The Potted Psalm
I hung up the phone and tipped my Panama in amazement to Jeff Ross, the founder of S.F. Indiefest. As if spearheading a weeklong annual film festival wasn't sufficiently daunting, Ross is expanding into video exhibition with the Digital Underground, a collaboration with Artists' Television Access (ATA) and Cellspace set for the last weekend in August. "When I was putting together Indiefest last winter, it seemed that most of the experimental or challenging stuff was coming in on digital video," Ross says. You thought the great advantage of DV was its potential for "democratizing" filmmaking; any schmuck in suburban America can now make a shallow movie about his limited and banal experience. Actually, the good news is the cheap format encourages makers to take risks in subject matter and style. "They can shoot forever and just edit together something that works," notes Ross.
Out of the hundred or so entries submitted, Ross culled a dozen programs of shorts, documentaries, and features. Some of the most intriguing work, like Big Rattle in Seattle, a 30-minute piece shot by a U.K.-based filmmaker during the demonstrations in that city, comes from overseas. Ross also plans an entire show of Dutch digital hard-core pioneer Philip Virus' music videos, which blend punk sensibility with techno. "This is what MTV's going to look like in a decade," he says.
Ross was inspired by the idea of presenting video outside of the box -- that is, the square TV screen at home or the monitor in a museum or gallery, so the works in the Digital Underground will be projected digitally on a screen, which will afford the opportunity to see how the medium plays in a theatrical setting. "I'm not entirely a film snob," he says. "I'm getting better, especially as it's becoming more pleasurable to watch video as the picture quality gets sharper." The Digital Underground program guide hits the streets next week, but you can e-mail Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org if your questions simply can't wait.
"It's sort of an experiment, a little more artsy and underground than Indiefest," Ross muses. While Indiefest isn't exactly mainstream entertainment, it does tilt in the direction of traditional narrative. The Digital Underground, one hopes, will evoke San Francisco's marvelous history as a bastion of avant-garde cinema.
It's hardly news that the cable TV industry is run by bottom-line-feeding scum. Nor is it a surprise that the all-important concept of adult (non-X-rated) entertainment has been stomped to death between the conservative lobby and the teenage market. But I was incensed to hear AMC (American Movie Classics, or so they assert) replace every f-word in Glengarry Glen Ross with "frigging," "foolish," or "freaking." I guess the movie's even more classic with David Mamet's language eviscerated. The next day I tuned to Bravo for Hitchcock's unfairly underrated Frenzy and, incredibly, saw a carefully trimmed version -- with no advisory to the unsuspecting adult, I might add -- that utterly ruined the rhythm, suspense, and horror of several key scenes. (At least the commercials that ruin other Bravo presentations were omitted.) To all the unseen judges who shield me from disturbing images and casual cussing: I worked long and hard to achieve the age of 21, and thus the right to see whatever the fuck I please.