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Top 8mm film proves it was nothing to sneeze at

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Top 8mm film proves it was nothing to sneeze at

By Constance Crump


The 11th Ann Arbor 8mm Film Festival reeled past viewers Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Dozens of tiny-format masterpieces were screened and judges awarded $2,500 in cash and prizes to more than 30 entries. Most of the winners were screened at two shows Sunday.

Audiences were alternately pleased and puzzled as everything from comic books to epic poems slid past. Experienced festival-goers sat relaxed, secure in the knowledge that nothing could bore the viewer for too long. (Most entries were shorter than 10 minutes.)

Novice viewers were a little more anxious. “Why would the screening committee show THAT?” was overhead more than once.

The big winner was "Variations on a Theme: Fred Ott's Sneeze Through The Ages" directed by Gary Atkins. The 20-minutes gem garnered the award for most promising filmmaker. A purported survey of sneezing as depicted by famous directors from the dawn of film history to the present, Atkins showed film clips from Bergman, Eisenstein, and with an oh-how-serious film historian-type lecturing on the significance of sneezing as a theme.

“FLIPPERS” WAS a big winner and a crowd-pleaser. Made by a self-styled reformed pinball junkie, Alex Gibdey, who claimed it to be “everything a movie maker should be – out of control,” the film depicted that latest in the goofy sport’s incarnations, the shopping mall mega-pinball parlor. Gibney discussed metaphorical aspects of the game - “one night stands with a mechanical bride” - and the final, insidious spiritual murder of obsessed practitioners.

Padrio McLaughlin’s four-minute Betsy Ross revisited, “United Corporations of America,” showed a modem Betsy at the pedal of her sewing machine, attaching Exxon, Sears and other corporate behemoth’s patches to the star field of Old Glory, as a voice-over described proper care and feeding of the equipment.

One of the evening’s most popular films was “The Little Lost Lizard” by Timothy Hittle. A combination of live-action and clay animation, it was a comic masterpiece depicting anthropology, pet care and home safety techniques.

“Stone Hands” used a relatively new method of animation, the copier. Xeroxed or someroxed images of hands clapped, snapped fingers, stroked and gestured through seven minutes, the work of Richard DeCastro.

TWO OF THE festival’s youngest filmmakers received awards. “Disco Bighead” by 13-year-old Steve Stanchfield had an animated heart dancing and sledding its way into our hearts. Phil Eisenstein, a 15-year-old Michigan filmmaker presented “Nightmare,” a horror epic that proved beginners can be just as senseless and boring as their models. Eisenstein accomplished an amazing amount of suburban property damage on a small budget.

The festival content was widely varied. Winners represented almost every genre of film.

Some fine documentaries were screened, among them “Handi Man” by Jeff Scarping, a slice of life about a paraplegic scholar. Others were non-fiction, but non-documentaries too, like ’’Western Episodes,” Tom Wheeler’s non-narrative freeway fragments.

“A CURRENT THROUGH Time” combined documentary and narrative in a fact and fantasy blend about Nicola Tesla in Colorado Springs. Made by David Hast, the film combined contemporary stills of Tesla, inventor and scientist who gave the world alternating current, fluorescent and incandesent light and the vacuum tube, and made-up “historic” footage.

Festival directors John Fialka and Tim Artist and their staff were exceptionally well-organized, despite the handicap of a tiny screening room. Turning away audiences must have hurt.

In contrast to previous years, judges seemed to based their selections on merit rather than in inverse proportion to films’ commercial potential. The 8mm Festival gets better every year.