Chico State’s short-film fest focuses on the narrative
“There was a man who made a tree just so he could chop it down.”
Those are the words of New York sculptor Christopher Robbins (now of Vranje, Serbia), and they’re from his short film, PlyTree, one of 15 narrative short films on the program of Chico State’s upcoming Narrative Shorts International Film & Video Festival at the University Art Gallery.
PlyTree is singled out by UAG curator Jason Tannen as being “very different from the others,” in that it documents a real-life action in time, and is “almost a perfect extension of [Robbins'] sculpture work.” The short chronicles Robbins’ making of a 14-foot tree from plywood, planting it outdoors, chopping it down, and milling it back into a sheet of plywood.
This past June, Tannen—who is also a filmmaker (his short, photograph-based, narrative noir film, The Pressman Negatives, was a Tinny Award nominee at the 2008 Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales this past summer)—and University Film Series director Thomasin Saxe spent four days viewing the 54 short films submitted from around the world for consideration for the festival. They eliminated right off the bat those that did not meet the main criteria of being narrative in structure. In other words, they were looking for films “with a beginning, a middle and an end,” as opposed to being “abstract, structureless,” said Tannen.
“Some we selected are ‘slice-of-life'—fairly traditional in narrative form. They tell a story,” Tannen elaborated. “Others are quite artificial, and the story is minimal.”
This will mark the first time an all-film exhibition has ever been held in the gallery space.
The few occasions the gallery has screened films have been “primarily where a visual artist has worked tangentially in film,” Tannen pointed out, citing Seattle surrealist photographer Margot Quan Knight’s show in 2005 as the most recent example of a film-related art show held in the UAG.
“She had video that was strongly connected to her still photography, running on a TV monitor during her exhibition,” explained Tannen.
The upcoming 71-minute festival program will run continuously during gallery hours, and will also be shown at a special screening in the Little Theatre (Ayres 106) as part of the University Film Series on Nov. 18
Voor een paar knickers meer ("for a few marbles more") is an 11-minute film by Jelmar Hufen of The Netherlands about four 10-year-old kids who exact an inspired revenge on the two drunken bullies who kicked them out of their playground. Tannen points to Hufen’s film as a good example of a narrative that unfolds “in a very traditional way.”
Los Angeles filmmaker Terry Chakupt’s two pieces in the show—Trail Memories and First Snow—are more unusual. Both build a story around found footage. For First Snow, Chatkupt strung his parents’ 35mm photographs and Super 8 film footage from the 1970s into a kind of narrative. He then recorded the conversation he had with them as they watched the still-silent creation, and used the recording as the voiceover for the finished product.
Aleta Lanier, of Carbondale, Ill., weighs in with an innovative triptych of very short films—Deep-Down Plummet, Banished Zoo and Bathers. Bathers, the shortest of the three, lasts only one minute and 27 seconds.
Deep-Down Plummet is a completely charming film about a pink-frosted cake falling from a helicopter into the sea. A silent short with a soundtrack of slow, circus-like music, it is made up of a combination of close-up shots of textured surfaces, and undersea footage reminiscent of a Jacques Cousteau show, collaged together with drawings that further the narrative. The typewritten words at the bottom of the screen at times are pure poetry. “The crashing noise just burrowed in and stayed like a bellybutton,” reads the subtitle describing the sound of the cake falling to the bottom of the ocean.
What all of the narrative short films have in common, though, according to Tannen, is that “the presence and persona of the filmmaker [are] very much a part of the film. The creation is very much a part of the creator’s identity. And all of the films have a kind of rawness that comes out of this individuality.”