Monday, March 7, 2011

The Power of Moving Pictures, Pie and Piano

The beauty of the quarterly James River Filmmakers Forum is the variety of unexpected scenarios you'll get to see in the local shorts screened. Tuck your cocktails under your seats and fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. It's going to be a colorful ride.

Let's see, tonight at Balliceaux that included a tea party on Church Hill with the devil, a Muslim woman working on her Ph.D while suffering through bad matchmaking attempts and a couple of local restaurant owners emerging naked from the river covered in fake blood. It's hard to overstate the pleasures of that kind of entertainment.

Five filmmakers were showing tonight and their work ranged across the spectrum. Daniel Lowe's time lapse films in high def were pure eye candy, the treetops looking almost nervous in their movements and the racing stars resembling a planetarium show.

Or as he put it, "There's not much to think about with my work. It's just meant to be pretty." From behind me, man-about-town Harry Kollatz piped up, "Kind of like me." True that, Harry.

Christine Stoddard's "Tea Party with Death" had a female death figure holding a very proper tea party with miniature cups and saucers, but be on your best behavior; use improper etiquette and you're dead.

The nudes emerging from the river, "Harbinger," were the work of Harrison Moenich, who commented, "It's really hard to find people willing to come out of the water naked in cold weather." He considered the piece to be a horror movie stripped down to its most basic level.

"Menna," by Ashley Zahorian addressed the duality of a typical young American woman with traditional Muslim beliefs. Typical, that is, if you're getting your Ph.D in electrical engineering and your aunts are shoving one loser Muslim man after another at you.

Made from Super 8 home movies, "Expecting to Fly" was Ethan Bullard's experimental sci-fi film about a military unit trying to locate heaven. After the space race, there was apparently a faith race. Who knew?

The footage was from the 60s and shot in Alaska, which subbed for Pluto, and Virginia. The unit had a Deadly Garbage Accelerator that threw garbage onto the dark side of the moon. One dedicated man stayed behind to search for heaven and ended up back on earth. High drama indeed.

The humor of the simply-told story was matched only by the very cool vintage 8 mm footage Bullard used. I love the look of Super 8 films and the soundtrack, which included two songs by Explosions in the Sky, echoed the vastness of the landscape with enormous soundscapes.

During the panel discussion with the filmmakers afterwards, the audience got the chance to find out the how and why of the films. It's such a great way to get inside the creative heads of those compelled to make movies, assuming that that's a place you want to peer in to.

It was raining lightly when I left Balliceaux for Ipanema and the monthly installment of Live at Ipanema, making it a cozy night for live music.

I arrived to find friends at the bar, so I joined them for a piece of blueberry pie a la mode; one of my friends had the apple blueberry, sparking a discussion of how badly RVA needs a dedicated pie shop. Pies are the new cupcakes, mark my words.

Playing tonight was Anousheh Khalili, she of the beautiful voice and talented piano fingers. Her set went from new to old, she forewarned us, with a stopover in the '80s for a Phil Collins cover she particularly loves, "In the Air Tonight." Oh, yes, she did.

She did some songs from her rare tour EP, including the touching "Suitcase." She was then joined onstage by her husband, musician Will Loyal of Homemade Knives, of which she is also a member, on background vocals.

Her final addition was Jonathan Vassar, also of Homemade Knives, on accordion and guitar (once he borrowed a pick, that is, having misplaced his own) and adding to the richness of Anousheh's already-beautiful sound.

She said she's been listening to a lot of R & B like CeLo Green (and anyone he works with) lately, mostly for structure but also for its pop sensibilities. Combine that with her voice and piano playing and it's a killer combination.

As is an evening of outstanding local film followed by soaring local music in a hushed room.

You may now unfasten your seatbelts. And, please, have some pie.

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