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Godard Lives--Maybe

film festival
Dress for Success: A scene from Dan Tice's 'Thank You for Not Smoking'

The traveling Ann Arbor Experimental Film Festival makes a pit stop at Foothill College June 7-8

By Richard von Busack

The Ann Arbor Experimental Film Festival was begun in that Michigan city as an attempt to end-run the New York cultural monopoly. George Manupelli, retired founding director of the festival, notes, "If you made experimental films before 1963, you mostly sent them to [critic and filmmaker] Jonas Mekas in New York. If he liked them, he showed them and wrote about them in the Village Voice. If you did and he didn't, you waited until you made your next film and repeated the process."

Now arriving at Foothill College as a road show, the Ann Arbor Film Festival has persisted 35 years into an era when the lion's share of film students would rather be the next Spielberg than the next Godard. As Rob Nelson reported in Metro a few weeks ago, the very Spielbergian Luc Besson outdraws the real live Godard at Cannes, even.

The lean times for experimental film are also reflected in the notes for the board of director's welcome to the festival: "An Arbor Film Coop Award of $500 is being sponsored by members of the now-defunct campus film society."

The festival tour takes place on two consecutive nights. Of the two nights, the Saturday (June 7) selection is more recommended--and of that night, the best entries seem to be documentaries or mockumentaries.

film festival
Scream Queen: A scene from Veit Heimer's 'Surprise'

Two or Three Things but Nothing for Sure is Tina DiFeliciantonio and Jane C. Wagner's profile of ex-Santa Cruz author Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina) and how that powerful woman managed to get past "the man who walked across my childhood," her raping stepfather.

On a cheerier note, Greta Snider's "Portland" is a 12-minute-long account of a trip to a town that does not smile on young people attracted for a week-long bender of malt liquor, squatting and punk rock. Almost illegible on-the-spot footage is intercut with on-camera recitals about Portland's impressively squalid Jack London Hotel and the experience of several days on the work crew for boosting a bottle of wine in Eugene. It is a hideo-comic story about just how dead Jack Kerouac really is (very dead, is the answer).

A real favorite: Dylan McNeil's NY, The Lost Civilization, a deliberate, comic misreading of everyday life in New York by imaginary anthropologists of the future, using an extravaganza of found footage and juxtaposition to create the story.

McNeil has an eye for little things like discarded flying plastic bags caught in the wind tunnel that skyscrapers produce. ("Night on Bald Mountain" rolls on the soundtrack as sober-voiced narrator Harlan Quist explains that these breeze-tossed objects are flying jellyfishoids that swoop down, attack civilians and lay their eggs in their brains.)

Andre the Giant Has a Posse explains another urban sight, that sticker-based graffiti that's everywhere you look, depicting a glowering fatty in blurred black and white above the caption "7-feet-4-inches, 520 lbs." It's a tribute to the redoubtable pro wrestler by one busy artist--he's made 400,000 of the stickers. (Andre seems to have replaced J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, who in turn replaced the WWII GI's favorite "Kilroy Is Here.")

Sunday's program includes Swell, a real idyll by Stanford's Charlotte Lagarde about a cluster of matriarchal surfers in Santa Cruz, among them a 58-year-old grandmother who still rides the waves.

Somewhat less compelling, Thank You for Not Smoking tries to apply cerebral French-style analytical techniques to the mundane American life of sharing ugly overpriced apartments with vindictive housemates. Watching it, I felt the same thing when watching most student films: If only cartoonists Adrian Tomine in Optic Nerve and Peter Bagge in Hate comics weren't doing this sort of thing so much better.

Thank You for Not Smoking has the usual problem of autobiographical youth film--boredom reflected accurately is still boredom. What made me sit up and take notice was Ann Arbor director Dan Tice's homage to Godard in a series of rapid pans between the angst-ridden hero and the female house mate he once, and maybe still, yearns for. Maybe Godard isn't dead yet, after all.

The 35th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival plays June 7-8 in Room F-12 at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. A $5 donation for sponsor KFJC is requested; bring $2 in quarters for parking--there's no place to get change, and the Foothill College police ticket even on Saturday night.

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