"The Last Limousine," set in a Russian car factory, will be shown Sunday night at the Visual Arts Center.
Wizards, hobbits, Soviet workers constructing a limousine, a master art forger and the Big Lazy band are among the customary eclectic offerings of the 22nd Annual James River Festival that started today with a free screening of Orson Welles' masterwork Citizen Kane, at noon at the Richmond Public Library. (See the complete listing here.)
Next, the first day leads to the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, a free public reception at 5 p.m., and three short films by women filmmakers at 6 p.m., including The Emotional Dimensions of the James River, the concept of Clover Hill high schooler Michelle Marquez, with filmmaker Patrick Gregory and composer Lincoln Mitchell, in a work that grew out of a neuroscience project. The effect is as a “dream within a dream” and features our own mighty James.
Big Time, A Doodled Diary about the thoughts of a 1980s girl in India, made by Sonali Gulati, an award-winning filmmaker and Virginia Commonwealth University professor, gets its Richmond premiere, while Atlanta-based Jennifer Tarrazi-Scully’s dance collaboration Wallpapers was produced by JRFF’s co-director Jeff Roll. (Tarrazi-Scully is also in the Michael Pope film NeoVoxer that is getting screened at this festival). This trio is joined at 7 p.m. ($7) by Martina Kudlacek’s documentary about an experimental filmmaker, Notes on Marie Menken.
This festival introduced me to influential 1940s and 1950s filmmaker and muse Maya Deren years ago, and likewise, we’ll meet Menken’s legacy, her “lyrical cinema,” which she described as “eye music.” The film, if nothing else, shows how Menken’s avant-garde work – that included a “duel of Bolexes” with Andy Warhol — was threaded into later popular culture — but without recognition. Menken was there at the start in the early 1960s of the New American Cinema movement, and served as a mentor to filmmakers whose work has appeared on the festival screens, including past guests such as Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas.
Festival major domo Mike Jones gives additional insight. “Apparently, Menken had this rough-and-tumble relationship with her husband, Willard Maas. Their fights were loud, frequent and epic, and somebody who witnessed them was Edward Albee, and he seems to have carried that into the George and Martha characters of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
After Menken’s life story, and still at the Visual Arts Center, NeoVoxer (9 p.m.,$7) is a non-dialogue film by director and guest Michael Pope that was created with a performance collective using live music and sound effects on locations in Boston, New York, Prague and Plzen. Three characters, The Artist, The Dancer and The Fool, journey through a landscape that is as much of psychological as physical. This is its Richmond premiere, and Pope will available for discussion after.
Pope’s prolific commercial life involves rock videos with Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls — he directed their concert film Live In Paradise — Ben Folds and numerous others. This – and the never-ending struggle between art and commerce — is to be the topic Saturday at "This Misadventures and Moving Pictures of Michael Pope," 7:30 p.m. at the Visual Arts Center, ($7).
Working with Life: An Evening with Filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson, will commence on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Leslie Cheek Theatre of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “He teaches at the University of Virginia — he’s not yet 50, and I think he’s made 90 to 100 movies, shorts and one feature, all of them shot on 16 mm and most dealing with African-American working-class life," Jones says. "They combine the feel of the documentary with narrative elements. And so we invited him down.”
Also invited is returning guest Jonathan Hancock, who is with great appropriateness screening several of his short films in a hands-on space, Studio Two-Three, a communal printmaking and photography center. Hancock makes his Super 8 and 16 mm movies from scripts written on a typewriter in the Cincinnati studio he built. He manipulates the images by making marks on the film. One of three he's showing in this 80-minute program is Skull Rider, which Hancock describes as "a ride through Cincinnati with death on a motorcycle."
JRFF members brought other stray bits of the event together; the society’s online journal coordinator Bobby Morgan suggested screening films of groundbreaking animator Ralph Bakshi. Ken Hopson’s association with composer Stephen Ulrich and his band Big Lazy introduced the idea of the film Art & Craft (3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 11, Byrd Theatre, $7), for which the band created the score. The film, directed by Mark Becker and Sam Cullman, concerns the renowned/notorious art forger Mark Landis, of Laurel, Mississippi, who for 30 years created a body of work that imitated great art. His donation of pieces to museums confounded the institutions, forcing them to re-asses their collections. He never took money, though, and that puts him a special niche of the art forgers' hall of infamy. Big Lazy is making a 2 p.m. in-store appearance at Plan 9 and at 10 p.m., for $12, at Gallery 5.
Richmond-based filmmaker David Williams' Kawashima’s Curve (Sunday, April 12, 6 p.m., Visual Arts Center, $7) records the work of Japanese bamboo sculptor Shigeo Kawashima during his 2006 residency at VisArts. The film follows the process as a building piece of music. Williams’ works include the genre-bending film about an adolescent who wants to assert herself, Thirteen. He will be presented for the discussion.
Imbedded within the larger festival is a mini-festival of the work of Bakshi: the first X-rated cartoon, Fritz the Cat, (Saturday, 1 p.m., Byrd Theatre, $7); and a Sunday afternoon double feature, Lord of the Rings (1 p.m., $7) Bakshi’s 1978 effort to out-Disney Disney, is for the whole family; not as much the seminal post-apocalyptic fantasy Wizards , (4:30 p.m, $7). Fritz the Cat will receive an introduction by Randolph-Macon College professor Thomas Inge, an authority on U.S. popular culture, especially comics, who will be joined by Bakshi’s son, Eddie, also an animator. The artist himself will appear live via Skype for discussion and a Q&A after Fritz the Cat and Lord of The Rings.
Fritz the Cat was a character developed by artist and underground comics progenitor R. Crumb. Crumb disliked the film, calling it even more twisted than his work. The passage of time and its legacy is such that Jones considers it, “a work of genius. It’s really a coming of age story, a picaresque-Don Quixote type story. Fritz is basically a New York University student. He becomes radicalized in near-apocalyptic times.” It was slapped with an X-rating more for its content than sexuality. The “full on puppet sex” of Team America is far more, uh, explicit.
Past presenter and JRFF friend Kevin McNeer – who lives in Moscow — brought to the festival’s attention The Last Limousine, by the late director Daria Khlestina. “I don’t think it’s been shown in this country,” Jones says. “Kevin subtitled the film for us. This is a Russian film made by a woman dying of cancer, edited in Amsterdam and distributed through Germany. Khlestina wasn’t happy with the first cut of the film — so she went back and shot it all over. You can see the result on Sunday, at 8 p.m., at VisArts ($7).
What happens when “the world as you know it” ends? The Zil limousine factory in Moscow subsisted on making trucks because the need for these May Day mainstays ceased when the Soviet Union collapsed. The factory is perched on the edge of obsolescence – along with those who work there – until an order for three of the cars comes down. This is a true proletarian story.