What Short Film Can Learn From the School of Missing Studies

The SMS documents stuff that isn’t there. But why shouldn’t they?, anthrop- and archaeologists make a living documenting missing stuff. The School of Missing Studies has produced a film along these lines; LOOKING FOR OCTOBER will screen at Anthology in NYC tomorrow night under the title “Storefront Films presents.” SMS is a loose association of educators, artists, and sundry intelligentsia, many of whom have roots within a day’s drive of Serbia.

The work of the SMS focuses on places that are in transition and the identity of their residents. E.g., here’s what they say about this film:

LOOKING FOR OCTOBER concentrates on the last official liberation of Belgrade, when Tito’s partisans seized the city from the German occupiers on October 20, 1944. Belgrade is a city that has been liberated many times. Each change in power created a new political and ideological layer. This accumulation obscures attempts to pin down or return to a specific identity. Questions about the traces of these events manifest in the urban surroundings of Belgrade were posed to young participants during a series of workshops titled LOOKING FOR OCTOBER, . . . . An unsettled layer of Belgrade is exposed through their individual interviews and group conversations. The city is seen through the eyes of its young inhabitants, future builders born after Tito’s death, raised during the collapse of communism, and growing up under sanctions and isolation to live in a time with no fixed ideals.

SMS is clearly interested in architecture (which explains the Storefront sponsorship). So identity boils down to histories, ideologies, and where/how people live. But it doesn’t always boil “down,” does it? Sometimes it just boils, as the Balkans have been doing since the early 1990s. SMS has made it their mission to study how massive change affects a population, reshapes its culture, and creates a new socio-cultural obstacle that is never addressed by the U.N., KFOR, or whoever thinks they’re “fixing” the region. (my words, not theirs.) Besides seeking to understand Balkan identity, SMS’s work also pertains to the European Union and how/if unity can be forged from so much diversity.

So what does this have to do with short film? It seems that short film would be a good medium for these issues on a local scale. Plus, the films could be distributed more easily throughout communities, given a little creativity (e.g. #1, e.g. #2). I wouldn’t want to tackle the Balkans in an 8-min. film, but what about local subjects like post-Katrina New Orleans, gentrification, emigration, factory closures, the end of small farms? In every case, the loss of something has changed everything—culture, politics, economics, et al.

So there you have it: start making films about things that aren’t there. You just might answer some big questions. Oh, and check out the work of SMS.

Screening: Marie Losier, NYC, Sat. 6/24

Join Marie Losier (JSF, vol.3) and artist Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria for the opening of “MAGIC BOX” tomorrow night at the LUXE Gallery.

Marie has made her short film—Flying Saucey!—much shorter. In order to put her film into a hand-cranked mutoscope, she cut her film from 9 minutes to 9 seconds. The viewer animates the (approx.) 300 still frames by turning the crank and peering into the Magic Box, one viewer at a time.

Because I know you’re dying to know, click HERE for the specs of an original c.1900 mutoscope. But it sounds like the Magic Box is no ordinary mutoscope. It was designed by Sanz de Santamaria and sounds like a bit of an art object.

The process of cutting 9 minutes of film into 300 frames must have been an adventure in editing. In her words:

It thus investigates an entirely different approach to film editing, with the goal of developing an intimate relationship to film since the option of setting the box into motion or of facing a still image is left to the initiative of an audience reduced to one person at a time.

Here are the details: LUXE Gallery, June 24th, 6-8pm, 24 West 57th Street, Suite 505, New York, NY 10019, Phone: 212. 582.4425

Also, two of her films are being shown at the Wexner Center (Columbus, OH) in their video installation space, The Box, during the month of July. Hey, it’s free, it’s air-conditioned, it’s heavily-referenced, whimsical short film–what more could you want?

Screening: Steven Bognar; PBS tonight!

Tonight is a big night for Steven Bognar (JSF, vol.1) and Julia Reichert: their documentary A LION IN THE HOUSE is airing on PBS. It will be shown in two installments, tonight and tomorrow. It will probably be on at 9pm, but check your local listings.

