Sunday, June 30, 2013

traditions of consistent heresy

Yesterday I went to the Intendence Film Festival, a little film festival that helps support emerging Colorado filmmakers and international filmmakers. Some of the films were made by professional filmmakers. Others, apparently, were made by amateur filmmakers, while others were made by college, or even high school, students. I'm not sure whether this was the festival's first year. I couldn't even tell from looking at the website. But I'm assuming it was the first year.

The festival took place in a few different locations in a part of the Denver suburb of Arvada known as Olde Town. Olde Town is one of those lovely little districts that's kind of like a small-town Main Street nestled within a modern city or suburbia. It has some lovely cafes and bars and shops and a nice, new library. The sidewalks are often paved with red bricks. The store fronts all have an olde feel. And there are even some old buildings, like an old flour mill, scattered throughout the district.

I only attended the first couple screening sessions on Saturday, the final showing day of the festival. The shows were in a big community room in the library. But throughout the length ofnthe festival, there were also screenings in the Arvada Tavern, which had been transformed into a nice, big, screening room, and the Festival Playhouse, which I didn't see.

In the library, at least, the screening quality was problematic. The films (videos, actually) played on a small screen in front of a much larger screen. There were problems with getting the films to start one after the other, and there were sound problems. The attendance was about in line with what you'd expect it to be after, apparently, only having been advertised in the windows of one shopping district in town. But this was all, as one of the audience members put it, a part of the excitement of a new (was it new?) film festival. I don't think I would have changed any of it.

The only thing I seriously would change, I think, is the name of the festival. If it's staying in Olde Town, then I'd call it the Olde Town Film Festival. It's much clearer, and people are familiar with the concept of Olde Town as a place where events are held.

The first screening I attended was all short films. The second was one short film and one feature-length film. The films in the first screening mainly seemed to involve themes of loss and regaining. The first film was a neat, little story called "Beyond Primary." It was made by a Colorado high school student named Stephan Chaikovsky. I thought it was pretty clever. It's about an old man, maybe a homeless man, who seems to be obsessed with figuring out a Rubik's Cube puzzle. The man figures out the puzzle, but then loses it in an accident. Then, in a state of desperation, he thinks he finds it again.

This film was followed up by another short film called "Color Fade," which was made by Matthew Krekeler and his classmates at the film school at -- I think -- the Santa Fe School of Art and Design. The film is about a young man in some oppressive school/society in an apparently monochrome world. The kid has has troubles with his printer one day while he is trying to print out a homework assignment. The kid hits the printer, and the printer starts printing out red sheets of paper. The kid is inspired by the color of the paper and tapes the paper all over the walls of his dormitory building. But the police, who enforce conformity, beat the kid and take all the red papers away.

The next film was called "Confessions of a Child Talent Agent." It was about three women running a children's talent agency in Denver. The main story kind of involved the first round of auditions for a cereal commercials, the agonizing wait for callbacks, and then all the frantic back and forth activity surrounding the logistics of actually getting the kids to callbacks. The film had a kind of reality show style. And there were some funny moments, like when of the agents, stressing out over the callbacks, stuffs her face more than full of York Peppermint Patties.

After that was a very short, one-gag (though the line after the gag was funnier than the gag itself) cartoon called "Killer App."

Then came an interesting film called "Edge of Destruction," by a Hong Kong artist named Fei Xiang. The film is about a young man who works as a tour guide and security guard, of sorts, at a traditional temple called the Small Goose Pagoda. The Small Goose Pagoda is legendary for twice having been wrecked and then having somehow healed itself.

One day the young man finds two people inside the Pagoda after hours. When he pursues them, they shoot at him with futuristic guns. A pretty girl protects the young man with a futuristic gun of her own. The young man and woman run out into the town to escape the thieves, but they end up cornered. Right when they are about to be killed, the young man mysteriously teleports himself and the young woman to a different part of town.

The young woman then reveals that she and the people in pursuit are actually from an alternate dimension. The Small Goose Pagoda is like a portal between the dimensions. It basically breaks and heals whenever there are collisions -- I think -- between the two dimensions. But the next time there is a collision, it could destroy this dimension.

The young man, it turns out, is an Alpha, a being who can travel freely between the dimensions... or something like that. The people pursuing the young man want to kill him because he also has the ability to stop some process involved in the collision of the dimensions. So the young man and woman have to evade and fight and evade the pursuants until the young man can perform his magic ritual to stop the collision of the dimensions.

