Onion City Film Festival

Now that Chicago Filmmakers is mainly neglecting new experimental work in favor of documentaries and other Chicago venues are dealing with this area of cinema only intermittently, occasions to keep abreast of the latest developments in this branch of film art are becoming fewer and fewer. All the more reason to be grateful that the Experimental Film Coalition has been screening all of the film entries of the Onion City Film Festival at a private loft since last week and will be showing the festival winners along with other selections at the Film Center on Monday night. It’s worth noting that the nine films I previewed from the entries were mainly selected at random, but the overall level of originality and accomplishment is unusually high. Although Mike Hoolboom’s Grid is rather slight, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch; and the superiority on every level–intelligence, freshness, craft, watchability–of the films I saw to about 80 percent of the recent commercial releases makes the neglect of this kind of movie in relation to genre atrocities like Pumpkinhead doubly unjust. The animated Machine Song (Chel White) and Bar Yohai (Robert Asher), and the evocative nonnarrative What’s Left Is Wind (Leighton Pierce)–all showing on Saturday–are strikingly fresh. Among the Sunday films, Laurie Dunphy’s Living in Quotes is a remarkable (if overextended) repetitive and analytical use of diverse materials from South Africa, Lynn Kirby’s Sharon and the Birds on the Way to the Wedding intriguingly juggles a lot of varied material about an impending marriage, and Michael Wallin’s Decodings milks a disconnected use of found footage with a text by Michael Blumlein for some eerie effects. But the best of the films that I saw, which will hopefully be included in the Film Center selection, is unquestionably A Still Life in Postcards by former Art Institute graduate student Ines Sommer, a beautifully crafted and wholly original arrangement of visual materials (ranging from a still of Marlene Dietrich to a beach scene), in black and white and color, with a partially contrapuntal commentary. A presentation of the Experimental Film Coalition. (1550 N. Milwaukee, Friday through Sunday, November 4 through 6, 6:00, and Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Monday, November 7, 6:00, 252-5681)

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