Short Films On Museum Walls
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
San Diego's best showcase for short films takes place this Thursday at MCASD's downtown location. Alt.pictureshows returns with films from all around the world screened on a continuous loop so you can physically channel surf the museum. We talk with curator Neil Kendricks.
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's alt.pictureshows is a one night only event. It takes place Thursday night from 7-10 in MCASD's downtown location.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. In the old days when movie theaters ran films continuously, members of the audience would often walk in during the middle of a film. Then you could decide to stay over to see the beginning, or maybe not. This week, you get the chance to walk in during the middle of a lot of films at the annual alt.pictureshows taking place at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown. Only this time, you might decide to see half of one and half of another and then start seeing another short film right at the beginning. Here to explain how this unusual night at the movies works is my guest Neil Kendricks, film curator at MCASD and founder of alt.pictureshows. Neil, welcome back.
NEIL KENDRICKS (Founder, alt.pictureshows): Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here.
CAVANAUGH: This is your eighth year of this short film festival. Explain to us again how this – this is unlike a typical film festival.
KENDRICKS: You know, it’s very unique and I think it’s kind of in a class by itself. I don’t see any other models that follow this sort of strategy of how to sort of relook at how people watch movies. For those that maybe this’ll be their first alt.pictureshows, what you can expect is that you will arrive at the museum and we will actually have films playing in both spaces as well as outside and also at the nearby SDSU downtown Gallery. And they are given a map and the map has a list of films that are playing on a loop throughout the evening in different rooms, and then we cut you loose.
KENDRICKS: And you kind of get to wander. And sort of decide what you want to watch when you want to watch it. And so oftentimes you will walk into the middle of a film and you’ll have to wait and sort of see the other films to get back to the place that you left off. And I like this idea. Physical channel surfing, that’s how I describe the event.
KENDRICKS: And is that you – you’re getting a workout. It’s a social event, it’s a happening, and at the same time it gets you off the couch and the, you know, the actual event, for people that aren’t members, is only five dollars, so the investment to see a range of work, some pieces from, you know, different parts of the world, for five bucks, I don’t think you can get a better ticket.
CAVANAUGH: Now talk to us a little bit about short films. When we have literary guests on, sometimes we talk about the fact that they have to champion the pleasures of the short story because maybe it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Do you think that short films are neglected that way?
KENDRICKS: Oh, certainly. And, I mean, that’s a very appropriate analogy because I think that most people think of movies as going to see a feature length film that’s at a theater or maybe a DVD that they got on Netflix and it’s something that’s over an hour or hour and a half or even two hours. But I think that one of the things that – one of the challenges of a short film is that it can be just as difficult as making a feature length film because now you have to deal with the concept of compression. Like how do you get an idea and fully express it and explore it in a finite amount of time? I would always – I would make an argument that that’s actually harder to do than sometimes a feature length film where an idea might have room to breathe and you can really kind of like develop the story with time. In a short film, you’ve got to jump immediately into the story, introduce the characters probably within the first scene and, hopefully, hook the audience. And some of my favorite writers are people that have never wrote novels, that were artists who excelled at the short story. At the top of my list, Raymond Carver. He never wrote a novel. He – but he was a master at sort of zooming in on the minutia of American life like what it felt like, his world. And I think a lot of these filmmakers share a similar passion, just in a different medium, of being able to express themselves with this very finite amount of time and, hopefully, hook an audience in the process.
CAVANAUGH: Where do you find the short films that you display in the alt.pictureshows?
