Short Films Take Over the Museum
August 29, 2012 1:10 p.m.
Neil Kendricks, founder of alt.pictureshows and film curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Cheryl Kanekar, director, writer and editor.
Related Story: Short Films Take Over The Museum
CAVANAUGH: Treating films like works are art is the premise behind the Alt. Picture Shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. Films that are not your standard multiplex fair are shown in art museums. People can wander in and out the end of one show or beginning of another. Neal Kendricks, welcome back to the program.
KENDRICKS: Thank you for the invite.
CAVANAUGH: And Cheryl Kanekar is a local filmmaker. Welcome.
KANEKAR: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I set the scene with a little bit of information about what the Alt. Picture Shows is like, but remind us what it's all about.
KENDRICKS: Well, I thought your description was perfect.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, all right!
KENDRICKS: But if you had to sort of boil it down to a kind of visual image that people can wrap their heads around, it's almost kind of a cinematic funhouse, and the idea is that you go from room to room at will deciding what you'd like to see. Each room has its own series of films that are playing on a loop throughout the evening. You're given a program that tells you what's playing in what space, but not the time. So you have to kind of decide and budget your time wisely because the event is only three hours. And sort of dip in and out of rooms. But what I find is that a lot of times, people will find a room that really clicks with their sensibility and they'll watch an entire program and then move onto something else.
CAVANAUGH: Each of the rooms usually has a theme of some kind, right? What are some of the themes this year?
KENDRICKS: The themes have been a range of different topics. It's everything from very strange comedy to dramatic pieces, there's an Oscar-nominated documentary, there's music videos. So it runs the gamut in terms of the types of films. So in terms of thematic material, some of the films deal with everything as offbeat as the elderly using marijuana for medicinal purposes to a piece about the devastation that was wrought as an after effect of the tsunami that hit Japan. So these are wildly different topics, yet I think they all find a home.
CAVANAUGH: Why did you start this event?
KENDRICKS: You know, it started as a note and some drawings in a sketchbook when I was a grad student. And if you had asked me back then that this was gone become this sort of film festival and become established, I would just probably said get out of here. But I'm glad that it turned into something that's kind of extraordinary and unique. There really isn't another event like this I don't think anywhere. The idea of using the museum as a kind of platform for people to have a truly interactive experience watching movies, so much of our movie-going experience is passive. We go to a film, you pay your ticket, and you sit, hopefully calmly, and you just sort of let the film happen to you. Here's an event where you're given a choice or a series of choices and you can kind of get an all-access pass to go and watch what you'd like to see. Now, granted you're going to dip in at times in the middle of a film, and this is sort of a test for the film makers. Is the film strong enough that they're going to stay in the room? Sometimes people will dip out and go into another space and then come back and catch the beginning. So it's that unpredictable element which is fascinating to watch.
CAVANAUGH: Over the 10 years, Alt. Picture Shows must have evolved in some ways.
KENDRICKS: The first was in July of 2003, when the museum first approached me about showing some of my films, that's when I thought this is a great opportunity for me to pitch this other idea, which was this idea of having multiple film makers and screening things on a loop and so forth. The first one was all local film makers, people that I knew in the film community that I approached partially, and I remember that first year before we even opened the doors, there was a line outside. People were interested. And so over the years as a went and got new films, and sometimes older films that just haven't been shown, the scope of it started to grow exponentially. So now there's films from England, a film from Iran, multiple films from Mexico and throughout the U.S.
CAVANAUGH: I want to bring Cheryl into our conversation. Neal was saying that in a sense, viewing movies this way is a test for the filmmaker. Are you up to this test, do you think?
KANEKAR: Well, this film of me is screening, and I think I probably attended every single one of them which is crazy. And it's different from other film festivals. I think the first time I attended, I had this attitude that I'm going to up these films! And it's not really -- I realized that what it really is is a party for film makers almost with films in the background, and if I approached it with that attitude, I had much more fun.
CAVANAUGH: I wonder, tell us a little bit if you would about your film, Carnival.
