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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

DVD Review: The Journal of Short Film: The JSF/PDX Issue.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Tue, Jul 1, 2008 at 6:00 PM

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Goddammit. I've been meaning to get this write-up posted for the past week or two--the DVD's been available since like May 20, and it screened at the Northwest Film Center on May 28--but due to various factors I'd rather not talk about (UNPLANNED PREGNANCY), it's taken me a while to review The Journal of Short Film: The JSF/PDX Issue, which features 26 films that range from one minute to 10 minutes in length. The reason this disc matters to you, fellow Portlander? Easy: All of these films are culled from Portland filmmakers. Notable contributors to this issue of the JSF include Matt McCormick, Gretchen Hogue, and Brian Libby, and overall, the disc feels a bit like a more condensed and user-friendly version of the annual PDX Fest's Peripheral Produce Invitational.

Hit the jump for a bit more info.

So buying the disc is $10--which, if you're into experimental and/or local film, is a pretty great deal. I watched these 26 films in three sessions, and each session flew by pretty quick. In part that's due to how short the films are--the majority are less than five minutes long--but also, most of these shorts avoid the more annoying aspects of experimental cinema, which can often feel like an audio/visual endurance test. Or sometimes it's just pretentious. Or in some truly unholy instances, it's both.

But there are a lot of really great shorts here that you probably wouldn't catch elsewhere. Maybe my favorite is McCormick's 50 Years Later, which McCormick made as a Father's Day present for his dad: Using old home movie footage from 1956, McCormick revisited the site where it that footage was shot in 2006 to see how things had changed. In '56, the site was a tiny, super-creepy, Santa-themed group of buildings out in the desert; 50 years later, it's decrepit and abandoned, with tags marking up nearly every surface. It's melancholy and gorgeous.

Brian Libby's Roppongi Crossing is also worth checking out: It's a series of candid shots of Tokyo taxi drivers hanging out behind their wheels, either driving through the neon-flashing streets or waiting for fares, and it's weirdly engaging. Also pretty cool is Steve Winwood Is Hungry for Breakfast, by Jesse England, in which England plays Steve Winwood backwards to discover hidden messages, all of which, weirdly, have to do with breakfast foods. This thing feels like a meme waiting to happen, so why not:


Also great are the immaculately presented Le Puzzle, by Uli Beutter; Arman Bohn's weird little sci-fi film using a bunch of public domain footage, Planet Earth: Our Response; Evan Stroum's discomfiting profile of a homeless guy, Keith; and Little Atomic Bomb, by Adam Long, which pairs visuals with audio of Charles Bukowski reading an unpublished poem. (That last one reminded me, in a good way, of I Met the Walrus.)

There's also some lousy stuff, to be sure: Jim Lowry's Strategy is maybe the most heavy-handed, eye-roll inducing short I've ever seen, and Michael Paulus' Test Anthem is an obtuse, apparently pointless experiment. (The synopsis of Test Anthem gives you a pretty good sense of what's in store: "198 national anthems from the word's countries arranged in a vertical, symmetrical stack. Played for the duration with bell curve as defined parameter with demarcation line representing point of departure to the--unattainable?" ARGH. MIGRAINE.)

But still: Overall, there are a lot of solid pieces here, and while this DVD probably isn't something you're gonna watch over and over again, it's definitely a cheap, easy, and fun enough way to check out what a lot of Portland's filmmakers are up to. Definitely worth checking out.

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