Part of the appeal of Super 8mm film is certainly nostalgia. Many great contemporary filmmakers got their start by making short 8mm films, including the likes of Pedro Almodóvar and François Ozon (whose early shorts I featured in a recent Short Starts). But more than that, the limitations of the genre force some really impressive creativity into these films. It’s difficult enough to distill ideas into the short form to begin with, and the added restrictions of low production value only increase the pressure to take creative leaps. When it goes well, the result is in many ways much more impressive and entertaining than any feature-length big-budget enterprise at your local multiplex.
If you’re in New York this Sunday night you can catch 14 of these rare treats at the Flicker NYC Film Festival. There are films from all over: Canada, South Korea, France and Finland, to name a few, and even from exotic Brooklyn. It’s also the festival’s 10th anniversary, so it’s an even more appropriate time to head down to Park Slope and support this aging art form.
My personal favorite of the shorts playing on Sunday night is probably “The Penalty Box,” though it’s certainly a close race. This particular short, the one entry from Finland, is a mini-documentary comprised of interviews with older community-league hockey players about sex and relationships. It’s a lot like last year’s acclaimed doc on Finnish saunas, “Steam of Life,” in that it’s primarily an intimate portrayal of modern masculinity in an intensely male social setting. It’s also quietly hilarious, in what can only be described as a richly comic Scandinavian deadpan.
There are also a few fantastic French entries in the fest. “Back to London” is the calmly told story of a woman and her teenage daughter going through a rough patch, with two trips to London as framing. There are some gorgeous shots of the train riding through the English and French countryside on its way to the British capital, interspersed with oddly poetic intertitles that maneuver between the two languages. Quiet but engrossing, the transportation images work beautifully as a metaphor for the journeys of adolescence and parenthood.
The French also show up with “Garbusha” and “III,” both French-directed and Russian-themed. The first is made up of extremely thorough and somewhat gruesome footage of the making of caviar, from the initial fishing net to the egg processing plant. It’s unsettling and ominous, but also terribly compelling. “III” also plays with an otherworldly severity, following a mysterious and almost Eisensteinian battle amongst masked men in the woods. It’s the kind of thing that really would just seem ridiculous without the benefit of the grainy Super 8mm atmosphere; somehow the production value gives its cast of dudes in low-budget ski-masks and the occasional two-man horse costume a sinister air that would fall flat otherwise.
Experimental cinema, which is perhaps the most interesting use of Super 8mm taking place these days, also has a solid presence in the festival line-up. A series of Canadian shorts, “3 Experiments on Super 8” is a fascinating play on light, space and the mechanics of film. However, “Collide-O-Scope” might be the best of this particular genre in the program, an extraordinarily creative use of four different cameras to replicate a single man in a white room. As he jumps around splitting into two, both the figure and the filmmaker experiment with the visual layout of the strange enclosed space, creating an intriguing doubling of both movement and time.
A third Super 8 experiment, which is less “experimental cinema” as such and more a game of stop-motion, is “Super 8mm Fighter,” which is available on the web for those of you who can’t make it to Brooklyn. After a filmmaker has left his home on some errands, a battle emerges between his Super 8 camera and its new digital rival across the table. It’s lots of fun. Take a look:
Finally, for all you She and Him fans out there: the video for their new-ish song “Thieves” was shot entirely on Super 8mm, and will be shown at the festival. It’s great to see the format used by other media, and recognized for its advantages. The grainy quality of the video really adds to the atmosphere of the song, and there’s something ephemerally marvelous about the way Zooey Deschanel sings behind the veil of film. Watch it here:
On the whole, it’s a diverse and edifying line-up, check it out. Other shorts in the program include:
“Bautista’s Fable” – tragic love story with some beautiful imagery
“The Conversation with Dr. Mouse” – a South Korean experiment in the surreal
“I Close My Eyes and Walk Away” – filmed here in NYC
“The Last Trip” – hilarious tale of a Welshman and his ashes
“At the End of Her Rope” – a young woman attempts suicide, though perhaps not
“Robot” – a robot copes with being obsolete, comedy follows