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Arts + CultureMoviesFicks' Picks at the 11th Annual CROSSROADS Experimental Film...

Ficks’ Picks at the 11th Annual CROSSROADS Experimental Film Festival 

The annual visual extravaganza from SF Cinematheque bursts with innovation and chills—including a tribute to founder Bruce Baillie

This year’s mind-melting batch of experimental films at San Francisco Cinematheque’s 11th annual CROSSROADS 2020, may be extremely helpful to some of you looking for an alternative to all of the usual online streaming platforms. What’s even more exciting is that ALL 9 of these programs, featuring 84 works of film and video by 71 artists representing 22 countries and territories, are FREE (pay if you want, please support) to the public this year. What’s even more exciting is that while the film festival LiveStreams for the rest of the week until Sat/29 at www.sfcinematheque.org, all programs will be available worldwide on a view-when-desired basis for the next month from August 30-September 30. 

The title of CROSSROADS Film Festival seems especially meaningful this year. Steve Polta, Artistic Director of San Francisco Cinematheque has clustered together a substantial bouquet of personal cinema with a specific emphasis celebrating Bruce Baillie’s life, lost to the world on April 10. Birthing both San Francisco Cinematheque itself and Canyon Cinema in 1961, Baillie’s works epitomize the “lyrical” mode of filmmaking strongly identified with 1960s-era northern California counterculture.

The filmmaker Bruce Baillie in 1973

Again, ALL PROGRAMS ARE AVAiLABLE from August 30-September 30, worldwide on a view-when-desired basis and what lies below are a list of Ficks’ Picks painstakingly chosen from all 9 programs, to help anyone overwhelmed by the sheer amount of well-known “avant-garde” filmmakers” to “new discoveries.”

Bruce Baillie’s defining 10-minute monument Valentin De Las Sierras (1968) captures the daily activities of farmers, and peacefully creates a poetic cinematic rhythm that seems to have inspired the lyrical films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lucrecia Martel, and Kelly Reichardt. Co-presented by Shapeshifters Cinema and Screening as part of Program 1: “Ever Westward: Remembering Bruce Baillie” w/ other Baillie films: To Parsifal (1963); Tung (1966); All My Life (1966); Castro Street (1966); Roslyn Romance (Is It Really True?) (1974).

Giuseppe Boccassini’s La Notte Salva (The Night Saves, 2019), a US premiere, is a mesmerizing 12-minute montage of aphids, arachnids, larvae & marine monsters, hauntingly enveloped by a tranquilizing soundtrack by Antonio Bertoni. A truly unique experimental technique of MiniDv enlargements through semi-transparent spheres helps make this one of the most exciting and unnerving films I’ve seen all year! Co-presented by Shapeshifters Cinema and Screening as part of Program 2: “I am bloodless/I am the cosmos”

Michael Betancourt’s wholly hypnotic five-minute Angular Momentum (2019), which seeped its way into my subconscious like the opening credits to a David Cronenberg film, beautifully blending Jean Philippe Feiss’ immersive musical score with swirling blue-ish analogue in-camera photographic techniques and digital animation/compositing. Co-presented by McEvoy Foundation for the Arts and Screening as part of Program 3: “take this as some kind of signal”

Jodie Mack’s latest six-minute flicker-fest Wasteland No. 2: Hardy, Hearty (2019) lovingly clusters iced plants in a shimmering time-and-space, that definitely left me dazzled and dizzy. Co-presented by McEvoy Foundation for the Arts and Screening as part of Program 3: “take this as some kind of signal”

Bruno Varela’s Corteza Neón (Neon Cortex, 2019) 14-minute excursion into a vegetable narrated nightmare, shot in a vibrantly grainy 16mm & Super8 stock and combined with a shrill, shrieking soundtrack. Co-presented by McEvoy Foundation for the Arts and Screening as part of Program 3: “take this as some kind of signal”

Margaret Rorison’s 5-minute 16mm piece Sympathetic Bodies (2018), a beautifully hand-processed, optically printed rumination on familial hands that was made as an official video for Byron Westbrook’s entrancing 2017 album “Body Consonance”. Screening as part of Program 4: “all those things you used to feel”

Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s ominous thermal camera expedition Interbeing (2018) takes a hold of the viewer and doesn’t seem to let go for the entire 11-minutes. Screening as part of Program 4: “all those things you used to feel”

One of my highest recommendations of the festival is Meredith Moore’s My Favorite Object (2019), a five-minute mini-masterpiece that contemplates how no matter what is happening in your life, good or bad, a small object can keep you from spiraling off of the planet. Screening as part of Program 4: “all those things you used to feel”

This melancholic program kicks things off with Gregorio Méndez’s Hel City (2019), a powerful 11-minute reflection on how time-passes for all of us, using anonymous Super-8 footage from the 1970s. Screening as part of Program 5: “the rock crumbles” 

