Steve Weiss, director of the No Festival Required (NFR) film festival has gathered short films from around Arizona which usually fall far outside the mainstream; rarely making it into other film festivals and screening only during special events such as the NFR; a film festival that Weiss and friends put together whenever time permits. Some of the films shown on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at Braggs Pie Factory were originally created for art installations. Several are definitely niche films carved for special topics, such as mini-docs exploring the early diversity and sustainability in architecture from decades long past, now contrasted with the self loathing, anti-architecture found in the City of Phoenix and beyond. There are also lots of student films that rarely make it into festivals, and some of the films are so surreal and esoteric that they appear as though the filmmakers had something deeply troubling on their mind, and their true emotions at that moment could only be expressed through the medium of film. Whenever possible, links to trailers or the actual films are provided. Here are the 20 films I saw in the order they were screened.
Mayme Kratz – Suzanne Johnson
Trailer for upcoming doc about artist Mayme Kratz, and her use of colorful polyester resins to preserve organics, such as dead animals and plants into permanent, thick layers of acrylic.
20 Miles West of Phoenix – Michael Pearson
Trailer for an upcoming doc(?) about the mysterious and failed Phoenix Trotting Park racetrack built in 1964, and now lying abandoned 20 miles west of Phoenix. According to the filmmakers, the racetrack was “built for people to worship the sun”(??).
Looking for Tsosido – Steven J. Yazzie
Simultaneous three screen art installation representing a complete life cycle, as a boy on the far left screen digs into the earth and discovers a rock, a hiker in center screen delivers a rock to a mountain top, and a mysterious, faceless grim reaper/shaman in black performs a ceremony in a circle, returning the stone deep within the earth. Great photography and easy, enjoyable concept.
Life’s A Game – Josh Connor
Split screen interaction blending video game fantasy with programmed response reality. Action option selections always precede life’s predictable outcomes. More of a demo reel of sorts, highlighting Connors talented RPG animation skills.
YouTube Tween Reenactments – Malena Barnhart
Extremely simple one-minute film packing a very big message. On the left screen, pre-teens vie for acceptance and approval on YouTube, soliciting comments on whether they are pretty or not. Older women blandly and simultaneously recite the same query on the right side of the screen. What matters so much today (sometimes as a matter of life and death) will be absurdly insignificant in a very short time.
The Buildings – Xue Jiang
Another art installation converted into a short film, the left side of the screen is filled with slow and steady images of the Great Wall of China. On the right, bricks are hastily and cheaply stacked in the foreground while a high rise is built at blinding speed in the background. The building is razed and the bricks crumble, while the ancient wall remains. Excellent short film of endurance vs. economy and substance vs. sustainability.
Crackleburst #0745 – Pete Petrisko
RPM Orchestra arranger Petrisko usually provides a discordant, alluring and mysterious live electronic soundtrack to early surrealist films. This time Petrisko offers his own visual fusion of industry and organics, electronics and mnemonics, as a young woman experiences multiple and varying orgasms of pain and pleasure. As late night airwave static caresses and crackles; sine waves seduce, penetrate and subjugate. Excellent erotically visual offering of the sensual violence found in the fear, the fire, the demon on the wire. The inexplicable seductive and soothing magnetism of humming analog static.
Starkweather – Greg Roberts
A crudely computer animated narrator stands in front of b/w footage of Nebraska farmland. In a poetic/lyrical style, he relates the tale of mad dog killer Charlie Starkweather and his murder spree in 1958, while analyzing the killer’s admiration and emulation of James Dean. Eerie and contradictory little film, yet simple and sympathetic; exploring not just Starkweather’s motives and conscience, but the dark side lurking within us all.
I Hate Teletubbies – Steve Gompf
Teletubbies go about their repetitive blandness until a sniper picks them off outside the Tubbietronic Superdrome. Like Godzilla vs. Bambi but with Teletubbies.
From Desert to Dessert – Lisa Wegner/Steve Weiss/Leslie Barton
A girl parachutes into the Arizona desert. She finds her way to the roadside where a red Mustang is waiting for her. Well made allegorical film depicting the filmmaker’s battle and eventual triumph over PTSD.
Where Is Patriots Square Park? - Steve Weiss/Leslie Barton
Weiss and pals search for Patriots Square Park, the once proud symbol of Phoenix strength and civic solidarity: a tribute to Revolutionary War soldiers for all to enjoy in downtown Phoenix. They discover it is now nothing more than a huge block of outrageously expensive, stupid businesses. The new occupants deliver a very clear message to the Phoenicians that used to freely gather here: either show up with some serious cash, or stay the hell out.
