As befits a competition enjoying its 10th season, 2003’s New York Underground Film Festival has been programmed with keen, if perhaps subconscious, attention to a question both fundamentally cinematic and existential: How does then become now? From the graying ex-radicals of The Weather Underground to the old-not-just-old-school skaters in Northwest, the fest’s most notable denizens find themselves grappling with the march of hours. Some are trodden upon; others manage, often grudgingly, to fall into step.
Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s Weathermen documentary opens the inquiry as well as the lineup, probing the pasts and current lives of key players in the titular organization’s attempts to foment a modern American revolution. Age offers a sober gloss on their once cherished hypocrisies. Yet both subjects and film are haunted by a nagging question—how long can you watch elders corrupt your world before wanting to burn it down? Or, perhaps, withdraw from it completely, which seems the ultimate desire of Chicken Hawk‘s pederast protags. Originally premiered at the inaugural NYUFF, Adi Sideman’s video investigation examines the preoccupations of several North American Man-Boy Love Association members. All maintain that they pine only for lads perched on the cusp of adulthood; all are monumentally, childishly, geeky. Indeed, the movie’s greatest shock is not these socially retarded men’s desires but that they’ve convinced themselves of the pure, unselfish, loving nature of adolescent boys. And for folks assuming the same of little girls, Joe Sarno’s revived sexploiter Inga should go down bitter. A warning against clinging to youth posing as an endorsement of same, this 1968 number finds just blossomed Swedish virgin Marie Liljedahl screwing her aging (read: a well-kept 32) aunt out of a potential sugar daddy and a pouty twentysomething boy toy.
Then again, growing up’s a bitch, and sometimes you’ve gotta rage, if only for a while, against the dying of light and libido. The man-boys of Coan Nichols and Rick Charnoski’s supple doc Northwest have hit upon one means of doing so, supporting their skateboarding habit by contracting and building voluptuously curved, empty-pool-inspired parks in which to pursue it. Its subject a pastime at once lo-fi and breathlessly complicated, Northwest finds a fetching visual equivalent via black-and-white Super-8 cinematography; post-bong-hit voice-over provides the backstory. Meanwhile, Jon Moritsugu’s Scumrock tracks the waning extended childhoods of various artsy tarts with a poignant, scuzzy brashness. As rocker chick Roxxy (foxxy Amy Davis) chides her drummer early on, “This is simple: It’s rock ‘n’ roll, not Tchai-fucking-kovsky.” Ultimately, though, both she and chowderhead filmmaker Miles (Kyp Malone) feel adulthood eclipsing stardom, and maybe don’t mind—a tough realization in a movie featuring a character who’s ashamed of reaching 19.
James Fotopoulos’s Families and Andreas Horvath’s The Silence of Green both investigate the degree to which unforgiving spaces can color time’s passage. The former opens with a shot—static, lengthy, representative—of sheep huddling against a Midwest winter, and closes with another of night bearing down upon the flock. In between, friends tussle, families buckle, and a pair of almost-lovers converse lugubriously. Darkness, swelling from frame’s edge, threatens to snuff all; but the specter of time passed among too much emptiness, with too little to do, hangs heavier. Horvath paints a picture of the Yorkshire dales as a place ripped out of time’s flow altogether. Capturing the vacuum that engulfs Britain’s farmers during 2001’s foot-and-mouth scourge, Silence contemplates a rift in history as it happens, and while its victims wonder if they’ve been sold out by their government to placate the emerging EU.
Generally lighter, the shorts on display delight in summing up and tearing down, from the who’s-hot-who’s-not L Train-traveling Yes to the hilarious tradition-deflation—of educational and skin flicks, respectively—in Wüstenspringmaus and Pornographic Apathetic. More disquieting, Jim Trainor’s The Magic Kingdom maps expressionist angst within the Bronx Zoo’s kiddie wonderland. It’s Jacqueline Goss’s 14-minute There There Square, however, that best captures the tick-tock spirit of this year’s NYUFF (whose director, it should be noted, is Voice contributor Ed Halter). A wry, thoughtful, deceptively simple, and completely silent exploration of the ways that geography can shape history (personal, political) and vice versa, Goss’s movie uses elementary camera moves and a long series of captions to explore an ever changing animated map of the U.S. The effect is revelatory—one small shift in vantage point, a blink, and the whole world’s turned around. Temporality reshapes existence, much as an unspooling film reshapes its spectator, subtly, second by second, at 24 frames per.