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New York Underground Film Festival Report: Poems and Problems, Head Rush (Shorts Programs)

New York Underground Film Festival Report: Poems and Problems, Head Rush (Shorts Programs)

Last day of the NYUFF, and boy are there some treats for the hardcore. Beyond repeats of Frank and Cindy and Celluloid #1 there are also repeats of short programs “Poems and Problems” and “Head Rush.” The former contains serious documentaries: Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry by Paul Chan interviews the apparently unjustly disbarred and 30-year sentence-facing title lawyer, charged as part of aJohn Ashcroft’s anti-terrorist sweep with smuggling messages out of jail from an Islamic client. Her recitations of the poetry she loves — Ashberry, Blake, and Brecht — are stirring appeals for liberty and constitutional sanity. The Mendi by Steve Reinke is a much more wry, biting (literally) undermining of ethnographic film — in this case from the CBC’s ’70s television series Man Alive. The voiceover of the director, who worked as a teenage assistant to the show, over footage of the titular African tribe is a hilariously upsetting wrench in the works that points to the gap between the known and unknowable of other cultures. The Professor is a return to earnest documentary. Director Jason Price follows and interviews David D. Kpormakpor, former Supreme Court Justice and Interim President of Liberia. Exiled to Staten Island after serving during that country’s civil war, Kpormakpor tragically lives out his elderly years in regret and loneliness. Price’s treatment of his subject is both sympathic and unflinching, a depiction of a lost man and the current community he can never truly join.

Found footage is the dominant element in the shorts of “Head Rush.” There’s an Arnold Schwarzenneger “mandala” in which the chaos of Terminator 2 and Total Recall is superimposed and kaleidescopically manipulated to thrilling, beatific effect in Jimmy Joe Roche’s Ultimate Reality. Through These Trackless Tears is less post-modern and more classical, using industrial and educational films a la Bruce Conner to warn us of our spiritual and material hubris. The program standout might be Slow Jamz, a decelerated highlight reel of Michael Jordan’s Slam Dunk Contest feats that builds in uncanniness and pathos to a “screwed” version of a Kanye West track. Slow Jamz creator Karthik Pandian mainpulates the innate nostalgic effect of antique video to manufacture a new kind of emotion: MJ becomes more than an icon, achieving the burden of eternal myth, etched in analogue feed as our desperate emblem of althetic commerce. I could be like Mike — if he existed.

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