The story was pretty straightforward. And I liked the special effects. I thought the style was kind of like the style of some of the semi-satirical Japanese action shows, like the live versions of Cutey Honey.

This film was followed by a film called "Worth," by an Australian filmmaker named Nic Barker. The story is about a man and woman who kidnao the daughter of a bitter, wealthy man. The man and woman demand a ransom of $50,000 from the father. They then hole themselves up in a hotel and wait until the man is scheduled to meet the father and exchange the ransom money for the daughter. In the meantime, the man does a number of things to reveal what an abusive jerk he is.

The man goes to meet the father, but he never comes back. It turns out that before the daughter was kidnapped, she was actually lovers with the woman. The father got angry at the daughter for being a lesbian, and the daughter ran away. But now the woman and the daughter are on their own, lovers again, and on the run.

The next film was "Isabella's," by a New York filmmaker named Daniel Vallancourt. The film is about the last day of business in the hair salon owned by a woman named Isabella. The woman has some final encounters with customers who have come to be like family to her. Then, just as she is about to close up for the night, a young man comes in and asks for a haircut. The two talk for a while about the history of the shop.

The final film in the screening was "Hecate," by Colorado filmmaker Kascha Fauscett. It was kind of a horror story about a group of girls at a slumber party who find a book of spells the magical agent of which is the ancient Greek goddess Hecate. One of the spells draws one of the girls into a parallel dimension, where horror awaits her.

The opening film of the second screening was called "Mosyö," and was made by a Turkish director named Kagan Olgunturk. The film is a documentary about a man in who has an antique and curiosity shop in the Turkish shopping district of Hergele. The man took up the profession of antique dealer after having retired. Now he collects more than he sells -- on purpose: he can't bear to part with any of his goods!

The man is called "Mosyö," a kind of Turkish corruption of the French "Monsieur," because he's known as being a bit of an intellectual, and because he dresses in what his friends think of as a French style: kind of long hair, a tweed jacket and maroon sweater, and round-brimmed hat. He's also a bit of a renegade in his community: unabashedly atheist and unafraid to speak his mind.

The film has two parts. The first part is in the antique shop, where the man repairs and plays with his antiques and curiosities. The second part takes place in a bar, where Mosyö eats and drinks with his old friends. I like the second part of the film a lot.

The second film of the screening was a feature-length documentary called The Keymaker, by a Colorado-based filmmaker named Jem Moore. The documentary is about Patrick Olwell, the legendary maker of Irish flutes. Olwell's flutes are played by Seamus Egan, Michael Molloy, and other famous Irish flautists throughout the world. Some of the best Irish flautists argue that Olwell's flutes are the best flutes in the world.

The film has three interweaving stories: how Olwell's career as a flute maker developed; how Olwell actually makes his flutes; and the opinions of the people who play Olwell's flutes.

Olwell began making flutes in the 1960s when he saw another young man at his university selling bamboo flutes at the student union. Olwell saw that that seemed to be a pretty easy way to make money. So he had the young man teach him how to make bamboo flutes. He then began selling bamboo flutes in the student union as well.

After college, Olwell moved down to a small town in Virginia and took out out an ad as a maker of bamboo flutes. The demand for bamboo flutes was great. But somehow Olwell also got involved in making Irish flutes. He became intensely involved in all the intricacies of making a good flute. He learned the good points and bad points of flutes. He replicated the construction of flutes. He mastered old techniques for makinf certain kinds of flutes. And he eventually learned to use all of these lessons to make flutes with all of the good points of the old flutes, but none of what he perceived were the bad points.

There are a lot of really interesting themes in the film. One of the biggest seems to be the difference between an artist and a craftsman. Olwell says at one point that the difference between an artist and a craftsman is that a craftsman is an artist with children. In other words, a craftsman is an artist who uses his skills to make a living. But the real question underlying this joke is, what should be considered a work of art? Flute-playing is art. But is a flute a work of art? And is flute-making artistry? Or is it crafstmanship? One person seems to compromise when he calls Olwell an artisan.

Another interesting statement made in the film is that Olwell is a genius -- has to be a genius -- because he creates such consistent, and consistently good, instruments. I don't think I've ever heard consistency listed as a criterion of genius.

