All That Sheltering Emptiness

Presented by Chicago Filmmakers, the 23rd Onion City festival runs Thu-Sun 6/23-6/26. Following are selected works from the opening-night program (Thu 6/23, 8 PM) at Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, and the nine subsequent programs (showtimes below) at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark. For more information call 773-293-1447; a complete schedule is available at

Some subgenres have emerged from the long tradition of experimental filmmaking, but festival curator Patrick Friel has found a surprising number of works that subvert such categories. Carlos Adriano’s SANTOSCOPE = DUMONTAGE (Fri 6/24, 9 PM) recalls other films that alter old footage, but in this case stills of Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont seem like propeller blades as they rotate in space or skitter by in an onscreen flip book. In ALL THAT SHELTERING EMPTINESS (Sat 6/25, 9 PM) Gina Carducci and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore provocatively rework the old personal-narrative voice-over film, as images of a hotel lobby are accompanied by a hustler’s frightening story of a trick gone wrong. Still other films defy classification altogether: in Madison Brookshire’s 74-minute COLOR SERIES (Sun 6/26, 2 PM) clouds of color are set off by fuzzy darker areas that become immensely suggestive, the slow-moving imagery suggesting a sunrise, or shifting mists. The prolific James Fotopoulos directed the closing-night film, ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Sun 6/26, 8:30 PM), which continues his preoccupation with bodies under stress but whose mix of animated drawings and repeated images of a figure tends to meander.

Experimental cinema pushes us to reenvision the world, to make seeing an active rather than a passive experience. To that end, Christopher Becks presents an old barn in OUVERTURE but contrasts both realistic and abstracted views of it to underline the difference between a physical place and the visual components of light and shape that register onscreen. In NIGHT, DAY (Sat 6/25, 7 PM) Jake Barningham uses low-resolution video pixelation to interject a sense of randomness and collision as he surveys a landscape over several days and nights. In ANITKABIR (Sun 6/26, 3:45 PM) Yoel Meranda presents the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, in static long takes, carefully edited to suggest a space larger than is shown. In J.B. Mabe’s TO TOUCH (Sun 6/26, 3:45 PM) static shots of a Chicago intersection evoke intense melancholy, the sadness of a loner who the world passes by. Thom Andersen’s GET OUT OF THE CAR offers an alternative cityscape of Los Angeles that includes numerous blank billboards. In PIGS (Sat 6/25, 9 PM) Pawel Wojtasik uses extreme close-ups to give an almost odoriferous view of porcine carnality, while in TOADS, Milena Gierke uses stop-start effects to create a sense that the title creatures and nature itself are almost timeless.And in Pieter Geenen’s haunting RELOCATION (Sun 6/26, 6:30 PM) a single image of a gorgeous landscape is transformed by a final title that identifies it as the Turkish-Armenian border, invoking a long history of ethnic hatred and mass killing.

Other works take art and media as their subjects. T. Marie brings a Turner painting to life in SLAVE SHIP, offering a continually dissolving phantasmagoria of fog and shapes. For MASTERING BAMBI (Sat 6/25, 7 PM), Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukács have removed all the cute animals from the Disney classic, but the illusionistic landscapes and manipulative lighting effects are still oddly Disneyesque. Veteran cutout animator Lewis Klahr delivers one of his best works with SUGAR SLIM SAYS (Fri 6/24, 9 PM), using depth effects and focus changes to add a sense of romance to his emotionally complex narrative. Stephanie Barber’s BUST CHANCE (Fri 6/24, 9 PM) is appealingly weird, like all her best work: an audience appears to be viewing fragments of a circus performance but at times also seems to be looking at pieces of porcelain. Nicolas Pereda’s 61-minute ALL THINGS WERE NOW OVERTAKEN BY SILENCE (Sat 6/25, 4 PM) shows the making of a film about the 17th-century Mexican poet Juana Inés de la Cruz; long takes and darkness create a ponderous mood, while the juxtaposition of disparate images suggests a vast, unfathomable space.