I'll be the first to admit that I am no connoisseur of experimental film. I think the furthest I've delved into the area is the comparably mainstream Qatsi trilogy by Godfrey Reggio. That being noted, I showed up at University of Denver’s Lindsay Auditorium recently for the Free Form Film Festival with an open mind—and was fascinated by what I saw.
DU lecturer Tyrone Davies let the films speak for themselves. With little introduction other than the names and creators of the different pieces, he dimmed the lights and pressed play. What followed was a curious and thought-provoking series of short films, varying in length from 30 seconds to 15 minutes, which lasted about an hour and a half.
At first it was a bit disorienting. As soon as I thought I had a grasp on a film’s concept, the next was beginning. But after three or four shorts, I found the flow of the series, thanks to Davies’ masterful curation. All of the pieces were arranged in such a way that they made sense as a whole. Many of the pieces seemed to contain the motif of humans and our separation from the natural world (much like the Qatsi trilogy), and the musical accompaniment for all of the films was both unsettling and appropriate for the subject matter.
The main element that tied all of the pieces together was the use of “found footage.” Very little of what was exhibited was actually filmed by the artists. Rather, they relied on disparate footage taken from nature documentaries, grade school film strips, news reels, and (this was the most bizarre part) pieces of educational films recorded at a Gestalt psychotherapy session.
The artists rearranged and manipulated these previously recorded images in a way that made them new and strange. Because the films used old footage, they came from a wide spectrum of antiquated video equipment, giving the entire collection a feeling of being an archeological expedition into how our culture interacted with media in years past. Each film was, in a sense, a collage, and the whole series was a collage of collages.
I walked out with a deeper understanding of experimental cinema, which I think could be your experience too. There are five more such exhibitions scheduled at DU (the next screening is on April 12). I’ll be there. Bonus? The screenings are free.