Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival 

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The 16th annual Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival continues through Sunday, September 26, at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, and Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee. For more information call 773-293-1447 or visit www.chicagofilmmakers.org.

Five of the remaining six programs are strong enough to recommend. Most don't have an overriding theme, though several of the best videos in Program Three (Friday, 9 PM, Chicago Filmmakers, 120 min.) make ordinary subjects seem compellingly strange. Ian Bourn offers some very British wit on the sound track of Black White & Green (2003), while extreme close-ups turn pies into monumental, even frightening, landscapes. An untitled piece by Luis Recoder distends a familiar experimental film image--sunlight on water--taking it to a meditative extreme. Home movies have rarely been used as evocatively as in Abigail Child's Cake and Steak; she uses editing and split screens to make the images by turns sensuously lush and frenetically repetitive.

The effects of our industrial/digital age are examined in several videos in Program Five (Saturday, 8:30 PM, Chicago Filmmakers, 100 min.), most complexly in Robert Daniel Flowers's quietly poetic 110303 (2003), in which repeated machinelike shapes and superimposed moving rectangles recall modern buildings and the monotony of the assembly line. Dominic Angerame's Anaconda Targets, which uses appropriated aerial footage of U.S. bombings in Afghanistan, is more chilling: landscapes first seen through the bombsight become the sites of multiple explosions. Ben Russell continues his creepy renditions of nature in The Tawny (2003).

Brent Coughenour's 70-minute feature Ash Wednesday, which is accompanied by four shorts in Program Four (Saturday, 6:30 PM, Chicago Filmmakers, 103 min.), mixes observations of a seemingly hopeless Russia with lists of computer files (MP3s and porn) and found footage of, for instance, U.S. astronauts. But the imagery and content wallow in melancholy lassitude, even when a man cuts himself with a razor.

The two all-celluloid programs offer several excellent works. The best pieces in Program Six (Sunday, 6 PM, Cinema Borealis, 98 min.) are the oddest, including Adele Friedman's Robert's Place, a sensual portrait of a man seen mostly through his apartment and his art collection, and Robert Mead's Floating Heavily, which depicts a dog in snow partly from the dog's perspective. In Deliquium, Julie Murray continues to explore her fascination with animals, using fish and insect close-ups that are almost surreal.

In Program Seven (Sunday, 8 PM, Cinema Borealis, 102 min.) Lawrence Jordan's animated Enid's Idyll makes sublimely suggestive use of Gustave Dore illustrations. The best of the other films on the program are visual studies of particular spaces. Jim Jennings's Elements (2003) is a finely focused presentation of Manhattan that concentrates on surfaces (raindrops on glass) and lines, Diane Kitchen's Quick's Thicket is a lush explosion of greens, and Nicky Hamlyn's Penumbra (2003) is an admirably austere study of his bathroom, in which little dramas emerge from tiny bumps on the wall.

There's also a program of works by one of this year's festival judges, James Fotopoulos, who may be Chicago's most prolific young filmmaker. His six videos and a 12-part film, Hidden Objects, make up Program Two (Friday, 7 PM, Chicago Filmmakers, 80 min.). At his best Fotopoulos uses minimal means to create an uncomfortable sense of being trapped: people feel stuck in their skins, objects seem heavy and barely movable. Several sections of Hidden Objects center on out-of-focus blobs, and in one a view of railroad tracks ends with a pan up that provides no release. In two of the videos blobs of light expand and recede like novas. All these works have a morbidly static feeling that makes the ticking of time toward death almost palpable.

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