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Images Festival.


The 16th annual Images Festival ran in downtown Toronto from April 10 to 19. It's the artsy-fartsy festival: right--brained, underground, non--linear and definitely not Hollywood. These films ("movies" sounds inappropriate)--whether long or short, projected in cinemas or galleries--are about texture and aesthetics, not characters and stories. Music video producers and television--commercial houses mine this festival for new visual styles and innovative filmmakers, turning today's avant-garde into tomorrow's coffee commercial. The opening night film was the trippy Japanese anime Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space. From the first frame, Tamala sucks the viewer into a dazzling universe rendered in black and white but feeling as vivid as colour. We follow a cute, little feline who travels in space, sleeps a lot and casually drops the word "fuck" in the middle of sentences. The story has something to do with Catty & Co., a conglomerate that controls 96.72 per cent of the world's GDP, but is secretly an ancient cat c ult. Detailed visuals hold our interest for most of the film but the story is a mess.

The acclaimed Decasia by American Bill Morrison is a disturbing pastiche of decaying nitrate films accompanied by a swirling dissonant symphony (scored by Michael Gordon). The images themselves are banal (i.e., children walking with nuns, people waltzing), but the overall effect is gripping. However, this 67-minute film is unrelieved by any rise and fall in dynamics, visually or musically, and overstays its welcome halfway.

The artist spotlight fell on Germany's Harun Farocki, whose impressive oeuvre was awarded a mini-retrospective. Farocki's documentaries chronicle the post-war psyche of Germany. Images of the World and the Inscription of War is a dry, yet disturbing 1988 study of Auschwitz. How To Live in the German Federal Republic from 1990 is the closest Farocki will ever get to a comedy. The film stitches together 30 scenes from instructional films about how to properly behave in public. The most striking scene was of a teacher repeatedly chastising a little boy for not looking at the street before stepping off the curb; very German. The vintage Inextinguishable Fire consists of Farocki reading testimonials from Vietnamese napalm victims. Some 19 years later, Spalding Gray would attempt something similar in Swimming to Cambodia: delivering a static monologue, but adding music, lights and visuals.

Most Canadian films were shorts. Worth noting was award-winner Post Mark Lick by Sonia Bridge, a sumptuous four-minute concoction of old postage stamps assembled in "photo-gram" animation. Michael Steechy's Bubble Canopy is an enchanting two films in one of spinning moire patterns. Benjamin Ramsay's I Am a Boyband is a homoerotic send-up of the Backstreet Boys et al. All featured good musical soundtracks.

Disappointing was the Canadian premiere of I Love The Sound of the Kalachnikov, It Reminds Me of Tchaikovski. Though it was named the festival's Best International Video, Kalachnikov unsuccessfully straddles the line between personal film and documentary as it chronicles the "dislocation" of its author, Philippe Khazarian, and that of his people after the 1915 Armenian genocide. Atom Egoyan presented Kalachnikov, which suffers from the same criticism levelled at his film Ararat: that the massacre is told secondhand, keeping the audience at a cold distance. More personal was Trying to Be Some Kind of Hero, in which Canadian filmmaker Lester Alfonso returns to his Filipino roots to discover the true identify of his World War Two American G.I. father. Though competently told, Hero offers nothing new in terms of visual style or structure. It's a straightforward video and feels out of place at Images.

The excellent Brief Crossing by France's Catherine Breillat (The Fat Girl) suffers the same problem. It's a European art film stuck in the middle of an experimental film festival. There's no doubting the power of this feature, which follows an affair between an embittered, older Englishwoman and a 16-year-old French boy as they cross the English Channel by ferry. But as a linear, character-based picture, what is Brief Crossing doing at Images? The Mediatheque Lounge across the lobby offered welcome relief from the sterile surroundings of the Innis Town Hall. Run by Toronto's multimedia/art-happening collective, Instant Coffee, Mediatheque allowed people to stroll in, select a festival film on VHS and watch it on one of several monitors planted around the room illuminated by a spinning mirror ball. Many festival films originate in art galleries where the artwork is part of a larger milieu. Similarly, Mediatheque allowed the viewer's eye to casually leap from one artwork to another, inviting comparison and cont rast with other viewers.

The saving grace of the cavernous Innis Town Hall, however, is it allows musicians to accompany a film live. The highlight of the festival was Mark Hosler, who delivered an entertaining two-hour show and tell of his underground prankster band, Negativeland. The San Francisco band is infamous for parodying corporate ideology through music videos, inspiring headlines and lawsuits (U2 sued them for parodying "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"). Toronto new music ensemble, GUI-I, followed by performing experimental jazz to Melie's A Trip to the Moon, Kenneth Anger's Rabbit's Moon and other short films. At Latvian House, closing night's mix of Sammo Hung's martial arts flick, The Prodigal Son, with hip hop spun by DJ IXL and DJ Excess dazzled the audience.

Allan Tong is a Toronto--based filmmaker and freelance journalist.
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Author:Tong, Allan
Publication:Take One
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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