Film Reviews

Channel surfing

The 1994 Dallas Video Festival is as eclectic and erratic as the medium itself. The good stuff is some of the best you'll see anywhere in any medium, and the bad stuff is damn near unwatchable.

But that's what makes this Festival so invaluable, not just to the audiovisual scene in Dallas and the nation (it's one of the most open-minded and diverse selections anywhere in America), but also to the city at large.

There's something electric in the air when you walk into the Dallas Museum of Art and start wandering among the buzzing monitors and bustling viewers; you just know that at some point, with no advance warning, you're going to see something that surprises and delights you. As the Festival's longtime artistic director, Bart Weiss, has explained, he and his cohorts don't program things merely because they happen to like them--they choose titles based on how much discussion they'll provoke for good or ill.

What follows is not a comprehensive list, but a sampler. There are so many different titles this year, including ongoing multipart installations, mixed-media showcases, and performance art works, that a complete and thorough listing would require clairvoyance. (And several of the most potentially interesting items on the schedule were not ready for screening at press time, either because the mail was late, advance copies weren't available, or the artists themselves were pushing their deadlines as far as possible.)

The following titles were selected purely on the basis of availability for advance screening. The 1994 Dallas Video Festival takes place from Thursday, November 17 through Sunday, November 20. Works are screened in a variety of auditoriums and waiting areas scattered across the building's northwest corner; they are referred to in the schedule both by their proper, everyday names ("Fleischner Courtyard," "Horchow Auditorium") and in the festival's own information-age pseudoslang ("Video Box," TV Diner," "TV Lounge," "Interactive Zone").

To ensure that you don't miss out on any fun and provocative stuff that wasn't listed here--like kid videos on Saturday morning, ongoing installations, live multimedia performances, and other spectacles--pick up a schedule at the Museum or at the Video Festival's offices; call 651-8888 for details.

The list is alphabetical by program title. Capsules are by Jimmy Fowler, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Robert Wilonsky. A indicates a program Dallas Observer recommends.

After Goodbye: An AIDS Story. (Nov. 19, 4:30 p.m., TV Diner.) Anyone who missed this hour-long documentary about Dallas' Turtle Creek Chorale produced by KERA-TV when it first aired last year gets a second chance. Friends and family members of the 60 Chorale members who'd died as of the production time recount their sense of loss. Although the film boasts testimony from the world-renowned Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and best-selling author Peter McWilliams and narration by Ruby Dee, the most revealing comments in this tight, nicely paced show are by Dr. Tim Seeling, the Chorale's artistic director. "Everything about me wants to reject the role of father figure," Seeling declares, "but I've found since joining this organization that (the singers) need me to be 10 percent director and 90 percent symbol of love." (JF)

Animated Women. (Nov. 19, noon, Horchow Auditorium.) Produced for public television, this collection of three short pieces about women animators is indispensable for connoisseurs of the form. Profiled are the abstract, Native culture-influenced work of Faith Hubley; the dark, grainy, realistic dream plays of Ruth Peyser; and the jaunty visual pinball machines of Joanna Priestly, whose rapid shifts in perspective and goony, prancing characters recall the heyday of the Fleischer Bros.' Betty Boop and Popeye. (MZS)

Appalshop #1 and #2 and #3. Funded by a 1969 federal grant, and organized as a loose artistic collective by a husband-wife filmmaking team from Connecticut, Appalshop has been chugging along for a good quarter-century now, producing an amazing variety of short and medium-length documentary pieces that chronicle the changing face of the Appalachian society. The Dallas Video Festival's sampling of Appalshop's best work is one of the truly great items on the schedule, so try to catch at least one of the following anthologies: Appalshop #1: Defining Folk Culture. (Nov. 17, 8:45 p.m., Video Box) offers three up-close looks at the region's poor whites and the many rituals they embrace in order to survive a harsh existence. Rick DeClemente's Chairmaker (1975) details the life and work methods of an 80-year-old man who lives by himself in a decrepit mountain shack and constructs furniture by hand. John Long and Elizabeth Barrett's Nature's Way (1975) provides insight into folk remedies Appalachians create from herbs, plants, and other natural materials. Scott Faulkner and Anthony Sloane's Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category (1975) is a longer-form piece about the life of an 83-year-old mine worker, union agitator, and folk singer that immerses you so deeply in the region's textures and sounds that you can almost smell the coal dust. Appalshop #2: Women in Appalachia. (Nov. 18, 9:50 p.m., TV Diner) consists of two long-form pieces. The first, Mimi Pickering's The Life of Sarah Ogan Gunning (1988), is an alternately inspiring and heartbreaking documentary about the legendary folk singer who was much admired during her lifetime but never found financial success. Elizabeth Barrett's outstanding labor documentary Coal Mining Women (1982) chronicles female advances in one of the ultimate man's worlds. Appalshop #3: Identity Crisis. (Nov. 19, 8 p.m., TV Diner.) Herb E. Smith's Strangers and Kin (1984) is a look at hillbilly stereotypes that opens with a clip from Deliverance to get the discussion going. It's followed by Woodrow Cornett: Letcher County Butcher, a disgusting but riveting look at a man who butchers hogs for a living. (What sick mind at the Festival arranged this program around the "Squeal like a pig" motif?) (MZS)

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Matt Zoller Seitz