Saturday, April 27, 2013

Verses (2012)

WHO: Local artist James Sansing made this film.

WHAT: I was fortunate to view a version of Verses at an informal artist salon several months ago, and it absolutely stunned me. Though the above still provided by the San Francisco Film Society gives a sense of what a single frame from this work looks like, it can't evoke the eerie morphings that are created by it and its brothers in a frame-by-frame, page-by-page animation.

I encourage you to click on the image to enlarge it, however. You should be able to make out parts of the handwritten ledger entries about  the residents of the long-abandoned juvenile hall where Sansing found this book, which he ultimately used as raw material for his film. Lines like "These boys are to be kept in their rooms until Estes talks to their school and contacts us" and stray discernible words like  "confronted", "depressed", "insulin" and "psychologist" can be read in the spaces between the mildew and ink stains, evoking both the mundane details and the psychic melancholy that must have been in the atmosphere of this place when it was functioning.

If the motion of the film can't be expressed by a still, neither can these scrawls be seen by an audience watching the mold patterns evolve as pages turn from front cover to back. Yet a viewer can get a sense of some of the concerns written about in the ledger even if the origin of the artifact is unknown (as it was to me when I saw it). Not only because the stains resemble Rorschach blots throbbing with an uncanny lifeforce (the magic of animation), but also because of the way Sansing has photographed them, as if a historical document under glass and illuminated by an archival-quality light source. Meaning is imbued into these images by their very presentation, and only amplified if we know their original provenance.

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings tonight at the Pacific Film Archive at 8:45, and at New People this Tuesday at 7:00.

WHY: Carl Martin has dutifully compiled a schedule of all the SFIFF films that are expected to screen using actual film reels. As we now see only the dying embers of 35mm film stock as a mass distribution medium for motion pictures, it's still unclear what role film festivals will play in preserving exhibition using film formats. Prints are still struck for preservation purposes if nothing else, but it's becoming increasingly rare for audiences to get opportunities to view them. (Spring Breakers for instance, was shot on film but has only, finally, been released on film to a Frisco Bay theatre --the Balboa-- this week after over a month of digital screenings at other local venues.) 

Carl's list includes all five of the new feature films that SFIFF is screening on 35mm, as well as the new-ish Helsinki Forever and the four revival programs of films made between 1922 and 1999 that will be shown on film. He also includes the three shorts programs which involve film-on-film projection. Verses is one of two shorts (the other being Lonnie von Brummelen & Siebren de Haan's View from the Acropolis) in the program entitled Shorts 5: Experimental: Artifacts and Artificial Acts that will be screen on film. I'm very excited for the chance to view Verses on 35mm for the first time, but I'm also excited to see new work by Deborah Stratman, Katherin McInnis, Karen Yasinsky, Scott Stark in a cinema. Video is absolutely a legitimate moving-image-art-making medium, as I suspect anyone else who attended last night's screening of Leviathan will be able to attest. I'm glad that film still figures into SFIFF exhibition, even if in a diminished (less than 10%) portion of the entire program. I expect tonight's program, curated by Kathy Geritz of the PFA and Vanessa O'Neill of SF Cinematheque, will demonstrate how the two media can harmoniously co-exist side-by-side in a festival program.

HOW: As noted above, 35mm film on a program with other short experimental works, most of them screened on video.

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