Review: Resfest Digital Film Festival Report

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written in 2001]

The Resfest travelling digital film festival which grew out of a San Francisco grassroots film festival called Low Res, is now into its fifth year, and is visiting fourteen cities across the USA and the rest of the world (including London, Rio, Seoul, Tokyo and Cape Town). Seeking initially to showcase the best in independent digital filmmaking, the festival has now expanded its intake to reflect the increased involvement of digital processes in the vast majority of films, opening this year with the first fully digital (but rather flimsy) anime feature Blood: The Last Vampire, and closing with Doug Pray’s complex turntablist documentary Scratch. Sandwiched between are a number of different short film strands, focusing respectively on “Altered States”, “Human Nature”, “High Risk”, design, and finally little-seen shorts by more established directors (the outstanding piece, as usual, by Michel Gondry), accompanied by the regular Cinema Electronica music video strand, and a new strand presenting innovative title sequences. The diversity of work in the festival has never been greater, even if the geographical spread in the 2001 edition (a fine time to find our “garage Kubrick”) remains largely the same – practitioners hail not unusually from the USA, UK, Japan and Western Europe.

In general the quality of most of the festival selections is high. In the Altered States programme, Ajay Sahgal’s It’s A Shame About Ray received its world premiere, and justifies the buzz – neatly paced, funny, film-literate and full of surprises. Other excellent entries include Austrian Virgil Widrich’s Copy Shop (itself copied using a laser printer, then animated and filmed on 35mm). Delusions in Modern Primitivism, a classic faux-verite short by Daniel Loflin, charting the bleeding edge of body art, was the pick of the High Risk selection, although Sebastian Peterson’s Fake, a canny (and hilarious) dissection of consumerism, runs it close. Jonathon Hodgson’s fine animated reading of a Bukowski poem, The Man with the Beautiful Eyes also deserves a mention. The Cinema Electronica screening had a range of international talent on display, from the UK’s unsettling Run Wrake, Gorillaz’ Jamie Hewlett, Shynola, and Unit 9, to Spike Jonze’s Weapon of Choice video for Fatboy Slim, and a Floria Sigismondi video for Amon Tobin’s Four Ton Mantis.

Finger-drumming dominated in the Openers 01 section, showcasing cinema title design, at least until the title sequence for Torrente: Mision en Marbella, which was an irreverent and joyfully sleazy parody of the comparatively coy Bond openers – whether the festival organisers should retain that segment next year, or perhaps reinstate their “best of the net” cull is a tricky one. The Design section provoked the London audience into revolt by its seemingly interminable sequence of Untitled: 002-Infinity shorts, which, although initially diverting, showed the limitations of showing work far better suited to CD-ROM, or online/on-demand presentation, than the half-hour imprisonment that the Ritzy endured. That said, the effortless superiority of Johnny Hardstaff’s platform-based The History of Gaming and The Future of Gaming received rapt attention, and the mixed animation, typography, and live action of No Words, which had 5 directors, completes a pleasing Scorsese-ribbing loop.

All told, the festival is a worthwhile and exciting venture (buying a pass online for the whole festival is highly recommended), and deserves more full houses next time it comes around. But while Jonathan Wells, the festival’s Director, and his team deserve all the encouragement they can get, it is to be hoped that they can expand their sources yet further beyond festival alumni and UK design houses, so we get an even more comprehensive snapshot of current creation and creativity.

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