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Not your mother's film festival 

Hi Mom! at eight

Hi Mom! Film Fest gets serious while retaining its low-fi irreverance In its eighth year running, and wisely relocating on this go-round to a spot on the calendar farther away from Full Frame and Riverrun, Chapel Hill / Carrboro's Hi Mom! Film Fest continues to strengthen its programming. After its undergraduate origins, the festival is steadily building its reputation on the international experimental film scene, with uncommonly strong entries from France leading the way. As always, the festival operates as a collective undertaking, with the names of Matt Hedt, Ian Krabacher, Tom Laney and Randy Bullock coming up most frequently as key organizers. The festival has been and continues to be an extraordinary labor of love by a group of cinephiles who cherish experimental filmmaking for its own sake. (Kendra Gaeta, one of Hi Mom!'s early movers and shakers, has moved on to be director of the New York Underground Film Festival.)

The motto remains "No fat cats" and the festival charges the filmmakers no entry fee, offer modest prizes and sell cheap tickets, ranging from $3 for some shows to an all-access $15 pass. Despite the misleading unseriousness of its name (and films with titles like Cobra Commander is Gonna Buttfuck Homer Simpson), the Hi Mom! fest is a most serious affair that features many fine films with little commercial potential. As a local underground treasure, it deserves a greater portion of the support given to the better-known and better-underwritten events in the state.

This year, instead of using Cat's Cradle, the festival will transpire mostly in the ArtsCenter next door and will run over the course of two tightly scheduled days--Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4. On Sunday afternoon, there will be an informal screening of hits at the Skylight Exchange in Chapel Hill. Sixty-seven shorts from all over the world will be shown, including several by Triangle filmmakers.

The festival's informative program notes include a lengthy interview with one Jean-Gabriel Periot, a Paris filmmaker who comes highly rated by those in the know. Hedt describes Periot as a "camera-less" filmmaker, one who works with found footage and does his creation in the editing process. One of Periot's films, called Dies Irae, will be seen at Friday night's outdoor screening at the Rosemary Street parking garage. It's an intoxicatingly beautiful and ominous work: As diaphanous as its title, Dies Irae is a 10-minute film that consists of 6,000-8,000 still photographs that Periot scavenged from the Internet over a period of several months. Periot, a young filmmaker with an articulate interest in European and American social histories, has another film in the fest that Hedt calls "extremely powerful, giving us a grand portrait of humanity." Titled We are Winning Don't Forget, it's another collage film, but one that attacks European liberalism that "destroys everything," in Periot's words. This latter film will be the last film shown in a program that begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at the ArtsCenter.

Periot's We are Winning Don't Forget is only one of several films that suggest a newfound interest in films with social and political themes. One audacious effort is Geoff Adams' Shadow of Liberty. An anti-globalization activist, Adams decides to call the keepers of Boston history on their own complacency by crashing a self-satisfied full-dress reenactment of the Boston Tea Party with hidden camera in tow. Not surprisingly, he finds few takers for his calls to revolt against the modern day tyranny without representation of the WTO.

Then there are films that are simply artful, passionate and truthful. One example is Jonathan Culp's Death Mask, a rap-montage in which the author rattles off names of his dead forebears before showing us pictures of a death mask he made of a recently deceased family member. The film is surprisingly haunting.

Dave Baeumler, once of Raleigh and now of Boston, who found success at a Park City alterna-fest in 2003 with Fudgie and Jane, has a film called Safety that is well worth seeking out at Friday night's outdoor screening at the Rosemary Street parking garage. Initially, it seems to be a film of a familiar genre, the found-footage film that scavenges celluloid kitsch from Cold War America. But the mock-earnest narration by Kevin Silva seems to be an update of the philosophical pessimism of Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle and Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight (seen here at Full Frame): "However benevolent our aims," intones Silva, "our very invincibility is terror."

The festival will unveil recent work by several excellent local filmmakers. Durham husband and wife duo Jim Haverkamp and Joyce Ventimiglia will show Hot Dog Man: A Case Study, their underground hit from a couple of years back that was broadcast earlier this year on N.C. Visions, UNC-TV's annual showcase of Tar Heel filmmaking. In this five-minute funfest, the filmmakers and their friends heap ridicule, scorn, contempt and wonderment upon a statue of an anthropomorphic hot dog that stands sentry on Durham's Ninth Street. The hot dog man, who is permanently frozen in time squirting ketchup on his own head (or dog), looks sillier and more inane the longer one looks at it. Then there's another recent local hit, also by a Durham duo, Jason Klarl and Bill Weaver. If Hot Dog Man is good-natured in its contempt, Klarl and Weaver's Some Kind of Fucking Game is pure, punk dada. It's also unlikely to find airplay on UNC-TV, since the film's entire outlook, theme, character and script is based on the endless repetition of the title, for two minutes and 20 seconds--about the length of a Butthole Surfers side, circa "Locust Abortion Technician."

There are several other films by artists who are either currently or recently local that were unavailable for review. First, there's Natasha, Jen Ashlock's 12-minute, Super-8 portrait of a local high school all-girl rock band. If the director's name seems familiar, it's because Ashlock curated the Flicker Film festival for two years before turning the reins over to Nicole Triche last year. Khang Mai, who is best known for his live-action comedies, will show Comrade Turtle and Vulture, a four-and-a-half-minute work of computer animation that is "a retelling of the Tortoise and Hare race with a Maoist twist." Chapel Hill's Sean Overbeeke has an intriguing title, a 12-minute mixture of 35mm and MiniDV footage called Skip Rogerson: Extreme Walker. The title character in this evident satire comes to terms with an injury that ends his career, the one named in the film's subtitle. A Durham filmmaker Onur Tukel, has two shorts in the fest. Tukel, who has a couple of features under his belt and is reportedly a producer on a new one, brings to Hi Mom! two five-minute computer animations. One, The Importance of Periods, is purportedly about punctuation, and the other, The Tozer Show, is a "musing by comedian Amber Tozer about sex, war and the occasional blue balls."

Finally, there's Greensboro's Matt Moore, well-known locally for being one half of Good as a Mugg Productions, who ponders what is, these days, a profound question: Why Do You Want to be on Fear Factor?

For more information, go to www.himomfilmfest.org.

  • Hi Mom! at eight

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