The Holland Project has released Dry Heat: Collected Short Films from Reno, NV, a DVD showcase of local filmmakers
Anyone who’s lived in Reno has heard this one: “It’s a dry heat.” It’s a laughable tie that binds us together, much like images of seedy hotels, neon signs and scarred brown hills, or the sounds of slot machines plink-plink-plinking.
The collected sights and sounds unique to our high desert home also bind the nine short films compiled on the Holland Project’s first curated DVD, Dry Heat: Collected Short Films from Reno, NV. The films work together to implicitly tell a story about the techniques, talent and genres of Northern Nevada’s filmmakers.
Last November, the 11-member gallery committee of The Holland Project, thrilled to have just opened their large gallery space on Vesta Street, began talking about how to make the gallery a self-sustaining entity. Committee member Nick Larsen says, “The goal is for [the gallery] to pay for itself in order to cover things like shipping, bringing in out-of-town artists, things like that.”
Larsen suggested a DVD short-film collection. “Holland really hasn’t had much programming that catered to filmmakers,” explains Larsen. “They do the 3-Minute Film Competition at the [Nevada Museum of Art], but that’s about it, and none of us on the committee knew local filmmakers and what they were doing, so it was a chance to bring that community in.”
Not knowing whether there were hundreds of filmmakers in Reno or a handful, and hoping to attract as many submissions as possible, the committee put out an open-ended call for submissions from local filmmakers, with no constraints on theme, genre, etc.
The submissions, which Larsen says numbered only around 15 or 20, ran the gamut in terms of style and content. Ultimately, submissions were screened by committee members, with those members who had submitted films themselves abstaining from votes.
The final nine selections for this limited-edition DVD were from filmmakers Ben Poynter, Kaleb Temple, Peter Whittenberger, Cassady O’Neal, Tosha Palani, Valerie Bischoff, Kyle Akins, Omar Pierce and Megan Berner. They range from narrative to experimental and music video, from film noir to stop-motion animation and from drama to comedy.
Yet, together, they seem to make sense, according to artist/filmmaker Megan Berner, also a gallery committee member (and RN&R contributor). “I’m from Reno, so I might be biased, but I see an aesthetic in this area, and on the DVD you see a real Reno, Nevada aesthetic, which I thought was really cool.”
This aesthetic is easy to spot in Valerie Bischoff’s “Goodbye Sweetheart,” a 10-minute piece about a troubled couple on a difficult road trip. It features shots of familiar Nevada highway landscapes, an abandoned roadside diner called “The Oasis” and even a glimpse of the Nevada State Prison. It showcases Reno native Bischoff’s love of home and her love of film. Bischoff moved to New York five years ago for Columbia University’s graduate film program, but returns annually to work on projects in Reno, which she believes is “a hotbed of fascinating characters.”
Kaleb Temple’s film, “Burgled,” is a five-minute, black-and-white film beginning with a montage of scenes that encapsulate the gritty Reno aesthetic—a homeless woman on a bench, a run-down weekly motel, pawn shops. The film quickly shifts into a film noir-style comedy about two burglars trying to rob the same house. “Burgled” won Temple, a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno’s photography program, the 2010 Three-Minute Competition at the Nevada Museum of Art.
Another product of a photography education, at McQueen High, and fan of black-and-white film is Tosha Palani, whose video for My Flag is On Fire’s song “Eyes and Joy” appears on Dry Heat. Fellow Dry Heat-er Cassady O’Neal also made a MFIOF video, “White Bicycle.”
“Eyes and Joy,” running just over seven minutes, was a collaboration between Palani and his high school art teacher, Gary Coyan, who wrote the script. Through the use of repetitive shots nuanced with angles that portray increasing tension, it tells the story of a guy stuck in a daily routine that feels like a cage; escape becomes almost a matter of survival. Palani says the video was shot in downtown Reno, mostly in parking garages and apartment buildings, “because that’s what we had,” with a final shot coming from the Red Rock area.
Berner’s film, “In a Shifting Landscape,” is vastly different in tone, style and content. It’s the last film on the DVD, and at 21 minutes, it’s also the longest. Berner characterizes it as a “subtle, slow-moving, meditative piece.” It features animation of an artist book that was hand-printed from linoleum blocks and photopolymer plates on vellum; the animation gently segues between landscapes, to the ethereal, moody strains of an original music composition from Berner’s collaborator, Seattle-based composer Nat Evans.
Larsen says Holland is hoping that this limited release becomes the first of many in a regular DVD series. It depends on getting more submissions, and that means tapping into the local film scene—if, indeed, there even is one.
Temple believes there is a local film scene, albeit a small and somewhat incestuous one, thanks to UNR and TMCC offering film classes.
“There are quite a few of us,” he says.
Temple mentions a number of fellow filmmakers, several of whom also went to UNR and are credited in several Dry Heat films—Timothy Gaer (who stars in “Burgled”), Jamie Heinrich (who started 9000 Wolves Productions) and Elton de Leon (also in “Burgled”). Temple and de Leon worked on Bischoff’s film.
“Everyone in some way is connected to another portion of the community,” says Temple.
Temple also thinks that opportunities are growing, in Reno and in general, for filmmakers, as evidenced by the Holland Project’s efforts, as well as the Reno Film Festival. The RFF holds an Indie Short Film Competition each summer and includes a Nevada category (O’Neal won the 2011 competition with “9 Pound Trout”), as well as its K-12 student competition, the Lumiere Awards. Temple and his friends also stage their own screenings, occasionally. And, of course, there’s the internet.
Palani, however, is considering a move to a more filmmaker-friendly locale. “I don’t think there’s a film scene here at all,” he says, despite having created a part-time supplemental income from making music videos, mostly for what he calls “European goth rocker bands.” He got started in videos by booking music acts for the Holland Project and boldly suggesting that he’d love to make their videos.
“For the most part, I don’t really know anyone who makes film here. And the ones who do, they’re like me, all the same close-knit cast and crew, friends. The Reno Film Festival is mostly foreign films, and the presence of local work isn’t significant.” Palani thinks the RFF ought to cater more to the local scene, or that a new film festival should be established to do this.
Despite being a New Yorker now, Bischoff remains a fervent admirer of Reno as a film location. “In Reno, it’s much harder to find people who are working in film professionally,” she says, “but I think that can be good in a way. Being isolated from a bigger scene can foster more difficulty in a shoot, but it can also foster more creative approaches.”