Though the STAR WARS screening garnered the largest amount of accolades (see printed issue for article), great films and videos permeated the program of the second annual MicroCineFest.
From humble beginnings at the Mansion Theater (see CdC #8), this year's MicroCineFest was hosted at two venues in the swanky Fells Point section of Baltimore. Spanning five days and boasting 120 films and videos from all over the world (even California!), MicroCineFest '98 felt like the little film festival had all growsed up! No more watching films on a black & white TV on top of a community refrigerator! MCF hit "the big time" even if the second venue had all the social graces of a VFW hall (with the world's loudest toilet).
Yet, the toilet venue couldn't drown out my laughter during the proceedings. One is hard-pressed to find self-serious artsy-fartsy crap at a festival where a sense of humour is a necessity and comedy (albeit offbeat) is the trait shared by the majority of the flicks at the MCF.
I was often giggling at Gary Ellenberg's TED, a mockumentary about the alleged Unabomber that portrays Ted Kaczynski as a troubled youth with an irrational dislike of all things mechanical. I was chortling at Corky Quackenbush's claymation work, especially FURIOUS GEORGE in which a mysterious man in a yellow hat sells his simian sidekick to a research laboratory to be systematically tortured – with hilarious results! I cackled through ME!, Alvin Ecarma's personal interpretation of the trailer for GHETTO FREAKS in which Ecarma relishes classic lines like, "A sweet funky black chick is all he wanted but a freaked out white chick in a dashiki blew his mind." I laughed out loud through every fabulous second of Mike Branum'sTHE BIG RING, an ultramod extravaganza that tips its hat to the nouveau gangster tales of the French Nouvelle Vague and to the surrealism of Seijun Sezuki (see review of BRANDED TO KILL). And, I guffawed at the bizarre antics of Grandma Ping and Uncle Andy in Matthew Silver's examination of filial relationships in the highly offbeat MOTHER & SON (winner of both the Best Low Budget Video award and an Audience Award winner as well).
Personally, nothing beats a spot-on parody and MCF 98 hosted a terrific selection of shorts that sent up genres ranging from nature documentaries (Phil Paternite's CREATURE NITES OF OHIO showcases some unique wildlife like the turkle - see photo) to infomercials (in MIKE FEENEY'S SECRETS OF SUCCESS, Matt Nix demonstrates that there's a lot of money to be made as a carny – and you don't even have to know how to make change!) to student educational films (Luke Fannin shows just how gut-wrenching and horrible adolescence really is in PUBERTY: BENJI'S SPECIAL TIME, proving that one can't sugar-coat subjects like nocturnal emissions) to adult "scare films" (Tom E. Brown's DON'T RUN JOHNNY captures the tone of medically retarded metaphoric films about "social diseases" of old in its Ed Woodian black & white melodrama about Johnny, an HIV-positive doofus on the road to ruin – may it ever be so adventurous).
The retrospective of Corky Quakenbush was rife with brilliant caricatures of shows like "COPS," MTV's "The Real World," and the classic Christmas specials of Rankin & Bass. Quakenbush brilliantly mixes references to films such as THE GODFATHER, APOCALYPSE NOW, and GOODFELLAS with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Herbie the Dentist, and Yukon Cornelius. With Quackenbush's work as an antipasto, my appetite was whetted for some hardcore Martin Scorsese references. I was completely satisfied with Jonathan Fahn's FAST FOOD – a smorgasbord of Scorsese material. Relying heavily on CASINO with nods to GOODFELLAS and TAXI DRIVER, Fahn's film tells the story of the rise and fall of a burger joint run by less-than-reputable characters. FAST FOOD snagged the award for Best Short with its wonderful mixing of Scorsese's work with a greasy spoon.
Throughout the first half of Aaron Lubarsky's half-hour film, WAYNE FREEDMAN'S NOTEBOOK, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The camera-work was accomplished, the editing fierce, the storyline captivating – so where was the punchline? The joke really was on me, though, for WAYNE FREEDMAN'S NOTEBOOK was not, as I suspected, a mockumentary but the real deal – a well-conceived and wonderfully executed piece about an award-winning human-interest reporter. In WFN, we are witness to a look behind the scenes at an otherwise seemingly insignificant fluff piece about an eccentric kid's wacky apartment. We see the shots being carefully considered, the edits being decided, the words being chosen to describe on-screen action and, all the while, we learn about Wayne Freedman – where he came from and what he does and why he does it. I've always been something of a media junkie, wanting to know the mechanics of radio, television, movies, etc., and WAYNE FREEDMAN'S NOTEBOOK showed a good deal of the technical techniques of Freedman's segments but, moreover, it painted a very personable portrait of Freedman.
