Film’s Experimental Future and Unruly Past Converge in New Festival

Esther Johnson, still from 'Tune In,' 2006.

Esther Johnson, still from 'Tune In,' 2006. (Courtesy of Light Field)

At a screening earlier this week, former Ann Arbor Film Festival Director David Dinnell described this as a perversely busy week for cinema in the Bay Area. The week’s turned out to be perverse for other reasons, but the fact remains that the concentration of complimentary (and competing) screenings point to the local experimental film scene’s renewed vitality.

Beyond the Robert Beavers residency at BAMPFA, we have Bruce Conner exhibit at SFMOMA, another expanded cinema event in San Francisco Cinematheque’s ongoing Perpetual Motion program featuring local darlings Kerry Laitala and John Davis, and a Canyon Cinema salon featuring filmmaker Toney Merritt‘s under-seen work.

Kimberly Forero-Arnias, still from 'Hay Algo Y Se Va,' 2014.
Kimberly Forero-Arnias, still from ‘Hay Algo Y Se Va,’ 2014. (Courtesy of Light Field)

Most exciting is Light Field, a new festival co-organized by several local artists — a festival without any formal ties to the usual film societies and repertory houses (screenings migrate between The Lab, Artists’ Television Access, the Roxie, and a venue to be announced). I haven’t seen most of the films being shown, but those I have bode well for an eclectic yet selective showcase.

Dispensing with the convention of limiting festival selections to works made in the previous 12 months — fresh product, in other words — Light Field recoups several gems past their ordinary sell-by date. A three-minute song like Kimberly Forero-Arnia’s Hay Algo Y Se Va (2014) is probably fated to be overlooked in a welter of big-name premieres, but its intricate editing pattern sticks with me three years after first seeing it.

Anthony McCall sketch, 1973.
Anthony McCall sketch, 1973. (Courtesy of Light Field)

Chronology is further scrambled by retrospective selections interspersed throughout the Light Field programs. Aside from a major work (New York Portrait, Chapter I) by Peter Hutton, a treasured landscape specialist who died this past June, these revivals travel way off the beaten path.

Exerting outward pressure on experimental cinema’s already porous boundaries, the older works are positioned as if to argue that the best way to contend with film’s uncertain future is to dig deeper into its unruly past. The program concludes with Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone (1973) and Conical Solid (1974), two works that offer a kind of rallying cry for this new gathering: no matter the state of the art, cinema always belongs to the present.

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Light Field runs Nov. 11–13 at the Lab, Artists’ Television Access and the Roxie, all in San Francisco. For tickets and more information, visit lightfieldfilm.org.

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