When flautists speak of why they love Olwell and his flutes, they generally give threefold reasons: first, the responsiveness of the flutes, which is better than that of any other Irish flute; second, the range of the flutes, which is apparently incredible; and, third, the fact that Olwell strives to give his clients flutes that match them individually, so that their flutes really are, in a sense, extensions of their bodies.

There is also an element of dumb luck in Olwell's story. Not once, but twice, did Olwell make commercial inroads with world-famous flautists by giving the flautists his own flute after their flutes had been stolen. And I think that in both cases, the flutes were stolen from cars. Both times Olwell gave the flautists his personal flutes, the flautists fell in love the flutes and never wanted to play in anything else ever again.

Olwell has a lot of interesting catch phrases. But his most interesting one is "actually plays." When applied to flutes, it means a flute of high quality. A flute that "actually plays" isn't a flute that makes noise and pretty much is in tune. It's a world-class flute. And the term applies equally well to performers. A musician who "actually plays" isn't competent: he's of an elite level of talent.

Olwell also sees himself as capable of having been good at other professions. He likens his profession to engineering and waxes on aboutnhow he might have been good as an engineer or an R&D guy. He talks about the precision required for drilling holes in flutes, and he winders whether he might have been a good dentist. One of his good, old friends wonders the same thing, which is a little strange.

But Olwell, despite being seen as the Stradivari of flute makers by some, is also seen as a bit of an outsider and a renegade. He even calls himself a heretic. He doesn't make classical, baroque flutes: he only makes Irish flutes. And he doesn't charge high prices for his flutes. He doesn't advertise himself, doesn't (or didn't?) have a website. And he lives far from Ireland, down in a small town in Virginia. But he's an endearing person, loved by his family, friends, and clients.

Today I headed down to the McNichol's Civic Center Building to see the Zhang Xi exhibit DNA of the 21st Century. The McNichol's Civic Center Building is run by Denver Arts and Venues. It is basically a free museum, with three floors of changing exhibits. I've been to McNichols one time before, and I loved it then, too. The space is really wide and open. The buiding is massive! And the artwork is new, edgy, and captivating.

Zhang Xi is a Chinese artist who now lives in Denver. He was born in 1984, so he's pretty young. But his art is terrific. The art in this exhibit has three main styles. One style is kind of saturated in images and iconography of technology, with a foreground of humanoid characters whose flesh seems to be melting off, often in searing oranges, yellows, and reds, as if they are burning in the fires of passion. Another style is like traditional Asian ink and paint drawings, like scroll drawings and paintings. A lot of these are done on gold leaf. And the final major style is a faded, washy style of oil painting depicting ritual and community scenes of various kinds.

There are a few other styles employed. The painting right by the title and exhibit notes is a relatively realistic painting of a woman's head and shoulders -- except that superimposed over the right side (the woman's right) of her face is a skull with an eye in the hole corresponding to the woman's right eye.

On the wall near the wall with this painting are two interesting paintings of pairs of women. The women are painted before backgrounds of color. In one painting, two women wearing black head coverings stand shoulder to shoulder. They stand before a background of yellow which blends into a vivid green toward the center. In the other painting, two women are holding hands and running. It's like the two women are lovers on the run. But in both of these paintings, the women's forms sort of have holes torn in them, like Swiss cheese. Through these holes can be seen the backgriund of blended colors.

The technology-themed paintings use and expand upon this idea of mottled, disintegrating bodies. One painting shows a woman surrounded by three men. The woman definitely seems to be fighting with the man directly in front of her, as if she and he are lovers. It's hard to tell if the other two men are the first man's friends, ganging up on the woman or goading the man on, or if they are something like phantoms and demons, lending to the violence of the man against the woman.

But the woman and the men all have faces dissolving into bright yellow and orange flickers, like flames. The men and women are surrounded in something like blue curls of smoke or electricity. And the bodies are coated in blue and red scales, like lizard scales.

Behind the woman and the men is some dark cityscape, partly like a modern city and partly like a traditional city of pagodas. But the city is actually made up of what appears to be electronic messages. There are images that look like statistical information off of dating websites. And in the very foreground are video game images, such as energy indicators and a sign at the bottom prompting a "player" to press "OK" to start the next game.

A painting next to this painting uses the same video game start-screen theme, only this one is prompting the "player" of a lonely man walking in the street to begin the next hour of his life. Bleak! The lonely man, a completely mottled body, appears to be a veteran soldier. A floating image from a news show implies that war has ended. But a computer-like menu of options at the bottom of the screen gives the man the option of returning to war.

