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New York EXPO Exposes Shorts

By Gordon Hitchens

The silhouette of a ballerina extending her arm and leg, from Tom Papa's 'True Prince: Vladimir Malakhov.' (U.S., 48 min.)

Now in its 31st year, the annual New York Exposition of Short Film and Video was held November 19-22, with screenings and other events taking place at the Tishman Auditorium of the New School for Social Research, in Manhattan. Five programs were presented: 9 titles in documentary; 13 in narrative; 13 in animation; 14 in video; and 10 in New Media, primarily interactive multimedia. Selections were culled from more than 700 entries. Distributors and agents for television are always in attendance.

Now directed by the exceptional administrator Robert Withers, EXPO was founded by Nick Manning et al "to seek out and present films and videos that are conceptually advanced, techni­cally innovative, thematically challenging and unconventional, works that often have difficulties finding their venue." Early EXPO had works by then—unknowns Spike Lee, Danny De Vito, Maitha Coolidge, Martin Brest, George Lucas, the Maysles brothers, Faith Hubley, Agnes Varda, Claude Lelouch, Michael Snow, Stadish Lauder. Judges have included Otto Preminger, Jonas Mekas, Rex Reed, D.A. Pennebaker, Nonn an McLaren , Williain Greaves, John Canemaker. Supporters include the New York State Council on the Arts, Eastman Kodak, the Sundance Channel, Blockbuster Video, HBO, NAFT International.

Five sets of jurors—one per category—selected the final line-up of titles. Documentary jurors were Clare Davis, Louise Spain and Carol Lanzio. The judges—who named award-winners after seeing the documentaries for the first time with the audience—were Doris Chase, Williain Harris and Manfred Kirschheiner. Still active after 45 years of work with architects, curators, dancers and choreographers, Doris Chase has installations and collections at the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Chase: Artist in Motion was published in 1993 by the University of Washington Press. Williain Harris is currently Vice President of Production for the A&E Television Networks, where he also oversees production for A&E's History Channel. Prior to this current position, he was Director of Documentary Programming for A&E's Emmy®-winning Biography series; she has also taught graduate-level classes in media. Manfred Kirschheimer produced We Are So Beloved and other distinguished documentaries, with grants from the NEA and the New York State Council for the Humanities, among others; he teaches media production at the School of Visual Arts.

True Prince: Vladimir Malakhov by Tony Papa (U.S., 48 min.) is a backstage visit with the famed young ballet dancer. International stardom seemed natural for this ambitious, hard-working artist­ slim and supple and strong—but success did not come easily. We see childhood dance photos from age four, his early roles, the strenuous rehearsals, the graceful turns, the impossible leaps. In the dressing room, we note his casual charm with the press, the respect for fellow-dancers and choreographers. At the stage door, the ballet, groupies—giggling girls, thrilled to pieces—besiege him for autographs, even though they'd prefer a bit more intimacy. The film employs thermography, or heat photography, to show the body areas of concentrated stress and energy. Also, a new vantage point is gained by positioning the  camera directly underneath the dancer, so that his body is seen from below, enhancing appreciation of how his ­ body mobilizes for the ­exertion of the dances. Malakhov is indeed the true prince. Papa's film, won the Hot Docs award this year, in Canada, and is the most recent of Papa's, performance documenta­ries. It received the EXPO Gold Award, first prize.

Second prize, the Silver Award, went to In Living Memory by­ Amy Gottlieb (Canada, 14 min.), a portraits of her father, aged 93, suffering perhaps senile dementia, but obviously once a strong, lively, humorous, intelligent artist and Marxist. Friction and distance characterize the past relationship between them, but love now triumphs as daughter recites poetry about her dad. For 18 years, Gottlieb worked primarily in photography and only secondarily in video. For this second video from her, she won the Charles Street Award as most promising video artist at the Inside/Out Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival in Toronto.

The Bronze Award, third prize, went to Two or Three Things But Nothing for Sure by Jane C. Wagner and Tina Di Felician­tonio (U.S., 12 min.), a portrait of a time and place—the rural south of a half-century ago—and a family enduring poverty and abuse. Much condensed, the film derives from Bastmd Out of Carolina, the acclaimed novel by Dorothy Allison. The filmmaking team began their collabora­tion in film school, then DiFeliciantonio won an Emmy® for Living With AIDS, Wagner won for Hearts and Quarks. Their Girls Like Us received the Grand Jury Prize this year at Sundance, and their Tom's Flesh won Sundance's Best Achievement in Short Filmmaking in 1995. Their Culture Wars has aired on PBS and England's Channel 4.

