Plastic Verities: Bay Area Student Film Festival 2012

Mining the rich cultural rolodex, Universal, Unique, Untouched: Bay Area Student Film Festival 2012 features recent video projects from fourteen budding Bay Area student filmmakers, who have yet to breach the cinematic firmament, but are well on their way.

In conjunction with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the student film showcase, hosted at the PFA Theater tonight, serves up a varied cross-section of prime-cut cinematic strokes of genius, running the gamut from lonely film-school arcana, politico-agitprop, and occult melodrama to grossly spectatorial naturalism and rheumy-eyed Bildungsroman. Indulgent typologies aside, these student contenders have stretched the waistband of filmic syntax, allowing for the right amount of stylistic slack, or as a sartorialist might chime, a nice fit.

Of the fourteen students showcased, four filmmakers entertained questions posed by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Student Committee pertaining to their filmmaking experience and the influence of the greater Bay Area in their work. To view the full interviews visit the BAM/PFA Student Committee tumblr.

Tijana Petrović’s Back to Land

A new transplant to the Bay Area, Tijana Petrović, now a documentary film and video M.F.A. candidate at Stanford University, entered her 2011 film Back To Land, which “is a meditation on the sight of a blue whale beached on a California shore. The film observes the onlookers and the nature of their looking.” The artist briefly spoke of her history with film:

“I’ve been interested in film since I was a teenager. It provided both an escape … and was a beginning of a great appreciation and love of art in general. Nowadays, I try to approach filmmaking with an eye towards exploring boundaries.”

Upon moving to the Bay Area, Petrović found her new environs experientially “interesting”:

“The Bay Area is a place of great inspiration for me in many regards… . I have been fascinated by the natural beauty and the appreciation people have for it here. But I also see it as a place of many contradictions which is an essential characteristic of all the complex and interesting things in life.”

Having just graduated from UC Berkeley in the spring of 2012, Chris Jones has since migrated to the southland where he has entrolled in an M.F.A. film production program at Loyola Marymount University. Chris’s 2012 entry, God Moves, pares down the plotted affectation of cinema and lays bare the lexical relation of spectator to filmic apparatus. Even before his foray into academic film studies, Chris was well aware of the medium’s social impact and its political extension therein invoked:

“I’ve always been intrigued by the potential power of the medium as a sociocultural beacon of sorts; not a sententious podium, but a sort of meeting place where the audience members can interact with/experience emotions or ideologies which they may have felt before, but could never express.”

Until studying film at UC Berkeley, Chris had not forayed into experimental film.

“I didn’t know the first thing about avant-garde cinema until I took Marilyn Fabe’s avant-garde class at Cal in the spring of 2011. The course was planned in conjunction with the [Berkeley Art Museum and] Pacific Film Archives’s Radical Light project … showcasing Bay Area experimental filmmakers. The works of Stan Brakhage and Nathaniel Dorsky were revelatory and inspired me to buy my first camera.”

Emerging from San Francisco State University’s M.F.A. program in cinema, alumnus Joey Izzo is making waves with his 2012 featured short, Chuck’s Chicken, recounting the desire of a girl, enslaved by her father, to “possess the boy of her dreams.” Izzo cautions that Chuck’s Chicken is “a morbid, surreal comedy that dares you to laugh.” Joey traced his experience making films, including early collaborations with underground heavyweights:

“I started out making experimental films. Mostly found footage, collage type of stuff. So far, the peak of my experimental film experience has been working in collaboration with the infamous composer John Zorn… . Since then, I’ve become much more interested in narrative and working with actors. But I try to carry the same critical mindset along with me for every project, be it narrative, a documentary or an experimental film, it’s the same internal process.”

As a Bay Area native, Joey came of age in the Peninsula suburb of San Mateo, inflecting its regional color in his creative corpus:

“I was born and raised on the Peninsula and the film [Chuck’s Chicken] was shot there as well, a few miles away from where I grew up. San Mateo has an interesting mix of suburban and industrial landscapes. I also just happened to grow up on a really strange block… . I have loads of stories. One time, an older kid came up to my brother and I and blew fire out of a homemade torch just inches from our faces. He screamed and then ran off. His family lived down the block.”

Tianzong Jiang’s November 9th Protest

A fourth-year film studies major at UC Berkeley, Tianzong Jiang, armed with his “camera-pen,” captured the turbulent Occupy Cal protests that swept the UC Berkeley campus in the fall of 2011. Tianzong’s November 9th Protest is a short documentary covering the student-police conflict of November 9th in front of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley during the Occupy Cal movement. Tianzong ruminated on his early affection and connection to film culture:

“I wanted to go into film since middle school. At the time I watched a lot of films and I found myself greatly thrilled by images. At night I couldn’t fall asleep thinking about the movies I saw, with all kinds of sequences emerging in my mind—images that happened in my life, but introduced in a totally different perspective, as if it’s filmed with a camera crew. Apart from watching movies, I also loved to imitate actors in the movies.”

For Tianzong, it was crucial that he document this cinematic moment in the history of American dissent:

“For the Occupy movement that happened around the country and in Berkeley, I was more of an observer than a participant. I am interested in such activities because they bring up the conflict between the authority and the masses… . I feel that it’s my obligation and job to truthfully document what happened. When I was first filming the protest, I knew this would become a very important event in history and I was thrilled that I had a camera in hand … I tried to remain objective when recording and I tried to remain objective when constructing the film.”

—Daniel Peretz, BAM/PFA Student Committee

Top: Joey Izzo’s Chuck’s Chicken