Film Reviews

Made on the Margins

The most remarkable thing about Bart Weiss, founder and director of the Dallas Video Festival, is not his patience or taste but his empathy for filmmakers and audiences alike. He knows there will be plenty of films, both short and long, screening in the 15th Annual Dallas Video Festival that moviegoers will dislike, and he has no problem with that; he welcomes the debate for and against his choices. (And one can only imagine the reject pile.) There are, in fact, some entries of which he is not entirely fond, though he will insist there is a purpose to even the most seemingly erratic and juvenile entry. That is precisely the point of this festival and has been for more than a decade, when Weiss founded it on the belief that if video is to insinuate itself into our daily lives, then at least it should incite if it can't always entertain. Weiss is both film-fest director and would-be provocateur--a curator of good, bad and in-between; a true believer in the medium of video and its ability to shock and shake the static out of its audience's fuzzy heads.

"We do provoke," Weiss says. "That's part of what we a good way. We want people to have talks in the lobby after screenings, and if they're yelling at each other, that's fine with me. To me, the images mean something. You might not like them all, but if they affect you, if they're able to talk to someone about something in a different way, well, we want that to happen. We don't want the media to just massage your heads."

For years, he's had to answer the inevitable question: What, precisely, is the theme of this year's festival? He's never had a simple answer, because the dozens upon dozens of entries are not bound by an unswerving thesis or common purpose. This year's collection, which boasts some highlights of festivals past, does feature a handful of films dealing with the terrorist attacks of September 11 and its hangover, some of which are infuriating in their use of footage of those planes crashing into those buildings; no doubt people will leave those screenings debating such things as recontextualization vs. misappropriation. There will also be a day spent celebrating two of television's earliest and best pioneers, including Ernie Kovacs, whose wife, Edie Adams, will arrive bearing an hour's worth of rarely seen footage displaying her late husband's absolute genius, and local icon Icky Twerp, host of Channel 11's long-departed Slam Bang Theater. The Kovacs and Twerp tribs will even be paired with a collection of Moe Howard's home movies, presented by his son, which offer a glimpse into the domestic life of a Stooge.

The fest will also debut recent, little-seen offerings from Leaving Las Vegas' Mike Figgis and The Pillow Book's Peter Greenaway; theirs are two extremely challenging works that will divide their respective audiences between those who will love and those who will absolutely loathe. And it will host a 24-Hour Video Race, during which 60 teams made up of novices and veterans will be given a prop, a setting and a theme and, yeah, 24 hours to complete a three- to five-minute digital-video short, to be judged by panels of local film-bizzers.

No doubt, some of the best entries tend toward the documentaries, among them Blue Vinyl, Larry v. Lockney, Demon of the Derby, Daughter From Danang and Tribute, the latter of which was executive produced by Steven Soderbergh and languishes inexplicably without distribution. To be able to gather at the Kalita Humphreys Theater and see but one of these films, much less all, only serves to remind how valuable such a festival can be even in a town flooded with so-called alternative cinema houses and other, more narrowly focused fests.

"When we started, it was us and the USA Film Festival, and part of it was we showed things they weren't interested in," Weiss says. "Now it's a different, cluttered field where you have all of these festivals that are ethnic-specific. We're broad and touch on a lot of bases in the way they don't. To me, the kind of beauty in our fest is it's not singular, so you can't just say it's about this or that."

What follows are some of the high, and low, points of the festival--though, as Weiss will happily point out, your worst is someone else's best, and for proof look no further than Figgis' all-star circle-jerk Hotel, discussions about which could fill a night's worth of happy hours. As Weiss likes to say, "Everything may not be of interest to one person, but the conglomerate's very powerful. One thing somebody will hate, somebody else will love, which is a great thing."

Animal Attraction How do you solve a problem like Ernie the cat? For director (and mother to the troublemaking feline) Kathy High, the solution included contacting "animal communicator" Dawn Hayman, who counsels pets and pet owners over the phone and teaches workshops at Spring Farm that instruct people how to talk to animals. High takes the Dr. Dolittle class and spends days chatting away with the farm's residents, including ducks, llamas, sheep, cats, dogs, horses and cows. At the end, she's not convinced the "conversations" are anything more than her own internal dialogue, but that doesn't stop her from trying to relieve Ernie's boredom by letting him make his own movie. Screening with King's Day Out. (Shannon Sutlief)
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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky