Byte-sized bits of brilliance

The Ten-Second Film Festival keeps it short, sweet and DIY

Keri Carlson

Last summer Chris Pennington was issued a cease and desist letter for his first Ten-Second Film Festival.

Pennington, a volunteer for the Soap Factory art gallery, collected videos shot on digital cameras that capture between 10 and 15 seconds of footage. The idea was to showcase new technology that allows anyone to create film easily.

Videos ranged from a spider crawling across a window to a man masturbating and pinching his nipples. But the lawyer who came to his apartment was concerned about a video with chickens that contained footage from a commercial shoot. (Who knew a mere 10 seconds could be so controversial?) Pennington had to hand over all copies of the video clip.

Two hours later, Pennington heard a knock on his door and discovered two FBI agents standing in his hallway.

“Is this about the Internet?” he asked, assuming this was related to the chicken video.

“What is your relationship to the Yankees and to Derek Jeter?” one agent asked. And then Pennington realized what the matter was about.

At last year’s Twins playoff game against the Yankees, Pennington – not one to keep up with baseball – was shocked by the crowd’s reaction to Jeter.

“There were 40,000 people channeling hate,” he said. So for the next game, Pennington went to Kinko’s and made copies of Jeter’s picture. He handed out more than 300 copies to Twins fans, encouraging them to “deface Jeter.” At the end of the game, he collected the graffiti-laden photos (“there were a lot of dicks”), bound them in a book and mailed the book along with an art grant application, asking the office to pass it along.

The book found its way to the Yankees, and now the FBI has warned Pennington not to attend any Yankees games or set foot in New York. Jeter, apparently, did not find the book funny.

While it seems Pennington’s art has a way of leading him into trouble with the law, it’s not entirely his fault. The objectionable content usually comes from others. Pennington’s projects rely on involvement and participation. He tries to get as many different people involved as possible. His motto, he said, is, “Don’t leave art to the artists.”

The Ten-Second Film Festival is for anyone from fifth-graders to college students to “real” artists.

“The films are as different as people are,” Pennington said.

Last year Pennington discovered the film function on his digital camera and began experimenting. His first film featured a Modest Mouse song in the background with a spinning globe illuminated by a spotlight. Another film made a doll appear to be flying across the sky.

“I got about six good films and no one to show them to,” Pennington said. “You make these films and they’re cool, but it’s like, what can you do with them?”

The festival is a way to give importance to these films and acknowledge how this technology allows us to capture moments we encounter throughout our days – from the normal action of people walking across the street to the bizarre sight of a burning car. “There’s little pieces of poetry everywhere,” Pennington said.

This year Pennington hopes to receive at least 300 submissions. He, along with a panel of judges, will narrow the entries down to 100 and divide the films into 10 categories.

For the actual festival, the winners depend on audience reaction – part of the reason Pennington says there will be plenty of beer available. “We want everyone to have a healthy buzz, or else the film fest doesn’t work properly.”

But perhaps an even better guarantee, unlike many film festivals where you have to sort through plenty of bad films to get to the good stuff, the Ten-Second Film Festival is more consistent. “It’s practically impossible,” Pennington said, “you can’t make a bad movie in 10 seconds.”