New adventures on the edge


October 15, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The seats are uncomfortable, the sound is iffy and the place is sometimes crowded beyond the point of endurance.

But that's what watching movies at the G-Spot is all about. And when it comes to MicroCineFest, Baltimore's annual celebration of life lived on the cinematic edge, who would want it any other way?

For the seventh year now, Skizz Cyzyk and his merry band of underground-film aficionados have programmed MicroCineFest with an eye toward the unusual, inviting twisted filmmakers from throughout the land to submit their work - shorts, documentaries, features, whatever - and, if invited, come to Charm City for a celebratory weekend where the only prerequisite is a love of moviemaking and a willingness to observe no boundaries.

Make your way to the G-Spot beginning tonight, and be prepared for an experience both enlightening and invigorating (perhaps even a little daunting). The screenings typically attract crowds marked by equal parts youth and enthusiasm, and the reception they afford the films can be raucous. And when the lights go up, there's the MicroCineFest equivalent of a police lineup, as the filmmakers whose work you've just seen stand at attention in front of the screen, comment on their work (some more eloquently than others) and take questions. It's all very low-key and low-tech, just right for a gathering of nascent film geeks united by a determination to present their visions undiluted by mainstream interference.

Tonight at 10, for instance, opening night of the festival closes with Kill Them and Eat Them, Toronto filmmaker Conall Pendergast's merry little ode to a world of decaying zombie-types and the world of genetic mutation. With deadpan black humor and cheesy special effects - limbs tend to fall off at the slightest provocation - Pendergast has come up with a film that subverts just about everything traditional cinephiles hold dear.

What we have here is the story of science gone spasmodic, as the demented Dr. Gore (his real name is Williams, but Gore is certainly more appropriate) carries out his experiments. Once gainfully employed by an all-powerful company known as The Company, he bailed when his experiments started raising eyebrows, and is now out to gain his mad-scientist degree on his own. Aided by an assistant even madder than he is, Gore is busy transforming homeless people into decaying "skeletoids" who will do whatever he tells them (including grocery shopping).

Gore, however, has the misfortune of falling a little bit for his latest helpless victim, the lovely Kellin, and tries to reverse the process, slowly turning her into a walking mass of decay. Meanwhile, some folks from The Company are closing in.

The acting is calculatedly amateurish (the entire cast seems to have been fed a steady stream of grade-Z horror films), and the dialogue clunkier than a 1960 Dodge. But the film's also got plenty of wit; when the evil assistant explains his nefarious plans, he hits on one of the best reasons for using cannibalistic zombies to do one's dirty work: "They'll conveniently eat the evidence of any wrongdoing."

Gross, sure. But the whole thing's a hoot, and watching it with a crowd predisposed to liking this sort of thing - and that's really what MicroCineFest is all about - is an experience not to be missed.

For a similarly loony experience, made even more so by the original filmmakers' apparently serious intentions, check out Government Approved! (8 tonight), billed as a collection of honest-to-goodness government-produced informational films gleaned from the National Archives warehouse facility in College Park. Though the quality of the films varies - colors are washed out, film is scratched, dialogue is hard to understand - the pervasive awfulness of these things is hard to resist. There's a musical celebration of paperwork (sample song: "Paper Makes the World Go Round"), puppets "explaining" social security, even an animated sci-fi rock concert urging kids to remain drug-free ("I want to have fun and I will/But you don't need drugs or a pill").

In something of the same spirit, MicroCineFest Friday night welcomes The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players to town. Described as an "indie-vaudeville conceptual art-rock pop band," the Trachtenbergs - mom, dad and 9-year-old daughter - shop yard and estate sales throughout the country, gather up slide collections and perform a kind-of musical theater around the images of these anonymous people.

Perfect for MicroCineFest.

Tickets for the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players' performance, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway, are $10; Info: 410-244-1900 or Tickets for individual MicroCineFest screenings through Sunday at the G-Spot, 2980 Falls Road, are $3; for a full schedule or additional information, call 410-243-5307 or www.microcine

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