KENDRICKS: I look everywhere, primarily at other film festivals. Oftentimes, I’ll go to short film programs but I’ve found stuff on YouTube. I’ve found stuff through reading an article about someone doing an interesting project. I’ve also found stuff meeting people at film festivals waiting in lines. So one of the things that’s kind of unique about this is that oftentimes I’ll run into filmmakers who are still working on a project and then I’ll start a correspondence with them. One of the films that’s going to be screening tomorrow night, “Theater of the Mind,” was actually someone that – a filmmaker by the name of Peter Gonzalez, who goes under the pseudonym of I.S. Von Hebel, and he’s a big fan of horror films. And we actually start – we met two years ago waiting in line at a, I think it was, an animation screening for short animated films. And he told me about a short horror film that he was working on and it intrigued me. And then he sent me a rough cut of it last year, and we thought about trying to see if he could finish it in time for last year’s screening and then I told him, you know what, why don’t you finish your film and do it to the extent of where you’re pleased with it rather than rushing. And so we kind of waited and now it’s done and we’re going to show it. So that’s not unusual. I’ve sometimes had to wait two – up to two years where someone’s working on something interesting, and then I just sort of look at different versions of it. Sometimes people ask me for feedback and so forth. Sometimes it’s just trying to track someone down…
KENDRICKS: …and it might take a year or two, you know. You would think everyone would be accessible via online, Facebook or something. I’ve found films on Facebook. Like, you know, you get friended by someone and you meet a filmmaker online. That’s happened a couple of times.
CAVANAUGH: So it comes from everywhere.
KENDRICKS: It comes from everywhere.
CAVANAUGH: Now there is one film you chose by a young filmmaker named Sara Colangelo? Colangelo? Colangelo, there we go. It’s called “Little Accidents.” Tell us about that film.
KENDRICKS: You know, I saw that film, in particular, at a short film showcase at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And what struck me about it was here was a perfect example of an intimate character study told in a few minutes. And we really get a sense of this character’s inner life, we get a sense of what this woman is going through without it being spelled out for us through the dialogue. It’s really about the performance and the director working with the actors in a way that is very trusting and, in a way, putting part of the burden of the film on their shoulders and trusting them that they’re going to be able to pull it off. To give you a little taste of what the storyline is, the character, who’s actually – I don’t even know if they tell her – tell us her name, she’s a young woman working in a minimum wage job at a factory. It’s implied that she just found out she might be pregnant and so then when she goes to confront the possible dad, she realizes that he’s already kind of moved on. He’s already chatting up with one of his other coworkers. And so she decides that what is she going to do? And one of her acquaintances, maybe somebody that she never noticed who also works at the factory, kind of – then I think they go to find a, you know, they have a interesting series of conversations, and I’ll leave it at that.
KENDRICKS: Because I don’t really want to spoil the emotional punch of the film because I think that Sara did a really wonderful job in terms of writing this story and finding the visuals to complement her writing.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this is a very provocative story and, indeed, you have to give yourself – give a lot of yourself to it to try to understand what’s going on. You don’t know the names of the characters. Are you drawn to short films that really do require something from the audience?
KENDRICKS: Yeah, I mean, I think art in general, I think, should demand something from the audience. It should ask you questions and prompt you to think of your own questions and response. Art isn’t about answers, it’s not about having something neatly tied up in a neat package that somehow – here’s the secrets of life in five minutes. If someone had that, I mean, that would be great but I think what – and when you’re talking about art and particular filmmaking, it’s really about like does it resonate with your life, or maybe people you know or certain experiences, or at least being open to a window into someone else’s experience that’s told through a fictional character or a nonfiction because we also have some documentary films as well. So I definitely am drawn to films where the filmmaker has a point of view, has a vision, and they want to say something to the audience. So it’s – But then there’s some pieces here that are just purely fun. Some of the animation is – I don’t think the – that they had a particularly profound vision in terms of like this is a window to the human condition. Sometimes it’s enough that the filmmaker gives us a few engaging moments that take us away from the real world.
CAVANAUGH: And is so visually engaging. I want to just talk a minute about another of the little dramas that you have. It’s called “Family Jewels,” this particular short film. And I think it has a relevance for especially here in San Diego being a military town the way we are. Let’s hear a scene from “Family Jewels.” In this scene, the woman comes home to find that her husband has thrown her a surprise party the night before she’s being deployed overseas, and she’s not very happy about the fact. Here’s the couple. They argue in the kitchen while the party goes on in the living room.
