–but filmmaker Cass Paley documents his escape from an abusive stepfather, his years in the service, and his mundane life before starting in “the business.” The interview subjects complete each other’s sentences and contradict each other, often via montage; the people who knew Holmes seem to have entirely contradictory memories, his second wife expressing affection while others recall having to free her after Holmes left her tied up. In the end Holmes seems like a typical cocaine addict, following a downhill path into crime, and most agree that only his mammoth schlong (seen but briefly in the film) made him notable–perhaps the saddest fact of all. (FC) (7:30)

Better Living Through Circuitry

Jon Reiss, who’s created music videos for Nine Inch Nails, assembled this video guide to the techno/rave scene. Interviews with rave culturati from both sides of the Atlantic–DJ Spooky, Roni Size, Moby, Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flur, and the bands Electric Skychurch and Crystal Method–stress techno’s delirious tribalism, which is illustrated by scenes of revelers gyrating in industrial warehouses and in the California desert. Reiss also gives ample screen time to fans and nonperforming scenesters, from rabid promoters to people who design flyers, and neither the infomercial moments (gee whiz, even the Dalai Lama endorses the “spirituality” of rave) nor the extended antidrug message can cheapen their conspiratorial passion. True to the spirit of techno, the whole thing was filmed on a Sony digicam, cheaply edited on a Power Mac, and then blown up to 35-millimeter; it’s as slick as anything you might find on the Discovery Channel, and the snippets of 3-D computer animation are too cool for words. (TS) (8:30)

Red, White & Yellow

Marshall Dostall and Mark Littman directed this 1998 documentary about Ed “the Animal” Kratchie, who in 1997 sought to reclaim his title as world hot-dog-eating champion from Hirofumi Kakajimi of Japan. (9:00)

Disturbing Behavior

Experimental videos by Mark Hejnar, Mark Haren, Jason K. Huddy, John Cook Fletcher, Gary Mrowca, and Mitch Davis. (9:30)

Queasy, Uneasy Feelings

Short films by Frazer Lee, Geoffrey Chadwick, Dennison Ramalho, Branan Edgens, and Stacy Collerette. (11:00)

Shabondama Elegy

A hood running from the cops and the mob shacks up with a young woman who’s been sexually abused by her father. Director Ian Kerkhof creates a scrambled and highly synthetic space in this digital video shot in Tokyo: not only is the editing disjunctive, but as the woman watches TV, images of her intermix with those on the tube, while in other scenes digital effects posterize the colors, turning supple skin into pools of solid hues. The story is so disjointed and minimal that it’s hard to care at all about the characters, but the rotating camera and other devices used during the many sex scenes intensify their eroticism and capture the couple’s uncontrolled passion. (FC) (11:30)



Two pet-supply salesmen conspire against a third in a dark comedy that’s subtler than some of its components–which include shots of animals preying on or having sex with one another inserted among scenes of human characters doing the same things. The persuasive detailing of the work habits of the salesmen, pet-store owners, and warehouse employees, as well as the relationships of three characters affected by an extramarital affair, make what might initially seem like unfiltered autobiography into low-key funny drama, just provocative enough to be more than merely ironic. Directed by Brien Burroughs. (LA) (1:00)

The Trouble With Perpetual Deja Vu

The title may refer to some aspect of the story, but this Gen X drama generates some deja vu of its own: its plot can be found in scores of Hollywood melodramas from the 40s and 50s. Danielle lives on Cape Cod with her eccentric, ex-flower-child mother and her formerly punkish husband, who’s now a small-time real estate agent. She goes off to party regularly and has an affair with a former classmate, but when the question of whether she’ll leave her husband is finally broached, I didn’t much care. The characters exude a studied ennui made blander by the repetitive disco-ish music; director Todd Verow uses digital video with some success–the cape in winter is suitably drab–but the handheld camera often seems busy and ill controlled, distracting from the action rather than bringing it to life. (FC) (1:30)

Classified X

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (2:30)

Strange Hunger

Short films by Steve Collins, Jim Turner, Sheron Johnson, Eric Cheevers, Daniel Deloach, and Scott Edenstein and Eric Normington. (3:00)

