Presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, this festival of experimental film and video continues Friday through Sunday, March 7 through 9. Screenings are at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor; and the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. Screenings are free at the Cultural Center, $5 per day for Heaven Gallery and the Empty Bottle. For more information call 312-744-6630. Programs marked with an * are highly recommended.


* Strategies of the Short Contemporary German Film and Video Art

These nine experimental works, curated by Ulrich Wegenast of Germany, lack any overarching theme, but several of them are excellent. Corinna Schnitt’s The Sleeping Girl (2001) is a deceptively gentle, ultimately biting send-up of pompous new suburbs: a miniature sailboat plies a canal amid identical oversize houses, and slow, mechanical camera movements heighten the sprawling development’s soulless order and uniformity. In Normality 1/2/3 (1999) video maker Hito Steyerl answers bigotry with transcendent music, pairing the passionate dissonances of Arnold Schoenberg, a Jew forced to flee the Nazis, with accounts of present-day anti-Semitism and police inaction in Germany. And in Nebel (2000) filmmaker Matthias Muller accompanies Ernst Jandl’s short poems with imagery ranging from suggestive metaphor (a dog digs at the beach during a poem about loneliness) to literal illustration (a hand rips up a book during a poem defining the novel as “a story in which everything takes too long”). 81 min. (FC) (Chicago Cultural Center, 6:30)

Corporeal Punishment: The Body of Evidence Lies Naked and Bruised

Abina Manning, an ex-Londoner who lives in Chicago, curated this program of seven videos, some of which seem haunted by 9/11. In Paul Chan’s Re: The Operation images of tire tracks in the desert and cartoons of Republican politicians are accompanied by a voice reading letters to and from soldiers. Its structure is too loose to permit a coherent statement, but John Smith’s Frozen War (2002) is much better. Shot early in the morning, just after the U.S. and Britain started bombing Afghanistan, it’s narrated by Smith, who describes how he worried about a blown-up transmitter when he found only a static face on TV. The slow pace and rambling form become apt correlatives for Smith’s own confusion. Steve Reinke’s The Chocolate Factory (2002) focuses on a serial killer based on Jeffrey Dahmer, slowly panning up and down line drawings of Dahmer’s victims as the killer describes his crimes in voice-over. The way his narration often goes off the rails (“I put in snails to suck up the evil”) is suitably creepy, though too much pop music softens the overall impact. 85 min. (FC) (Chicago Cultural Center, 8:30)


Ladies and Boys and Touching

New York curator Astria Suparak describes the creation of these shorts as “practicing our (dance) moves until perfection is reached,” and most of these 11 videos (and two audio works) focus on the body as an instrument. Among the best are Alex Villar’s Upward Mobility and Jennifer Sullivan’s Dancing Girls, both from 2002: in the first a man climbs brick walls and building facades just as a skateboarder might interact with urban spaces, exploring locales with minimal means, and the second shows young girls dancing in the 80s. The opening dancer does a mechanical routine whose rote movements and facial expressions betray her unease, and some later ones look unhappy too, as if dancing for pushy parents. An amusing untitled piece (2001) by Zakery Weiss parodies the pretentiousness of artists’ statements with its rolling title about Weiss’s search for “higher truth–in the truest sense possible.” Less engaging is Humane Restraint (2002), in which video maker Ann Weathersby buries a woman up to her neck in sand; the neosurrealist conceit recalls 1960s art films, but the banal zooms and close-ups fail to enliven the subject. 81 min. (FC) (Heaven Gallery, 1:00)

Short films and videos from L’Alternativa

Elena de la Vara, who culled these ten films and videos from the independent film festival in Barcelona, writes that they “avoid concession to commercial production values,” but many are derivative of long-established experimental film styles. In Hester Scheurwater’s I Must Be Beautiful Too (2000) a woman hides her face by brushing her hair over it, just as feminists decades ago countered their objectification by confronting or hiding from the camera. In Simon Ellis’s funny Telling Lies (2001) phone conversations about sex and romance provide the sound track while titles either transcribe the speakers’ remarks or provide their real meanings (in one case the word dream appears on-screen as “wank”). In Stephane Elmadjian’s Freedub 1 (2002) a driving beat accompanies a montage of world leaders, marching troops, and factories, explicating the opening title (“An animal is a man that reasons”). In the strangest and most original piece, Ignacio Nacho’s Casa Paco (2001), a group appears to pose for a wedding picture, but then the young bride inexplicably lifts up her dress for the camera and the guests begin to drop from offscreen gunshots. 72 min. (FC) (Heaven Gallery, 3:00)

