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Annual festival provides an intriguing film feast

Durham's Strange Beauty Film Festival combines the lovely and the weird 

Strange beauty: a three-legged dog, an odd birthmark, peeling wallpaper. Paraphrasing a photographer whose name escapes me, to appreciate strange beauty is to see the crack in the window before you see the window.

In its fifth year, the Strange Beauty Film Festival combines the lovely and the weird, spanning several genres—documentary, fiction, experimental, comedy and animation—by local, national and international filmmakers.

Have a short attention span? Running times are as short as 51 seconds and as "long" as 23 minutes.

click to enlarge Image courtesy of Strange Beauty Film Festival
  • Image courtesy of Strange Beauty Film Festival

Gina Kamentsky's Jiro Visits the Dentist (1:30) was hand drawn on 1,997 frames of 35mm film; Hope Tucker's Handful of Dust (9:00) explores what happened when a John Wayne movie was shot downwind of a nuclear test site in Utah in 1954; Another Statement About Society (1:27) carries the tagline: "Behold the salvation that the American socio-economic system has prepared for you." (The filmmaker lives in Canada.)

Audio documentaries and soundscapes are also prominent: Saturday features a 30-minute "Aural Fixation," psychedelics optional. Also on Saturday, Felix Obelix debuts a live music soundtrack for a 1912 stop-motion short by Russian-Polish animator Ladislas Starewicz. The 13-minute movie deals with bugs, so psychedelics are discouraged.

IMAGE COURTESY OF STRANGE BEAUTY FILM FESTIVAL
  • Image courtesy of Strange Beauty Film Festival

The festival traditionally has been held in February, but last winter's ice storm forced organizers to postpone until this month.

The INDY spoke to co-founders Jim Haverkamp and Joyce Ventimiglia about the vision and maturation of the festival.

INDY: When you're curating the festival, what's the benchmark? How do you know when an experimental film works and when it doesn't?

Jim HaverKamp: When Joyce and I go through them, we want something striking-looking that strikes an emotional chord.

Joyce Ventimiglia: It's extremely subjective. It has to work formally and technically, and there has to be something compelling about it. I know strange beauty when I see it.

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF STRANGE BEAUTY FILM FESTIVAL
  • Image courtesy of Strange Beauty Film Festival

What's the secret of achieving that emotional chord without a traditional narrative, such as in experimental films?

JH: We don't show a lot of intellectual films, although we get a lot of that. It's not weird for the sake of being weird. It's a new twist on the everyday. We're catering to a general audience, not film historians. We want something that knocks you back on your feet.

strange-beauty-more-1.jpg

Are you seeing any filmmaking trends? Are you receiving films shot on smart phones?

JV: We had more of that last year. This year we got a lot of horror films. There's something in the zeitgeist; there's a lot of anxiety right now.

JH: Last year 20-somethings had discovered old media like VHS and 16mm. Another trend is that we're getting several 20–30 minute films.

I noticed several animated films on the schedule.

JV: We just happen to get strong animated films year after year, because we take only things under 30 minutes, and animation takes such a long time. And there are limited places animators can show, except the Internet. Short films are weird like a poem or short story instead of a novel.

After five years, where do you want to take this festival, not only to a wider audience, but to keep it an indispensible part of the Triangle?

JH: We're getting a lot of films from people who've shown with us before. We have to guard against getting stuck in a rut.

JV: A big thing I'd like to see is a way to encourage local filmmakers to make films. I would like to expand more into workshops. We have so many strong local films in the program, yet there aren't a lot of places to showcase. It's not like a music scene.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Cracked lens"

  • Annual festival provides an intriguing film feast

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