London Brief

Lately veteran filmmaker Jon Jost has been advocating digital video as a cheap alternative to celluloid: this 90-minute portrait of urban life (1998) cost him only about $1,000. Its vision of London is both mesmerizing and alienating, the handheld camera searching for meaning and finding only patterns. Anonymous travelers enter and leave the frame, their personalities reduced to facial quirks; objects at art exhibitions offer nothing but empty repetition. Someone wearing a virtual reality helmet jerks his head back and forth, responding to stimuli we can’t see, and the city seems to control its inhabitants the same way–like Jost’s camera, they can only respond to the stimuli surrounding them. Most of the imagery is slowed down so that it appears as a rapid series of stills, a mechanized way of seeing that parallels the film’s theme. (FC) (3:30)

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (4:30)

Crashing Illusions

A program of documentary and experimental films. Thomas Gosser’s Ingredients is one of the strongest first films I’ve ever seen. Given a class assignment to make his own movie camera out of ordinary materials, Gosser built a box whose imperfect functioning becomes a key element in the film. He balances jittery, suggestive imagery of a city at night against printed titles that list all the “ingredients” used to make the film, and the disparity between the image and the text reminded me of the way Jasper Johns uses words in his paintings: language that appears simple becomes mysterious, almost mute. In My Father’s Story, filmmaker Mary Kocol interviews her father about his years in Poland during World War II. The subject matter has become overly familiar, but the voice-over is brought to life with still photographs presented in layered fragments as if they’re assembled out of pieces, a visual technique that mimicks the additive process of remembering. In Mind’s Eye Gregory Godhard also explores subjectivity through still photographs, his camera entering and moving around in the space of each; the film is fun to watch but a little gimmicky. Jeff Scher’s Bang Bang is a provocative flicker film of rapidly intercut Rorschach inkblots, but like his other two contributions–Sid and the lovely color abstraction Turkish Traffic–it’s diminished by its cute music track. Vivien Dybal’s Sabina, about a would-be actress who suffers from kidney failure, and Eva S. Aridjis’s Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life take banal approaches to unusual subjects. On the same program: Jon Moritsugu’s CRACK, Chel White’s Dirt, Nicole Koschmann’s Fishing for Brad, and Judith Doyle’s The Last Split Second. (FC) (5:00)

Domestic Vileness

Animated and experimental short videos by Everett Downing, Gritt Uldall-Jessen, Jeff Warmouth, Mr. Means, Niklaus Schlumpf, and Jennifer and Amber Cluck. (5:30)

Cleopatra’s Second Husband

It’s an old story–home invasion causes one member of a couple to reevaluate the relationship–but this watchable 1998 psychothriller deflects its cliches with canted angles, metonymic cropping, and a creeping pace, making it as much a parsing of Twilight Zone-brand irony as an example of it. Written and directed by Jon Reiss; with Paul Hipp, Boyd Kestner, Bitty Schram, and Radha Mitchell (High Art). (LA) (6:30)


Peter Calvin’s first feature is a melange of metaphysical riffs on action and the unconscious, loosely held together by a narrative about four friends afflicted with different sleep disorders. A soothing voice-over quotes from Nietzsche, Raymond Carver, and scientific research findings, but the film’s disjointed sequences and intertitles don’t always amplify the quotes, and while some of the verbal allusions are startling, others seem far-fetched and pretentious. Calvin’s imagery alternately recalls Jon Jost’s mundane poetry, Jon Moritsugu’s punk insouciance, and Wim Wenders’s rhapsodic feel for urban landscape (in this case Los Angeles); the visual jumble deepens the mystery of the characters’ odd nocturnal behavior but perhaps also shows an impressionable director groping for his own style. (TS) (7:00)


Ben Berkowitz and Ben Redgrave directed this work in progress, the story of two young men whose friendship is affected by their shifting ideas about romantic love. (7:30)

Better Living Through Circuitry

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (8:30)

Spoof and Goofs

Short films, many of them satiric, by Mike Wellins, Bill Plympton, Amie Steir, Danny Plotnick, Todd Korgan, Stephen Dooher, and Huck Botko. (9:00)

