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Cover Story: Unusual Visions

Film grabs the spotlight in Fringe Festival's growing arts arsenal

By Jason Gargano · May 21st, 2008 · Cover Story
  Local filmmakers like Kendall Bruns are front and center in Film Fringe.
Local filmmakers like Kendall Bruns are front and center in Film Fringe.

Just about anyone can make a "film" these days. Digital cameras, computer-based editing, enhanced sound equipment, reduced costs and other less obvious factors have resulted in a landslide of filmmakers working in every imaginable genre, topic and style. Even a cursory glance at online media outlets like Vimeo.com and YouTube.com reveals an onslaught of content.

Of course, the democratization of "film culture," which is rapidly being digitized, also means there's more shit to sift through than ever before. Couple that with the bombast, overt artifice and creative bankruptcy that infests many big-budget studio films, and festivals like Cincy Film Fringe shine all the more brightly for those yearning for something both different and discerning.

Like the rest of the Cincy Fringe Festival's programming, the film portion aims to give voice to those expressing themselves in new and unique ways. And even when its offerings are lacking in technical and/or intellectual acumen, they more than make up for it in authenticity and passion -- personal, creatively crafty efforts that otherwise might never have seen the light of day.

"It provides more opportunity to create quality media for less money," Chris Strobel, chair of Film Fringe, says of the changes in filmmaking resources. "It also helps to democratize media production. This is an expensive endeavor to do well, but as equipment prices drop and quality increases more people can have access to the media storytelling tools.

"Now some folks won't have a clue and their media will show that and won't find an audience because it won't deserve an audience. But the opportunity to create media is increased with higher quality, lower cost digital tools."

The festival's 16 films, most of which are less than 10 minutes in length, have been placed into two different groups (A and B) and will be screened on multiple nights in multiple venues.

Several familiar local filmmakers' work made the lineup. Ryan Lewis' short film, Emulsion, is a taut, slick-looking noir that features the work of his two longtime collaborators: cinematographer Michael Maney and actor Nick Rose, who plays a struggling white-collar salesman inexplicably finding himself at the center of the film's mystery.

John Parker's The Life and Times of H-Bomb Ferguson is a 40-minute documentary on the late Cincinnati Blues master that features interviews with a host of H-Bomb's friends and colleagues. Justine Stokes' short, Affinity, investigates the idea that we can be emotionally and physically devoted to more than one person at a time regardless of gender.

Josh Flowers, who is half of the local filmmaking duo Pizza Infinity, contributes three short documentaries: One More Thing, which asks random people the one thing they want to do before they die; Still Life, a crafty use of gravestones that's more poignant than one would expect; and Brief Messages, an amusing piece in which various people on Fountain Square are asked what message they'd like to relay to the world (answers range from "sex cures depression" to "vote Republican").

Flowers also has one short with his Pizza Infinity partner Kendall Bruns, Hang in There, a surreal comedy originally made for the 2007 48 Hour Film Project, which Strobel also organized.

That brings us to Film Fringe's role in our growing film community: Strobel hopes it can become a vital entity alongside quality local endeavors like the 48 Hour Film Project and Underneath Cincinnati. Then there's the goal of synching the festival's film programming -- most of which is fairly traditional in terms of narrative and technique -- with Fringe's more adventurous theatrical offerings.

"You can only make the decisions from the movies that are submitted," Strobel says. "The film portion's mission is the same as the Fringe as a whole, but while we were looking for edgier work we also were looking for quality work. Some submitted work had a 'fringe' POV but were just poorly constructed. And some well-constructed work was so mainstream that it almost didn't make it. Quality trumps edge, but we want as much edge as possible.

"As we progress and the number of entries grows, the tenor of the films will hopefully continue to move toward the unusual. Good, unusual movies."

FILM FRINGE splits movies into two different groups, A and B, both of which will be screened multiple times at multiple venues. Check out www.cincyfringe.com for specific times and titles.



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