By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
O Night Without Objects
Thursday, March 5; 8:30 p.m. in the Video Box
Actually a trio of videos by Jeanne Finley and John Muse, the second, longer selection, titled "Based on a Story," is a documentary about a wheelchair-bound Nebraska Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who befriends a Jewish cantor and eventually converts to Judaism. It far outweighs the other two experimental shorts by sheer heft of its true-story subject.
In conventional documentary form, "Story" unfolds the life of Lawrence Roger Trapp, an abrasive guy with a history of crippling diabetes and petty crime, who takes his misery out on everybody in his small-town path. The Klan merely validates his longtime, indiscriminate hate. When he starts harassing Michael Weissner, a Jewish clergyman new to the neighborhood, Trapp unexpectedly drops his twisted supremacy theories after Weissner thoughtfully questions his motives. In short order, lonely Trapp ends up not only denouncing his ugly past, but actually moving into the Weissner family home and leaning on Weissner's wife as his personal nurse. Trapp died in the Weissner guest room in 1992, leaving behind a conflicted family and community.
Sound squirrely? The filmmakers let the viewer decide how healthy or appropriate the increasingly blurred boundaries among his subjects really are. Is the Trapp-Weissner relationship an illustration of basic human kindness breaking down a misguided defense system, or a defense system taking advantage of human kindness?
The other two short films, "Timebomb" and "The Adventures of Blacky"--which pander to an artier contingent through unstructured visual poetics--allude to the way children's early experiences form their adult sensibilities. In the first, a woman monologues over static imagery about time she spent at a Baptist family camp as a young girl, and how the camp's after-dinner assembly games terrified her. In the last, an androgynous child (think David Bowie at 12) answers psycho-babble questions about violent picture cards of dogs, while compulsively sharpening a stack of pencils. Right. These bookends are so stylistically different from the straight-made middle documentary that any connective theme among the three seems forced. (CR)
The Last Angel of History
Thursday, March 5; 10 p.m. in Bart's Bistro
Detroit techno artist Derrick May calls funk superstar George Clinton a "fucking maniac" when trying to pinpoint the appeal of the musician's far-out ideas--but he may as well be referring to his interviewer, filmmaker John Akomfrah. In this piece, best described as a cultural documentary masquerading as science fiction, Akomfrah tells the story of a "data thief" from 200 years in the future who sells his soul for knowledge of the future, only to have to live in the past--our present. Within this odd, rather stiff structural device, Akomfrah presents a surprisingly compelling vision of futurism in black society, a vision that is best illuminated through music. By encompassing tribal drumbeats, the blues of Robert Johnson, Clinton's album Mothership Connection, the jazz of Sun Ra, and today's techno pioneers, Akomfrah guarantees that this piece is at least aurally and visually interesting. But put in context with interviews and commentary by musicians like May, fans such as astronaut Bernard A. Harris, former Star Trek-er Nichelle Nichols, and sci-fi writers Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler, Last Angel actually goes a long way toward proving that behind Akomfrah's far-out premise lies a not-so-crazy message: A people often regarded as obsessed with their past may have always been living for the future. (SKJ)
Rumour of True Things
Thursday, March 5; 10:30 p.m. in the Video Box
This melange of footage from satellite maps, X-rays, infrared video, microscopic cameras, security tapes, and computer screens takes a look at how we as a society use technology to look at ourselves. For all the interesting juxtaposing of images (video shot from the perspective of a race-car driver bleeding into a video game in the perspective of a race-car driver; virtual men watching video footage of a real stripper), at 25 minutes, Rumour gets tedious. While, no doubt, that's part of the desired effect--you know, the ol' "humanity's nonstop pursuit (and perusal) of technology dehumanizes us" mantra--it still doesn't keep you from wanting to hit the fast-forward button. (SKJ)
Friday, March 6; 7 p.m. in the TV Lounge
Former Dallas Observer film critic Matt Zoller Seitz may have abandoned us for the bright lights and cramped housing of New York's Greenwich Village, but he hopes to see his first screenplay produced and shot right here in his hometown. To that end, Gretchen and Julia Dyer of One Mind Productions (they wrote and directed Late Bloomers, the cool lesbian romantic comedy that Strand released nationwide to limited but enthusiastic critical notices) have collaborated with the Dallas Video Festival to offer local audiences a staged reading of Powwow, Seitz's debut script about parents thrown into an economic and emotional tailspin when their grown daughter's relationship with a different kind of guy forces everyone to scrap the family formula.
Gretchen and Julia have assembled some of the best actors in Dallas theater, including Bruce DuBose, Sheriden Thomas, Cameron Cobb, and Tina Parker, for this live reading of Seitz's fractured family saga. Recommendation to Dallas theater audiences: Even if this doesn't make it to the big screen, catch this one-time-only assemblage of top local talent. Recommendation to potential financiers: If Seitz's screenplay goes into production, keep as much of this cast as possible. (JF)
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