Tuesday Dec 12

EricaGoss In January, when I interviewed R.W. Perkins, he mentioned that one of his future projects was to organize a poetry film festival. The Body Electric, Colorado’s first poetry film festival, took place on Saturday, May 4 at the Lyric Cinema in Ft. Collins.

The home of Colorado State University, Ft. Collins nurtures a lively poetry scene, including the First Friday Poetry Slam, run by Ft. Collins’s Poet Laureate (who calls himself “Booger.”) The town has plenty to offer: a vital Old Town, with shops, galleries, restaurants and bookstores, close access to the mountains, and some interesting public art installations. For example, “Pianos About Town” puts used pianos, re-purposed and brightly painted, in public places for anyone to play.

A town that values culture should have an independent theater, but the Lyric Cinema was in danger of closing is doors last year. They needed a digital projector, which costs approximately $150,000, a steep price for a small business. Enter Kickstarter, with a high-energy video by R.W. Perkins. The Lyric raised the money for its projector, remaining a favorite place for movies and off-beat events (like The Body Electric).

I spoke with R.W. Perkins in the lobby of the Lyric Cinema. “We received two hundred and thirty-seven submissions,” he said. Thirty-four were shown at the festival, and four appear on the Body Electric blog as honorable mentions. “I chose videos that moved me in some way, either emotionally or by the quality of the filmmaking.” R.W. is an accomplished video producer with an eye for excellence. “Some of the work just amazed me – it was transcendent. I’ve watched a lot of movies, and I know what I’m looking for. The work has to entertain the audience. It has to appeal to literary types and others – this genre is hard to describe to people who are not familiar with it. I look for things that will help introduce it to new viewers.”

The thirty-four video poems that appeared in The Body Electric ranged from sensitive, emotional stories such as “Writer’s Block,” “The Barking Horse,” and “Husniyah” to edgy, animated videos (“Anna Blume”) to the tragically comic (“Portugal.”) Some featured exquisite, hand-made drawings (“Afterlight,” “Becoming Judas.”) I cannot emphasize enough how much these beautifully crafted videos benefit from seeing them on the big screen; for example, details of Cheryl Gross’s drawings for “Becoming Judas,” done in archival ball-point pen, are simply not visible on a tiny computer screen, and the complex layering of text, still images, photographs and rapid film clips of “The Mantis Shrimp” gain strength and power when viewed in the theater.

The festival was well-attended, with almost every seat in the theater taken. In spite of a few projector malfunctions, the evening progressed smoothly, and it was gratifying to hear the murmurs of appreciation from my fellow audience members. It would have been helpful to have a printed program with the names of the films, their directors and the poets, but hopefully that will come next year.

I was happy to watch many excellent films, and I’ve included my list of six outstanding new (i.e., new to me) videos from The Body Electric:

“Writer’s Block:” Matthew Cox, Sasha Hough. Everything flows in this video poem: the visuals, the music, and the narration connect in a way that conveys a landscape that is both interior and expansive. “What the night inspires the day takes away,” appears on the screen. The film’s limited pallet – smoky blues, pale skies, the girl’s fair skin and gray eyes – reinforces the sensation of ideas slipping away before we can grasp them, embodied in this line from the poem: “I touched the hem of something beautiful.”

 


 

“32 Warhol:” Jerimiah Whitlock, Dena Rash Guzman. This poem is just as affecting on the small screen as the large one: a boy, on seeing Warhol’s painting, “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans,” can only think of his hunger. The slide show becomes torture for this boy, whose hunger grows with each image: “I did not see art. I saw food.” Shot in freezing weather in Estes Park, Colorado, the video uses the voice of Björn Walhström, who narrates the poem in German. According to Jerimiah, “the German gave the poem a little more depth – an alternative English version didn’t hold up as well.”

 


 

“Ten Thousand Things:” Jack Wake-Walker. This video is shot entirely on a mobile phone to a soundtrack of Jorge Luis Borges’s voice from a series of lectures he gave about poetry. Watching this video is like following someone through his or her daily life, but with a dreamy sheen cast over everything. Some scenes play backwards; many are repeated. In one shot, we see Jack Wake-Walker interviewed on a news program. A gentle ticking continues throughout the film, emphasizing that time exists, for the most part, in these seemingly random moments.

 


 

“The Barking Horse:” Patrick Sheridan, Christine McQuillan. I love how animals – in this case, a horse and a dog – play integral parts in the relationship of the main characters. The man, played by Patrick Sheridan, learns that his habit of calling things outside their true names has unhappy consequences. “If you don’t know the names of things, how can you mean most anything?” The man, unable to call things by their true names, loses his lover – or does he?

 


 

“Sometimes:” David Wharton, Tony Walsh. Actor James Foster delivers an emotional punch you won’t forget: This is one of the few video poems I’ve seen that features the talents of a professional actor, and the results are striking. Foster tells the story of the devastation of divorce with his facial expressions and body language, increasing the tension with repetitions of the word, “Sometimes:” “When I’m eating it cold from a tin in the kitchen / and sometimes, when I’ve stood in a line to collect my prescription.” Watching him break apart is at once humbling and terrifying.

 


 

Exposure: Rob Lycett, Gaia Holmes. Using “anonymous found footage” from rummage sales, people sell off bits of their lives (“she’s selling her wedding dress, he’s selling his porn collection.”) With an eerie precision, the mash-up of flickering images captures the awkwardness of strangers fingering other strangers’ used things. This video poem shows how public access film footage, reimagined and reassembled, can create a compelling story.

 

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Next month: video poem collaborations that bring surprising insights.