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Video and Film Festival offers up choices this weekend

By Peter Crimmins Special to the Daily Planet
Friday November 17, 2000

The works featured in this weekend’s Berkeley Video and Film Festival, curated by the East Bay Media Center and screening at the Fine Arts Cinema, stretch across the spectrum of taste. From precious environmentalism and precocious horror and penis envy to a pastiche of sensual, political and cinematic extremes. 

The festival screens in two marathon programs, each beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and push forward for the next ten hours. Daylong tickets allow to moviegoers to pick a flick: in-and-out privileges will be appreciated by cinephiles who occasionally get up to eat, drink or smoke. 

Until now, the grave concerns of doomsaying pundits that have received the recent shootings in American high schools have been untainted by snarky humor. Perhaps the most fitting person to take broadside pot shots at teenage killing is a teenager himself. Chris Uchiyama’s feature length “BLISS,” closing Sunday night’s program, is the story of a young sociopath offing the student body in as grisly a fashion as rubber body parts and fake blood will allow. 

Uchiyama, a recent graduate of Berkeley High, is now gearing up for film school. This film is a more ambitious expression of splatter than he showed in last year’s short “Killer Chihuahua.”  

He says he did not base “BLISS” on the events of Columbine, rather the horrific turns of events common in fairy tales. Nevertheless, the premise of “BLISS” was disturbing enough to have the production banned from the Berkeley High campus, where Uchiyama was initially permitted to shoot scenes. 

The film matches romantic erratum with bloody limbs hanging from basketball hoops. “My mom always told me if it doesn’t offend a few people it isn’t worth doing,” he said, and admitted his mother had told him that in a different context and later rescinded the remark after seeing her son’s film. 

There is another film on the bill featuring an anti-social teenager who uses a fairy tale strategy to find respite from her awkward world. The difference is the short by Kia Simon, "Neverland," screening Saturday evening, prefers escape into fantasy over axe-wielding retribution. The teenage misfit – daughter of a bulemic and herself a petty kleptomaniac – takes her role in the high school production of “Peter Pan” to its logical, if supernatural, end. 

Some pixie dust and a little faith in the medium may turn “Trillium Forest: a Walk Within,” a short screening Sunday evening, into the visual poem it wants to be. Like a scene from “A Midsummer's Night Dream” with an environmental bone to pick, this beautifully wrought video by Holiday Phelum features a trio of dancers clad as wood nymphs gliding through choreographed movements in a dreamy forest setting. Thety are occasionally interspersed with video clips of activists and scientists talking about the folly of taking nature for granted and “the goddess tradition.” 

More feverish abstraction comes in “What's in Heidi's Head,” by Nancy Ferguson and composer Mark Mothersbaugh (formerly of the band Devo), screening Saturday evening. Two pilot episodes of a short-form television “interstitial” series (spots meant to run between cartoons, like “Schoolhouse Rock”) take free-associative looks at Feet and Bugs, respectively, with wildly psychedelic video collage and barely cognizant factoids. The visual schematic is pure candy-colored razzle-dazzle, befitting its intended space on kiddie TV. 

The festival serves up nourishing cinema like “Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians,” a documentary about indefatigable photographer Curtis and his arduous lifelong mission to document the American Indian. And the festival can dish up junk food, too. “Life is a Sweet” is a harmless confection about a chocoholic junior executive who learns to not only curb her urge for cream-filled cupcakes but to use them to professional ends. 

What “Life is a Sweet” fails to recognize is that chocolate does, in fact, make you feel better. “Buon Gusto” understands, and it wins top prize in gluttony for pure gluttony’s sake. Stirring the same sensual pot as the recent “Woman on Top” (without the Bossa Nova beat), “Buon Gusto,” by Anita Merzel and Mark Todd, screening Saturday evening, is a television cooking show with a host whose backstage romantic problems come to the fore during a live broadcast.  

Therefore pasta plus cilantro plus Bordeaux equals a ripped bodice. But in Saturday night's closing feature documentary by Cass Paley, “WADD: the life and times of John C. Holmes,” the sexual formula is much simpler: 141/2 inches. 

In interviews with his associates in the porn industry – Holmes apparently had no friends – the legendary sex star is described as not too bright, not all that handsome, but packing mythic size.