Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Heeding Spring's Hints

I'm over the moon about how Spring is busting out all over.

Opening all my windows the moment I got up, I eagerly put on short to go for my walk. Near the Library of Virginia, a guy pointed at my shorts and said, "You're glad Spring's here. Look at those pretty legs!"

Better yet, look at how I don't have four layers on top and two on the bottom anymore. Look at how I'm walking on the shady side of the street instead of the sunny side. Look at how Spring fever is oozing out of every pore.

I'm still getting used to having the windows open again, meaning there are constant distractions from bustling Clay Street below.

People walk by singing to the music in their ear buds. The recycling truck clatters along picking up containers formerly full of bottles and cans of beer (lots of students). Bits of conversation drift up as people walk down the street out of ear range. Horse hooves clop by as the mounted police patrol the streets to keep me safe.

It's not that I mind hearing all this, it's just a matter of getting used to it (and gradually tuning it out) after being closed up in the isolation booth of winter on the second floor.

What I knew for sure was that I intended to walk to the Black Maria Film Fest at the Grace Street theater tonight and I left in plenty of time to lollygag.

I browsed the tables outside the quirky Richmond Book Shop, admired fancy cycles in Balance Bike Shop and ogled VCU's Depot, the old streetcar station that's starting to be filled with student art in anticipation of tomorrow night's opening.

It was a splendid day for a second walk.

At the theater, I found a seat among familiar faces from the local art and film scene, students and other grown-ups with an interest in film shorts. This was my eighth year going to the Black Maria and it always delivers satisfying, challenging and creative takes on filmmaking.

This year, as a bonus it was free.

Once again, it was hosted by John Columbus, founder and director of the festival, and after his opening remarks, he made his way up to my row and squeezed by, saying, "I'll sit here."

Now I knew I was in the important row, despite my lack of filmmaking experience.

Well, that's not entirely true. When I was in college, a filmmaking friend had written, directed and produced two films and he'd asked me to be in both, despite an utter lack of acting ability.

If I were to see them today, I'm sure part of me would cringe at my woodenness and part of me would marvel at my youth. But mostly cringe.

Nothing we saw tonight was cringe-worthy, although partly because so many of the shorts were conceptual or abstract in some way.

Using "appropriated" footage (which used to be called found footage before finding came into question), "Inquire Within" showed a series of contrasts, including one of a mean elephant named Topsy being electrocuted in 1903, something I never really needed to see.

"Solaristics" was 48 variations on the theme of the sun and after about 12 - sun through a  windshield, through the slats of a fence, reflected in water-  it lost my interest entirely.

I tried not to let John Columbus see that I was unimpressed.

Far more compelling and upsetting was "Chop," based on a sculptural installation using old chopsticks.

Turns out it was a statement about how we could save 400 million trees if we stopped making disposable chopsticks, something I'd like to think is a reasonable goal.

From the very thought-provoking to the buoyant "Globe Trot" we went for a film made from footage shot in 40 countries of people all doing the same dance. All colors, all ages, all body sizes, all choreographed and edited together. Very cool.

"Night Blooming Flowers" brought us crashing back down to earth with a dreamy meditation on flowers watching the demise of a person in the hospital dying.

John had said that at his age, he was thinking more about death and dying, so perhaps that accounted for the film's inclusion, but with no such thoughts on my mind, I found it a bit of a buzz kill.

Luckily, it was followed by the absolutely delightful film within a film within a film, "Sleight of Hand," a story in stop motion.

A claymation figure (strong-jawed and thick-haired like Dudley DoRight) builds a claymation figure and starts stopping and starting him until he accidentally notices that someone is arranging also him. I found it to be a very clever construct as the camera panned out further and further until we saw the director and crew who had been making him so he could make his own figure.

It was a regular hall of mirrors.

But lest we get too giddy, next up was "Through the Tubes," a closely shot, challengingly surreal piece that wandered through the memory and experiences of an old woman.

Winning my vote for longest, most pretentious and obscure title was "Little Block of Cement with Disheveled Hair Containing the Sea," but it turned out to be an exquisitely shot black and white film chronicling the journey of a horse and dog, both of whom were excellent actors.

As a bonus, there was a pig strolling across a bridge, not something you see every day. All those happy animals almost, but not quite, made up for seeing Topsy shocked to death.

By the time we saw the experimental "Water Color (Fall Creek)," I had little patience for 11.5 minutes of water under a bridge at different times of day and night with changing sound.

But boring water was soon forgotten with the utterly charming "Salmon Deadly Sins," a film made using 5,000 salmon-colored index cards in a flipbook-style movie. Steven Vander Meer began his film with the words, "I love anagrams" and proceeded to show us how much.

Subtly pastel drawings illustrated the seven deadly sins humorously until the finish, which read, "This is the end. Heed its hints."

I did and took the long way home enjoying the cool night air of my last walk of the day.

Spring, please say you're here to stay.

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