Unruly Fan, Unruly Star by Sherry Millner (U.S., 16 min.) is a sorta-kinda comic documentary reenactment of what happen s when a celebrity-crazed fan actually manages to pen­etrate the idol­ized star's pro­tective moat. The star? It 's Roseanne self. The meet her­ two on Roseanne's sitcom set and discover they have much in common. For her films and videos, Millner has received support from the Jerome Foundation and from Art Matters; she's taught at Cal Arts, Antioch, Rutgers and Hampshire College.

Annie and Eddie: Callin' the Wild by Lawrence Cumbo (U.S., 27 min.) is about calling your friends to come for supper. The friends here are hungry Mississippi Delta al­ligators. Annie operates a small boat, steer­ing the craft while simultaneously pointing out to tourists the mystery and beauty of the swamplands. The hit of the cruise is when Annie feeds hunks of meat to the alligators via a long pole. A naturalist—and naturally good-hearted-she has named each alliga­tor... and each knows his/her name, instantly leaving shore to wade alongside for dindin. Both Annie and husband Eddie, who is disabled, are in their eighties. They know their time is short, as is the case for the Delta wetlands and the alligators, doomed to die from the hands of rapacious develop­ers. Cumbo has worked in documentary for 12 years; his Tom Wise has been shown widely at festivals and on PBS.

Tell Them You're Fine by Ian Aronson (U.S., 17 min.) follows three women with cancer, approaching death maybe. A gradu­ate of Stanford University's Master's Pro gram in Documentary Film and Video, this is Aronson's thesis project. He previously produced docs in Buffalo for public radio.

Sight Unseen by Nicholas Kurzon (U.S., 26 min.) is a series of informative snapshots of Bali. The fascinating footage includes ritual dance, religious panoply, costuming, make-up, traditional instru­ments, a ceremonial cremation, woodcarv­ing, cock fighting, a visit to an authentic ancient culture. Kurzon studied film and anthropology at Harvard University; this film joined his How Can You Go Wrong? in receiving numerous prizes. His current work-in-progress concerns politics within the reservations of Native Americans.

The Ultimate Dive by Suzanne Girot (U.S., 12 min.) is in effect the rough-cut for a zany Hollywood comedy. The subject John is a master diver, who plunges into dumpsters of rubbish located in industrial areas, coming up with God-knows-what, including sometimes valuable items, to be sold or kept. An intelligent, witty young man, John comments on his work, demon­strating his gear, work clothes and tech­niques. Girot's work expresses her concern with gross urban habits of consumption. She received the B.A. from UC-Berkeley, and the M.F.A. from California College of Alts and Crafts in the Bay Area.

Memories Do Not Burn, a nominee in this year's IDA Awards competition, is by Paul Dokuchitz and Marianne McCune (U.S., 29 min.) and a natural for public broadcast and lively play in schools and churches. A tiny island in the Adriatic is a haven for children, both Muslim and Christian, who have been traumatized by the war in Bosnia. One or both parents have been killed, their homes destroyed: these are children who have witnessed atrocities and hardships. Now on the island for the summer, they try to transcend the barriers of religion, language and resentment. Dokuchitz received an Oscar nomination in 1993 for his Blood Ties, The Life and Work of Sally Mann. McCune has worked extensively with children in international settings; for the NBC special "Mysterious Origins of Man," she was editor and associate producer. Due to time constraints and crowded programming, EXPO reluctantly omitted many excellent documentaries from the screening schedule. Among these were the finalists: Herbert's Hippopotamus by Paul Alexander Juutilainen; One Man's Way by Peter Singer and John Swindells; Packing Heat by Wendy Rowland; and They Shoot Pigeons, Don't They? by David Deneen. Honorable Mentions went to Patagonia by Dan Boord and Luis Valdovino; Sergio Moyano—Living the Dance by Mark Oliver and Grant Taylor: William A. Christenbeny, Jr.: A Portrait by S.J. Staniski. The Eastman Kodak Award of film stock went to Ian Aronson's Tell Them You' re Fine.

At EXPO, four films were screened in the session "Women in Film & Video" by New York Women in Film & Television, one of these a documentary-Richard and Nicole by Mo Ogrodnick. The film is about the Universalist Unitarian Church in Maine, confronted with the moral upheaval that occurs when a new member to the congregation-a transvestite-proposes creat­ing a women's group. Prior to this film, Ogrodnick produced the fiction feature Ripe, just released.

A panel discussion with Q&A dealt with distribution of shorts, also self-expres­sion by females on film. A non-profit cultural organization, New York Women in Film & Television helps women in the visual media to achieve the highest standards of professionalism.