The second Select Media Festival, “an exploration of international movements in the digital underground of electronic media,” runs Friday through Wednesday, November 21 through 26, at the Gene Siskel Film Center and at High School, 1542 N. Milwaukee. Tickets are $8, $4 for Film Center members; a $50 pass is good for all screenings. For more information call 312-846-2800 or 773-837-0145. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.


* Product Re-Placements

Hollywood films may never look the same after you’ve seen Steve Seid and Peter Conheim’s 47-minute montage of product placement shots, Value Added Cinema. While it’s no Vertov-level masterpiece, it’s wildly entertaining (more so than many of the films it borrows from) and incisive: the scene of a boy declaring his love for his dad in front of a McDonald’s sign speaks to the debasement of the purest of emotions. “Entertaining” violence is deftly sprinkled throughout (when Superman hurls an opponent into a huge Coca-Cola sign, the product’s name glows brighter) in a way that makes the plugging itself seem violent. (FC) Also on the program, which totals 90 minutes: Knowing Was Half the Battle (2002) by Eric Fensler and Homeland Hoedown, a set of shorts by Jason Archer and Paul Beck. (Gene Siskel Film Center, 8:00)


Baghdad in No Particular Order

This disarming 60-minute video of everyday life in prewar Baghdad was shot by Paul Chan during a sojourn to Iraq in late December and early January, organized by the antiwar group Voices in the Wilderness. His “ambient documentary” records a local cafe, a Sufi poetry performance, a wedding party, a dozing monkey, and a group of middle-aged uniformed women at a military parade who brandish automatic rifles and chant, “Hey thunder, Saddam is your son!” Many Iraqis playfully address the camera, and Chan decenters the perspective by occasionally handing the camera to one of them and by adding allusive female voice-over in six different languages. Also on the program: Energy Country (14 min.), Deborah Stratman’s paranoid study of Texas oil country in wartime. (Bill Stamets) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 3:00)

* The Subversion Agency

Heavily influenced by William S. Burroughs–especially his “Nova” trilogy and Towers Open Fire, his 1963 collaboration with British filmmaker Anthony Balch–this experimental narrative combines black-and-white digital video with stock footage from the Florida Moving Image Archive to conjure a cryptic tale of 1960s international espionage. A jaded arms dealer (Greg Shumann) travels to the socialist K-Zone Republic to participate in a golf tournament for a million-dollar prize; meanwhile a weary operative of the K-Zone’s Subversion Agency (Larry Robinson) ponders the contents of a smoking suitcase found in a field. Their deadpan voice-overs carry the story, marginalizing the dialogue; the sound track burbles with electronic music, audio glitches, signal tones, and other effects. Mark Boswell directed a script by R.M. Flanagan, adapted from Anton Kozlov’s novel El Respubliki K-Zona, but the montage is credited to “Dr. Benway.” 70 min. (JJ) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 4:30)

Digital Video Detournement

After citing William S. Burroughs’s dictum that paranoids are realists, the longest of these six videos on media, Richard Pell’s Don’t Call Me Crazy on the 4th of July, presents the late Bob Lansberry, a Pittsburgh conspiracy theorist who believed the government was practicing mind control. Pell substantiates Lansberry’s claims with evidence of LSD experiments and wartime media manipulation; Lansberry (seen wearing a “Mayor Murphy Stinks” sign) could have been both nuts and right. Electrodist’s intermittently effective Alice in Wonderland, or Who Is Guy Debord? pairs footage from the Disney cartoon with an alternate sound track; Alice’s quest for the help of philosopher Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle) is punctuated by an assaultive TV montage that includes Bush’s aircraft-carrier landing. Also on the program: Knowing Was Half the Battle by Eric Fensler, Rocked by Rape by Evolution Control Committee, TV Cell Phone by Dave Foss, and Strategic Cyber Defense by Daracq Kuracqwold. 80 min. (FC) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 8:15)

Underground Weather Report

Short films and videos by Deborah Stratman, Doug Lussenhop, Eric Fensler, the Goblins, and others. (High School, 8:30)


The Ghost and the Video

Short underground videos. In Ryan Kortman’s Disgeyser a static shot of a pastoral river repeatedly erupts with explosions while a man screams maniacally off camera, a commentary perhaps on our abuse of nature. Kayleen’s On the Brink is an amusing send-up of treacly TV commercials: singing an insipid ditty as they leave grandma and grandpa’s house, a nuclear family is freeze-framed, and their images morph into different shapes and colors. Ann Marie Lanesey’s Getting Off is a clever variation on comic burlesque, as a supine woman, visible from the crotch down, pulls off one pair of stockings after another in tight close-up, accentuating the viewer’s voyeuristic complicity. The program, scheduled to run 90 minutes, also includes work by Tara Mateik, Erik Luken, Diana Joy Parker, K8 Hardy and Wayne Greenwood, and Tumblecat with Team Fagtastic Team Fabtastic. (Joshua Katzman) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 3:15)

Colombian Selection

Experimental shorts by Colombian film and video makers. 64 min. (High School, 4:00)

Friends Forever

American slackerdom is alive and well in this funky but terminally monotonous 2002 video about Friends Forever, a hipster duo from Denver who perform wild drum-and-guitar sets from inside their parked Volkswagen bus. Video maker Ben Wolfinsohn follows them and their female roadie (who assists with the lights, costumes, prerecorded tapes, fog machine, bubble machine, etc) as they tour the west coast on the cheap; a second jaunt takes them to New York to play in front of the Troma Films office. Despite all the ground covered, the kids seem as cloistered as monks, and aside from their 15-minute explosions of rock ‘n’ roll chaos in various parking lots, they have little to say and plenty of time to say it in. 81 min. (JJ) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 5:15)

