Film Reviews

Naked eye

It's again that time of year, when we gather to praise Bart Weiss for keeping afloat the Dallas Video Festival against all odds (the odds being, in this case, a city in which culture means Mark Cuban). In its 13th year, the DVF has yet to make Weiss a rich man; indeed, Weiss makes his living teaching videomaking. The festival is his passion, not his paycheck. And, after all this time, it remains his vision: There is no committee, no jury behind this. Weiss alone decides which submissions -- and there were between 350 and 400 this year -- make it into the festival and which do not. The reason, Weiss explains, is a simple one: "Everything in the festival I like, and there's a reason for showing it," he says. "It's a quirky reflection of the quirky kind of person I am and the broad tastes I have."

Indeed, this year, the festival's programming runs from documentaries, of which there are so many (from gangs to ganja), to animated shorts to adapted works of fiction to things that are barely describable (even conceivable). After all, what does one say of a short film in which Jimmy Olsen runs around in a red wig and sticks it to Perry White, quite literally? It's almost beyond words. And this year, you can see everything entered: The films not selected will be available as streaming video through during the festival's run. After having sat through what did make the cut, the mind reels at what the detritus consists of -- hours of static and Swedish porn loops, perhaps?

Thirteen years into the Dallas Video Festival, we've begun, perhaps, to take what Weiss does for granted. Certainly, he's not in an easy spot: Now that it costs only a few bucks to wire our homes with DVD players, DSL lines, and satellite television, it's possible to host such a program in our homes every week or every night. The notion of going to the Kalita Humphreys Theater to watch television almost seems anachronistic, if not a little beside the point. Then, we pop in something like Artist or The Source, and we're reminded of what we're missing out on, of why the DVF remains so important 13 years on. After all, they ain't showing Xanadu at the DVF -- this is art, even if it's spelled with a lower-case "a" much of the time.

"There's something about the whole of this that's bigger than any of the individual works," Weiss says. "Our program book is like a what's-happening-in-the-video-world reference book. And the fact is, there's still a lot of this stuff that doesn't get recognition or placed in the right context. That's what we try to do."

This year's festival begins with The Texas Show on Wednesday (it was not ready for review), followed on Thursday with the presentation of the Ernie Kovacs Award to Martin Mull, certainly the whitest man in show business (he's nearly transparent). Appropriately, the festival will screen clips from Mull's The History of White People in America, as well as clips from Fernwood 2-Night, in which he reprised the Barth Gimble character introduced during his brief stint on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1975. The choice of Mull is commendable -- Fernwood would be considered daring even by, especially by, today's standards -- though the fest would be wise to steer clear of too many Roseanne clips. Or, for that matter, anything from The Jerk Too, How the West Was Fun, and Ski Patrol (the man has made some dreck, but who hasn't?). Still, he ain't no Pee-wee Herman.

What follows are brief reviews of some highlights from the Dallas Video Festival, arranged alphabetically. The festival runs from Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, March 26, in four different areas: Videotheque, Video Cabaret, Video Box, and Video Lounge at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. There will be screenings of DVDs, including D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back and a series of short films and music videos, at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave. For ticket and other information, call 1-800-494-8497 or visit the festival's Web site at This list is not comprehensive; consult the festival's program or Web site for descriptions of events not listed.

Robert Wilonsky

Acquaintance They smoke, they sit, they eat, they jam, they mope...Brian Torrey Scott documents the pointless lives of purposeless people in Acquaintance, a film that reveals how long 22 minutes can actually last. Scott's project is a hideously drawn-out non-story that creeps through a vacuous lack of interaction among a group of twentysomethings toward a totally inexplicable conclusion. One of the main characters, David, explodes in 2-year-old-tantrum-like rages, out of nowhere and seemingly without provocation. Perhaps it's the conflict between action and inaction, or simply a sharp contrast between the ho-hum qualities of real life and the occasional bit of drama, but David's goofy outbursts aren't set up to be meaningful. This film takes cinema verité on a long road to nowhere. It has a Blair Witch Project feel with smoother, hand-held cinematography, but no plot at all. That makes it even scarier. (Annabelle Massey Helber)

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky