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Art meets cinema

Celluloid and highbrow ideas converge at pic fest

Art and cinema share a certain love for glamour and money, but they differ radically in terms of goals, institutions, participants and venues. Frequently the crossovers — films by artists and paintings or drawings by filmmakers — are unhappy disasters.

But that’s changing. One of last year’s big Sundance hits was multimedia artist Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” And independent filmmakers, from Gus Van Sant to David Cronenberg are making films that, in terms of form and themes, swing more toward the art end of an art/cinema spectrum. Add to that the expanding options for showing moving images, and you get an exciting moment of art/cinema convergence.

But what does this convergence signify in the context of Sundance, a festival geared toward narrative and documentary cinema with audiences looking for good, clear storytelling?

“The Sundance context is definitely interesting,” says Kevin McCoy, who with partner Jennifer McCoy will mount installation “Our Second Date” at the Film Center on Main Street. “We operate in a fine-art world, in galleries and museums, but our work is so much about viewership and cinematic language, and the act of looking is stitched into the background of everything we do, so in some ways this trip is a research trip, to see what it’s like to be in this intense film community.”

Experimental filmmaker and video artist Leighton Pierce, whose short “Viscera” will screen, explains that viewers often lack a context for understanding his work. “There is something like fear if something doesn’t look like a narrative or documentary, or doesn’t sound like a musicvideo,” he says.

Pierce says he counters that response by traveling with his films. “I talk quite a bit, and it’s often educational because I’m helping people understand how to look at that stuff.”

But he’s also interested in the evolution of the tiny screen, like that on an iPod. “As a private space with very good sound coming right into your ears, this has the potential to create a whole new artistic, perceptual experience.”

Jennifer McCoy is intrigued by changes in media-based technology. “Why is this technology developing?” she asks. “What needs is it answering? It’s post-cinema, and it responds to the sophistication of the viewer. With a lot of work, our project included, you have to know cinema to put together an experience with the fragments that we give you.”

For many artists, the ability to make work across the art/cinema spectrum is the most appealing scenario. London-based Isaac Julien, for example, has made narrative features, documentaries, shorts and installations, and recently had a show at the Pompidou Center in Paris. “My work lately has been more connected to the museum world, so coming to Sundance will be a way to reanimate my relationship to the cinema world,” he says. “But I like crossing boundaries, and I like showing different kinds of work to different audiences. I don’t feel the need to be bound by one designation.”

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