By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Hide and Seek
Saturday, March 7; 8:30 p.m. in the TV Lounge
Contrary to what the religious right might have you think, homosexuality was not invented when philandering draft-dodger Bill Clinton squeaked into the White House six years ago. Lesbian love was alive and well in the sacrosanct 1950s, even if its expression was not.
Su Friedrich's Hide and Seek is a quietly astonishing hybrid of fact and fiction, one of those video testaments about childhood that makes us realize how memory and imagination, history and narrative are fatally interlocked. Friedrich grafts real talking-head interviews with a variety of women--some of them immigrants--who grew up in the '50s and early '60s and educational films from that era about teen development onto a fictional story about a girl on the cusp of adolescence who discovers she has a crush on her female best friend. Juxtaposed with authentic memories of prepubescent gender-bending and snippets of testimony by Eisenhower-era experts who assiduously avoid the "L" word, Friedrich's little touches of poignant awkwardness--our heroine taking advantage of a discussion about sex with her friend to trade some tentative physical affection--resonate throughout the swings between documentary and drama. (JF)
Fear and Favor in the News Room
Saturday, March 7; 9 p.m. in the Video Box
Narrated by author Studs Turkel--the venerable social critic who's sort of like Norman Mailer sans the tedious macho obsessions--Fear and Favor in the News Room is a must-see for everyone who gets their impressions of the world from local and national media in print and on TV. Even if you espouse the debatable theory that journalists are more liberal than other Americans, you run up against one mammoth brick wall of a fact--most journalists work for editors who work for large companies that need to turn a profit in the local, national, and international markets. This means financial conflicts over what journalists cover frequently shape the stories you get. Whether it be controversial subjects affecting advertisers, media owners, or media board members who also serve on corporate boards, news writers are often edited away from matters of public concern and safety. Yet as reporters from The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution make clear in interviews for this clear-eyed documentary, it's rarely as flagrant as that overused lefty shibboleth "censorship." Rather, writers who've uncovered some bit of big-business chicanery or a real violation of public safety are redirected (and sometimes physically relocated) by an editor who wants to remain employed.
General Electric, which owns multiple national media outlets as well as nuclear power facilities, is just one example of a business behemoth that's exerted pressure on the news stories that affect it; the purse strings revealed here stretch all the way into such supposedly "liberal" forums as PBS-TV's The McNeil/Lehrer News Hour. If Fear and Favor in the News Room makes one thing clear, it's that the American people would be wise to stop deconstructing their media in "liberal vs. conservative" terms and start examining what they read, see, and hear as the product of "private interests vs. public concerns." (JF)
It's a Strange World
Saturday, March 7; 10 p.m. in Bart's Bistro
Sunday, March 8; 4 p.m. in Bart's Bistro
A compilation of 12 shorts by U.S. artists--connected by the loose thread of general experimentation and what I'd hoped would turn up some of the festival's most interesting stuff--turns out to be an uneven waste of time and talent.
The opener is funny enough: Jim Jacobs, an annual DVF contributor, continues his helpful-hints series with "Guidelines for Public Speaking," a deadpan, well-performed parody of self-help videos. And "Beyond Asiaphilia" is a too-short though timely documentary about the burgeoning American obsession with Hong Kong cinema. But the other shorts (not short enough) lumber through bad special effects, shallow performance art, and dead-in-the-water stabs at comedy. "Rant" follows the mercilessly long misadventure of two real-life ants who've strayed from their ant hill, while voice-over actors supply the ants' uninspired "dialogue." "Understory" borrows dated Goth rock aesthetics as a camera oozes endlessly through underground sewer systems and occasionally lights on shrouded figures who chant gibberish. And local artist Marian Henley, creator of the consistently funny "Maxine" comic strip, falters with an inane live-action comedy short. Starring herself and her friends dancing through an intersection crosswalk, it ain't gonna entertain anyone but the people in it. C'mon. With all the unexplored territory of video art, a cross-country search should bring in better than this. (CR)
Blacks and Jews
Sunday, March 8; 1 p.m. in the Electronic Theater
"Why are you people always whining about the Holocaust?" a black man yells into a white Jewish woman's face. "Well, why are you people always whining about slavery?" she counters with equal ferocity.
The two are actors in a New York theatrical exercise, designed in a workshop to help relieve some of the ethnic tensions caused by Brooklyn's Crown Heights imbroglio of the early '90s, when a Jewish driver killed a black kid in a traffic accident and triggered riots, city council face-offs, and at least one murder in retribution. The compelling, informative, historically savvy documentary Blacks and Jews uses this chaos and the ensuing attempts to quell it to project backward through the 20th century and explain why, when so many black and Jewish leaders were in sync during the early 1900s, the relationship has deteriorated to (at best) public exchanges of epithets like "hymie" and "spearchucker" and (at worst) homicidal violence. Culling film and video footage from before, during, and after the civil rights era, Blacks and Jews shows us how mutual animosity ignites at the street level (demonstrations and riots against Jewish property owners by black buyers and renters in Chicago neighborhoods during the '50s) and at the academic level (a grimly hilarious TV exchange between Tikkun's Michael Lerner and Harvard conservative Cornel West, both noted national intellectuals, who hurl invectives rather than rocks and bottles during a childish shouting match).