Popcorn! Short Film and Video Festival, the popular one-night, outdoor mini-festival of short films presented each year by the Contemporary Arts Forum, gets a makeover and an upgrade this year with the addition of a musical performance. The trio that will play between the films is led by Brent Green, a Pennsylvania animator and musician who has worked with the Chicago band Califone. Green has a fascinating piece in the current Sonotube exhibit at CAF, and was also chosen to participate in the Popcorn! festival by the organizers, Bob Pece and John Spiak, curators at the Arizona State University Art Museum.
More than 300 entries from 29 states and 22 countries were screened before the final selection was made and 24 winners were announced. The range is remarkable, with virtually every short film genre and approach represented, from the relative familiarity of the latest Bill Plympton cartoon, Guide Dog, to the utter strangeness and mystery of a found-footage compilation from Germany, Romeo Gr¼nfelder’s The Goldstein Reels. Thematically all over the place, the ASU/Popcorn! judges nevertheless always manage to bring the work together through high creative standards and an eye for untutored talent.
Case in point: Brent Green. Green’s Lincoln is a lyrical psycho-portrait of the greatest American president as ghosts of his own family and the Civil War dead dance around his familiar top-hatted visage. Done in a primitive-looking self-taught pencil and flipbook style, Green’s animation is the visual equivalent of Chicago’s lo-fi music movement. The art here conceals itself on the surface, only to emerge on a deeper, less conscious level as the viewer becomes more used to the style.
Others using stop-action animation techniques include Marta Daeuble, of Reading, U.K., whose Book takes the notion that books contain characters and depict action to a literal level, with the pages of an old, beat-up book turning to release flying creatures that escape only to burrow back into the cut pages of the volume moments later. Book is a dream of reading that, once seen, is not likely to be forgotten.
Chris Myers is an animator from Savannah, Georgia, and his Solomon Grundy takes a 19th-century nursery rhyme as its point of departure:
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
That was the end of
The poem’s compression of the events of a man’s life into the space of a single week makes a great premise for animation, and Myers’s technique is more than equal to the task. His Grundy is a little guy at the center of a crowded, spot-lit stage, and it is hard not to feel sorry for him as life’s full panoply of fates sucks him up and spits him out in the course of just a few minutes.
Popcorn! is not just another animation festival, and there are plenty of live-action shorts included as well. John Yost’s Motion Portrait, shot in and around Lake George, New York, is one of the most interesting of these; he weaves together an assemblage of shots united by the way they portray bodies in motion rather than by a logical narrative. Motion Portrait has the feeling of the best early video works done by visual artists rather than filmmakers, and is a kind of textbook illustration of what an artist can do with a camera that a filmmaker might not think of.
The most touching entry is a digital animation by Joseph Peragine called Rising Water that uses simple drawings and New Orleans jazz to memorialize the victims of both Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq. It’s a beauty.
The Popcorn! Short Film and Video Festival screens Saturday, August 11, from 6-8 p.m. at Samy’s Camera (614 Chapala St.). It’s $5 for CAF members, $10 otherwise. See sbcaf.org.