Next to this painting is a painting with a deep black background, against which is splattered layers of red, orange, and yellow paint which eventually separates itself into three or four different heads. The heads all seem to be in pain, as if each head has been shot, and all the other heads have been formed from the splattered blood and brains of the shot head.

Another painting against a dark backrground is of a beautiful woman, her face and hair a fiery swirl of bright colors. Behind the woman, etched into the deep black background, is a cityscape in dim, but vividly colored outline.

Beside this painting is a painting called "The Unborn Tears." The background is, again, deep black. In the foreground is a mass of people who look like a mix between soldiers, rioters, babies, and zombies. The figures are outlines, with mottled faces and bodies filled with paint like out of a Jackson Pollock painting. The painting is extremely sad and frightening.

The exhibit is bookended, in a sense, by a four-panel painting called "No One's Wonderland/Form Is Emptiness." The first two panels are on one side of the exhibit, and the second two are on the other side. I'm not sure why they were separated. They would have looked better together.

But the first two panels by themselves are probably the best part of the show. On the far left side is some kind of street scene, or else a depiction of the walls of an Egyptian pyramid. Three Egyptian figures are walking across the wall. But the clothing of the figures is made to look sk ehow electronic. And the bases of the walls are made out of stone patterns from the videogame Super Mario Brothers. In addition, there is a drawing of a Super Mario Koopa turtle on the wall, as well as a realistic-looking image of Super Mario himself.

This imagery is suddenly disrupted by a room of walls which seem to have color schemes similar to that of the mazes in the arcade game of Pac-Man. But the maze on the left wall seems to be more like an Islamic geometric design, while the maze on the floor seems to be a map of city streets.

At the very bottom is a soldier character from the videogame Contra. He's shooting a spray of red bullets out of his gun.The bullets turn into drops of blood, hearts, and little babies. The babies all float up into what apparently is a ghostly, orange sea superimposed over the map of city streets. And there they swim around with Hindu-like women, or, perhaps, various emanations of Radha herself.

After this painting, the paintings change into the scroll-like paintings. Most of these paintings depict women, singly, or in groups, taking pictures of themselves on their cellphones. The way the pictures are done, you feel like you are watching from behind a mirror in a bathroom. But the backgrounds are often decorated like the interiors if traditional Asian dwellings. The backgrounds are also often taken up by traditional Asian, watercolor-esque paintings. But the wildlife in those paintings often look like the birds from the videogame Angry Birds.

The women in these paintings are often making sexual poses. Some of the women are average, maybe a little dumpy. Other women are quite fat, posing with quite lascivious looks in their faces. And some of the women are sexy women, posing in bikinis, in sexy poses, with their bottoms sticking back and their breasts sticking forward, and flashing peace signs for the camera. One woman is tattooed with corporate logos. Another is tattooed with the symbols of superheroes.

The oil paintings of the rituals aren't as ostensibly complex, but they're fiery with emotion and very lovely. One shows a rain dance, a group of blur-bodied dancers in brightly colored clothes dancing in a dark landscape of grass, apparently at the edge of a body of water. Next to this painting is a group of people preparing for something like a trapeze act or a ballet. Some people seem to be stretching. Others seem to be dancing. But some are hanging from strings from the ceiling.

Another lovely painting in this style shows a rock band playing and singing. The faces of the rock band are so washed out that they look lime masks. It reminds me a little of Pussy Riot. The guitars are also washed out, creating a really lovely, fuzzy look.

Next to this painting is a painting of a protest. There is also a painting in this style of rebels soldiers marching down a narrow street or alley, which is quite striking and frightening. There is also a painting of what appears to be young boys jumping onto a train as the train is departing. But the action of this painting is a little confusing. The young boys look modern. But the people in the trains look like they're from the 1800s.

There are also two paintings which take on the theme if Millet's Peasants. In a washy-style painting, the peasants standin something lime a covered boardwalk. The concrete railing of the boardwalk is sprayed over with graffiti. Some boys stand on the railing. They're looking past the railing, to a beach, apparently, on which some girls are running.

The other Millet-style painting is done in a blockier, Asian-scroll-like style. But in the background are some Mondrian-like paint squares, as well as comic-like frames, one showing a couple holding hands and walking through an Eden-esque garden, and another showing a couple embracing each other in a brightly colored, mystical sea. Behind the couple is an adertisement for an internet dating site, boasting how most of the one in five people who find dates online find them from this website.