OnFilm's Layers Program

I was excited to see the short-film program "Layers" by the University of Rochester OnFilm group. It was an impressive collection that centered around the "layers" theme and all the ramifications it can entail.

Starting out was 45 7 Broadway (Tomonari Nishikawa, 2013, 5 min., 16mm) in which Nishikawa shot scenes in Times Square successively with black-and-white film filtered with red, green, and blue filters, then made a color composite by merging the three resulting films to form a pseudo-color image. The effect was marvelous, often presenting rippling true-colors in stationary objects and overlaid colors in those that moved. At one point, I felt like I could smell the city.

Volcano Saga (Joan Jonas, 1989, 28 min., video) was an interesting interpretation of the Icelandic Laxdeala Saga — a tale of dream analysis — given an experimental-video spin. Capitalism: Child Labor (Ken Jacobs, 2006, 14 min., video) was a disorienting interpretation of a stereo-view of child workers in a factory. Jacobs quickly alternated between the images creating the illusion of continuously spinning, and added detail views that seemed to rotate on their own.

In Her + Him Van Leo (Akram Zaatari, 2001, 32 min., video), Zaatari visits the photographer who created a scantily-clad image of his grandmother which he discovered in his mother's closet. I found the repetitive technique a bit annoying at times, but the film was rather humorous and overall interesting. Of note to me was that Van Leo had a large-format camera which looked nearly identical to Jenn's camera in her new studio — particularly the heavy wheeled tripod.

I was a bit lost with Castro Street (Bruce Baillie, 1966, 10 min., 16mm). It was an experimental view of trains and industrialization … I guess. I'm not good at guessing, though. Likewise, Lot in Sodom (James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, 1933, 28 min., 16mm), being a Biblical tale I didn't know (like most of them), I was kind of lost as to what was going on. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see their experimental filming techniques that rivaled what people were doing 30 years later.

Waves of Betrayal (Jae Matthews, 2007, 5 min., 16 mm B&W reversal transferred to video) was an interesting bit of film: according to the OnFilm description, it "is a home processed short where the ocean documented in the film was also used as the mixing material for the developer, stop, and fix baths". This resulted in a unique tonality to the film and scratches from sediment. Let me just say that it is the knowledge of the process that makes this film interesting.

Concluding the night was O'er the Land (Deborah Stratman, 2009, 52 min., 16mm), a view of modern American patriotism in many forms. I personally found it upsetting to have the idea of America's jingoistic militarism echoed back to me so strongly. Contrasting it with the waning natural wonders we have, the effect was even more profound.