RESFEST '99 REVIEW: Pre-Millennial Long Shorts, from "Plug" to "Carrie Fisher"
by Richard Baimbridge
Though use of the word "pre-millennial" should carry a mandatory prison sentence for anyone in the technological world, that's precisely the sense one got during RESFEST '99. Cinema is changing radically right before our eyes, and watching these short films was like witnessing one of the defining moments of an irreversible evolution into the next era of art.
By now, everyone is well aware of the innovations that RES is built upon - DIY digital filmmaking, desktop editing and computer animation - but what's always surprising is the quantum leaps in technology that seem to constantly emerge, making new things possible and old things easier. Like the Macintosh, RESFEST just keeps getting better every year, and is becoming a part of the local street vernacular of every city it touches.
RESFEST has always considered short films to be its raison d'etre, and for good reason - shorts are the ultimate format for experimentation and new technology, especially in the field of computer animation. Meher Gourjian's "Plug," one of the strongest longform short selections, would be the prime example to emerge from that category in RESFEST '99. A pastiche of '70s Italian kitsch-film love scenes juxtaposed against a "Blade Runner" megalopolis, "Plug" depicts a cyber-relationship of the future, as two anonymous characters battle over access to power sources for their computer dreamworlds, battling modernist obstacles just to reconnect to each other. With its ultra-impressive computer animation set against quaint 35mm landscape shots, the film itself, reflects the allure of the modern, versus a longing for the simplicity of the past.
Steven Dooher and Daniel Loflin, two young filmmakers from Dallas, also went for nostalgia - nostalgia for Carrie Fisher, to be exact. Best (or should we say only) known as Princess Leia in "Star Wars," Fisher is the reluctant star of "Searching for Carrie Fisher," a lo-fi documentary shot on MiniDV wherein Dooher tracks the princess down in Hollywood to deliver a tape of childhood love songs he made in her honor. "Searching. . ." was the hit of RESFEST, and had the audience cheering for Dooher as if he were the young Skywalker about to take out the Death Star. George Lucas could learn something from Dooher and Loflin - namely, that human drama is far more interesting than silicon graphics.
The weak link in the RESFEST long form shorts program emerged from a genre of abstract modern shorts that seem more appropriate as Calvin Klein commercials, including "Discharge" by Patrick Demers. Like extemporaneous poetry, improvised film is either spot on or it sucks eggs, and unfortunately "Discharge" falls into the latter category. James Sommerville's multi-camera view of 24 hours in the New York subway system, "Negative Forces, Witchcraft and Idolatry," also somewhat misses the mark by relying more on splashy editing and DJ-friendly beats than a real vision of the soul that lives and breaths beneath the city streets. "Negative Forces" takes a good concept and gives it the MTV-treatment by going for three-second attention-span sound bytes, instead of meeting the demon mano-a-mano.
And just as "The Humiliated," the feature documentary on founding Dogme filmmaker Lars Von Trier, was made frustrating for anyone who didn't speak Danish thanks to a problem with the subtitles, the long form short "Lars from 1 to 10" was also hit by a similar glitch, which made the festival somewhat of a disappointment for Dogme fans. But for such a young event, RESFEST has gotten itself together exceptionally well, both in terms of logistics and quality of programming. Like so many young high-tech success stories, this little festival is riding high on the cutting edge, and could be a major force before anyone saw it coming.