This film premiered at Sundance this year, where it garnered heaps of praise and held the distinction of being the longest doc. ever accepted.

I was fortunate enough to see the film at the Wexner Center in May, where I had the pleasure of bumping into Steven and Julia.

The film is phenomenal. I won’t attempt any kind of review, here; it’s just too massive a film to reduce down to a quip or two. I’ll just say that it is deeply impressive, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t somehow affect the medical world that it portrays.

The IFP and Short Film

Well, the god of billionaires giveth and then taketh away. Or the other way around, I guess. As soon as Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks(tm) lose the NBA championship, the IFP announces that it will give Cuban (and Todd Wagner) the 2006 Gotham Award for, um, all’round awesomeness(?) in independent film. This got people around here talking.

While most of us think Mark Cuban’s film efforts (2929 Productions, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” etc.) are swell, others think he’s a bloviating dot-com poser. Plus, some are concerned about Anthony Kaufman’s coverage of Cuban’s Landmark Theater chain. After hours of bickering, we concluded that, while any new interest in independent film is a good thing, we can’t believe people still watch professional basketball.

On his way out to have lunch with Graydon Carter, the publisher directed me to blog about the IFP and its various grant programs. (See, and you thought this wasn’t going to be about short film.) The IFP has at least three funding opportunities for short films. They include the Chicago Production fund (valued at $100,000), the Market Award for “Emerging Narrative” short film (worth $5,000), and more. Find the entire list of grants here.

The IFP has been around a long time and continues to do good work. So get off their backs about their busy and uncool website.

Screening(s): Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre; Melbourne, London, L.A., etc.

All of our devotees in the state of Victoria should be aware of a screening in Melbourne tomorrow. Or is it yesterday . . . or right now? Anyway, Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre’s (JSF, vol.1) new film “McLaren’s Negatives” is opening the Melbourne International Animation Festival on Tuesday night.

In other great MJSTP news, the film is also being featured at the London Intl. Animation Film Fest. in August, where she’ll be giving a masterclass on Animated Documentaries. The film continues its domin-/animation at the L.A. Film Fest., as well as Jerusalem, New Zealand, Seattle, Sydney, Sao Paulo, and then it might take over a small country; this film can’t be stopped. To watch a trailer, <a href="http://www.mjstpfilms.com/normanmclaren/
“>visit her site. To learn more about film pioneer Norman McLaren, click here.

Screening: Richie Sherman, 6/16, Brooklyn

Every summer, Brooklyn beckons to us with the screenings of Rooftop Films. It is what it sounds like: films on rooftops. In Brooklyn. If you happen to be in the area on Friday, you can see the cinematographic work of Richie Sherman (JSF, vol.2) in the NY premiere of the feature film THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE. Check out the Rooftop Film listing HERE and see what else will accompany the show—here’s a hint: there will be live music by two musicians with connections to Philip Glass, Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, and the films of David Gordon Green.

But back to Richie. His film “Demolition 7” in vol. 2 was an “expressionistic recording of a demolition derby,” so I’d love to see his work in this feature. Incidentally, the film’s synopsis begins thusly: “In the confusion following a massive power outage, an awkward demolition derby driver vanishes, . . . “ Both Richie and the director, Todd Rohal, have roots in southeastern Ohio, but I’m not sure who is influencing whom or what’s in the water down there. Either way, the film looks great and I wish I could be on that rooftop Friday night.

Destructive Experimental Films. No, Seriously Destructive.

Okay, enough talk about distribution. Back to film. So you’ve noticed that the JSF always includes a few experimental films in every volume. I think the publisher has an affirmative action policy or something. Well, here are some films that will NEVER make it into the JSF. To screen these experimental films in 1973, Annabel Nicolson ran the film through a sewing machine and then back into the projector. Check out some documentation on the event HERE.

