Despite an increasing number of festivals dedicated to the form, “independent film” has come to mean a certain kind of audience-pleasing specialty film some where between “Trick” and “The Blair Witch Project.” What happens to all the films that fall way outside the genre boundaries? Well, there’s probably a festival for every film and video ever made.
Some of these fests highlight overlooked groups. The MadCat Women’s Intl. Film Festival, for example, was founded three years ago by Ariella Ben-Dov to showcase independent and experimental films by women.
“When I was thinking about starting a festival, I went through the (Assn. of Independent Video & Filmmakers) guide and there were only seven women’s festivals,” Ben-Dov explains. “I think it’s important to showcase women’s work, and not just films about women’s issues, but films that really challenge audiences.”
This year, MadCat will take place Tuesday nights in September at the El Rio Outdoor Cinema in San Francisco.
“The outdoor cinema is in line with MadCat being a very gritty, innovative festival,” says Ben-Dov. “This particular venue will help create a space where people can really talk about what they’re seeing.”
Past MadCat festivals have screened an array of infrequently seen gems, both new and old, including L.A.-based Betzy Bromberg’s “Divinity Gratis,” an experimental film that is nothing less than a history of the world, and Vera Chytilova’s 1960s classic “Daisies.”
This year’s fest features three programs of shorts, including Gunvor Nelson’s classic parody of stripping, “Take Off,” and a special screening of Lizzie Borden’s radical feminist wonder from 1983, “Born in Flames.”
After September, Ben-Dov hopes to take MadCat on the road.
Maybe she’ll follow the tradition of Highway Cinema, a roaming film fest started in 1993 by Washington-based Hunter Mann who rides his bicycle across the U.S. and Canada with a trailer holding a 16mm projector, sound system and several hours of short films.
“I don’t charge people any money to exhibit the films and I don’t charge any money for the screenings, therefore they get seen by a lot of people,” Mann explains. “And these audiences, some of whom may have never seen projected film before, will say things you will never hear anywhere else.”
While there are many new gay and lesbian festivals, another overlooked group is the transgender community. Tranny Fest was established three years ago to address this oversight and to provide, in co-founder Alison Austin’s words, “positive media images of the transgender community.”
Dubbed a “finger-snapping, groin-bumping, tear-jerking, heartwarming, gut-busting mix of experimental, documentary, dramatic and pornographic films,” the daylong festival this year will take place Oct. 30 in San Francisco and will include five programs of projects spanning the gender continuum.
“We are as committed to different genres as we are to different genders,” explains Austin, who is an arts and entertainment attorney and founded the festival with Christopher Lee, a female-to-male transsexual well known for an array of films addressing transgender issues.
In addition to those set up to focus on subject matter, some fests highlight overlooked formats.
There’s the Super Super 8 Festival founded by Melinda Stone and devoted to the fabulous small-gauge film stock, which was ignominiously replaced by many filmmakers with video but yet lives on among film enthusiasts.
For the true video aesthete, there’s the PXL This Video Festival, is dedicated to celebrating the grainy black-and-white beauty of videos made with the PXL 2000, the Fisher-Price toy video camera. Founded by Gerry Fialka, the fest takes place twice a year in Los Angeles and always features an eclectic mix of weird, experimental, narrative, documentary and animated shorts — all made with the unpredictable plastic camera.
Perhaps in reaction to the decline in venues to show more alternative visions, there has been an explosion of festivals devoted to the strangest images to be found on celluloid or videotape. The Chicago Underground Film Festival and the New York Underground Film Festival are notorious for screening both the newest and some of the oldest underground films.
Last year’s NYUFF featured critic-curator Jack Sargeant presenting the banned film “True Gore,” for example, as well as a long list of works by America’s well-known “alternative” directors, including Jon Moritsugu and Todd Verow.
Skizz Cyzyk’s MicroCineFest in Baltimore is similarly dedicated to edgier fare.
“I’m interested in extremely low-budget yet very ambitious psychotronic films,” he says, admitting that he can’t precisely define “psychotronic” but he knows it when he sees it. “I look for questionable production values, as well as questionable subject matter, and a potential for cult-film status.”
MicroCineFest grew out of a regular screening series that Cyzyk hosted at the Mansion, which was formerly a funeral home, and each year the event is housed in a bizarre location.
“This year it looks like we will either be in the Hamden Republican Hall or an old carpet warehouse,” says Cyzyk. Look for MicroCineFest Nov. 3-7.
While all of these fests may seem homey and inviting, they do have to reject a good number of entrants. But don’t fret — there’s also a festival for the rejects.
The Philadelphia Reject Film Fest is dedicated to the cast-off and discarded films that don’t make it into other fests. Look for the next Reject in the fall of 2000.