KANEKAR: It's a very, very short film. It's about three minutes long. And it's surreal, nonrealistic and a bit dissonant.
CAVANAUGH: It sounds perfect.
KENDRICKS: I remember seeing this film a couple years ago, and what struck me is the lyrical quality of it. What I love about Cheryl's working she's a writer and director, and she's able to pull from both of these. And I think that Cheryl has a talent for these shows. And that's the consummate film makers.
KANEKAR: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: As Cheryl mentioned, her film is quite short. What's the range of timespans for these short films?
KENDRICKS: Well, they range from three minutes like Cheryl's film, my film Luke which played at the first at picture shows is going to be there, and there's another one that's a few hours long. So it runs the gamut in terms of how long does the filmmaker need to tell that story. Sometimes you see films that are features that really should be short films. Then you see a short that has the potential to be expanded upon as a feature. So what I like about Alt. Picture Shows and what I really enjoy about it is that it's really a celebration of the short film format as a work of art in itself, not as a calling card, not as a platform to just getting a feature. But really works that are almost like haikus, poems, short stories, where the film makers really say what they needed to say in this small, finite amount of time.
CAVANAUGH: To your point about making this very short film, Neal makes the point thatnies films are not what you would find in your multiplex. How hard is it getting a film that short screened for people to see it? Is that a challenge?
KANEKAR: Yeah, definitely. Because there is very little commercial space for short films of any kind. So in terms of making a living making short films, that's almost impossible. It has to be either a hobby or practice for bigger films. But then that also gives you a lot of freedom that you don't have with making features or TV shows because you can make a three minute film. And sometimes the story is best told in three minutes. But the Internet, of course, is a place. Film festivals are the place. None of these allow you to make a living. They allow you to show your work and hope somebody sees them.
CAVANAUGH: You mentioned about bringing back some of the hits of the past for this 10 year anniversary.
KENDRICKS: Well, it was a great opportunity to go back and look at some of the old tapes. And I actually had all the original little mini-cassettes that film makers have given me over the years, some dating all the way back to the first Alt. Picture Shows. So I went back to those, and the ones that had lodged themselves in my memory are the ones that make the short list. But then I was talking to one of my colleagues at the museum, and we realized that that program, just that section of it is almost three hours long. So even though they're short film, I think there's a range of stuff that's from live action to horror films to animation that you're going to find in the greatest hits section.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this year's selections, what are some of the highlights? You mentioned the tsunami film. What are you most excited about screening?
KENDRICKS: Well, you know, I'm often asked that question. But there's so much for everyone in terms of your particular taste. But something that I would like people to make time to see that maybe they wouldn't normally gravitate to, there's a lovely film called L Train, and this movie is so lyrically precise and beautiful, and it's just about regular life. It's about a teenager going to and from school. And there's no dialogue. And it's just about her experience on that walk. And she encounters a woman at a stairwell, and then it becomes an opportunity for something extraordinary to help. But the movie is sublime. That's the only way I can describe it. I saw it, and when I saw it at Sundance this year, I just found it incredibly moving. So I went up to the cinematographer, and I told him this is unique. And I do this festival, and then he got me in contact with the director, and we started exchanging e-mails. And I'm so pleased to be able to show that film and a lot of other films. I hate to pinpoint one particular one, but that one is very different. And it definitely won't be seen outside of the film festival circuit.
CAVANAUGH: I don't want to leave without emphasizing the fact that this is really a social community event as well as an opportunity to see films that you wouldn't normally see. It's kind of a schmooze, isn't it?
KANEKAR: It's actually better than a schmooze because really networking events are stressful. Everybody is looking over everybody's shoulder to see someone more important is coming in the room and I have to give them my card! This is more like a party for filmmakers where we're hanging out and talking.
CAVANAUGH: And that's what you're looking for?
KENDRICKS: Yeah, just the fact again that it's a celebration, an opportunity to really enjoy this work. And at the same time there is the social aspect of it. There is a bar. You can't do that in multiplex, at least not legally.