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Bizarre ‘Brainwash’ festival is good program

By Peter Crimmins Daily Planet correspondent
Friday August 03, 2001

What does it mean to be brainwashed? 

Dave Krzysik of the Brainwash Film Festival can’t explain it, but he knows it when he sees it. He and a loose collection of cohorts have cobbled together a five-day presentation of largely loony short films and videos that are as difficult to categorize as they are to rationalize. 

A computer-generated poem about a toy animal with no head. Bad gastronomical decisions on New Orleans. Swimming with chickens. The films of Brainwash laugh at intellect and instead demand to be intuited. 

“Brainwash is a little elusive,” said Krzylic from his Rockridge home. He credits festival programmer Vikki Vaden’s ability to mesmerize audiences with an impressionistic arrangement of films. After last year’s showing at a San Francisco alternative film venue, The Werepad, Brainwash had to turn up the house lights to get the audience to leave. 

This year the festival plays for three days beginning Friday at the Pyramid Ale brewery/restaurant on Gilman Street in Berkeley. The selections were chosen because there were “Brainwash,” said Krzylic, an amorphous criteria, part of which was a tendency for low production values. 

“Tour Tips #14” by Danny Plotnick, is the first foray into video for the heretofore reigning “King of the Super-8.” It tells a very brief story told with clip-art collage of a drummer in a touring rock band who gets sick from overeating in New Orleans. Presented as a spoof of a television public service announcement, “Tour Tips” is a visually sharp and clean depiction of a disgusting incident in the life of an indulgent rock and roller.  

“Fowl Play” is a spoof of paranoia and sexual deceit as two women lie in bed idly surfing through a montage of random television images. The implied lesbian domestic scene is darkened by an ominous, telltale smell. The sweat of guilt beads on the guilty woman’s forehead as she tries to hide her crimes of poultry and chlorinated water. 

In a particularly bawdy moment, the nervous woman furtively smells her fingers as though they were the smoking gun. 

“That was completely improvised,” said Berkeley-based filmmaker Mary C. Mathews, crediting her actress for making the absurd sexual metaphor more explicit. The film started as a humble three-panel cartoon which Mathews developed into a one-minute play for a New York City festival of one-minute plays. She won that festival award then further developed the idea into a three-minute film for a festival of short films created last year by San Francisco radio station Alice. 

“We wanted to make something really out there,” said Mathews, whose film did not play at the Alice festival but its crazy humor gave it that elusive “Brainwash” quality. Chickens, as any comedian knows, are inherently funny things. 

Brainwash has a taste for the bizarre, and its pedigree encourages acts of deflating artistic pomposity. Krzylic claims the festival lineage can be traced back to the original Merry Pranksters, a 1960’s troupe of heads and hipsters led through counter-culture antics by Ken Kesey and the “Further” bus. 

The descendant generations of cultural noisemakers called themselves the Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society (instrumental in creating the annual Burning Man desert freak-out) and now the tech-savvy pranksters communicate via the Laughing Squid internet server. 

Now in its seventh year, the Brainwash festival began with the cumbersome title “1st Annual Cacophony Drive-In Movie Festival.” “’Brainwash’ says all that,” said Krzylic who renamed the festival after a San Francisco laundromat, “and it’s a lot shorter.”  

The drive-in aspect of the original festival has not been completely lost. The screenings at Pyramid Ale today, Saturday and Sunday will be outdoors. It will not be possible to actually drive up to the screen, however, and Krzylic encourages moviegoers to dress warmly and bring their own chairs.