(audio of clip from the short film by Martin Stitt, “Family Jewels”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s a clip from “Family Jewels,” one of the short films being shown at the alt.pictureshows at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego downtown this Thursday night. With me is Neil Kendricks, he’s film curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art and it’s amazing – it’s amazing how much that filmmaker gets in in this very, very short film.
KENDRICKS: Yeah, just to give you a little background on it, the film’s written and directed by a British filmmaker by the name of Martin Stint (sic). I met him at Sundance. He’s studying in the master’s program at the American Film Institute. And, again, here’s another example of a kind of microcosm that – of the world told very quickly and very precisely. I thought that was a very appropriate clip because it really gives you a sense of Martin’s talent and skill with dialogue and also being able to elicit believable performances from his actors. And then also you were – you know, when you mentioned that, you know, being in a military town, that was part of my rationale also of picking this particular short because I knew that the audience knows this story and they know it firsthand or at least segments of the audience. Everyone here, I think, in San Diego knows someone who’s in the military, maybe belongs to a military family, and knows the trials and difficulties, especially living in, you know, life during war time.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now one of the new things about this year’s alt.pictureshows is that you’ll be showing films in the new SDSU Gallery downtown. And one of them is a video installation by two local professors. Tell us about that.
KENDRICKS: Yeah, here’s another case where I heard about someone’s project and they’d been working on it for a number of years and we started a dialogue a number of years ago about potentially showing it at a future alt.pictureshows. Two local artists and art professors at San Diego State University, Richard Keely and Anna O’Cain, they had been doing a series of video documentations of the devastation after Katrina and as anyone who’s turned on the news or opened a newspaper in the last few months knows, that the Gulf has become this epicenter of crisis. And they’ve gone back repeatedly to kind of find – sort of look at what’s gong on in the region. Anna, I believe, is originally from the Mississippi area, so she knows the region intimately. She grew up there. She still has family ties there. And so their piece is, I think, going to be a very lyrical and powerful video installation. What’s a – For those that might not be familiar with some of the phrases that the art world uses, it’s a two channel video installation and what that means is that it’s going to have two videos being projected simultaneously on a freestanding screen that you can walk around. So you’ll see one video on one surface of the screen and then you’ll walk around to the other side and there’ll be a complementary video with a different series of images. And the way they described the project to me is that there’ll be a series of birdhouses that will actually have speakers inside them and you will hear these series or excerpts of interviews that they’ve conducted with people living in the region and, you know, the fallout of these series of disasters that has plagued the Gulf.
CAVANAUGH: While you walk around looking at the images.
CAVANAUGH: How many, Neil, how many films are there going to be screened?
KENDRICKS: This is actually one of the smaller selections that I’ve done. This – there’s 18 films and – but then I kind of clocked them in and, you know, sort of looked at how long they were and you still can’t see everything within three hours. I’ve had other alt.pictureshows where we had, you know, close to 25 and so forth. So this event is constantly going through a kind of growth process and, you know – but what’s so fun about it is that I always get to discover something new and I get to share that with the audience. Something that’s also a special treat is before the films start to screen at 7:00 p.m., I encourage people to get there early, is David Jay, formerly of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, for those alternative rock fans out there, he’s going to be spinning records out on the plaza and that was sort of a coup for us, and I’m a big fan of those – both of those bands, so to – I’m looking forward to meeting him. We’ve been exchanging e-mails and such but…
CAVANAUGH: Sounds like you do that a lot. We have to wrap it up, Neil, but thank you so much for coming in and telling us about this.
KENDRICKS: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
CAVANAUGH: The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s alt.pictureshows is a one night only event. It takes place Thursday night and, as you heard, maybe get there a little bit before seven and listen to the music, and the show runs from 7:00 to 9:00 at MCASD’s downtown location. If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two of These Days, coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.