Presented by Chicago Filmmakers, the 22nd Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival runs Thu 6/17-Thu 6/24. For more information call 773-293-1447; a complete schedule is available at chicagofilmmakers.org. Following are selected works from the festival’s nine programs; most of the things I previewed were interesting at the very least, and many are either boldly original or surprising variations on existing forms of experimental filmmaking.
The opening night program (Thu 6/17, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center) includes some of the best pieces. Janie Geiser’s Ghost Algebra surpasses her earlier work, suggestively using contrasting shapes, colors, and rhythms to depict a woman in the midst of some unspecified search. Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby mix animation and live action to produce Beauty Plus Pity, an ecologically themed short that’s moving yet nutty (in one vignette, a beaver gives an audience of forest animals an illustrated lecture on teen alcoholism). Jia Zhang-ke (The World, Still Life) directed Cry Me a River, which powerfully evokes the rapidly changing nature of current China; four friends reunite for dinner after a decade apart, and the turmoil in their lives is mirrored in the river that serves as a backdrop and in compositions and camera movements that create a sense of instability.
One particular group of pieces (Sat 6/19, 4 PM, Chicago Filmmakers) shows artists using long-established techniques to good effect. Fully abstract films include Richard Tuohy’s Flyscreen, in which grids created directly on the film strip also produce the soundtrack (with about a one-second delay), and Alexander Stewart’s Iceland Spar, in which cubes outlined in white against a black screen rotate in space as the neatness of a 3-D animation exercise gives way to asymmetry and disorder. In Mary Helena Clark’s Sound Over Water, a sea of colors yields to images of a whale emerging from water, turning abstraction into narrative.
Other pieces are characterized by strangeness or contradiction. Stephanie Barber plays with old found footage of a boy on a street in To the Horse Dream of Arms (Sat 6/19, 9:15 PM, Chicago Filmmakers), slowing the image down to convey nostalgia for the past and speeding it up to obliterate time. In Gregg Biermann’s tightly wound Traffic Patterns (Fri 6/18, 9 PM, Nightingale), images of traffic are digitally altered so that the cars appear to move on the surface of a globe and the interior wall of a cylinder, an all-enveloping circular trap. And what are these strange uniformed figures in Ben Rivers’s May Tomorrow Shine the Brightest of All Your Many Days As It Will Be Your Last (Sat 6/19, 9:15 PM, Chicago Filmmakers), performing some demented Civil War reenactment, the shadows on faces suggesting unknowable rituals?
I was especially excited by the work of four digital-video artists in their 20s, two from Chicago and two from Istanbul, several of whom are friends and have influenced each other. All four understand that abstraction is a necessary function of digitizing images, and their shorts, most of them silent, use the medium for its unique qualities of flicker and pixilation. Kyle Canterbury (full disclosure: a good friend of mine) took this approach in his earliest videos, but more recently he’s turned his attention to close study of solid objects, noting the odd effects of rendering them on video. In February (Sat 6/19, 9:15 PM, Chicago Filmmakers), the slight video flicker generated by the camera’s movements beautifully accentuates the variegated shapes of striated rocky cliffs and silhouetted tree branches. In Yoel Meranda’s Bsorb (Sat 6/19, 7 PM, Chicago Filmmakers), a turquoise orb and the surrounding orange make for a stunning contrast, but the aggressive colors are also wildly unstable, with fuzzy shapes blurring and dissolving. In Eytan Ipeker’s austere Cloud (Sat 6/19, 4 PM, Chicago Filmmakers), a sea of pixilated black and white shapes gives way to fuzziness and then suggestive pulsing curves, as if biological forms were starting to emerge. This same effect can be found in Jake Barningham’s Concerning Flight (Sat 6/19, 4 PM, Chicago Filmmakers): brief glimpses of a flying bird lead to an X shape, and pixilations everywhere reflect the underlying geometry of DV as diverse forms collide violently, struggling to be born. Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, $8; Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, $10; and Nightingale, 1084 N. Milwaukee, $8. —Fred Camper