It’s counterintuitive to program a winter- and sleep-themed film festival in the middle of the blazing hot days of summer. Is that why so few of the shorts screened last night at Rosalux Gallery’s No Mittens Film Festival adhered to those advertised themes? Or maybe the number of films submitted for the one-night fest were just slim enough that Weisman guest curator Diane Mullin needed to relax the thematic-compatibility requirement. My money’s on the latter.
Too bad. Winter and sleep have proven an intriguing backdrop for some great films—The Machinist, The Shining, The Ice Storm, and Fargo, for starters—and it would have been nice to see the homegrown talent riff on these decidedly Minnesotan preoccupations. With the fest’s focus on emerging filmmakers, short works (five minutes or less), and Rosalux’s way-cool home in Open Book, I was rooting for a stellar lineup that would attract a broad audience. It was certainly standing-room-only in the narrow downstairs gallery-turned-screening-room, but the crowd was mostly friends, family, cast, and crew. And the final mix of shorts was an uneven grab bag of narrative and experimental works sadly unlikely to convert those already wary of films and film venues outside the multiplex mainstream.
One highlight was Peter McLarnan’s Duplex (left), an experimental work along the lines of the impenetrable fare on continuous projection in the Walker’s galleries. It follows in split-screen a 1950s husband and wife going about their separate rituals (he: shaving and then putzing about downstairs at his workbench; she: steaming her face and sewing), and finally working together to create the night’s dinner, a highlighter-yellow gelatinous pie that they methodically construct from separate rooms, connected only by dumbwaiter. The film has no dialogue, no soundtrack, and to my eyes nothing at all to do with winter and sleep, but it’s riveting nonetheless in its creepy, cold domesticity.
Lora Madjar’s Snow settles into its own unsettling rhythm but with a stop-motion–animated doll that doesn’t exactly have nine lives but certainly many as it continuously loses its cotton innards to a murderous music box, surgical tools, and assorted other dangers, but always manages to put itself back together from its snowy grave. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the hell it all means, but then again if you’re looking for those kinds of answers in this kind of film, you probably should have been standing in line for The Simpsons Movie at Block E instead.
Even when the winter and sleep themes were largely thrown out the window, there was a little something for everyone. Erin Hael screened two dance videos, Kern and White, the latter of which (left) has fun with choreography and color in dance sequences that remind me of Michel Gondry’s “The Hardest Button to Button” video for The White Stripes. Brent Braniff’s Do You Have a Dog? showcases the filmmaker’s moody experimental pop and the sleeping visage of a friend for several languorous minutes, while Debby Moe’s hybrid documentary/music video Ivy Morrison on the local hip-hop dancer/choreographer plays like a trailer for a feature-length film I wouldn’t mind seeing.
The most memorable short of the evening, though, was Gudrun Jessica Lock’s pitch-black Fritz the Pig, which opens innocently enough with a screen that’s dark except for an indiscernible object slowly coming into focus in the foreground. A woman speaks casually in voiceover of growing up on a farm with the eponymous pig that meets his maker in the slaughterhouse. Her father cruelly decides that Fritz’s disembodied head should remain perched on a farmhouse fencepost visible from their breakfast table. As the narrator’s story builds, the camera pulls into focus Fritz’s snout, frozen in a post-mortem sneer. It’s a spooky denouement to a punchy, no-frills short that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. It’s certainly not everyone’s idea of a nice Friday night at the movies, but here’s hoping Rosalux or others continue their bold challenge to that very idea.