Eyes at Front

At the 16th Dallas Video Festival, you cannot--and should not--look away

The Dallas Video Festival folks like to say that when Bart Weiss and Melissa Berry conceived their child in 1986, before the fest even had a name, video was the dominion of pornographers and avant-gardists who were experimenting with the still-burgeoning medium. Video cameras were years away from being the everyday playthings of the middle class; the notion of Hollywood buying (for millions!) and selling big-screen films made with digital cameras was laughable; Mark Cuban thought "high def" was something you smoked. Back then, most of what Weiss and Berry offered up was exotica to be inhaled by the few brave souls who wanted to know what was happening outside the boundaries of their little boxes and big screens. Those who came saw, and what they saw was often inexplicable, indefinable, unimaginable.

Today, as the DVF enters its 16th year (making it old enough to drive, not old enough to drink, though many of its filmmakers do far more than that), the video camera is not just the commonplace tool of the parent documenting a kid's birthday, but also a weapon of defense; ask Rodney King. It's a device small enough to carry in a coat pocket but big enough to capture the destruction of skyscrapers, the slaughter of tribesmen defending their homeland, the stripping away of personal freedoms--and, yeah, the taking off of clothes, all in the name of art, but of course. Everyone's a documentary filmmaker in 2003; you just don't know it yet. Weiss does, which is why he carries on each year with a festival filled with the peculiar and the breathtaking, the disturbing and the hilarious, the profound and the inexplicable. As always, the only unifying theme in the works being shown at the DVF is that nothing binds them together save for the dedication of the artist and the appreciation of the audience.

There are plenty of make-believe tales, but more documentaries than ever before. Perhaps Weiss believes we need to know more about ourselves now than ever; he's selected documentaries about American terrorists and the disappearance of freedom in bomb-blasted Israel to provide a little context. And he has invited documentary immortal Albert Maysles, for whom everyone alive is a subject waiting to be filmed, to present an award to a newcomer worthy of such praise. And maybe the DVF is more important today than ever before, at a time when people are being suckered into believing what they're seeing is "reality television" instead of dreadful, deceitful fiction. When you need a dose of the good stuff, even if it means looking at bad stuff happening out there, look here.

The Oscar-nominated Spellbound, which takes place at (of all places) a spelling bee, is the funniest and most heartbreaking film you will see all year.
The Oscar-nominated Spellbound, which takes place at (of all places) a spelling bee, is the funniest and most heartbreaking film you will see all year.
Truth decay: In Decasia, a man fights against the rot of time and loses the battle.
Truth decay: In Decasia, a man fights against the rot of time and loses the battle.

Details

For ticket information and a complete schedule of films and show times, go to www.videofest.org.
runs March 19 through March 23. Screenings will be held at the Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane, and the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St.

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"The need for serious work is more important now than ever before," Weiss says. "We don't have everything about war and peace, but all these issues are behind most everything we're showing. These are serious times. We had a staff meeting about what if war breaks out during the fest, and we've never had that before." He almost chuckles. "I hope what we show gives context, provides a broader sense about what these things are really about."

Reviews of some festival highlights by Eric Celeste, Zac Crain, John Gonzalez, Patrick Williams and Robert Wilonsky.


2002 London International Advertising Awards
Always a fest highlight, even if this years winners are a bit more familiar (plenty of spots for Levis, Fox Sports Net, Xbox, Nike, etc.) and American. Rares the outrageous foreign spot (the only nudity comes courtesy a brilliant and hysterical short for a Los Angeles fitness club); Sam Jackson, strolling down a dusty road spouting off about money, appears in an advert for Barclays Bank, but otherwise its business as usual. Most intriguing, by which I mean most depressing, is a series of Japanese PSAs for Alzheimers, which are more like short films but play loooongnonetheless. But the series is a treat, and worth it for the chance to see the entire collection of the Grand Prize-winning New York City tourism spots that feature, among others, Woody Allen on ice skates, Billy Crystal as a turkey and Robert De Niro as a pilgrim. March 23, 12 p.m., Horchow Auditorium, DMA.(RW)

Adolf Eichmann
Nissim Mossek and Alan Rosenthal serve us the dessert first. Were treated to the sweetest part straightaway as they use re-enactments and old black-and-white footage to detail how Adolf Eichmann--a Nazi monster responsible for the murder of some 5 million Jews during World War II--goes on the run like a petty criminal. We learn how the Israelis hunt him down like a rabid dog, how hes tried, convicted and eventually (not to mention thankfully) hanged. And yet there is little comfort. Where this film deviates from its History Channel feel is in its humanization of a man who was at one time a self-proclaimed dedicated Nazi before, at deaths door, rejecting the views he once embraced. Eichmann is shown to be more common than we would like--a bald, bespectacled man, completely unremarkable in appearance or intellect or background; a poor student who failed as a traveling salesman before becoming Hitlers chief thug. Throughout the film, he is mostly even-tempered--a stark contrast to the jackbooted crazies who defined the Nazi movement. Therein lies the underscored point, and with it a grim realization: The man who orchestrated some of the most ineffable atrocities in world history could have been your neighbor. He is the embodiment of evil without, unfortunately, the proper dressings. Mossek and Rosenthals take on the man is at once enlightening and sobering. March 23, 3:30 p.m., Video Lounge, DMA. (JG)

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