I can only kind of hope that Huck Botko's FRUITCAKE wasn't real as it is one of the most disturbing films I saw at MCF. This shot-on-video documentary begins with Huck making a fruitcake and disclosing his dislike for his father. Just before it's ready to go in the oven, Huck goes out with a fistful of finskies in search of the final ingredient, hoping to find some guys eager to expectorate into his fruitcake. He does. From that point on, the tension is high as we see Huck cooking, wrapping, and packing the tainted dessert; taking it back home for a Christmas dinner that can't be beat. The fruitcake is a timebomb. Will Huck's dad consume it? Will we learn that it's a joke? Will Huck stay his father's hunger for fruitcake and confess his heinous deed? Will Huck wait until after dessert and play the tape for his family? All I can say is that I hope that I never get on the wrong side of Huck Botko!
When talking about documentaries at the MCF, the most poetic has to be Alvin Ecarma's MY DOG HAS A CYST – a simple story of a cyst-ridden dog. Meanwhile, the most basic has to be Jim Jacob's enlightening INTRODUCTION TO FILM NOIR. Again, I'm not sure if Jacob's is joking or if he's serious. Jacob's does a fair job of assessing the look and stylistic conventions of film noir, however, his film is a series of simple shots of Jacobs talking in monotone for a solid six minutes. The way Jacobs runs through his points, I could easily visualize the outline he drew up for his topic, the same way he learned in fifth grade. Bravo, I think.
Apart from parodies and documentaries, there were other films of note, such as Monroe Bardot's goofy flick JIMMY JANG JANG in which a toothless backwoods Caruso belts out an infectious tune to the music of Dorsal Fink. With the potential to be highly annoying in its self-reflexivity, Matt Nix managed to make CHEKOV'S GUN a highly humorous look at dramatic conventions. Though the voice work could have been a bit better and the nine-minute running time was about three minutes too long, Oscar Trolyn's TOON THERAPY had some good laughs in its depiction of a group therapy session for luminaries such as Popeye the Sailor and the Trix Rabbit. And, indeed, Glasgow Phillips' THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING definitely left quite an impression in its depiction of a well endowed monk battling ninjas with his beef. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
The MCF didn't necessarily shy away from the experimental. Films that thrive in arenas such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival were present an accounted for. The most exceptional avant-garde flicks included Jeff Koone's PHI-BRITE, an animation piece done with a Lite-Brite, and Jeff Scher's YOURS, a reworking of a musical piece from the 40's laden with additional images (and winner of the Best Experimental award).
Certainly no film festival is infallible, but MicroCineFest had much more winners than wieners. Some of the dogs included Craig Lundley's NEOMAGESTERIAD, a film as pretentious as its name; Brian O'Hara's ROCK & ROLL FRANKENSTEIN, bad taste is one thing but the homophobia was a bit too thick; Godfrey Daniel's THAT'S OFFENSIVE, a tape of supposedly off-color clips that was ruined by obnoxious sound effects; Traci Carroll's FIVE O'CLOCK SHADOW, a film that didn't make much sense even after I read the description in the program; and the works of Tony Nitolli.
Of the three works of Nitolli in the festival, JUNKY was the only one of interest as its storyline appears to parallel that of Kevin DiNovis' award-winning feature, SURRENDER DOROTHY in that its main character, a puppet parrot, will do anything to get his cracker "fix," including debasing himself and becoming the sexual slave to his "pusher." JUNKY's five-minute running time is appreciated, especially when suffering through his eight-minute DYKE RAT (an annoying puppet rat with a cockney brogue) and the interminable twenty-five minutes of MY BROTHER CICERO (an obnoxious puppet cat with a New York accent).
Trying to catch all the flicks was quite a feat, even with everything being shown twice (a novelty among film fests)! I had to chart out my days carefully, trying to leave time for amenities like eating and sleeping. Of course, the staff at the MicroCineFest was entirely too cool. I often found myself wanting to just hang with the gang and talk, especially when faced with junk like NEOMAGESTERIAD.
Though MCF felt a lot bigger in its second year and was located in the heart of a sprawling metropolis, it still maintains an intimate feel. Perhaps it's the relaxed atmosphere of festival staffers, the entirely reasonable ticket prices, the free popcorn and doorprizes but, more than that, I think that MCF feels relaxed because of its low-key programming. With humor as its mainstay, MCF shows that, while an important independent festival, it doesn't take itself too seriously.
Visit the MicroCineFest website