Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reflecting on Wide Open Spaces

It may seem odd, or even deliberately ironic, to name a series of short films "Wide Open Spaces" -- after all, these pieces (ranging from four minutes to just under half an hour in length) are by design tightly focused on their subject, precise rather than sprawling, lyrical rather than exhaustive.

And yet, the programming lives up to the name in ways ranging from the obvious (the sweeping shots of snowy Montana landscapes in "Painting John" (1); the desert ghost-town-as-character in "Boomtown" (2) to the subtle (the linguistic challenge of "History is Unwritten" (3); the eerie fourth-dimensional scope of "Back to Land" (4).)

When I first flipped through the program, I thought to myself, "oh, nature films" and was puzzled by the inclusion of material like "Smoke Songs" (5) and "Painting John." But I quickly realized that this series is about something subtley different and in some ways - and yes, I feel like a traitor for saying this - even more important. It is about human interaction with the landscape in all its iterations.

Freed from the expectation of a genre, I saw the relevance of films like "Painting John," "Smoke Songs," and "Pot Country" (6), as well as more traditional nature-film concepts like "Among Giants" (7), "The Lookout" (8), and "A Salton Soul" (9), and those films that fell oddly in the middle, being only themselves, like "Guanape Sur" (10) and "Still" (11).

Sitting in the Wilma, I found myself falling in love again and again. With a dead whale. With the conflicted citizens of Humboldt County. With life as a fire lookout on a mountain top. With the visual elements that cropped up again and again, the dogs and trees and clocks and precipitation, and also with all the faces.

(1) Audrey Hall, 11 min. A portrait artist sets out to capture the face of an elderly, isolated rancher in the dead of a Montana winter.

(2) Torben Bernhard & Travis Low, 12 min. Footage of the ghost town of Frisco, Utah, combined with audio recordings from the 1960s of the last surviving former Frisco residents.

(3) Aaron Jones, 4 min. A vision of a forest, narrated in the Lushootseed language.

(4) Tijana Petrović, 4 min. A blue whale washes ashore dead after being hit by a boat, and draws onlookers.

(5) Briar March, 20 min. Three Dine siblings make up the punk band Blackfire, combining cultural and political activism with driving beats.

(6) Kate McLean & Mario Furloni, 27 min. A look at the history of the marijuana industry in Humboldt county, and the challenges of possible legalization.

(7) Chris Cresci, Ben Mullinkosson & Sam Price-Waldman, 14 min. A profile of Farmer, an Earth First tree-sitter.

(8) Brian Bolster, 16 min. A season at a fire lookout station on a northwestern Montana mountaintop.

(9) Mike Agnew, Greg Balkin, Tim Kressin, 13 min. Elderly June Eisley reflects on her life at the Salton Sea, in the face of her own mortality and the gradual destruction of the Sea by increasing urban water demands.

(10) Janos Richter, 23 min. Once a decade, Peruvians mine guano from an island of nesting birds.

(11) Lou Karsen, 9 min. Traditional Yakama hunter Glen Pinkham discusses and demonstrates the hunting rights and methods of his people.

Essay by BSDFF Promo Team writer Carrie Laben