Tale of the Tapes

With headliners like Mike Judge and an impressive list of films, the Dallas Video Festival once again wins by knockout

What passes for "reality" under the great video eye of network television is pretty lame these days. Personally, we're not going to take that prefab national phenom known as Survivor seriously until someone dies of exposure, snakebite, or hunger during the show. Similarly, we'll consider Temptation Island "reality-based programming" only when one of the boyfriends starts to feel a burning sensation while urinating, and a trip to the health clinic includes a video log of the mundane horror of gonorrhea.

Thank God, the Dallas Video Festival returns for a 14th year to remind us that everyone has a story to tell, and whether they're documentary or fictional, creative or crappy, these tales won't stand or fall on how well a national cross section of 18- to 34-year-olds receives them. Entertainment pundits are watching the signs--How many HDTVs are being bought? How many major distributors picked up video features at Sundance? How will the next Star Wars episode, to be partially shot in a digital process developed by Lucasfilm, perform at the box office?--for when digital video has started to compete with film and television for America's entertainment dollar. We haven't arrived there, but as the nation's three largest video festivals--DVF, New York Video Festival, and AFI's Los Angeles Film and Video Festival--demonstrate every year, video has distinguished itself as a medium that's unusually accessible for artists, maybe even more so than for audiences. As more people get to tell more weird, personal stories in weirder and more personal ways, it's inevitable that the number of viewers for each tale will be smaller. We remain hopeful that artist and audience can connect more intimately after the thrill-seekers are weeded out.

So when we say there's something for everyone at the Dallas Video Festival, we don't mean that each of those "somethings" is intended for everyone. They're drama, comedy, history, documentary, music, and experimental works whose only link to one another is their format. A very popular--and artistically laudable--exception is this year's Ernie Kovacs Award recipient, former Dallasite Mike Judge. The creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill will be honored March 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Kalita Humphreys Theater for his contribution to television. When the notoriously shy Judge comes to pick up his award, Garland residents can marvel at how much he sounds like Arlen's most successful propane salesman. Score another one for the Dallas Video Festival, and video in general--even Hank Hill's nationally popular stories can only be fully appreciated by a small group of listeners. ¯Jimmy Fowler

Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.
Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.
Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.
Duane Graves
Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.

The 14th Annual Dallas Video Festival happens March 14, 15, 16, and 18 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. March 17 events occur at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St., and at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood. Tickets are $5-$15 for single-day passes and $45 for all-festival passes. Call 1-800-494-TIXS. For a complete schedule, check the DVF's Web site at www.videofest.org/2001/.

What follow are select reviews of video festival highlights written by Eric Celeste, Zac Crain, Jimmy Fowler, Bret McCabe, Patrick Williams, and Robert Wilonsky. Except where otherwise noted, video festival events occur at one of the Kalita Humphreys Theater's four venues: Video Lounge, Video Box, Video Cabaret, or Videotheque.

Wednesday, March 14

Once and Future Queen

Digital-video terrorist Todd Verow has become the darling of the New York Underground Film Festival for his features and shorts, which combine the trash-collectivist aesthetics of John Waters with the technical ability of the Dogme '95--he loves to wallow around with self-destructive urban characters who crave fame and money, but when Verow and his editor-cameraman Jim Dwyer boast about using only available light and handheld cameras, they have the technical chops to incorporate these limitations into a seamless and--dare I say it--even professional style. With his latest feature Once and Future Queen, he's got a bit more up his sleeve than glamorizing suicidal East Side musicians. This portrait of an over-the-hill punk singer named Anti-Matter (a truly hilarious Philly) owes more to Ab Fab's Pats and Eddie than G.G. Allin. Whether she's draining the booze from an alcoholic friend's pad "to remove all temptation for you" or sullenly raiding the refrigerator of one of her three ex-husbands ("he's just pissed because I pulled a knife on him"), Anti-Matter is the pitch-perfect intersection of where narcissism crosses arrested ability. (JF) Adam Cohen's quest to document the death of Barcelona's red-light district in 1994--at the tail end of a street-sweeping effort similar to Rudy Giuliani's attempts to turn Times Square into Disney's latest theme park--was a noble idea. As it turns out, however, Cohen showed up too late (once teeming with sex shops and prostitutes, the area is now imprisoned under several thick coats of whitewash), and unfortunately, he also found himself without the skill to do much of anything once his grand idea had turned into vapor. Cohen's style owes much to his genuinely talented brother Jem (whose work was showcased here last year), but he doesn't have the polish to pull it off, as Fire of Time is more of a waste of time, a random assortment of camera tricks and pointed-yet-pointless imagery. (ZC)

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