Free Range Cinema
There's nothing to it: 'Esther Levine's Chicken-Washing
Image: POTTER-BELMAR LABS
The Low Voltage Film Festival
Saturday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
From my laptop, the downloaded Reloaded looks like
a virtual riposte to Jedi Master George's all-digital universe, wherein
the clones have clearly won the war. For the Wachowski Brothers, whose
interest in preserving the human element extends to their use of
celluloid and several real sets, it isn't the Force that binds the
galaxy, but what they call "purpose." Quit school to pursue the
independent study of black leather and A Better Tomorrow, their
bios suggest, and you, too, could have a shot at reloading the
But in a gallery far, far away--the Speedboat in St. Paul, to be
exact--another experiment in genre revision is being readied for
release. And in this case, the cost of bringing the product to market
is a mere two bucks--roughly 50 million times less than what Warners
has spent on Reloaded's
advertising alone. Indeed, for the price of a six-piece order of
McNuggets, Michigan-based Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens were
able to enter "Esther Levine's Chicken-Washing Technique" in the
Cooking Show category of the Low Voltage Film Festival being held this
weekend at the Speedboat. Here's a movie whose coolest weapon is
cutlery, whose soundtrack consists of nothing but elevator music, and
whose sole special effect is the curious tinting of Super 8 footage to
make Ms. Levine's bird look as if it's being marinated in Orange Crush.
"It has all the things I like in a movie," says Hayley Bush, who
co-curates Low Voltage from her office at Lula Vintage Wear, the Selby
Avenue clothing store she has owned and managed since 1992. Devoted to
the democratization of fashion and film in equal measure (her artists'
collective is called Everybody A/V!), Bush held the inaugural fest last
year in the basement of the Tilsner Building during the Lowertown St.
Paul Art Crawl and charged an affordable five bucks per ticket.
Box-office revenue was funneled into cash prizes for film- and
videomakers whose work competed within various generic categories--the
Disaster Movie, the Documentary, the Musical, and the aforementioned
Cooking Show among them.
Last year's winners, chosen by a jury of local-film experts,
bore such names as "Grandma's Super Elixir" (Comedy) and "Fuckin' Heavy
Metal" (Musical). This year, the Why My Movie Was Late category has
been dropped in favor of Horror, and at least three fledgling Cravens
have managed to make the deadline. Mike Alvin's "The Asbestos Killer!"
is a funny and efficient little slasher whose victims are Uptown
Theatre employees. (Serves 'em right for abetting bourgeois cinema, you
say?) Dale L. Kirvelay's "An afternoon in the park..." begins with
black and white shots of a bicyclist enjoying the Rice Creek Regional
Trail and ends with her blood on the lens. And Ryan Schaddelee's "The
Legend of Hot Rod Hearse" is a video bedtime story that does juvenile
horror proud by turning its lone female into the epitome of pure evil.
David Pitman, who runs Low Voltage with Bush under the
of his nonprofit Artist's Forum, says the micro-festival is an idea
whose time has come. "Filmmaking has become so accessible that it's
like drawing now--almost anyone can pick up a camera and shoot. But
getting the work seen by an audience is still a major challenge. So
it's important to provide a venue for this work. For [Bush and me],
it's about nurturing a growing community."
An artist himself, Pitman shot a piece for Bush's other
film project, "5 by 24," which invites local directors to begin
creating mini-movies based on a one-sentence concept and then screen
the works in public just 24 hours later. Though the next edition of "5
by 24" is still a month away, a similar exercise (sans the short
production schedule) is being featured in Low Voltage: The makers of
"Chicken-Washing" cast a flock of more lively feathered friends for a
clip contrived in response to the phrase please release me. And
really--isn't "Please release me" the thing that any low-budget indie
would say if it could talk?