Thanks to the Frameworks listserv folks who brought this up. (The discussion doesn’t seem archived yet, but might appear HERE soon.) Under the header “pathology of film,” they bantered about various film movements that have dealt with the fragile nature of film stock, deterioration as art, film as metaphor for biology, and etc.

Apparently, a piece from a sewing machine was used to build an early film projector. So maybe her films were just early guerrilla advertising for Singer.

Films in Libraries

Okay, this’ll be the last email about distribution for a while. (i was actually going to write about the crazy deal between Paramount and Technorati—ie. how Paramount is channeling third-party blog posts and comments into movie marketing campaigns—but i realized The Reeler already covered that HERE. i was prepared to make an obtuse NSA joke, but that’ll have to keep.)

But let me bring up an important venue where independent filmmakers should be represented and often aren’t—public libraries. Of course this isn’t the best venue for optimizing cash flow, but let’s be realistic. This seems especially important for social issues films. If a fat distribution deal has eluded your social issues film, why not try to place it in libraries? At least it might be seen that way, and perhaps some costs could be recouped.

So how do libraries acquire films? Um, this remains a bit of a mystery. If any librarians are reading this, feel free to email us with clues.

So far, the record for library acquisitions has been, um, uneven. No single method is in place. In a 30-sec. search in our huge public library, I found the Media That Matters has one of its five DVDs in the stacks, while a search for Focus on the Family yields a couple dozen. The Media That Matters collections of short, social issues works are ideal for libraries. I think libraries will come around. Just like the JSF is trying to bring short film to audiences, public libraries will eventually figure out it should bring independent film to the public.

In the meantime, try to have your film reviewed in the press and apply for an ISBN from the Library of Congress. Perhaps we’ll have more clues, later.

[cough—JSF ISSN 1558-9846; LC PN1993; Dewey 791.430; OCLC Accession 62315470—cough]

Meet the New Speculation, Same as the Old Speculation

The “new Internet economy” keeps making promises to short film that it can’t seem to keep. I shudder a bit when they call it “Web 2.0,” but I guess something’s easier to sell if it has a name. While it’s too early to call it a complete farce, it appears that 2.0 is just a new version of 1.0’s(?) speculation. The speculation over the first boom was seen in stock values and venture capital, while 2.0’s is seen in corporate acquisitions (of content delivery and, increasingly, social network sites). Will Harris has written a nice explanation of 2.0 HERE, and then eventually rips it apart.

There are a million short films on line, but it still remains hard finding consistently good work. 2.0 promised to be a boon to short content –makers—remember the sale of iFilm?—but not much has changed. Other than these websites being loaded down with new ads.

There are certainly new digital avenues opening up—I watch Google Video and YouTube as much as the next person—but (1) these have yet to deliver anything resembling art, and (2) the new acquisitions in this web market are simply ridiculous. Though enjoyable, really; I can’t wait to see how Rupert recoups his half billion he spent on Myspace.

As you probably knew already, it remains for us to find good film in theaters and on DVD.

Canadians and Copyright Reform

Today’s message goes out to the JSF’s Canadian following. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) is issuing a letter to the government tomorrow about upcoming changes in copyright rules. In short, the rules might be getting more strict and less friendly to artists. To read the open letter, go to www.cippic.ca; to sign the letter, send your endorsement and thoughts to common.r@mac.com.

With any luck, issues like Fair Use will become a little more concrete in the near future. Digital editing, mash-ups, YouTube, and etc. keep creating more opportunities for creative borrowing (or copyright infringement, if you’re The Man), and clearer rules are needed. Though in this political climate (um, the corporate one), it’s hard imagining the rules becoming more inclusive. Maybe it’s better to keep Fair Use practices as ambiguous as they’ve been for decades? I’ll try to run that question by some JSF filmmakers soon.

On this subject, last week’s story about the IFC’s public statement that it would no longer pay massive licensing fees to rights holders for clips in documentaries was definitely relevant for our crowd. You can read a summary of this story by The Reeler here.