The Strange Beauty Film Festival is a warm, unpretentious haven for experimental film | Arts

The Strange Beauty Film Festival is a warm, unpretentious haven for experimental film

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Still from Stardust Serenade by Kathleen Quillian - COURTESY OF THE STRANGE BEAUTY FILM FESTIVAL
  • courtesy of the Strange Beauty Film Festival
  • Still from Stardust Serenade by Kathleen Quillian
Strange Beauty Film Festival
Shadowbox Studio, Durham
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015


We pull into the Ample Storage facility off East Club Boulevard. Glorified storage units line up like a mini-strip mall. A plumbing business, a hair salon and a church, among others, make up a wonderful little community of entrepreneurs. Shadowbox Studio, where we have sometimes hosted our experimental film series, Unexposed, stands out from the others with its artistic, homey vibe.

As we’re buying tickets for the Strange Beauty Film Festival, an hour before its kickoff, Tom Whiteside of Durham Cinematheque is setting up his double-projector 16mm film in the screening room. Jim Haverkamp, who co-owns Shadowbox with Alex Maness, is stirring fresh-made popcorn in the lobby. In the corner, a stack of TVs loop photographic images of anything and everything, while the walls are adorned with retro toasters. Floor lamps provide that soothing yellow light we crave. Haverkamp and Maness have not just added another venue to Durham, but have truly created a lovely experience for the community.

At 8 p.m. on opening night of the three-day festival of “short, weird” films, the room darkens as an almost packed house cracks open drinks and munches on popcorn topped with powdered ranch and butter seasoning. For the next hour, a projector cranks out short films back to back, an incredible array that simultaneously makes us laugh and contemplate the state of the world we live in. The programming duo, Haverkamp and Joyce Ventimiglia, capture the entertaining side of experimental cinema, an art form that is taken a bit too seriously at times. They champion genre-bending films, giving attendees a chance to appreciate styles ranging from animation and documentary to fiction and experimental.

Tom Whiteside’s Maybe in the Space Age is an archival film fusing unlikely works from the '50s about space exploration and the famous Tree Circus. Kathleen Quillian’s Stardust Serenade is an animated short made of mashed-up mid-century advertising. Paul Turano's Toward the Flame is an experimental documentary about a meteor blast in Russia two years ago. Ale Bachlechner and Olivia Platzer's Saturn Return is an experimental narrative about an interplanetary lesbian couple experiencing relationship struggles.

UNC-Wilmington professor Andre Silva’s cyberGenesis crowdsources its footage from hundreds of participants, with Silva forming the structure and honing the meaning. By combining computer animation techniques, YouTube video responses, open-source online music and a narrative structure hinting at an electronic Garden of Eden, a surreal experience unfolds as we question the powerful role these machines play in our psyche.

Strange Beauty offered us a chance to gaze at our collective self and realize how our interpersonal relationships can be enhanced or tainted by our individual choices. The program, the people and the venue all played a part in crafting this rare feeling. Upon exiting Ample Storage, we admired the space itself—how it projects an underground vibe, something behind a closed door, quietly tucked away. We drove home happy, knowing the experimental film community is thriving and can only grow from here.

Your film friends,
Brendan & Jeremy Smyth

The authors are filmmakers who run the experimental film series Unexposed in Durham and the Haverhill Experimental Film Festival in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Unexposed has two screenings in November: "Frenkel Defects III," a traveling screening of contemporary experimental 16mm films (The Carrack Modern Art, Nov. 5, 7 p.m.), and "Long Distance Dedications: An Evening of Cinema, Poetry, Music and Storytelling," featuring the 16mm films of David Gatten (Shadowbox Studio, Nov. 14, 7 p.m.).


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