Dallas VideoFest enters its 29th year on Tuesday, Oct. 18, and that means more than 150 boundary-pushing things to see and do. Its programmer/creator, Bart Weiss, is a local counter-culture staple who’s helped push new media to the forefront of Dallas life for more than three decades. His reach runs so deep that it’s truly tough to imagine our city’s fabric today without his influence. (But if I had to guess, I’d probably envision a dull textile like linen, and in a very unfun color.)
What I’m saying here is this: Weiss is a tumbleweed Dallas was lucky to catch. That’s why we gave him an Observer Mastermind Award in 2014.
When a festival has been running for nearly three decades as VideoFest has, you’d expect its programmer to chill out already. To take it easy and let momentum carry the thing. But that isn’t the case here. Not even close. In fact, this year’s festival seems bigger than ever.
From social justice to chamber music, Dallas history to Holocaust humor (you read that right), you’ll locate something aligned to your taste. Here are 10 highlights for the fest, which runs from Oct. 18 to 23.
Sunrise, with a live, original musical score
VideoFest 29 opens to a collaborative project with Dallas Chamber Symphony’s UnSilent screening series. (That’s where contemporary composers draft new soundtracks to silent films.)
Boasting a brand-new score by Joe Kraemer (Jack Reacher, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), F.W. Murnau’s 1927 classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, gets the live accompaniment treatment starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18.
If you are a southern gal and haven’t seen Sunrise before, you will leave knowing two valuable things. 1) City women are generally bad news. And 2) Always bring an extra bundle of sticks when taking a boat ride with your husband.
Rebirth of a Nation with SMU quartet and DJ Spooky remix
To label The Birth of a Nation as “problematic” would be an undersell. Released in 1915, D.W. Griffith’s film was a blockbuster so popular it even screened at the White House. How did it sell so many tickets? By depicting white people in black face behaving despicably while glamorizing the KKK. (The klan later used the work as a recruiting tool.)
Fast forward 100 years. It’s the early aughts and Paul Miller (AKA: DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid) begins wrestling with the film’s constructs. Rather than allowing its story to carry on as is, he decided to step in and remix the thing. He chopped and looped it: narratively, visually, contextually and audibly. He made it his own.
“It democratizes things,” he told NPR in a 2004 interview. “It says, ‘Hey, you have one version that’s the official version, but this is my version.'”
By orienting the film through his art and his vision, Miller gave it a “digital exorcism” and a new name: Rebirth of a Nation. See it and hear it, with accompaniment by SMU Meadow’s new music ensemble, SYZYGY quartet, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Texas Theatre (231 W. Jefferson Blvd.). Tickets cost $15 to $20.
How the News Got Made: A Rare Look at SMU’s WFAA Newsfilm and a Conversation with the People Who Created It
Did you know that SMU houses a refrigerated Dallas film vault? To reach it, you’ll need a guide — and maybe a sweater. Inside it exists the stuff of nerdly fantasies: wheeled shelves that stretch from floor to ceiling, stacked with boxes of old video, ephemera and tins of 16mm and 35mm film.
One slab of the space is dedicated to the WFAA news archive, which is currently being digitized by their caretaker, moving image curator Jeremy Spracklen. In his time working with the old footage he’s found some gems, like the time Nixon came to Dallas, stumping for George Bush Sr.'s first Senate race.
Spracklen made a special cut reel of Dallas history highlights to share — think of it as a “greatest/weirdest hits collection.” VideoFest adds in a human element by bringing back three of WFAA’s news crew (John Jenkins, John Sparks and Jim Green) to discuss their experience capturing and sharing local news across changing generations and technologies. You’ll get to enjoy both in one presentation at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.
Tick, Tick, Tick with 60 Minutes Editor
DVF’s founder Bart Weiss knows a lot of people, including Stephanie Palewski. She’s spent the last 17 years editing and compiling stories for 60 Minutes. Now in its 49th season, 60 Minutes feels like a rare animal freed from the trappings of an increasingly explosive media cycle. By television standards, it remains the adult in the room.
Palewski’s program is a look inside that tiny world that shows you how a story is created and what’s required to bring it into the homes of millions of viewers. Join her at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.
Bid D Mobile 3
Back for its third run, Big D Mobile is a mini festival-within-a-festival. It's packed with short films created on mobile phones, and submissions have arrived from all over the world.
“They’re from Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, there’s one from Madrid …” says Weiss.
He’s especially drawn to the mobile showcase because it puts power in the hands of the people, which is what his video festival was always designed to encourage.
“In the early days there were these cameras that people could afford, that could shoot things they couldn’t do otherwise,” he says. “This is essentially the same thing: It’s taking your phone and making something that looks really interesting.” Check it out at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.
