Fun, low-budget 'cool trash' Film: MicroCineFest movies are full of passion, originality and ingenuity, despite being made with almost no money.

November 04, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Where can the omnivorous film-goer find something off the usual cinematic menu?

MicroCineFest, a five-day program of low-to-no-budget films from all over the country, is just the thing if you're looking for palate-challenging film fare.

The 120 feature-length and short films that will unspool at the Orpheum Theatre and other Fells Point locations starting today are as plentiful and varied as an Indonesian rijsttafel, with something for every taste.

But for all their variety, the MicroCineFest films share crucial ingredients. They were all made with passion, ingenuity and almost no money. And they are assured to whet film-goers' appetite for more of what they offer -- humor, conviction and sheer audacity.

MicroCineFest founder and program director Skizz Cyzyk received 154 entries this year, double 1997's number. Most are comedies, he says. "I think most low-budget filmmakers, the smart ones at least, realize that it's a lot easier to make people laugh with a low budget than to make them feel anything else." Although few trends emerged in what he accepted, Cyzyk says, he did notice a trend in what he turned down: "College boys in blazers holding guns sideways."

A glance at a sampling of this year's program revealed at least one discernible theme:

Martin Scorsese. The street-smart maestro continues to be a source of endless larceny and inspiration to emerging filmmakers, including clay animator Corky Quackenbush, who pays homage to the master in "Reinfather" (wherein Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer takes the gloves off) and Jonathan Fahn, whose 11-minute pastiche "Fast Food" is a symphony of Scorsese flourishes, albeit a tad greasier than usual.

This is about as derivative as MicroCineFest gets. Most of the films -- most of which were made by "hobbyists hoping to go on to better things" as well as students, according to Cyzyk -- are eye-poppingly original.

Take "The Big Ring," Venice, Calif., filmmaker Mike Branum's slapstick caper flick involving four tres stylish characters and an errant piece of jewelry. Made for "the cost of a videotape and six bananas," according to Cyzyk, "The Big Ring" is micro-budget at its most energetic and resourceful, especially in its creative sound editing.

Or take "Lark Rhapsody," San Francisco director Lou Weinert's unexpectedly poetic film set in a wildly colorful suburban doughnut shop. Or Deerfield Beach, Fla., filmmaker Robert Arnold's "Morphology of Desire," an animated ballet of romance novel covers that puts digital animation to its best, most expressive use. (Check out the inventive sound editing in this one, too.)

Or, if you're really, really ready for it, try "Junky," which may take honors as the sickest film at MicroCineFest. Made by Hollywood, Calif., director Tony Nittoli, "Junky" is a hard-luck tale about a parrot whose cracker-dependency gets him into some compromising positions with his dealer -- er, owner. Cyzyk says he put "Junky" and the "really raunchy stuff" into midnight slots. "I'm really counting on a drunk crowd that likes to hoot and holler."

Among Cyzyk's personal favorites is "Balls Out!" a pinball action flick by Seattle artist Tara Spartz. The black-and-white adventure, in which four young women get money to fix their car by taking on some pinball players at a roadhouse, perfectly embodies the MicroCineFest philosophy, according to Cyzyk.

"It was obviously made for the fun of it," he says. "They didn't worry about how much money they had to spend, they worried about what a cool idea they had.

"We turned down a film because it was too good for us," Cyzyk continues. "When the filmmaker heard this, he asked why. And I explained that we're not necessarily looking for good films, we're looking for cool trash. And with 'Balls Out!' I mean, each of those female characters was just a great character. The camera work, the music, the opening titles -- it was just creativity overcoming budget. Which is what we look for in a film, and it's how we run our festival."

Other films not to miss: "Yours," New York City filmmaker Jeff Scher's breathtaking piece of found footage on which the artist has painted, overlayed and manipulated to gorgeous effect; "Wayne Freedman's Notebook," Stanford University film student Aaron Lubarsky's student Academy Award-winning portrait of the hardest working man in broadcast journalism; and "4 Second Delay," North Hollywood director Rod Lurie's ingenious little thriller that's ideal viewing in this political season.

MicroCineFest's opening night program will be the Baltimore premieres of the award-winning "Surrender Dorothy" by Kevin DiNovis and "Green aka Whatever," by Karl T. Hirsch, as well as the world premiere of "Bury the Evidence," Greg DeFelice's surreal story of a man locked in an apartment with a list of chores to do.

MicroCineFest will also feature a handful of "Star Wars"-inspired films, a Quackenbush retrospective and a special program of films by Blackchair Productions, a group of Seattle experimental filmmakers. The closing night film will be the Baltimore premiere of "Cannibal: The Musical" by "South Park" creator Trey Parker.

MicroCineFest '98

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1724 Thames St.

When: Today through Sunday

Cost: $3 per screening ("Cannibal: The Musical" $6); available only at the box office and only on the day of the screening.

Call: 410-243-5307.

Schedule: At MicroCineFest's Web site at Programs are available at the Orpheum, Atomic Books, Video Americain and Normals Book Store.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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