Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival

The 22nd Annual Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival: A Sneak Preview

Roxanne Samer

            Chicago Art Magazine published a post on where and when to get your video art fix during the 2010 summer around Chicago. One of the events featured was the 22nd Annual Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival to be hosted June 17th-20th by Chicago Filmmakers. Here, I would like to provide for you a more detailed description of what’s in store for this upcoming weekend’s lucky attendees.

Each afternoon or evening’s screening will consist of two to fifteen experimental films or video art works. Each will feature a number of artists, meaning no screening is devoted to one particular figure or body of work. No matter which screening or two or three you check out, therefore, you will experience a wealth of approaches, aesthetics and subject matters. You’re bound to see something with a sociopolitical bent as well as something completely abstract or conceptual. You will see work by longtime makers in the field as well as pieces by those fresh and relatively unseen before. There is work from across the US as well as work from China, India, Germany, the UK, Thailand, Australia, Turkey, Austria, Canada, France and Palestine. There is work screening on video, 16mm, Super-8 as well as not one but two “projector performances.” Many of the pieces capture an intersection of many media, appropriated found footage, the aesthetics of video games and/or combining digital and analog materials in their making.

            If big names are what you seek, there are three different screenings I can recommend. Thai director and SAIC alumni Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s feature film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives just won the Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival’s top prize. His short on the same topic, Letter to Uncle Boonmee, starts the Opening Night Program Thursday at the Gene Siskel (164 N. State Street). American avant-gardist Kenneth Anger’s 2008 Ich Will, which manipulates vintage Hitler Youth footage in order to illuminate the homoerotic undertones therein, is part of the fourth group show on Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark Street). The sixth group show, also at Chicago Filmmakers but on Sunday afternoon, is a memorial screening for the recently passed JoAnn Elam, Chick Strand and Callie Angel and features work of theirs as well as Andy Warhol’s Four of Andy’s Most Beautiful Women (1964) and Shoulder (1964) and recent work by Deborah Stratman, Jesse McLean and others.  If local artists are what you seek, the names to look for are Adele Friedman, Kyle Canterbury and Jake Barningham. You should be sure to checkout the third group show Saturday afternoon at Chicago Filmmakers, which features four short videos by Barningham. His heavily pixilated and nearly abstract works build up tension in the viewer’s mind as he or she struggles to attribute meaning to barely recognizable images and comes to realize the value that can be found in uncertainty.

            A similar focus on form over content can be found in Simon Payn’s 10-minute film Iris Out (excerpt below), which is screening in the fifth group show Saturday evening. Its bright ever-changing color fields play with the viewer’s brain by way of his or her eye, creatively commenting on the shared human experiences of consciousness and perception.


            Needless to say, films in the festival also touch on key issues and ideas of both mainstream and intellectual contemporary interest and the subjects and their depictions come from across the globe. Jesse McLean’s Somewhere Only We Know appropriates imagery from reality American television shows such as Project Runway, bringing together clips close-up on contestants’ faces as they hear the news of their success or failure, demonstrating the legible commonality of expressed human emotions.

Somewhere only we know (excerpt) from Jesse McLean on Vimeo.

In her five-minute film Scene 32, Shambhavi Kaul introduces the viewer to her native home, the salt fields of Central Kaatch in India, choosing less a documentary format than one of reconstructed imaginative memory that is brought to life through her creative high definition video to 16mm transference. Below is an interview with the artist in which she describes her approach to the project in her own words.

Shambhavi Kaul @ New York Film Festival 10/03/2009 from Duke Chronicle on Vimeo.

            A full listing of the screening schedule can be found at the festival’s website. Opening Night at the Gene Siskel Film Center: $10 general admission, $7 students, $4 for students and faculty of the School of the Art Institute, and staff of the Art Institute, $5 Film Center and Chicago Filmmakers members. All other screenings (each): $8 general admission, $7 students, $4 Chicago Filmmakers members.