Resistencia: Hip-hop en Colombia

A British-Colombian documentary (2002, 51 min.) about rappers and DJs, directed by Tom Feiling. Also on the program: Cesar Tapias and German Arango’s 30-minute Colombian short Look at the Things of Palenque–Third Movement. (High School, 6:00)

* Aesthetic Underground

This collection of experimental videos includes at least two superb pieces. Jan van Neunen presents a humorous critique of technology in his visually inventive animation Optimizer Customizer (2002), whose endearing hysteria is tempered by intelligent juxtapositions: identical fruit trees and cows on a platter symbolizing cloning are followed by giant buildings standing for mindless mass production–although their subsequent, explosive destruction triggers some troubling 9/11 resonances. Matthias Fritsch’s Buscam No. 2 (2002) shows a highway traveled by ominous black boxes representing the toxicity of our automobile-addicted society. I also liked Usama Alshaibi’s Allahu Akbar, whose hypnotic geometrical patterns seem inspired by Islamic art but whose bouncy sound track rebukes ultraorthodox Islam’s prohibition of sensual pleasures, including music. 90 min. (FC) Also on the program: Hecho DF (30 min.), a compilation of ten Mexican shorts. (Gene Siskel Film Center, 7:15)

Flying in the No Fly Zone

Four videos about artistic interventions in public spaces. Brad Downey’s Public Discourse is about New York graffiti art. Though somewhat bland in form (interviews with the artists followed by zoom shots of the art), it covers more than just spray-painting taggers: one artist installs abstract metal sculptures; another paints miniature landscapes over signs. Igor Vamos and Melinda Stone’s Suggested Photo Spots follows members of the collective Center for Land Use Interpretation as they install “Suggested Photo Spot” signs in a variety of locales. While parodying similar signs erected by Kodak at scenic sites, the group invites an aesthetic reassessment of disregarded aspects of our landscape, including a toxic-waste dump and a Wal-Mart distribution center. 65 min. (FC) (High School, 9:00)


Flying in the No Fly Zone

See listing for Sunday, November 23. (Gene Siskel Film Center, 6:15)

Homeland Insecurity

Videos about shadows cast by the war on terror. The Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center’s Independent Media in a Time of War illustrates a lecture by activist Amy Goodman with demonstrations of media bias: American CNN shows Saddam’s statue being toppled while CNN International shows it in split screen alongside footage of war victims. Reedited George W. Bush speeches turn up in many shorts; some of the edits are facile, but Mike Nourse’s Terror Iraq Weapons (2002) cleverly comments on war monomania by reducing the president’s vocabulary to “terror, Iraq, weapons, nuclear.” CELL Media’s Little Brother Gets Busted (2001) mimics the cheery tone of an instructional film as it dispenses advice on how to avoid police trouble (on long drives, store illegal drugs in your rectal cavity). 83 min. (FC) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 7:45)

Digital Video Detournement

See listing for Saturday, November 22. (High School, 8:00)

* Product Re-Placements

See listing for Friday, November 21. (High School, 10:00)



Eric Gandini weaves together news clips, archival footage, and various TV and video sound bites, accompanied by a throbbing techno sound track, to create a sort of Marxist music video. After shots of President Bush exhorting Americans to resume their shopping in defiance of the 9/11 terrorists, Gandini inventories the glut of material goods consumed in the U.S., while John Zerzan, one of the organizers of the WTO protests in Seattle, advocates the wholesale destruction of our culture and a return to the Stone Age. Much of the video’s anticorporate ranting is disingenuous–Castro’s Cuba is portrayed as a benevolent land where food rations are dispensed with perfect fairness–but the savvy assemblage of images and Johan Soderberg’s rhythmically dynamic editing make for lively viewing. 52 min. (Joshua Katzman) Also on the program: Kristin Tharpe and Onur Tukel’s two-minute Logorrhea and Davey Force’s nine-minute Hypno Chicken. (Gene Siskel Film Center, 6:15)

The Tactics of Interference

Most of these seven videos advocate resistance to mainstream authority and culture in humorous and inventive ways. BLO Nightly News (1994) concerns the “Barbie Liberation Organization,” which placed hundreds of altered dolls (Barbies talking with GI Joe’s voice and vice versa) in retail stores; the critique of gender roles is amusing, but director Igor Vamos’s reliance on a commercial TV-news format strands the viewer in a passive position. Guerrilla News Network’s Copwatch (2002) shows activists policing the police by taping them on the job. The most interesting video is Contestational Robotics & Streetwriter (2001) by Institute of Applied Autonomy, a group that builds sophisticated devices to create new forms of publishing, including one robot that distributes subversive literature by “capitalizing on the aesthetics of cuteness” and another that spray paints messages on streets. 95 min. (FC) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 7:45)


Jon Cates curated this program of short videos inspired by video games. (High School, 8:00)

Short works

Ben Coonley, Eric Fensler, and the Goblins are among the film and video makers featured in this program, which includes the Mexican compilation Hecho DF (see listing for “Aesthetic Underground” on Sunday, November 23). (High School, 9:30)


The Tactics of Interference

See listing for Tuesday, November 25. (Gene Siskel Film Center, 6:00)

Subliminal Subversion

Presented by the Chicago Underground Film Festival, this program “focuses on subliminal forces and their implications” and features work by Robert Todd, Andy Spletzer, Kent Lambert, and Jim Finn. 66 min. (Gene Siskel Film Center, 8:15)