World Wide Weird

Un Ga Nai (Bad Luck), a 40-minute video about Japanese disasters, was shot in 1995, the year of the Kobe earthquake and the subway nerve-gas murders. A rambling, sometimes poetic meditation on catastrophe and our preparations for it, the video creates a powerful feeling of dread, as if every shot shows a world at death’s edge. Yet filmmakers Christoph Draeger, Martin Frei, and Thomas Thumena fail to make important moral distinctions, treating man-made calamities such as the bombing of Hiroshima and the fish poisonings off Minamata as if they were natural events. Sophie Fiennes and Shari Roman’s Lars From 1-10 is a short about Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves) and the filmmaking principles of the “Dogme 95” manifesto, with film clips and interviews in which von Trier defends its rules as arbitrary but useful self-limitations. On the same program: Birgitta Hosea’s Virus, Jennet Thomas’s Important Toy, and Paul Marcus’s Clotheshorse, an intriguingly weird fashion show displaying the work of Chicagoan Matthew Owens. (FC) (9:30)

The Last Days of May

George Spyros directed this 1998 dramatic feature about a divorced woman trying to care for her mentally ill daughter. (10:30)


Music, Dancing, and a Really Sick Cartoon

The really sick cartoon is John Morgan Curtis’s Commander Tongue and Best Friend Vaj. The rest of this short video program collects work by Peter Sluszka, Tamara Federici, Mark Hejnar, Usama Alshaibi, Andy Spletzer, Doug Lushness, Kate Schultz, and Sarah Jacobson and Sam Green. (5:00)

The Last Days of May

See listing for Sunday, August 15. (5:30)

Delights, Depravity, and Delirium

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (6:00)

The Gods of Times Square

This video documentary focuses on the street preachers who inhabit Times Square, but it also includes porn lovers, beggars, and a homeless man who says he’s having a “scientific experience” of the unity of all things. Among the zealots are “Hebrew Israelites” (African-Americans who claim to be the only true Jews), a man carrying a giant picture of Marilyn Monroe, and one visionary who proclaims Mickey Mouse the Antichrist. Director Richard Sandler has an excellent eye for contradiction, using zooms and editing to locate the preachers in their garish environment of news tickers and underwear ads; his handheld camera skews the images and bobs as he walks, giving a good feel for the area’s lively rhythms and the marginal status of his subjects. (FC) On the same program, Sin City Stopless, a two-minute short by Richard Less and Johnny Letreen. (7:00)

Night Train

Les Bernstien’s existential 1998 thriller evokes 50s film noir even as it giddily fulfills the criteria for an underground item; with its seedy milieu, scummy characters, and deliberately patchy narrative, it’s clearly the work of a febrile imagination with no budget. Joe Butcher, a gruff loser played by paunchy John Voldstad, crosses the border to Tijuana searching for a bag of greenbacks and a brother who sells snuff films, and his sordid nightmare journey brings him in contact with a Mexican spitfire, a grizzled drunk, a villainous dwarf, and an obese sexpot. Bernstien, a Hollywood visual-effects veteran, goes after the visceral sensations of life in a lawless border town, with helter-skelter camera angles and frenzied montages. The press materials for this impressive debut call it a grade-Z Touch of Evil, but it’s closer to Edgar G. Ulmer (Murder Is My Beat) in its unconventional ingenuity. (TS) (7:30)

Bury Me in Kern County

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (8:00)


The title stands for “New York hardcore,” and this video documentary by Frank Pavich offers a comprehensive look at the city’s underground music scene, from its origins in punk to the present. There’s much concert footage of bands like Crown of Thornz, 25 Ta Life, and District 9–with subtitles for the screamed lyrics–but with so much leaping about and shedding of clothes it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the performers from the audience. The fans and musicians interviewed stress that hardcore is a lifestyle (which is already evident from their tattoos and piercings) and describe their difficult family lives, their mundane day jobs, and the injuries they’ve sustained in concerts. Most decry commercialism and the homogenized values of franchised America, but Pavich’s style is utterly mainstream: his pans, zooms, and talking heads convey the movement’s energy but hardly amount to a new way of seeing. (FC) (9:00)

Cleopatra’s Second Husband

See listing for Sunday, August 15. (9:30)


See listing for Sunday, August 15. (10:00)


More Songs About Toys and Food

In Street Service, a 29-minute video by Christopher Combs, a crew of waiters persuade pedestrians to buy drinks or even dinner, serving one couple an elegant meal at a table set up on a sidewalk. The men’s room is an alley, but when the man is done peeing, a fancy attendant appears with an electric razor. The videography and editing is sometimes formulaic, and it’s not clear whether Combs has some metaphor in mind or is just trying to be strange. Shawn Durr’s 32-minute video Meat Fucker pairs a closeted gay man with his meat-loving roommate; the closet case is openly vegetarian but secretly jerks off in a tub full of hot dogs, while the roommate pours meat sauces all over himself and his girlfriend before fucking. The film’s ending, in which the repressed man begins to passionately kiss his roommate, doubles as a campy homage to Kenneth Anger’s early gay classic Fireworks. Also showing are Todd Lincoln’s adolescent comedy Xavier and Danny Plotnick’s subadolescent story of a sock puppet, I, Socky. (FC) (5:00)

