January 23, 2008
AFS Launches Avant Cinema Series
Getting Nowhere Slow is a collection of the artistic musings of fairly-new-to-Austin filmmaker Scott Stark, who is also helping to curate the series. While enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Stark spent his Saturday nights at underground film screenings, experiencing the visual works of George Kuchar, Hollis Frampton and Ken Jacobs.
"I am definitely interested in the provocative side of filmmaking, creating works that are challenging in some way, making them not easily recognized or understood," Stark said to us recently in a phone conversation, "I tend to work in abstraction as opposed to a narrative format and like the idea of visually playing with an image and manipulating it in a musical way."
Hoping to fill the void that was left by the pioneers at Cinematexas in the avant-garde film space, Stark urged AFS to look into creating a series that would cultivate a community similar to the one he was a part of in San Francisco, which has a very active avant-garde filmmaking scene. This first installment of the Avant Cinema is the first step in that direction and deals mostly with the idea of movement through the urban space, and in general, the idea of listless transportation.
"It's fun to mix and match my films and try to find out what new meaning I can pull out of the series. With this particular group I was interested in conveying the repetition that happens in the urban space, focusing on public transportation that never really goes anywhere, hence the title. I like the idea of all this striving, the same movements over and over again which never get you anywhere. However, the films I chose ended up being a little too dry, so I decided to throw in some of the more sensual pieces like Angel Beach."
I think what avant-garde films offer is a nice space for your mind to wander around in."
Angel Beach is a series of stereoscopic photographs of bikini-clad women that have been animated to give the feeling of motion. Watching this piece makes you feel like you are sitting in a giant, slightly naughty, washing machine with the agitator swishing you back and forth while you gawk at gyrating flesh; it is a disorienting effect to say the least.
Stark has also included his piece I'll Walk With God, which features airplane safety cards and their fully made up flight attendant representations, as well as More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda, in which Stark explores gender-reversal, personal evolution and the retraction of feminist ideals all while satirically performing calisthenics in public and private venues.
"When I first started making films I was very dogmatic, a real snob actually. I thought that if you made your work entertaining then you were detracting from the art, but then I realized that even if you did put something humorous or dramatic in that it wouldn't necessarily distract from the aesthetic. Sometimes audiences go back and forth between focusing on the aesthetic and the entertainment. And sometimes they go back and forth between paying attention and not. I think what avant-garde films offer is a nice space for your mind to wander around in."
Stark's works are definitely a good jumping off point for those who are interested in exploring avant-garde cinema, as they are fairly accessible and entertaining, but don't expect anything to be spelled out for you.
"I think my stuff is easier than a lot of films out there in the avant-garde space, but as with anything they are an acquired taste. People are so used to everything being explained to them in movies—the cutting speeds up, that creates tension, the music is melancholy, that creates sadness—but with these kinds of films all of that is left up to the audience. People will find themselves being frustrated at first, but once they let go of their expectations of what film is 'supposed to be' they can draw more from the experience."