* Strategies of the Short Contemporary German Film and Video Art

See listing for Friday, March 7. (Heaven Gallery, 5:00)

* Mismanaging My Image

Works based on found footage often lapse into cliched humor–like the rapid intercutting of zoo animals and a wedding in Wago Kredier’s To Hug You and Squeeze You (2001). But the other four works on this program, curated by Canadian Alex MacKenzie, use found-footage montage to create an engaging sense of fragmentation, their juxtapositions straddling the border between sense and nonsense. The strongest, Brittany Gravely’s Introduction to Living in a Closed System (2001), is a labyrinth of images, diagrams, and intertitles that contrasts “closed systems”–cable cars, monorails, geodesic domes–with views of nature, critiquing technology (the title “Transportation” is followed by images of a tiny dog scurrying around). Imitations of Life (2001) surveys disaster imagery from Hollywood movies while titles articulate “our desire to destroy everything.” Director Mike Hoolboom includes both the microscopic (cells) and the macroscopic (galaxies), the disparity between them generating a sense of free-floating displacement. Also showing: John Davis’s Candide (2001) and Brian Warsing and Jason Asbell’s A Film for Schools (2002). 69 min. (FC) (Heaven Gallery, 7:00)

* Beyond the Poseidon Adventure

In the strongest of these 14 videos, Ricardo Nicolayevsky’s The Big Whack (2002), rapid cutting produces a shearing effect: each image seems to tear at the surface of the last. Close-ups of human faces are juxtaposed with circus footage, and the apparent murder of a woman lends an apocalyptic tone to the images of an exhibitionist mass culture. Ximena Cuevas, the Mexican video artist who curated the program, demonstrates her interest in surreal and humorous media commentary with Lorenza Manriquez’s Vitesse revolvers, in which a woman’s deadly encounter with two slimy toughs becomes a cheery gun commercial, and There Is No Remedy, a charming reflection on childhood fancy in which a little girl rescues a cooked fish off a dinner plate, drops it into an aquarium, but discovers that her incantations won’t bring it back to life. And in Carolina Esparragoza’s The Martian That I Saw a split screen contrasts UFO footage with a crude flying-saucer cartoon, making the latter seem almost plausible. 49 min. (FC) (Heaven Gallery, 9:00)


Random Acts of Fitness

Andrea Grover, director of the Aurora Picture Show in Houston, curated this program of nine works. In Water Rerouting Initiatives (2001) video maker Adam Frelin outdoes graffiti artists with his Rube Goldberg-like constructions in which “the natural course of public water is willfully redirected.” In one instance he posts a sign declaring a rest room out of order and then elaborately tapes over sinks and urinals; in another he builds a channel that routes water from an overflowing motel sink into the toilet. His amusing contraptions direct our attention toward plumbing we normally take for granted. Guerilla Public Service (2002) depicts the Los Angeles freeway system through maps and photos, as video maker Richard Ankrom drives around in a truck labeled “Aesthetic De Construction” installing homemade interstate signs. But Fraser Stables’s irritating opera singer in Double Garage Scene and his story of faked suicide in Terminal Portrait aren’t developed enough to be funny or to rise to the level of dada. 48 min. (FC) (Empty Bottle, 3:00)

Corporeal Punishment: The Body of Evidence Lies Naked and Bruised

See listing for Friday, March 7. (Empty Bottle, 5:00)

E-motional Discharge

Jan Schuijren, an independent curator in Amsterdam and Cologne, assembled this video program about “love and loss,” but the two longest works fail to cohere. Kurt d’Haeseleer’s File (2000), ostensibly about the collapse of a relationship, is an undigested mix of ringing phones, lone figures, and out-of-focus imagery. The concept behind Guillaume Graux’s P.D.O.A. (Public Display of Affection) (2000) is more original–couples make out on the street and in a supermarket–but the soulless dolly shots deaden rather than heighten the video’s incipient eroticism. Julika Rudelius’s The Highest Point (2002) is intriguing if only for its subject. Women describe their sex lives in intimate detail, sometimes demonstrating positions, and seeing them fully clothed in antiseptic white rooms creates a clinical distance that’s weirdly appropriate. Three videos by Tina Gonsalves complete the program. 75 min. (FC) (Empty Bottle, 7:00)