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San Diego Underground Film Festival Kicks Off Thursday

Highlighting independent films where you ‘can feel the authorship’

Photo caption:

Photo credit: San Diego Underground Film Festival

Michael Morris will be flying out from Dallas to perform with a set of Expanded Cinema called Second Hermeneutic and Third Hermeneutic at this year's San Diego Underground Film Festival.

San Diego Underground Film Festival embarks on its third year Friday night and runs through Sunday at Tenth Avenue Arts Center.

Ryan Betschart makes experimental films and was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to showcase that kind of filmmaking.

"People try to put experimental film into the gallery, and I don’t think it belongs in the gallery," Betschart said. "And then people try to dismiss narrative films, and I don’t think narrative films need to be dismissed. So I think they are like friends, they complement each other."

Three years ago he launched the San Diego Underground Film Festival to create an event that would showcase a diverse array of experimental, documentary, and narrative films. Now he watches thousands of submissions each year to select the films to fill his four-day event.

"There’s one amazing one this year called 'UFO Days' by Quinn Else," Betschart said. "He does this thing where you are watching this documentary about a UFO convention kind of thing and someone is giving a speech. Then you see this actor as an alien visitor, but you’re watching this guy give a speech, and you think why is this actor there? So you have these real people interact with the 'alien' in scripted ways and you go, 'Wow! Is everyone part of this fake movie? So you are wondering which part is documentary, which part is made up."

Process, intent

What is important is the process by which a film is made. The festival is not merely concerned with what a filmmaker puts up on the screen but also with what his or her intent was.

"We are really about intentions because it’s a lot of self-awareness," Betschart explained. "We want someone who is aware of other artists. We really don’t like uninformed media makers. We want people to know there’s a history, to know that if they are making a colorful horror film with red and magenta gels that [Dario] Argento has done that before. But if they are like, 'I made that up,' then we are like no, no you didn’t."

That sometimes means ferreting out the filmmaker's intent by looking to the artists' social media and websites.

Rachel Nakawatase organizes and runs the festival with Betschart.

"We feel that all the films we do select have some process that is very unique to that filmmaker, they have developed a style, and a lot of them have on their website, their whole theory and philosophy and artist’s statement that explains all of that stuff and why they do what they do," Nakawatase said.

That is why the festival prides itself on having nearly half of the filmmakers on hand to present their films so that attendees can ask about that process and about a filmmaker's intent.

Betschart points to a film he showcased last year called "Regal" by Karissa Hahn.

"It’s just the opening of Regal Cinemas, the opening you see at the theater chain and that’s all it is," Betschart said. "But what's fascinating is the process by which she did this. She found Regal Cinemas’ trailer on YouTube and downloaded it off YouTube and then printed every single frame onto a 16mm clear leader strip. So the original trailer was shot on 35mm then made digital then put on YouTube then she downloaded and turned it into a kind of hand animation and we showed it on 16mm."

Defining 'underground'

For Betschart, what defines "underground" for the festival is "cinema that is strictly independent in a way that you can feel the authorship in every single film distinct to the person that made the film."

But the festival does not limit itself to just film, it pushes the boundaries of what we define as a film experience by including augmented reality like Dekker Dryer's "The Summoning."

"He is like a VR (virtual reality) guru, and he is moving beyond VR and into augmented reality more and game-oriented so it's less passive for a viewer you are more active. He premiered this earlier this year at ScareLA."

Expanded Cinema

The festival also includes something called Expanded Cinema that combines film and theater.

"It’s almost like deejaying but with projectors," Nakawatase said. "That is how we’ve been describing it. So one of our performances on Saturday, by Kristin Reeves, is 'What Is Nothing [After What is Nothing]' and she is driving out from Kentucky to do a nine 16mm projector performance where she has them lined up in a grid, like three by three, and when the image lines up, they all like overlap images and colors and textures. But she is one person working nine projectors all at once and it’s going to be amazing."

The festival showcases animation, documentary, narrative and a range of genres, but all experiment with form and content to challenge your expectations. Expand your cinematic horizons over the next four days with the San Diego Underground Film Festival.

San Diego Underground Film Festival embarks on its third year Thursday night and runs through Sunday at Tenth Avenue Arts Center.

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