Happy Trees – Mike Miskowski
What is the youthful fascination with Bob Ross? Whatever it is, it is always portrayed with humor and reverence to the soft-spoken, inadvertently philosophical landscape painter whose television show “The Joy of Painting” ran on PBS for eleven years. Ross shares his simple parable for the day while cleaning his paintbrush. A lot. Because “a happy brush makes a happy tree.”
Living Outside The Box – Natalie Smith
Interviews with people attending National Coming Out Day in 2011 reveal the struggles and rejection they experienced from friends and family after coming out.
Seafood Tester – Darius Britt
An angry mom becomes violent towards her son, launching into a painful verbal assault, rejecting and despising him, denying he even exists. With determination he stays with her, pleading with his mother to leave the dark place that consumes her thoughts and will, and come back to him if only for a moment. This superb U of A student film incorporates powerful, extremely convincing performances with simple yet stunning photography to depict the tragedy of mental illness, more specifically, the tormented mind of a schizophrenic, and the struggle friends and family endure to keep them safe and loved.
Bombing Arizona – Ricardo Bracamonte
Oh no! Not another graffiti doc! Is it summer already? This film did actually lull me in after a while, presenting an almost contradictory message to its original intention. While the filmmakers initially lean towards tagging, bombing, and defacing property as a vital aspect of graffiti art, the artists themselves don’t quite see it that way. Some of them (unapologetically) view their previous and prolific penchant for property damage as an angry reaction to their violent and abusive upbringing or, simply fulfilling the requirements of their gang affiliation. After researching and embracing the style and heritage of famous Mexican muralists, today the graffiti artists make their own poignant distinction between the murals and the mayhem, subtly offering that the art is not necessarily borne of adversity, nor must there be anarchy before one can experience artistic inspiration.
My Life Downhill – Shane McElroy
I dug this movie when I first saw it at the SCC film festival last year. More than just another 'crazy kid with a skateboard' video, ‘Downhill’ is a simple, extremely well shot mini-doc about a downhill skateboarder (director McElroy) as he zooms down Arizona mountain roads on his longboard. Beginning almost sardonically, McElroy describes how he will continue to engage in this dangerous activity until he has no bones left to break. Possessing a Zen-like appreciation for the asphalt and the landscape, he camps out in the hills above the desert and ritualistically prepares his board on the morning of his downhill glide. ‘Downhill’ offers an impenitent adventure of youth and attitudinal immortality, rocketing forward to a future of broken bones, scarred skin and no regrets.
Skate Blast 2010 - Ruben Ringlero
Yes, it’s just another skater park vid, only this one is more of a recap of the Apache Skateboard promo event held in 2010. ‘Blast’ provides what is perhaps the greatest mosh pit fail ever captured on film, as roughly six ruffians are unable to partake in any mayhem, due to the wide open expanse of the vacant pit. Meanwhile, stage divers purposely hurl themselves into massive, empty gaps, and directly onto the ground.
Barbies Big Splash – Leslie Barton
The adventures of Barbie in comic book panels are read out loud as Barbie heads to a fashion shoot in the Bahamas, making new friends while also encountering other models that are jealous of Barbie. Live action inserts depict a girl experiencing an extremely violent sexual assault in a bathtub and being brutally beaten in the face while confined to a chair. Barbie learns what is probably the most vapid, superficial lesson in karmic comeuppance and makes friends with a dolphin named Herman. Back to the woman, now with a plastic bag secured tightly over her head and wearing her mother’s dress. A pistol is gripped tightly in her hand as she sings ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow.' A rattling conclusion to a very disturbing film, exposing the pressures of maintaining a ‘body image,’ self worth and societal expectations that instantly evaporate when reality collides with illusion. Very rough VHS film that looks like it was made for public access cable in the 80’s.
Delectable Destinations - George Kuchar
I had only a vague familiarity with underground filmmaker George Kuchar until tonight, so I searched YouTube for every film of his that I could find. Perhaps I didn’t get an accurate sampling of the short films he made during his sixty-year career, but from what I did see, the films seemed like mildly tolerable Kenneth Anger/Andy Warhol shorts mixed with dry humor and bizarre sound effects. Kuchar is known for creating 200 plus short films, most of them considered pornographic. With 200 films to his credit, I guess you can say when it came to porno, this guy could really pound it out. Kuchar documents his travels from campus to campus across the US, delivering lectures on filmmaking and making passes at the cute coeds. Liberal helpings of NFR director Weiss spending time with his mentor, as they explore obscure Phoenix landmarks.