Charlotte Clermont has three entries at this year’s Crossroads fest and my favorite of the bunch is Dream Less (2019), an eerie four-minute, hand-processed, B&W, Super-8 journey that poignantly explores the depths of outer-space to the pits of our inner thoughts. Screening as part of Program 5: “the rock crumbles” 

Some of the most jaw-dropping imagery of the festival comes from Onyeka Igwe’s fascinating No Archive Can Restore You (2019), which unearths what’s left of the Nigerian Film Unit’s archive in six minutes, full of rotting colonial films from the British visual propaganda engine based in Lagos. Screening as part of Program 5: “the rock crumbles”

Yet nothing can prepare you for easily my favorite film of the festival so far, Miko Revereza’s 10-minute tour-de-force Distancing (2019) which captures the logistics and familial poetics of the undocumented filmmaker’s decision to leave his family in the US to return to the Philippines. Directly channeling the cinema of Wong Kong-wai, Chantal Akerman, and Jonas Mekas, Revereza’s extremely personal and vibrantly saturated 16mm footage is as dense as any full-length feature film, and is as deeply moving as any of the cinema that has inspired him. Miss this and cry. Screening as part of Program 5: “the rock crumbles”

Moira Lacowicz’s five-minute atmospheric gem Let’s Take A Walk (2018) assuredly assembles gorgeous Super-8 family footage (found in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina) altering it with various chemical processes and setting it all to a strange and frightening track by legendary electronic group COiL. (Multiple viewings will be desired.) Screening as part of Program 6 “theories of obliscence/erasing the grid”

Preparing for a new 16mm Simon Liu film elicits the same quickening of my bloodflow that Paul Clipson’s stream-of-consciousness cinema evoked in me. Celebrating his 10th year of filmmaking, Liu’s latest 14-minute wonder Signal 8 (2019) captures the hustle and bustle of a vibrant Hong Kong while an unnerving undercurrent builds to an utterly transcendent conclusion. Fans of Wong Kar-wai and Carlos Reygadas especially take note, this is one of the year’s most bewitching films. Co-presented by ATA (Artists’ Television Access) and Screening as part of Program 6 “theories of obliscence/erasing the grid”

How can I stress to you how euphorically astounding Austrian filmmaker Siegfried A. Fruhauf’s brain-liquefying Thorax (2019) is?! Deserving every drop of your absolute abstract attention, may I make a few viewing suggestions to help make this as powerful as it could be? First, SHUT OFF ALL YOUR LiGHTS, block out all your windows (and turn off any of your digital notifications.) Next, TURN UP THE VOLUME AS LOUD AS POSSiBLE and sit as close to your screen as humanly possible before entering these 8-miraculous-minutes. Fruhauf has symbiotically stumbled into a soul-searching combination of Marcel Duchamp’s Dadaistic, avant-garde masterpiece Anemic Cinema (1926), Jordan Belson’s psychedelic animation Samadhi (1967) and the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyessy (1968). (WARNiNG: Potentially triggering for people who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy.) Co-presented by Canyon Cinema Foundation and Screening as part of Program 7 “what do you get when you fall in love?”

Singling out the festival’s most controversial film is necessary before anyone enters Naween Noppakun’s unhinged, award-winning We Love Me (2017). This 13-minute mash-up of Thai horror, animation, exploitation, silent, and cult cinema, is combined with an extremely unnerving narrative re-enacting & deconstructing historical and individual violence. Add to that purposefully uncomfortable interjections of atrocious real-life footage as well a disconcerting narration that often recontextualizes the incessantly disturbing cinematic imagery, and you’ve definitely got a film NOT FOR EVERYONE. Massive trigger-warnings for scenes including: sexual assault, child abuse, kidnapping, needles, nudity, animal death, and excessive/extreme violence, fans of John Waters (Pink Flamingos) & Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself) take note. This transgressive masterstroke of inappropriate actions will definitely leave you breathless. Screening as part of the penultimate Program 8: “unknown subjects” (which LiveStreams for FREE, tonite FRi. AUG. 28 @ 7:00pm PST.)

It feels especially poignant to conclude the festival with Stephanie Barber’s rapturous Oh My Homeland (2019). Focusing on an epic standing ovation in 1985 for the legendary soprano Leontyne Price, I dare you to try and NOT undergo the entire emotional spectrum during these powerfully suspended 4-minutes.  Screening as part of the penultimate Program 9: “as long as there is breath” (which LiveStreams for FREE, tonite SAT. AUG. 29 @ 7:00pm PST.)

CROSSROADS 2020 film festival LiveStreams through Sat/29 at www.sfcinematheque.org, and ALL PROGRAMS will be available worldwide on a view-when-desired basis for the next month from August 30-September 30.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the film history coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and is part of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He curates and hosts “MOViES FOR MANiACS,” a film series celebrating underrated and overlooked cinema, in a neo-sincere manner.

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