“Doing Something Different With DV”; RESFEST Continues Its Seventh Global Romp
by Jonny Leahan
After kicking off in San Francisco on September 18, the seventh-annual RESFEST digital film festival took over Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theater for five days, wrapping on September 28. This always innovative showcase of shorts and videos paired strong programming with some innovative new aspects this year. The touring festival continued on to Washington, D.C. this past weekend, and will run in NYC from October 10-12.
RESFEST showcased dozens of innovative short films and music videos from around the world, with a couple features thrown in for good measure: Helen Stickler’s “Stoked” and Kazuhisa Takenouchi’s “Interstella 5555,” animated by Leiji Matsumoto and featuring the music of Daft Punk. Matsumoto, who has been creating Manga for more than 40 years, teams with musicians Daft Punk, known for the their extravagant stage shows, to tell a story about four musicians from another galaxy who are kidnapped by an evil manager trying to create the biggest band on Earth. (Not to be confused with the story of Lou Pearlman.)
New aspects of the festival this year included live music events, such as the opening night concert by the Dandy Warhols, and studio tours, which included a visit to propaganda artist/DJ Shepard Fairey’s space in East LA. “The other new thing we did this year was the RESFEST Lounge,” Festival Director Jonathan Wells told indieWIRE. “That was a way to bring to life aspects of RES Magazine, which has different sections in the front: Watch, Listen, Read and How To. We have actual classes on site, and there’s an area where you can read cool magazines from around the world, listen to music, and watch films on a state-of-the-art home theater.”
In addition to the new aspects of the festival, RESFEST continued its tradition of programming fresh, smart short films of the highest caliber, including Lizzie Oxby’s “Extn.21.” Combining stop motion with live action and digital effects, Oxby creates an Orwellian animated world in which a man named Orman tries to make an important phone call, until he’s foiled by a mischievous computer.
Exposing another workplace nightmare (the theme of Shorts Program 3), writer/director Matt Goldman shows us the increasingly paranoid world of an office worker in “The Perpetual Life of Jim Albers,” which culminates in a breakdown of sorts. Also worth mentioning is “H.E.A.D,” a dark sci-fi creation by General Lighting & Power. Despite its impressive high-tech look, the film manages to evoke the feeling of “Eraserhead” while providing a fresh take on the philosophy behind “Frankenstein.”
RESFEST also featured the Director Retrospective, designed to highlight the work of a visionary artist, which debuted last year with a selection of videos and films by Chris Cunningham. This year’s retrospective program presented works by French director Michel Gondry, renowned for his music videos and commercials. Spanning a career of nearly two decades, the program traced Gondry’s creative evolution as he collaborated with artists like Bjork, The White Stripes, Radiohead, and Cibo Matto. In a Q&A session after the screening, Gondry was asked how he comes up with his complex and imaginative concepts. “I start always to go to the most ridiculous place,” he said in a heavy French accent. “When I find the one that makes no sense, I try and go in that direction.”
In the By Design section, RES presented 20 broadcast design and motion graphic works from around the world, most of which use Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and a host of other programs to create entirely new realities. In “Survey,” the longest of these (clocking in at nearly seven minutes) director Joe King takes the viewer on a trip through a lonely coastal region, while displaying multi-angle analyses of lighthouses and industrial buildings, flooding the brain with data and measurements.
The Off The Map program includes nine short films that explore the idea of geography and how technology can bring distant lands closer. In “Africa @ Play,” Katie Milligan and Scott Braman explore the universality of children’s play, filming kids in several African countries as they resourcefully make their toys out of garbage and other discarded materials.
A favorite of music fans, the Cinema Electronica section showcases the boldest electronic music videos of the past year. This year’s impressive program includes “Funky Squaredance” by Phoenix, a nine-minute opus directed by Roman Coppola, and Kid Koala’s animated “Basin Street Blues,” inspired by New Orleans and directed by Monkmus.
“We love music, we love film, and we love music videos,” Wells said. “We watch a lot of them all the time — we’re looking at this stuff year round and writing about it in the magazine, so we have a point of view that is different than a lot of other organizations, it’s very fine-tuned, and it’s not all over the place.”
That explains why RESFEST had to create yet another music video section, entitled Videos That Rock, featuring more rock ‘n’ roll oriented work. Anything but MTV, this year’s eclectic program offered videos from Millionaire, Pleasurebeach, Death in Vegas, and Goldfrapp. One of the more impressive selections was the Sigur Ros video “Untitled #1,” directed by Floria Sigismondi. Shot on 16mm, it takes place in an apocalyptic schoolyard covered with charcoal snow, where kids in gas masks play — seemingly oblivious to their horrific surroundings.
The closing night program featured rarities from director Spike Jonze, including unseen footage from an Oasis video that was never made and a 1995 video for The Flaming Lips. The evening’s centerpiece, however, was “Torrance Rises,” directed by Lance Bangs. The mockumentary follows the Torrance Community Dance Group (from Fatboy Slim’s music video “Praise You”) as they journey to their triumphant performance on the MTV Video Music Awards.
“The film was horribly received,” Bangs joked with indieWIRE. “People just kept laughing all the way through it, and everyone was hooting and clapping at the end, instead of pausing to reflect on what the Torrance Community Dance Group had achieved on screen.” On a more sincere note, Bangs was impressed with RESFEST, pointing out that “the new projection system was remarkable, the crowds were larger, and the whole thing seemed much more united in design and production than in the festival’s early years.”
It’s that constant evolution that keeps RESFEST on the forefront of digital film festivals. “We never looked at this as a fad or a trend,” said Wells. “Thinking back to what really excited us about digital filmmaking and the early films we were showing was that people were telling stories in new ways. It wasn’t that they had shot it with a DV camera that made it great, it was that they had done something different with that camera that you hadn’t seen before.”
RESFEST will be in a record 18 cities this year, including Bristol, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Johannesburg, Durban, and Hakata. So get out your atlas and check out http://www.res.com for dates and show times.