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Wrestling with Resfest

Jean Poole

Jean Poole is a Melbourne based word and pixel artist (www.skynoise.net) who founded Electrofringe back in the 20th century.

Anto Skeene, Heaps Good Anto Skeene, Heaps Good
For better or worse, Resfest comes through town like the dinosaur chase scene in King Kong, and we stumble out at the end of it, exhilarated, overwhelmed by the feast of technical delight, and yet somehow wondering why we are covered in cheese. That said, the Resfest condensed program of “short films, music videos, features, motion design, live music and speakers” inevitably contains breathtaking moments—where the obsessive pursuit of novelty actually leads somewhere, where the technical wizardry transcends the sum of its intricate parts, where bedroom creatives kept chipping away on a piece that no-one could ever elevator pitch, where brats with a handicam nailed the perfect moment, or simply while holding your hand, where the film-maker-animator-designer gradually takes you outside of yourself, and what you thought possible.

‘Tis a given that Resfest’ll unearth a few sparklers, and ‘twas definitely true again in 2005. Resfest’s reputation, however, in an increasingly crowded market of international media festivals also rides on the quality and style of its overall curation and ability to deliver material that actually lives up to its mantra of ‘innovative’, ‘out of the ordinary’ and ‘inventive’ (replacing their ‘digital film festival’ tagline), without ending up some sort of Resfest Kong in a gelled faux-hawk, walking around in the world’s largest sneaker advertisements.

Australiana

Travelling to over 30 cities worldwide, the sheer reach and global flavour of Resfest provides an illuminating context for the compilation screening of Australian short films, Digital Projections. Shove the spotlight on our own backyard (thanks to ACMI curators Clare Stewart and Kristy Matheson), and it mostly serves to show how soaked in global pop culture we are. The epitome of that would be the excellent pixel art animation by Paul Robertson, The Magic Touch, which splices retro game aesthetics, rollerskating turntablists, manga scientists, oversized ghetto blasters and hip hop sea monsters into a short but satisfying whole. Also managing cute pop-cultural points is Nicholas Randall’s All He Needs, a gay rollerblader love story set to the title track by French synth popsters, Air, whilst parodying the work of Mike Mills. Music video Heaps Good finds Aussie hip hop in fine form (Muph & Platonic), and well represented by Anto Skeene’s stylishly effective post-it note flip-book animations (a technique mirrored in another session by Olivier Gondry). A few too many saccharine coated, technically clever clips cluttered the rest of the line-up, but Vincent Taylor’s The Cypriot and Van Sowerwine’s eerily enchanting Clara transcended those, offering layered, compelling viewing with the respective help of radically transformational make-up and exceptional stop-motion animation in a doll-house.

Surface Layers

Resfest at best pioneers thrilling new aesthetics, at worst propositions clever gimmickry looking for its own tail as ‘innovative.’ Case in point: Francis Vogel, where was your editor or art director to restrain your considerable technical achievements from becoming so torturously, mind-numbingly self-defeating? True, some amazing visual manipulation was on exhibit, but what is innovative about implying narrative and not knowing what to do with it, then repeating your already revealed visual punchlines ad nauseam? Nowadays, there are shopping malls of available techniques unfolding in all directions, aisles filled with artists drifting by with trolleys. But what to do with them? Edouard Salier was a stand-out of the many visually gifted directors at least trying to harness visual ideas for the service of greater provocation. With Flesh, Salier gave us a breathtaking NY skyline rendered in 3D, each and every building (including the 2 towers) textured using animated and vectorised porn models. The inevitable was rendered as giant blood red shards spiking out of the towers and followed by more planes crashing into the seductively coated buildings all over the city. Salier’s Empire clip resonated deeper though, subtly morphing American Dream scenarios by allowing 3D military shapes to shift the contours of the screen from behind, haunting the on-screen pleasantries with the lurking machines underneath.

Juke boxing

Despite all the best music videos of Resfest having already been seen long before, and a growing army of music video blogs making genuine ‘premieres’ harder each year, audiences still seem to lap them up on the big screen. This is a reminder that there’s an opportunity for Resfest to extend itself and reach beyond their choice of films and to represent changing audiovisual forms in ways artists are reshaping them, including with DVD mixers, with laptops, with installations, computer games, live video and theatre. There’s a growing list of media festivals worldwide which not only screen short films, but seek to exhibit and provoke with new forms. And there’s an even longer list of online ‘curators’ who already provide a much wider range of music video clips every day. At Resfest my favourite music video was a repeat, a fantastic work by Johnnie Ross, his Blood of Abraham—dangerous diseases, humourously urbanizing and updating Zbig Rybczynski’s famous Fourth Dimension people-twisting clip.

Pixel juicy

Imagination, narration and black and white photographs (a la Chris Marker’s La Jetee) were all that was needed to keep a theatre acackle during Le Grand Sommeil (The Big Sleep) by John Harden, the story of a scientist who formulates a serum that transforms him into a dog. Also more than a bit funny: Nagi Noda’s poodle fitness video. Miranda July won affection with her unlikely survey offered to passersby: “Are You The Favourite Person of Anybody?” The Southern Ladies Animation Group’s animated documentary It’s Like That, deployed techniques that beautifully accentuated rather than dominated the story of asylum seeking children in an Australia detention centre. And favourite techniques employed to achieve artfulness beyond efficiency? Software, hardware and imagination danced nowhere better at Resfest 2005 than with City Paradise by Gaelle Denis, an utterly enchanting exploration of a secret underground city, filled with the lateral nimbleness animated compositing can bring, a luscious tale of pixels offset with a Joanna Newsom soundtrack.


Resfest Short Film Festival, ACMI Melbourne Nov 17-22, 2005

See Also: www.resfest.com; online ‘video curators’: www.skynoise.net/2006/01/11/ viral-video-blogs/; other ‘innovative’ video festivals: www.skynoise.net/2006/01/17/video-media-festivals/

Jean Poole is a Melbourne based word and pixel artist (www.skynoise.net) who founded Electrofringe back in the 20th century.

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 18

© Jean Poole; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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