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Film Review: ‘Collective:Unconscious’

Five indie filmmakers interpret each other's dreams in this omnibus feature.

Five independent filmmakers interpret each other’s dreams in “Collective:Unconscious,” an omnibus feature whose intriguing premise bears fruit in a diverting, diverse array of idiosyncratic miniatures. Shot in different formats and aspect ratios, the result offers enough tonal and aesthetic flavors that sheer variety elevates those sections that might seem too twee or obvious if viewed in a different context. Commercial prospects are iffy, but this serving of surreal cinematic appetizers is perfect fest fare, and will burnish the directors’ developing resumes.

After an introduction of framework sequences (dubbed “All Hypnosis Is Self-Hypnosis” in the end credits, and co-directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone and Lauren Wolkstein) in which hypnotist Daniel Ryan puts filmmaker subjects in a trance, the first segment is “Hide Your Smiling Faces” helmer Carbone’s “Black Soil, Green Grass,” drawn from Wolkstein’s dream. Shot in pristine black-and-white, it features Frank Mosley as a man recording the rich vocals of an old-soul singer (Sandra Weigl). A nearby watchtower’s broadcasts radiate an ominous Big Brother-type influence. Our protagonist finally rebels, guerrilla-style, overpowering a guard and climbing the tower to replace its oppressive din with the woman’s Romanian gypsy songs.

That visually striking, allegorical sequence is probably the one here that might best stand alone; the others benefit considerably from being contrasting parts of a whole. Josephine Decker’s “First Day Out” (adapting Lily Baldwin’s dream) has the “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” director incongruously mixing autobiographical audio testimonies from former convicts with somewhat gaga imagery of women dancing in various locations.

There’s a more farcical tenor to Wolkstein’s “Beemus, It’ll End in Tears,” drawn from Frances Bodomo’s dream. Will Blomker plays the titular gym teacher shouting increasingly absurd exhortations (“Strength is power! Enjoy the pain!”) at incredulous teenagers, though his manic machismo crumbles when some sort of apocalyptic “emergency” intrudes from the outside world.

A still darker humor pervades Bodomo’s “Everybody Dies!” (from a Decker dream), in which a commanding Tonya Pinkins hosts a sort of macabre TV kidshow whose the lesson of the day is always that no child is left behind by the Grim Reaper. This segment’s lowest-grade public access show aesthetic lends an additional, David Lynch-esque air of pop grotesquerie to the bleak message that mortality among African-American children is a modern commonplace.

Finally Baldwin’s “Swallowed,” dreamt by Carbone, has the director herself as a woman whose queasy attitude toward motherhood develops into a “Rosemary’s Baby”-type situation of oversolicitous/menacing neighbors and physical revulsion. Like “First Day Out,” this segment has a sort of interpretive-dance choreographic element.

Packaging elements are likewise variable but resourceful. Though inevitably uneven, this omnibus is among the relatively rare such filmic enterprises that hangs together sufficiently, and is of consistent enough quality, to be counted a successful overall experiment.

All Hypnosis Is Self-Hypnosis
Produced by Dan Schoenbrun. Directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone, Lauren Wolkstein. Camera (color, HD), Zachary Galler; editor, Vanessa McDonnell.
Cast: Daniel Ryan, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein, Lily Bladwin, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Frances Bodomo.

Black Soil, Green Grass
Produced by Zachary Shedd, Daniel Patrick Carbone. Directed by Carbone. Screenplay, Lauren Wolkstein. Camera (B&W, HD), Nick Bentgen; editor, Nick Paley.
Cast: Frank Mosley, Sandra Weigl, Sarah Small, Brian Higgs.

First Day Out
Produced by Kara Elverson. Directed, edited by Josephine Decker. Screenplay, Lily Baldwin. Camera (color, HD), H. Paul Moon.
Cast: MJ Frank, Jamal Batts, Cassie Marketos, Andrew Pastides, Rachel Thorne Germond, Claire Wampler, Sean Carvajal, Ana Parra, Mikie Thomas, Duane Cyrus, Peng Hsiao-yin, Stevie Oakes, Rachel Thorne Germond, Megan Thompson.

Beemus, It’ll End in Tears
Produced by Chanelle Elaine. Directed by Lauren Wolkstein. Screenplay, Wolkstein, from a dream by Frances Bodomo. Camera (color, HD), Zachary Galler; editors, Christopher Radcliff, Wolkstein.
Cast: Will Blomker, Ryan Cassata.

Everybody Dies!
Produced by Laurie Thomas and Valerie Steinberg. Directed by Frances Bodomo. Screenplay, Bodomo and Mariama Diallo. Camera (color, HD), Chananun Chotrungroj; editor, Colin Elliott.
Cast: Tonya Pinkins.

Swallowed
Produced by Andrew Houchens. Directed by Lily Baldwin. Screenplay, Baldwin, from a dream by Daniel Patrick Carbone. Camera (color, HD), Dagmar Weaver-Madsen; editors, Baldwin, Christopher Radcliff.
Cast: Lily Baldwin, Michael Dempsey, Katherine Padulo, Samuel John Damon, Gabby Weintraub.

Film Review: 'Collective:Unconscious'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 14, 2016. Running time: 77 MIN.

Production: A Flies Collective and EAMS production. Concept by Dan Schoenbrun. Executive producer, Schoenbrun. Associate producers, Vanessa McConnell, Ken Birdwell, Sarah Small. Animation director/designer, Maya Edelman.

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