Brief Cinematic Bursts Fill The Artscape Screen

July 17, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Preschool power grabs. The psychedelic undead. Fruit-eating trees. Mermaids. Richard Nixon and George Wallace. Mr. Magoo.

Anything can happen to anyone in short films, those brief bursts of creative cinema that put a premium on originality and adventurousness, where the tried and true need not apply. More than 30 such works, ranging in length from about one minute to 13, will be part of Artscape this weekend, screening for free at the Charles Theatre courtesy of the Maryland Film Festival.

"It's virtually impossible to see these anywhere else," says Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz. "These programs are always the big hits of every festival. You get to experience a lot of different kinds of filmmaking, in a very short order. In just 30 minutes, you're going to see several great film artists at work."

Today's "Cartoons From Hell" program, set to begin at 7 p.m., includes nine animated vignettes that certainly suggest otherworldly - or should that be netherworldy? - origins. The cartoons range form the outlandish dementia of Don Hertzfeldt's Ah, L'Amour, which portrays some rather strong reactions to a lost love, to the puckish revisionist history of Bill Plympton's Santa: The Fascist Years, uncovering a little-known dark chapter in the life of Old St. Nick.

Plympton himself, a longtime festival favorite whose 2004 Guard Dog was nominated for an Oscar, will be on hand to introduce the program.

Saturday and Sunday, five different shorts programs will be shown, one after another, each roughly 30 minutes long. The first, featuring five animated shorts (noon and 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday), includes Karen Yasinsky's inscrutable Enough to Drive You Mad, complete with a guest walk-through from the nearsighted Mr. Magoo, and Andrew Chesworth and Aaron Quist's bracingly oddball Fruitless Efforts - Fruit of the Womb, in which an apple tries to outrun his destiny of being eaten by a hungry and persistent tree.

A program of avant-garde shorts (1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday), offers seven films guaranteed to leave audiences scratching their heads, although hopefully in a good way. Kelly Sears' disquieting He Hates to be Second offers sentence fragments and figures cut from magazine ads, in service to an underlying theme of wariness and distrust, while Michael Robinson's translucent Sea of Breath -- Cloud of Ground proves as beguiling as it is mysterious.

Included among five comedy shorts (2 p.m. Saturday, noon and 5 p.m. Sunday) are the hilarious Goldthwait Home Movies, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait's commentary on his family's home movies, and Heidi Van Lier's drama Politics of Preschool, the story of a power grab by a young girl with a future as a political strategist.

Among the four documentary shorts (3 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday) are Wrecking Ball, the surprisingly moving saga of the demolition of a century-old Baltimore warehouse, photographed by The Baltimore Sun's own Karl Merton Ferron, and Gideon C. Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater's Dick-George, Tenn-Tom, a deadpan examination of the repercussions of a 1971 meeting between President Richard Nixon and Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

The final program, of four narrative shorts (4 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday), introduces audiences to the wonders of young women from the sea, courtesy of Troy Morgan's The Song of the Mermaid, and the potentially fatal mix of zombies and hallucinogens in Phil Mucci's Far Out.

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