The Lowell Sun Sunday, March 3, 2003
JUST A MINUTE
By Kathleen Deely, Sun Staff
LOWELL - There won't be any marquee names, paparazzi or Hollywood types at Friday's One Minute Video Festival. Don't look for celebrity sightings on Middle Street or a posh after-party where you can rub elbows with Kate Hudson or Ashton Kutcher.
This alternative festival is a straightforward 60-minute expo of edgy, political and humorous short films from local and international amateur and professional filmmakers.
As festival creator Nate Longcope puts the finishing touches on his invention this week, the buzz around the show at Evos Art Institute is palpable.
"I am just wicked psyched for this festival and impressed by the videos that I've received. It's much better than I expeected," said the Groton animator.
The eclectic shorts, many edited from longer films to fit the 60-second format, are a pastiche of visual images created by artists from New York City, Los Angeles, Kansas, South Carolina, Europe and all around Greater Lowell.
While the outpouring of entries from far-flung artists lends the festival panache, it also sheds light on what the growing circle of local filmmakers are up to.
Photographer Jim Higgins may be known for chronicling the city's Cambodian population, but he is also quite a visionary behind a home movie camera. Higgins, who runs a photo design company in Lowell, has been making shorts on Super-8 films, attracted to its grainy quality, for years. His two films in the festival, "Iternum" and "All's Well With the World," are effective cinematic snippets. His 60-second "Iternum" was edited from a longer piece called "Sweet Dreams" that is about "searching for what's important in life," Higgins said. FIlmed at Boston's Copley Square Park a few yeard back, the serence film shows a ballerina dancing to soft music as the sun sets.
But where "Iternum" is peaceful, "All's Well With the World" is a jarring look at violence in our society. The film opens with a shot of a girl swinging from a tree overlooking a pond. The idyllic scene is assaulted with images of newspaper headlines such as "Lowell Man Arrested, Hatchet Attack" and sporadic recordings of frantic talk-radio show callers exclaiming shock and outrage. Altought it was made when the Soviet Union was collapsing and Eastern Europe was in chaos, Higgins says the conceptual documentary fits with the current state of the world. "It might be dated in a way, but I think it's still pretty appropriate now. After 9/11, people feel overwhelmed by chaos and we have a skewered sense of violence," he said.
Making a statement in a minute is not easy, but that charge is what drew many to the festival.
Higgins passed his love of film making to his stepdaughter Jesse Issak-Ross, 27, whose movie "Cutting Through Now," carries its own potent message. The black-and-white film accompanied by stark Tom Waits' music, is about the female power struggle in a male-dominated world told through a life-size puppet of a grotesque man.
"It represents business as usual," said Issak-Ross, who lives in Concord. Her film, also shot on Super-8, is not so much a political statement as "A personal reaction to structures in society and world views that are patriarchal oriented," she said. In her movie, a chorus of women are plying the marionette with food and drink, as his wife maniacally prepares dinner in his kitchen. In the end, she cuts his strings with a large knife and he falls to the table.
Though Isaak-Ross admits it was a challenge to tell a story in 60 seconds, the short formatmade it attainable. "It opens it up so anyone can do it, which is the way art should be," she said.
Projection artist Walter Wright, who has submitted 20 minutes of videos to the festival, sees art as shredded images on a screen. The Chelmsford man always carries a camcorder with him, even on the way to the convenience store, to document lefe an then manipulates the images. With computer software he created, Wright makes the footage look blurry and choppy or slow and fuzzy. Set to musical feedback and discordant noises created by friends, his abstract pieces - one captures his commute from Lowell to North Station, another is sunlight streaking though flowers around Fenway Park - are more collages than films.
"I lay down a pattern and then midyf it. The idea is to build up little visual patterns and then match that pattern with music," said the 61-year old artist, who performs with musicians and noise artists once a month in Cambridge and Boston. Wright, who teaches sonic arts at UMASS Lowell, knows there isn't a commercial market for what he does. "We do it because we have to."
With many local filmmakers feeling the same way, the festival is a needed conduit for creative activity in the city.
"I think Lowell has made cultural leaps in the past, but there are not a lot of outlets for young filmmakers," said Matt Collins, a 30-year-old who submitted two satires.
"We've been pushing for some sort of festival downtown since The Strand disappeared. There hasn't been a theater until the Revolving Mueum began showing indpedent films," Higgins said.
The Revolving Museum is sponsoring the festival and a pre-show of the museum's Play-Land as part of the night's festivities. Two hours before the festival, the museum, a block away, will take on a carnival atmosphere as students and musicians encourage festival-goers to roll up their sleeves and have fun.
"It's going to be a great night, peope get a one-two with this whole interactive environment," said Jerry Beck, Revolving Museum artistic director.
After the opening in Lowell, the festival makes its rounds to art and film houses in Easthampton, New York City, and San Francisco. Look for the Coolidge Corneer theater in Brookline to show the festival sometime this summer.
And in keeping with the movie theme, Evos kicks off an exhibit the same night on XXX movie posters from the 1960's and 70's. Salvaged from Boston's Combat Zone, they show how cultural tastes have changed from this radical period. In another room at Evos will be an 8-foot sculptural gun and video show highlighting the fears of war in a violence-oriented media culture, produced by local artists.
"It's a great timing for this show given the current political climate. Here is a show that is a cross section of local opinion and expression. Wow, what a view. It's only five bucks to get in," Longcope said.