Night Train

See listing for Monday, August 16. (5:30)

Queasy, Uneasy Feelings

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (6:00)

Hill Stomp Hollar

Mississippi blues seems to be alive and well, judging from Bradley Beesley’s video documentary on Fat Possum Records. The camera work and editing are indifferent, but bland technique can’t hide the spirit of musicians like R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, and Cedell Davis, captured in terse bits of dialogue and generous performance sequences of their deeply felt, relatively uncommercial music. Davis, crippled by polio as a boy, plays with the aid of a table knife in his partially paralyzed hand, yet there’s nothing strained about his performance: his solution is only one example of the way these musicians have incorporated hardship into their playing. (FC) On the same program, Kid Dynamite, a short by Dan Protess. (7:00)


It’s hard to keep in mind that this poignant 1998 feature is the product of craft; part of its gentle documentary style is to use real people to portray versions of themselves. Unai (Unai Fresnedo) is a burnt-out tour manager who ushers American independent bands through Spain. When Come cancels a tour he’s planned, he persuades the poet who was going to open for the band to go on the road with him alone. His thoughtful yet spontaneous-sounding voice-overs–observations about the deterioration of his business and emotional state–set the tone of the economical narrative, whose events, even when they come close to melodrama, seem less contrived than inevitable. Expressive scenery in Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao and the score by Andy Diagram and Richard Harrison (Spaceheads) provide context for our emotions without manipulating them. This is the second film by writer-directors Suki Stetson Hawley, who also edited, and Michael Galinsky, who was also director of photography; their first was Half-Cocked (1994). (LA) (7:30)

American Chain Gang

Xachary Irving’s hour-long 1998 documentary looks at the chain gang, a form of prison labor instituted after the Civil War, abolished in the 1960s for its inhumanity, but revived in the mid-90s as a punishment for repeat offenders. Interviews with inmates, guards, sheriffs, and civil-rights advocates are intercut with footage of a male chain gang in Alabama and a female gang in Arizona. Irving aims for a balanced view of what one official calls the “alternative thinking unit,” but the subject cries out for an in-depth exploration of cultural politics; this well-photographed talkfest is like an episode of Cops without the shock value. (TS) On the same program, E.J. Lockett’s half-hour film Endangered Species. (8:00)

Wacky White Boys

Short videos by Webster Colcord, Jason Walker, Allen Vee Goss, Bob Judd, Jan Dowjat, Huck Botko, and Arthur Bradford. (9:00)

The Eden Myth

Mark Edlitz’s chamber melodrama about a family harboring a dark secret starts off promisingly, with an air of decadent mystery. The characters–reclusive parents cooped up in a mansion with their four visiting children–speak in Mamet-like cadences while sorting out their yearnings and half-concealed motives. But once the skeleton’s out of the closet, the story bogs down in grotesque, implausible events, and the somnambulant acting is relieved only by Zohra Lampert, who, as the put-upon mother, deploys an impressive arsenal of facial tics. The spooky atmosphere is much abetted by the hypnotic Philip Glass score. (TS) (9:30)


See listing for Sunday, August 15. (10:00)


Destination Damnation

Short films and videos by Nick Zedd, Terry Rothstein, Eric Brummer, SMX, and Lisa Hammer and Ben Edlund. (5:00)

The Eden Myth

See listing for Tuesday, August 17. (5:30)

Red, White & Yellow

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (6:00)

The Trouble With Perpetual Deja Vu

See listing for Sunday, August 15. (7:00)

Perfect Blue

Mima, a Tokyo pop star who believes she’s being stalked, is easier to identify with than many cartoon characters, perhaps because her experiences are often depicted with detailed point-of-view shots. These get more and more hallucinatory as she becomes fascinated and terrified by a phantasmagorical alter ego, the purported author of a Web page that presents her daily life for public consumption. This engrossing animated thriller somehow displays realist gore, nudity, and sexual violence in a tone not too far from that of a children’s adventure; its innocence stems in part from the convincing naivete of the heroine: Mima mostly refrains from discussing her concerns about her sanity with the other characters, saving them instead for a voice-over that encourages us to patronize her even as we share her psychosis. The Mobius strip narrative is suspenseful but perhaps less scary as a result. Satoshi Kon directed Sadayuki Murai’s screenplay, which was based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. (LA) (7:30)

