Directed by Daniel Patrick Corbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein, Frances Bodomo and Lily Baldwin
August 5-11 at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP
Don’t think about elephants. The effect of that statement is similar to the introduction of collective:unconscious, in which hypnotist Daniel Ryan explicates the trance-like experience of watching movies and its proximity to dreaming. As he eases you into that state, in which all external distractions are tuned out and the sounds and images on screen overwhelm the senses, the effect is somewhat paradoxical. This is how we always watch a movie, so being told to do it feels like a trick, and our guard comes up.
There’s no real reason for it to. Rather than encouraging self-awareness, it’s more likely that Ryan is simply preparing us for the unconventional shorts that follow, a byproduct of having five directors—Daniel Patrick Corbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein, Frances Bodomo and Lily Baldwin—direct one another’s dreams. It is not quite right to call these films “non-narrative,” but intrusions of the fantastic and absurd permeate each, and their necessarily short runtime leads little time to ask or answer questions of logic and concept. The frame narrative with Ryan persists throughout, serving to unite rather than augment the component pieces, as if the audience could not shift gears on its own. As for the actual films, they vary a great deal, a natural corollary of the concept, which suggests full directorial control.
In the first short, Corbone’s inserts of bugs, white light, and patient use of both a Romanian Gypsy song and propagandistic, even fascistic sounds and imagery signal an arty, allegorical approach to filmmaking. He and Decker, who juxtaposes hypnotic dancing (captured through swooping long takes) with testimonials of recently freed prisoners, offer intuitive and inquisitive style, making for arresting but somewhat abstruse films. Wolkstein and Bodomo offer politically tinged shorts, with the former unsettling expectations through repetition until humor gives way to horror and reality itself becomes unhinged, while the latter shows her hand more quickly to commit more fully to black comedy. Finally, Baldwin’s portrait of a vampiric mother-infant relationship, milks its distinctiveness—a post-production-fueled bout of rapid cutaways and inserts, pitch-distortion and other signifiers of mania—past the point of effectiveness, but the bold, disorienting aesthetic will appease those looking for more authorial distinction in the aesthetics of today’s American independent filmmakers. As with any omnibus film, mileage may vary, and the lingering frame narrative is wholly unnecessary, but the American indie scene has rarely looked so creative.