The Southern Theater’s fringes of film-making

Several artistic disciplines gathered Thursday for atmospheric music, dance improvisation and experimental film.

Audience members seat themselves before the Altered Esthetics Film Festival on Thursday, June 1 at the Southern Theater on West Bank.

Image by Chris Dang

Audience members seat themselves before the Altered Esthetics Film Festival on Thursday, June 1 at the Southern Theater on West Bank.

by Gunthar Reising

Inside the reception area, three dancers wove through the crowd shouting commands to each other like “Sustain!” while three people worked at separate keyboards. A girl waved her arms in the corner, occasionally emitting a soft wail. It was unclear if her participation was as an audience member or artist.

On Thursday, Southern Theater on West Bank hosted Altered Esthetic’s fourth annual film festival, featuring artist exhibitions, experimental film and avant-garde in general.

“It’s an interesting blend of video work, sound and improvisation,” said Mike Corrao, a University of Minnesota cinema and media culture studies senior.

The dancers took the improvisation to heart, even asking the audience to shout out adjectives for them to dance to.

The theme of the festival was Unravel/Reclaim, leaving enough room for the entries to feature nearly any subject matter.

The films put this vagueness to work, ranging from documentaries about outlaw dancers in Iran to a clay-mation narrative about an elderly lady who lives in her bathroom in fear of an “intruder man.”

Most of the films fell into experimental or documentary genres. Though they may be considered slow in comparison to a superhero franchise film, there were standouts within the unconventionality.

“Skin,” directed by University alumna Madeline Hamilton, showed a filmmaker returning to her childhood home and confronting an abusive household.

While it risked turning into a sob story with its unabashedly personal premise, “Skin” succeeded in unraveling the complicated nature of abuse and exploring the problem of speaking about trauma and assigning words to the indefinable.

“It’s my first time taking myself seriously as an artist,” Hamilton said about her documentary.

“Intruder Man,” the only film to feature coherent storytelling, used stop-motion animation to depict the paranoia and loneliness of an elderly woman.

Its dreamscapes felt like those of a David Lynch film, and the film proved to be a funny and poignant look into the mind of filmmaker Peter Nelson’s grandmother.

At the end of the night, a Creative Vision Award was given to Kiera Faber for her short film “T is for Turnip.” The film was made using 3,467 hand-painted 16mm frames and took over 1,000 hours to make.

“I sat for hours hand painting with a teeny hand brush under a microscope,” Faber said.

Although seemingly just about turnips, Faber and the jurors claim there’s more to the film.

“It’s dedicated to my brother and sister,” Faber said, “And deals with mental illness in our family.”

Faber’s film concluded the start of the festival. And while the avant-garde vibes were significant, the wide variety of presented disciplines offered something for everyone in attendance.