Artists' Television Access

Gaze musings

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Gaze is great. Everyone should go to this program. It is satisfying and interesting, well curated and well attended. Best of all, it’s surprising. I see films here that make me excited about contemporary filmmaking, and I think that’s the best thing about this series. Gaze is an antidote to art film fatigue, that dulling feeling that  can creep in at small festivals or gallery exhibitions, where you scan the material with half your brain and think: Oh shit– everything has already been done and it turned out boring. Not so! Walking down Valencia after Gaze #7, my brain is alight with ideas and I can’t wait to get working on my own projects.

But what is Gaze? Of course: Gaze is a quarterly recurring screening series of short films made by women. It’s curated by women too. They accept submissions on a rolling basis throughout the year. Learn more and look at past programming on their blog.

Gaze #7 is about appropriation, remixing. It opens with a really hilarious compilation of YouTube tutorial videos by Kate Rhoades (aptly titled Self Portrait as a YouTube Tutorial). The mashup is tongue in cheek and it gets a lot of laughs, but there is something profound about the form. Watching the instructions in quick succession I feel great sympathy for my fellow humans. Our desire to share knowledge with each other is kind-of adorable, and I cringe at the foolish gall of the self-nominated experts. Awkward camerawork and amateurism adds to the fun.

Talia Feder makes ink drawings all over Harry Callahan’s photos (and the space between them) in callahan:feder book, a one minute animation that feels like a doodle, a diversion into the abstract space where our brains make connections. I loved this little sketch piece, because it felt free and rebellious. It felt like the way that I read art books, drawing my own experience into the margins. **Literal example of marginal rebellion: in high school, I once covered all the exposed space of a library copy of Ways of Seeing with Mary Cassatt stickers because I felt Berger should have paid more attention to female painters (I can no longer remember why I had a whole sheet of Mary Cassatt stickers, maybe my Dad bought them at the local art museum).

I’m going to skip around a bit because I don’t have the space to write about all of the works and I want to focus on the ones that pulled strongest for me. All the films were good and favorites are arbitrary.

Perfect Plastic, by Meredith Sward,  was a very uncomfortable 13 minutes in the world of plastic surgery. I wanted to write it off at first because the graphic footage of flesh cutting was disgusting and I usually find women’s cosmetic concerns uninteresting. It seems crazy and shallow to care so much about what you look like, and I get sick of hearing how oppressed we are by the fashion industry. Get over it already, I wanted to say. But, this piece really drew me in. It was personal, and it didn’t have a boring thesis about how bad it is to be plastic and how we should all love our flawed fleshy thighs– it felt more like an exploration of Sward’s own relationship with her body, the way that a body and a self exist in dialog with the internet and the media and our culture as a whole. Sward does a very creepy performance that complements the interviews with doctors and talking heads, and she made clever and unnerving manipulations of the YouTube format. It was raw and real and it made me feel gross, in a good way.

And This Forest Will Be a Desert, by C &A Projects, grabbed me immediately. It used a strange and compelling form. White squarish text flashed over imagery one word at a time, almost too fast to read. I was always on the edge of falling behind and that spurred my panic– yes, I am afraid that our forests are becoming deserts– tell me more! I wished it had gone deeper or moved into a different style that could have held me longer, slowed down and stewed in what it was saying. I needed a moment to enter the imagery or to linger with an idea. In the end I fell out for lack of pause.

Native Melody/Unda Pressure is really fantastic in its raw, funny-sad. Gemma Syme uses a split screen to sing along with both the Bowie and the Freddy Mercury parts of Under Pressure. She’s got her headphones on and her mouth is awkward as she says the words in funny accents. It is just fresh and delightful to laugh along with this piece. I was laughing mostly at myself. Mad respect for something so simple and so good.

The Voyagers is a lovely example of something between an essay film and a poem film (because we have to borrow all these terms from literature when the film is rooted in text). Penny Lane has a good voice for narration because she sounds informal, a bit unbuttoned– we know it will be personal. Her story moves, first retelling the history of Voyagers 1 & 2, time capsule spacecraft that launched in 1977 carrying an image archive of ephemera from the human world. As her narration digresses, she weaves history, legend and poignant self-reflection into a delicate tapestry of image and association. It’s fun to watch and it lingers after the screen goes dark.

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