Monday, May 5, 2014

Cosmic Flower Unfolding (2013)

A scene from Benjamin Ridgeway's COSMIC FLOWER UNFOLDING, playing at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 24 - May 8, 2014Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.
WHO: Benjamin Ridgeway created this work.

WHAT: There's long been a connection between San Francisco's experimental film scene and the concentration of interest in non-traditional and/or non-Western spirituality. In particular, Asian mystical and religious ideas have informed the work particularly of the Bay Area's legendary experimental animators, such as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson and Lawrence Jordan. Cosmic Flower Unfolding proves the durability of this confluence into the digital animation era. Ridgeway, a local university professor and video game animator, describes in a brief interview on the San Francisco International Film Festival's blog that he first visualized this very short (2-minute) work while meditating, and uses the Sanskrit term "mandala" to describe some of the neon forms he arranges and has pulsate throughout the piece, until they make the form of sage-like face. Ridgeway was influenced by the illustrations of nineteenth-century biologist Ernst Haeckel, but I was also reminded of snowflake geometries. Perhaps there's a mystic out there who'd argue that flowers, undersea creatures, ice crystals, and constellations of electronic data all are essentially the same thing in the scheme of things.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens on a program starting 9PM tonight only at the Kabuki, presented by the San Francisco International Film Festival.

WHY: If you have trouble accepting animation as anything other than cartoons for kids (by which I could mean either children or stoned college students) then you may have trouble with the SFIFF's Shorts 3 program, but if you are open to the breadth of how the medium can be applied in intellectually and sensorially stimulating ways, you'll likely find it to be a very worthwhile program. Ranging from exercises in eye-popping, near-complete abstraction such as Cosmic Flower Unfolding and two pieces by Max Hattler, to Subconscious Password, a piece of semi-autobiographical satire from Canada's Chris Landreth (who made the Academy Award-winning Ryan), this set of 11 shorts proves there are still a heck of a lot of ways to get your mind blown without taking drugs. 

Frequent SFIFF contributors Bill Plympton and Kelly Sears take their respective animating styles into extreme territories at polar opposite ends of the "cartoony or not" spectrum and both far, far from Pixar and its middle-of-the-road imitators. I was delighted to recognize Guilherme Marcondes's The Master's Voice: Caveirao as a worthy follow-up to the Brazilian-born animator's prior mini-masterwork Tyger almost immediately; it carries the same sense of menace and whimsy, and some similar visual elements even if it was created using wholly different techniques and is in a way far more ambitious. Another stunner is Gloria Victoria, by a Canadian filmmaker named Theodore Ushev that I was unfamiliar with but will be keeping an eye out for from now own; his striking Constructivist-influenced design style feels very attuned to his anti-war themes and his motion marches perfectly to the Shostakovich soundtrack he selected. But I picked Ridgeway's film to highlight in particular because he's expected to attend the screening tonight.

HOW: All the Shorts 3 selections will screen digitally.

OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Day 12 of the festival also includes the final screening of Manakamana- on the Kabuki's biggest screen!! - and of Kazakh film Harmony Lessons. It also features the first showing of Lukas Moodysson's We Are The Best!

NON-SFIFF OPTION: It's discount night at the Roxie Cinema so if you still haven't caught Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin on a big screen yet, tonight's your chance to do so for half the price of a regular SFIFF ticket.

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