ByDesign Film Festival
I'm a believer that the most powerful visual art being created today is in the form of video and moving image. But video art and design have struggled to find an audience, partly because the market is so ill-defined. Art galleries are geared to sell stuff—paintings and sculpture—not the ephemeral videotape or digital file. That leaves video artists in a kind of marginalized ghetto living off sporadic grants, second jobs, commercial Web design, or the occasional music-video gig. And that's why the Northwest Film Forum's fourth ByDesign fest is a great opportunity to see this buffet of narrative and experimental short films.
On Saturday, the "Entropy" program provides an hour-long sampler of shorts and music videos. There's some very cool imagery here: The U.K. collective Shynola's video for Rapture is a scrappy rock poster jittering to life. (The design co-op is also represented by Sunday's program, "Sh*t From Shynola.") Roman Coppola's rambling, self-reflexive video about making a video for the band Phoenix demonstrates what can be done with nine minutes of music and no money. Paul Beck and Jason Archer, best known for work on Richard Linklater's Waking Life, offer a couple of angry and hilarious animations, including Hometown Hoedown, which finds Dubya square-dancing with Osama and Saddam.
But for me, the most interesting material is work that avoids narrative or world events. The French group Pleix spins several wordless shorts, including Sometimes, in which the shattered fragments of a demolished skyscraper elegantly dance through the air. Doug Aitken's Interiors is a lovely split-screen meditation on urban loneliness.
Meanwhile, Friday's "Historic Shorts" package offers a rare potpourri of quickies from the '60s—some of which definitely show their age. Saul Bass's mini-epic Why Man Creates is an earnest Schoolhouse Rock–style exposition on the burdens of art and science. Still, as an accidental art critic, I couldn't help chuckling at Ernest Pintoff's The Critic, where abstract animations are accompanied by the voice-over kvetching of Mel Brooks. "What the hell is this?" he moans. I feel your pain, Mel, I really do. ANDREW ENGELSON
Catch That Kid
Billed as "a mission without permission," this innocent peewee action movie aspires to be a Mission: Impossible for kids—minus the violent weapons and killing of bad guys. Owing to a medical crisis involving her father, 12-year-old Maddy (Kristen Stewart) plots to rob a state-of-the-art bank with the help of her two best friends, Austin (Corbin Bleu) and Gus (Max Thieriot). This scheme allows the unlikely perps to demonstrate skills at rock climbing, computer hacking, and smooth talking. Full of high-speed go-cart chases (no learners' permits yet) and attack dogs (who turn out to be docile pups with the help of a secret password), this remake of a 2002 Danish film clearly has eyes for the Spy Kids demographic—with cheesy lines and bathroom humor to suit. Still, parents will get a laugh or two. Among the parents on screen, the presence of Jennifer Beals will have some asking, "Hey, isn't she that lesbian from TV?" (PG) GINGER DONALD
In Seabiscuit, an unassuming horse becomes a hero for a Depression-gripped nation looking for inspiration and magic. In Miracle, the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team becomes a hero for a nation locked in Cold War tension. Miracle duly relates the true story of how 26 young men vied to join the Olympic team, and how their maniacal coach, Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), earned a leather whip by working them, literally, into the ice in order to give his team a chance to defeat the U.S.S.R.'s mighty squad. If you want to see jocks doing countless wind sprints on the rink, this is your kind of film. It's straight out of the '70s, fashion-wise, and Russell's hair alone deserves some kind of award for evoking that blow-dried era. Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent) deserves better than the role of Brooks' wife, but she looks good enough to inspire a nation on her own. Although the cinematography is dizzying at times, there's also an undeniable feeling of elation along with Miracle's "against all odds" nostalgia. (PG) ZANA BUGAIGHIS
The Same River Twice
Although full of lithe young naked bodies cavorting in their '70s prime, the real attraction to this poignant, elegiac then-and-now boomer documentary may be the Colorado River. There, rafting through the Grand Canyon in 1978, filmmaker Robb Moss shot various scenes of his river-guide friends singing, drinking, paddling, swimming, and cooking—all of them clothing-optional pursuits, it seems. It's a bit of a shock, at first, to see people so comfortable with their normal, non-Hollywood bodies, although everyone's quite fit from their oar work in the gorgeous, opalescent blue-green waters. Moss often lets his camera linger on the Colorado's whorls and eddies; the water carved the canyon over eons, and Twice is a movie about time. At one point, a game of baseball in the buff erupts on a beach, but Moss films the figures in silhouette against the yellow canyon walls. They look like ancient cave paintings brought fleetingly to life.
The original film resulting from their monthlong trip was called Riverdogs, and its 16mm footage is interspersed into this DV follow-up, which finds five of the guides coping with midlife with varying degrees of success. From behind the camera, Moss speaks to his somewhat surburbanized and occasionally rueful friends. They include Jeff and Cathy, once married but now divorced; Danny, now a mother married to a non-riverdog; and Barry, who's in essentially the same family position. Apart from them is solitary Jim, "the river deity," as Moss calls him, who alone remains in touch with the riverdog existence. All five are quite honest and unabashed as they survey their nude younger selves—like Cathy, now the mayor of Ashland, Ore., who chuckles that they've all gained a pound a year since then.
The effect is like Michael Apted's great Seven Up documentary series. Moss, who teaches film at Harvard, is meticulous about not tipping or indicting anyone's life choices from the old footage about who might've "sold out" on their '70s idealism. That old spirit and their evident trust in Moss make them particularly candid subjects—although without being so talky and vaguely pretentious as in The Barbarian Invasions. There are also parallels to The Big Chill or The Return of the Secaucus Seven, but the nostalgia never overwhelms. The prospect of being an aging boomer (or ex-hippie) doesn't seem so terrible finally—like the river, time leads inexorably to midlife and beyond. Children, illness, and career setbacks are part of the journey. More than yearning to be young and naked again (their lives now cluttered with jobs, car pools, and mortgages), Moss' friends look back and miss something else. Says Danny, still a knockout at 48, "That was just a different era—nothing but time." (NR) BRIAN MILLER firstname.lastname@example.org