For some, it's hard to imagine a festival which can program and fill a theater with festivalgoers watching 90 minutes of commercials, music videos, or a documentary about sneakers. Long ago, the folks at RESFEST recognized the appeal, evolution and dramatic advances in media and commercial art and the market that wants to see what's new in those fields. Kicking off its 9th year, as a touring festival, RESFEST offered an ambitious line-up of screenings, panels, product demos and guided tours in the TriBeCa district of New York City. Having dropped its "Digital Film Festival" tagline, RES organizers asserted that their name now can stand alone, offering associative terms "innovative" "creative" and "out of the ordinary." Though of much RESFEST's programming is shot or manipulated with state of the art digital technology, festival programs include creations like hand made animation or documents of hands-on activities like illegal street art.
"We chose to start the festival in New York, because it is a media center, and we wanted to set the tone by starting the festival here," said festival director Jonathan Wells. Offering select programming and different speakers for each U.S. city it tours, New Yorkers listened to director Stephane Sednaoui speak with Wells about his body of work, including a gorgeous new short film/music video based on the Lou Reed song "Walk on the Wild Side." Meanwhile, "Thumbsucker" director Mike Mills will speak in San Francisco while director Mark Romanek will appear in Los Angeles. Comedy fans will be pleased to hear that "Jesus is Magic" starring the brazen Sarah Silverman will be screening in Chicago, many will remember Silverman in her highly lauded comedic delivery in the Sundance doc "The Aristocrats."
Within its regular programming RESFEST offers a wide range of shorts and music video programs. The always well attended music video programs "Videos that Rock" and "Cinema Electronica" garnered appreciative crowds, while the "By Design" and "Cut and Paste" offered a range of savvy and creative displays of media mixing.
Within the shorts programs, numerous recognizable Indiewood names popped up. "Napoleon Dynamite" director/writer Jared Hess' short and sweet "Winner Take Steve" screened in 'Shorts 1'. While, in 'Shorts 2', "The Good Girl" director Miguel Arteta presented a 4 minute film, penned by his pal, Miranda July whose "Me and You and Everyone We Know" took prizes at both Sundance and Cannes. Director Chris Cunningham, already given a director's retrospective with Palm Pictures, screened his latest disturbing collaboration with musician The Aphex Twin titled "Rubber Johnny."
Programmatically the Shorts 1 program offered the most provocative and diverse body of work, though the French team Nakd, managed to upset many and provide little explanation with their short "Flesh" which depicts all of New York City's building coated in images of lesbian porn, and then features the entire city destroyed in a barrage of stylized airplane attacks. When asked by an audience member who had lost a brother in the attacks, "why they would show this four days after the four year anniversary of 9/11, less than a 1,000 feet from the World Trade Center", the filmmakers offered a bumbling "we didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings," which audibly rang hollow to a divided audience.
RES's "Triple Threat" program highlighted three filmmakers programmers have marked for greater success: Jonnie Ross, Francois Vogel, and Nagi Noda. Noda who is based out of Japan, has a distinct and inspiring visual style, the type that seems best suited to be featured at RES. While the majority of her work is equally cute, funny and visually imaginative, Noda's video for "Ex-Fat Girl" manages to also unsettle, as a group of standing poodles back up a bulbously shaped workout instructor.
All feature films screening at the New York installment were of the documentary variety, with two well-known names garnering significant festivalgoer attention. "City of God" and "The Constant Gardener" director Fernando Meirelles' name was always mentioned in conjunction with the Brazilian soccer documentary he produced "Ginga: The Soul of Brazilian Football." Filmed by multiple directors 'Ginga' follows multiple youth in Brazil, as they live out their hopes and dreams of soccer fame, all whilst moving with "that" certain Brazilian flare. With the broad subject matter, quality of the filmmaking, and good audience reception, 'Ginga' seems likely to garner some sort of continued success within the documentary world.
"Hype!" and "Scratch" director Doug Pray drew accolades with the world premiere screening of his new doc "Infamy." Entertaining, and well made, the film takes a personal looks at a remarkably diverse group of seven different established and well-known graffiti artists. Unlike his past films, Pray chooses to focus less on a broader portrait of the 'scene' and instead develop the, often troubled, stories of the seven artists. Pray noted that he had no plans for taking the film to Sundance, where both "Hype!" and "Scratch" premiered, as "Infamy" already has DVD distribution with Image Entertainment, Pray added "RESFEST is great because its like mini distribution, it play in 35 cities, which can start great word-of-mouth going about the film."
Street Art was a theme throughout the entire fest, with a panel 'Street Art or Not?" devoted to the subject, and a free guided walking tour of some of lower Manhattan's more bedecked streets. Artists Mark Schiller and Sara Schiller, founders of the Wooster Collective led the tour. "Its ironic that we're walking through SOHO, a major shopping area, with luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and simultaneously artists are out here reappropriating the space that they were priced out of," commented Sara Schiller as she led half of the 100 plus group up Greene Street, pointing out stickers, graffiti, stencils, tiny-size installations and paintings along the way.
Two artist retrospectives were programmed, one looked at the progression and compilation of the musician Beck's music videos, offering interesting contrasts between his launch pad lo-fi video for "Loser" in 1994 to his highly technical video trickery in "Girl" from 2005. Meanwhile, the festival closed with a retrospective of the work of Los Angeles based, Scandinavian collective "Traktor." Without question the only enjoyable experience I've ever had watching 90 minutes of commercials, Traktor's work is often hilarious, and unique in their frequent decision to shoot in remote and foreign lands. Its actually quite appropriate that RESFEST would chose to conclude the festival with a compilation and nod to such a blatantly and literally commercial body of work. RESFEST's value is that it offers a dialogue and venue for artists and spectators who value art in all forms, be it illegal, avant-garde or made for television.
RESFEST will tour more than 30 cities in the United States and internationally in the coming weeks.
[Karl Beck is a freelance writer and photographer, though nomadic, he is currently residing in Brooklyn, New York.]