It’s been almost a year since Vinegar Hill Theatre closed its doors, and we’re still months away from the promised renaissance of the Violet Crown Cinemas, so it’s hard to know where to watch a movie in Charlottesville these days. I’m talking about a movie that’s neither mainstream nor blockbuster; one that experiments with and expands our definition of movie-going.
Institutions such as the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, Alliance Française, and many others host semi-regular movie screenings. Aspiring film- and video-makers are mentored each day by the staff and volunteers at Light House Studio. The annual Virginia Film Festival and UVA’s student film club, Offscreen, host screenings for students and community members alike. And on and on. So, the question remains: In a city with such a substantial interest in the movies, why is it so hard to see something that’s avant-garde but not art house, perceptual rather than documentary? Let’s call this broad category of films “experimental cinema.” It’s not a perfect term, but you’ll find that that’s fairly appropriate.
Unlike a romantic comedy or an apocalyptic action movie, experimental cinema doesn’t have a seamless storyline that your best friend can predict long before the characters finally kiss or the world implodes. Often it doesn’t even have a story or characters at all and it can be abstract, visually disjointed, non-narrative, and aurally unique. At its best, experimental cinema is an incredibly creative, personal, and engaging experience. The diversity of techniques and styles are unending but can be briefly represented by the films of Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Su Friedrich, and even Charlottesville’s own Kevin Everson, who recently screened his work at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
However, if you want to view and experience experimental cinema, where should you go? Ordinarily, that would mean watching digital versions of some of these films online or making a trip to Richmond, Washington, D.C., or even New York. On April 26th, though, the answer to that question is simply The Bridge PAI. Screensavers 001: A Night of Experimental Audio Visual Performances will take place that evening, featuring collaborative film, video, and audio performances.
Wait, performances? That’s right, for one night only, Charlottesville will be treated to the creation of audio and visual experiments that are improvised and edited as you watch. The performances will feature the collaborative work of three sets of artists: Jason Robinson and Nathan Halverson; Taka Suzuki, Ryan Maguire, and Jon Bellona; and Greg Nachmanovitch and Will Bollinger.
Robinson and Halverson worked together on the film Summertime Flies, earning them the 2011 Screengrab New Media Arts Prize. Both are media artists focusing in sound and video, often incorporating field recordings and live performances into their work. Halverson also teaches media arts at the University of South Carolina while Robinson is the Program Director for Charlottesville’s Light House Studio.
Suzuki is a Charlottesville-based artist who was recently awarded UVA’s Aunspaugh Fellowship to continue his work in film, video, and photography. His work has been screened and exhibited internationally. Maguire and Bellona are both current Ph.D. students in composition and computer technologies at the UVA Center for Computer Music. They recently performed as part of the New Music Ensemble during the McIntire Department of Music’s “A Night of New Music” at Old Cabell Hall.
Nachmanovitch is a student filmmaker at Light House Studio and Bollinger is a Richmond-based musician and composer with roots in Charlottesville. Bollinger was also awarded the best bassist award at the 2011 Music Resource Center Battle of the Bands.
Together, these seven artists will create an immersive experimental cinema experience using feedback loops, found footage and VHS tapes, images and video that are responsive to audio, field recordings and drum machines, and even good old fashioned guitars, microphones, and projectors. It’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience since the work will be fleeting and improvisational. Even if you preferred to watch this from the comfort of home, you couldn’t. The shared experience of it, the hum of projectors, and the interaction with the performers is all part of this experimental cinema experience.
If we’re lucky, the Screensavers 001 name hints at more experimental cinema events and performances to come. Perhaps the Bridge will even become a regular venue for experimental cinema, as it was during the Bridge Film Series that concluded more than a year ago. For now, to quote performer Jon Bellona, “You and I have the ability to touch and shape the sounds [and images] around us” and movies don’t get much more experiential than that.
Screensavers 001: A Night of Experimental Audio Visual Performances will take place on April 26 at 8pm at The Bridge PAI. Donations will be accepted but the event is free and open to the public.
Where do you watch movies in Charlottesville? Tell us in the comments section below.