it had to happen. what started three years ago as small-gauge throwdown in a bar is slowly getting respectable. What set out to kick Toronto's fatter festivals in the shins begins to show signs of establishment creep.It's the fourth annual Splice This! Super8 Film Festival. Even the "fourth annual" stamp marks the dance with the orthodoxy that bedevils any outside culture with a lifespan.
This year's Splice This! still taunts the big boys with a "No advance box office, no rush lines, no bullshit" credo, but it's got most of the other tricks that make a festival a festival: stars (Sook-Yin Lee, Kika Thorne), old masters (John Porter), sexy premieres, out-of-town guests and a festival catalogue with an historical essay.
The essay is a smart, short, cut-and-paste item by Thorne, but the effect is still legitimation.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It just makes me wonder if any small festival working in the shadow of larger ones is doomed to suffer an art version of the Stockholm Syndrome. Or becoming the parents you once hated.
What nails it is the retrospective. If there's one thing that feels like anathema to a quick-and-dirty super-8 film festival, it's a retrospective.
But I'm glad it's happening. Because local star Robert Kennedy deserves a retrospective, and it won't ever happen at Roy Thomson Hall.
Watching Kennedy's work (screening Friday, June 22, 8 pm) is like gorging on enough junk culture to develop the most discerning of palates. News From West Virginia is a frenzied stew of fake news and checkout-counter conspiracies. Kennedy uses rapid-fire narration and a delirious story that smoothly links JFK and space aliens.
In Fucking Bird, he finds exactly the right 70s soundtrack for a sensitive documentary about a masturbating pet bird.
And Melt, also screening all during Splice This! in a loop outside the venue, deconstructs popsicles. I like this film a lot, but the ice cream bar is a formal mistake, I think. De trop.
Kennedy's later, more mature work maintains his dazzling fluency in the goosed-up vernacular of pop trash. In addition, it filters an ongoing self-investigation through personal ads, Keatonesque gags or found illustrations, all culminating in the trenchant, self-referential Dinky Menace.
See. This is what happens when you do a retrospective.
Elsewhere at Splice This!, festival director Laura Cowell keeps finding cool ways to exhibit films. There's a program of work with performance and live sound (Friday, June 22, 11 pm), an exhibition of super-8 still photos, and a new book session on processing recipes and handmade techniques by New Orleans-based filmmaker Helen Hill.
And two films screen peep-show-style all weekend in a private booth. Kenneth Hayes's Design Exchange catches the Toronto Stock Exchange slipping from physical to virtual existence, while Adam Cohen's Fire Of Time chronicles his experiences living in Barcelona's Barrio Chino. This film, at 28 minutes the longest in the festival, has the time to develop a sustained, complex mood.
Composed of optically smeared time-lapse images shot in the crumbling neighborhood and a voice-over filled with lament, it has a great feel for male melancholy. It's the story of a man who loses his woman while he watches a strange place rot in slow motion, with all the romance that suggests. Fire Of Time feels like all the longeurs in Nick Cave's songs gathered up and set to pictures.
Finally, Splice This! concludes with a promising program of films commissioned by Scott Beveridge and Kelly O'Brien under the title Bliss (Sunday, June 24, 8 pm).
They've invited a whole passel of folks -- including Petra Chevrier, Fiona Smyth, Roy Mitchell and Milada Kovacova -- to express their jouissance onto that tiny, little super-8 frame.
Sounds like a festival.
SPLICE THIS! SUPER8 FILM FESTIVAL Friday to Sunday (June 22-24), from 8 pm, at Barcode (549 College). $8/night. For schedule, see Rep Cinemas, page 106. 416-537-2256. Rating: NNNN