Channel surfing

The 1994 Dallas Video Festival mixes equal parts ineptitude and brilliance

Moments in Time. (Nov 19, 6:30 pm, TV Diner.) This ragtag collection of shorts includes two pieces about the late Ron Vawter, the internationally recognized experimental theater actor who died of AIDS shortly after he played a member of the sleazy law firm in Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia. One is shot in Brussels, where he languished during his last days with the disease. Following are a series of PSAs designed to raise determination and consciousness among American Indians. John Willke and Melinda Levin in attendance. (JF)

No Resistance. (Nov. 19, 8:15 p.m., Video Box.) Every film student and film fan in the Dallas area should see this super-low-budget cyberpunk thriller: like El Mariachi, it's an object lesson in how efficient direction, a smart script, an original premise, and absolute artistic conviction can transform a piece of shoestring schlock into something special. Set in the dystopian near future in Houston, Texas, and shot mostly with a handheld video camera, it's another one of those outsider-trapped-between-warring-forces movies, like The Maltese Falcon, Yojimbo, Miller's Crossing, and Fresh, that embroils its protagonist so deep in plot complications that you can't even imagine how he could ever escape. When he does, you're both astounded and grateful.

The hero, Dij (David Rains), a homeless, snarling, coke-addled, pink-haired veteran of the Russian-American war, is an information-age gunslinger who wanders the mean streets armed with his trusty laptop computer and a pair of sunglasses through which he can see both the world around him and the flickering data summoned through his keyboard. He'll do just about anything for a fee: erase your phone bill in exchange for 35 percent of its cost, break into a hospital's computer network so you can turn off mama's life support and collect her fortune, you name it.

Because he doesn't talk much and keeps mostly to himself, Dij at first seems to be a scuzzy, amoral nomad. But he has a code of ethics--it's just buried so deep inside his cynical soul that we can't readily see it. I don't want to give the plot away: suffice it to say that Dij gets caught between warring street gangs, corporate thugs, and other baddies who want a deadly military secret he accidentally came in contact with, and he has to play them against each other, using only his wits and computer skills, if he hopes to come out alive.

The almost nonexistent production values aren't camouflaged. It's obvious that director Tim Thomson shot this feature anyplace people would let him and stocked the cast with friends whose performances range from wretched to just barely competent (except for the star, whose surprisingly nuanced tough-guy turn recalls Emilio Estevez in Repo Man). But aside from a couple of dull musical montage sequences, Thomson keeps things moving inexorably forward, letting every scene carry its proper weight, choosing his camera angles to pump up suspense and advance the plot rather than dazzle us with film-schoolish faux sophistication. No Resistance is the most original sci fi flick I've seen in some time--living proof that art can be found in the unlikeliest of places. It's a puny laptop with the power of the Pentagon's mainframe. Screened with Thomson in attendance. (MZS)

Orion Climbs. (November 19, 1:30 pm, Video Box.) The latest from video artist Michael C. Reilly, whose short subject Glass Jaw--about his recuperation from a traffic accident--was one of the very best items on last year's schedule. Reilly again uses his favored medium, Pixelvision, a black-and-white camera developed by toymaker Fisher-Price--this time to film himself and acquaintances discussing manhood, childhood, families, fate, and the universe. Reilly overlays words, letters, astronomical maps, floating globes, and other items, creating a star map of colliding ideas that mirrors his interview subjects' quest to put their musings into a lasting context. It's impossible to describe Reilly's visual brilliance in words (although he might be able to--his written narration is amazingly graceful and spare). His short subjects are like Morse code blips from our collective subconscious bounced off a satellite, then etched onto the pages of a poet's notebook. You don't so much watch them as feel them. (MZS)

Penn and Teller's Invisible Thread. (Nov. 18, 9 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) I'm always happy to see this team of postmodern geek-trick magicians strut their stuff, but considering there are hundreds of videomakers desperate to be included on this festival's schedule, what is this project--which first popped up on Showtime in 1987--doing on it? Hey, folks, I've got a keen compilation tape of the old Filmation "Spider-Man" cartoons at home. Can I enter it in next year's festival? (MZS)

Performance Transformance. (Nov 18, 10:10 pm, Video Box.) The late composer Jerry Hunt is profiled in two of three parts of this performance art program. Telephone Calls to the Dead features some of Hunt's inexplicable noise tracks mixed with blue-screen video effects, as well as a deteriorating Hunt discussing armadillos outside his rural North Texas Home. Transform: stream (core) features Hunt's disembodied head against a black backdrop, channeling poltergeists. If you knew of Hunt, nothing you see will surprise. (JF)

Pie in the Sky: The Lottery and the IRS. (November 17, 7:30 p.m., Fleischner Courtyard.) Cronyism is its own punishment. I say that because this piece by local musicians Amy Selton and Kim Corbet (who is also a KERA disc jockey) is so clumsily directed, overlong, and unfunny that the only justification I can see for including it in this year's schedule is that the Video Festival's artistic director, Bart Weiss, has a cameo in it.

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