Views from the Avant-Garde at NYFF Part II / by KirstenStudio

It’s been a little while since the New York Film Festival wrapped (10/16/11 to be exact) but I’m still going to add a little something about the Views from the Avant-Garde. My Part II, even if a bit late in coming.

As I mentioned in Part I, the lineup I attended was Cabinet of Curiosities, which was a program of 12 films. Each inspiring in their own right, but I’ll stick to a handful of my favorites for this entry. Please keep in mind that the following comments are from my perspective only, and experimental or avant-garde films are up for a broad range of experience and interpretation, so with that disclaimer, I'll proceed.

Jonathan Schwartz’s Between Gold (2011), color, 16mm, 10minutes, 42 seconds, seemed to have some similarities to his Nothing is Over Nothing (2009) in that they both resemble personal, poetic travelogues of sorts. In the film’s description, Mr. Schwartz refers to a quote (or moment) from Mark Twain’s The Innocent Abroad, where a dog is resigned to acceptance of a situation he was not equal to. But The Innocent Abroad, like Between Gold, is a travelogue on the surface, yet Twain's book is also known for exploring the conflicts between the historical and modern world.

So far I’ve only seen Nothing is Over Nothing and Between Gold at Views from the Avant-Garde but he made many more. From what I gather, Mr. Schwartz uses family imagery and travel footage in his other work as well and I’d be more than interested in seeing it.  Between Gold held my attention like a fascinating, warmly hued dream you kind of try to grasp the possible meanings of, but can’t quite make sense of it all.

Mr. Schwartz does inject an audio track of a barking dog(s) under much of the film, which I found both interesting and aggravating. Nevertheless, Between Gold was a favorite.

Tableaux Vivants (2011), 10minutes, 20 seconds was another stand-out. A color, silent 16:9 film shot in HD and transferred to XDCAM-EX, filmmaker Vincent Grenier conjured up a beautiful meditation on nature and its illusion.  Grenier appears to play with what is actual and what is imagined by using various levels of opacity with time-lapse scenes of nature, which in itself is ever changing in its own reality. For much more about the artist in his own words, visit www.vincentgrenier.com.

Charlotte Pryce’s Curious Light (2011), 4minutes, 12 seconds, color, silent, 16mm is magnificently other-worldly. Its light and shadow against the book of Alice and Wonderland brings a new, gorgeous and haunting context to the story. The extreme close-ups of the illustrations reinvent a unique sense of spooky mystery. It’s not just this way of examining the illustrations that provide a different perspective though. It’s also how we are made aware of the book itself by seeing the texture of the paper and the movement of the pages. Juxtaposing the reality of the physical paper against the fantasy of the illustrations adds another dimension of depth. Exquisite.

3 shorts by Stephanie Barber were terribly clever and in particular I enjoyed Miniatures (2011), 2minute, color, sound, DV, which was created from a selection of sentences read by museum visitors and paired with a number of miniature Elizabethan portraits. Throughout the 2minutes, there is a range of readable emotions both by delivery and content, from humor to fear and some more ambiguous. This was initially part of a Baltimore Museum of Art installation in a central gallery where Barber created a series of short poetic videos entitled Jhana and the rats of James Olds or 31 days/31 videos.

Cabinet of Curiosities was quite fascinating and I was happy to hear a couple sitting behind me mention it was their first experience attending avant-garde films. Film may be dying in some parts of the filmmaking industry, but I'm glad to find it sure seems to be alive and well in the avant-garde.