My Friend Paul

In making a movie about his childhood friend Paul–a bank robber who was released from prison during the filming of this one-hour documentary–Jonathan Berman actually makes a movie about himself. At loose ends when he learned Paul was incarcerated, Berman decided to jump-start his career by trying to link Paul’s dramatic life as an adult with experiences they’d shared growing up on Long Island: eight-millimeter movies made when the two were boys feature Paul as a doomed, gun-toting character. Even as he chronicles Paul’s difficulty readjusting to freedom, Berman portrays with rare honesty his own ambivalence about exploiting his friend. (LA) On the same program, Nathaniel Geary’s short Keys to Kingdoms. (8:00)

Summer Love–The Documentary

Three videos about raves. The longest, Summer Love (The Documentary), by Mike Andaluz, Joely Collins, and Al Flett, documents an outdoor rave in Canada. Promoters and participants tell us which drugs to take and which to avoid, explain that raves began in the gay community, and claim that “rave” comes from “raving queen.” But there’s too much footage of talking heads and not enough of the actual party, and while the various hats, clothes, and hairstyles are fascinating, the video never quite comes together. Much better is Jimmy Mazzulla’s Liquids, in which flashing lights, frames within frames, and manipulated imagery give an excellent sense not only of the dancers’ rhythms but of the deadening effect of an all-night party. Michael Lee’s Weekend in Sarejevo is interesting mostly for its footage of the war-ruined city and the partygoers who travel there. (FC) (9:00)


See listing for Tuesday, August 17. (9:30)

The Love Machine

See listing for Saturday, August 14. (10:00)


They’re Out to Get You

Malevolent mechanization links these short videos from the U.S., Europe, and Australia. In Bogumik Godfrejow’s Cameraman human eyes are replaced by camera lenses; in Nat Eaton and Sean Gilligan’s Shut In, a man chops off his fingers but they magically regenerate; and in one image of Davide Grassi and Simon Oblescak’s Nuclear Body, a body being prepared for a medical scan seems to dissolve. In David Krohn’s bleak but humorous Paranoid Fantasy #1, the U.S. Treasury offers a self-test for insanity, while in David Foss’s 47Hz, machines have taken over completely, to the point of giving birth. One of the strongest entries is panOptic’s Csoda Pok (Wonder Spider), which uses old avant-garde techniques like flicker and geometrical patterning to suggest mind control. (FC) On the same program, films by Robert Ellman and Matthew T. (5:00)

Perfect Blue

See listing for Wednesday, August 18. (5:30)

American Chain Gang

See listing for Tuesday, August 17. (6:00)

Did I Need to Know That?

Jeff Krulik and Diane Bernard’s 15-minute video I Created Lancelot Link, the second-longest short on this program, intersperses loosely structured interviews with writer-producers Stan Burns and Mike Marmer with clips from their 70s TV show Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, which featured nattily dressed chimpanzees “acting” in mod adventures. The kitsch value of the subject matter–especially in clips of the simian psychedelic band Evolution Revolution–is high, but it’s no substitute for filmmaking. Even before one of the interviewees explains that a knickknack on his coffee table has been glued there to prevent earthquake damage, the notion that kitsch is inherently fascinating has been debunked. (LA) On the same program, films by Julie Pham, David Schmoeller, George Kuchar, RTMark, and Arthur Bradford. (7:00)


This 1998 metathriller, about Melbourne detectives investigating serial killings, makes reverent references to TV’s Homicide, which it rivals with the complexity of its characterizations as well as its evocative use of pop music and disorienting camera work. Hard yet vulnerable Detective Wilson (Belinda McClory) sublimates her horror at the grisly murders and her intense feelings for her partner into effective police work, despite the apparent apathy of her colleagues–including one detective whose opportunistic intimidation of petty criminals comes to seem almost justified by his pain and loneliness. Written and directed by Jon Hewitt; with John Brumpton. (LA) (7:30 and 9:30)

My Friend Paul

See listing for Wednesday, August 18. (8:00)