Kartemquin Films Celebrates 50 years
You probably haven’t heard of Kartemquin Films. The Chicago-based media arts company has been around so long — 50 years, in fact — that it’s been heavily influential to movies as a whole, both directly and indirectly, even if it isn’t a household name.
“Back in the '60s and '70s, the editing machine needed for filmmakers to finish their work was very expensive,” says Weiss. “The media arts centers [like Kartemquin] evolved to buy the editing equipment so people could finish their films.” On top of all that, “a lot of Chicago filmmakers got their first jobs there.”
Kartemquin will have three showings at DVF29, including a 2014 digital restoration of its flagship work, Hoop Dreams. The aptly named basketball story looks at two American boys with dreams of playing professional ball. Back in 1994, it won the audience award for best documentary at Sundance, and since its subject matter is timeless, you should check it out at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.
You can watch Cassius Clay shake up the world at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, during The Trials of Muhammad Ali. A part of the Kartemquin collection, the film focuses on Ali’s battles outside of the ring as he exercises his religious rights by refusing to serve in Vietnam. What unfolds is a discourse on race and faith during a changing — and charged — political climate. It screens with Where’s I.W. Abel, an older political doc that examines at the rights of steelworkers. It was directed by Kartemquin’s Gordon Quinn, who will be present at the fest.
Greetings from Amarillo (Ant Farm collective)
Ant Farm is such an interesting piece of Texas art history. From the collective’s most famous sculptural installation, the roadside attraction Cadillac Ranch, to its 1975 reinterpretation of the JFK assassination media circus, The Eternal Frame, this California-to-Texas group has top-dressed a lot of cracked Southern ground.
One of its founders, Chip Lord, will be coming to show his new work Greetings from Amarillo, which features live musical accompaniment from Hayden Pedigo. It’s a visual portrait of the dusty locale that starts and ends at Cadillac Ranch. It screens 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.
The Last Laugh
On Thursday night, if you can handle it, check out the film that dares ask: Can the Holocaust be funny? I’ll let Weiss walk you through this one:
“What’s really interesting is that when The Producers came out, it was not that far after the Holocaust. It was the '60s, [vs.] the '40s. When it’s on Broadway and it’s that far away, it’s not really as shocking. You wonder why is that, what is it? These images are just a part of us now? And is it important that we should still be shocked by these kind of things? This film looks at all of that. It’s both a fun and disturbing documentary that really makes you think.”
Catch it at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20.
Local pairing: Streets of Scion & Blur Circle
Two local filmmakers get their work presented during DVF 29 on Thursday night. Catch Gabriel Duran’s debut feature, Streets of Scion, for a narrative look at Fort Worth gang culture. In it a displaced young man attempts to define his identity in the wake of his father’s death. But he might be searching in the wrong places.
“It has an almost documentary look to it,” says Weiss. “It’s shot completely in that culture. It looks real. The guns look real. This is all Fort Worth, Texas, gangsters.” See it at 9:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20.
Chris Hansen, whose day job is department chair of the Baylor film program, shows his fourth feature film, Blur Circle at 7 p.m. Thursday. Also a narrative work, Hansen’s project takes a different angle on loss and identity. His looks through the eyes of a mother who’s lost her child. By refusing to move on until she gets him back, she slips dangerously into madness. She may need to rescue her own life in order to move on.
“It’s a very beautifully made film,” says Weiss. “And these are two people in our area who are doing really great work, and very different from the sort of mainstream cinema.”
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Left on Pearl
It’s a tough month to be human. Every screen you light up shows women being reduced to numeric rankings, called by animal names, or made into targets for others' amusement. And still, it’s easy to forget that we, as women, have never had it as good as we have it now — historically speaking.
Back in 1971, a group of women marched through Cambridge, Massachusetts, for International Women’s Day. Everyone was surprised when the parade took a hard left onto Pearl Street, broke down the door of an abandoned building and proceeded to occupy the space. This film looks at those second-wave feminists as they fought for the things we still fight for today: equality, value, justice and the opportunity to speak without interruption. It’s rich with first-person accounts and Super 8 footage of the two week-long social experiment, shot by those trailblazers who lived it.
Ladies: Slip on your miniskirts, iron your hair and catch Left on Pearl at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21
There’s more. So much more. But exploring Weiss' programming is half of DVF’s fun, so check out the entire schedule at videofest.org. All screenings except the two festival openers, Sunrise and Rebirth of a Nation, will be shown at Angelika Film Center (5321 E. Mockingbird Lane). Tickets to individual films are $10. Passes run $24.99 to $150.