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Transforming Spaces: L.A. Filmmakers on Display at REDCAT

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When it comes to movies, Los Angeles is best known as a hub of commercial filmmaking. But L.A. is also home to some of the world's most innovative artists, many who work in the film medium. So is what they're making art, film, both, or none of the above? The truth is found at all points across the very large spectrum. With this in mind, REDCAT is showcasing the first in a series of programs highlighting work by filmmakers based in Los Angeles on March 30. "Transforming Spaces" features nine short contemporary experimental films, each making some sort of theatrical premiere. (Three are world premieres, two are U.S. premieres, and four are West Coast premieres.) While vastly different from one another, the recently produced films all unite seemingly disparate worlds while re-imagining continuous expanses and areas.

"The films included are, for the most part, contemplative and reflective," explains dean of CalArts's School of Film/Video and program curator Steve Anker. "The image space can be a window through which city or rural scapes are transformed by sound and visual movement, or it can be a stage on which ephemeral light plays flicker into meaning. The screen can also be seen as the surface it is, remodeled and into the kind of experience rarely made possible. Recorded images move between objective clarity and abstracted detail; between documented reality and expressively controlled composition. Some play with storytelling, keeping narrative flow mysteriously ambiguous and evocative. Others use the theater itself, and the internal world of each viewer, as spaces given shape through the time created by film projection."

Right now, film-as-fine-art benefits from a wide variety of tools and technology, while the art of the moving image is also capable of building upon and re-purposing existing modes for an ever-evolving type of media that in many ways incorporates all builds upon the others. From the machine-driven musical of Madison Brookshire's "About 11 Minutes" and Andrew Kim's three-minute "Society of Motion," to the contemplative scenery of Kate Brown's "Utah" and Cauleen Smith's New Orleans musicians in "H-E-L-L-L-O," each of the films in "Transforming Spaces" traverses the boundaries inherent in filmmaking, which are admittedly dissolving and become nonexistent as a result. Those increasingly fluid borders are indeed transforming -- and transformed -- spaces. Here are just a few highlights of films in the program, though it's worth remembering they're each worth seeing (alone or as part of the whole) in order to truly understand how film artists often work together on many of the same themes without even being aware of it.

The West Coast premiere of Laura Kraning's "Port Noir" (2014, 11 minutes, digital, b&w, sound) captures the remnants of the decaying Fish Harbor and Al Larson Boat Shop (built in 1903) at L.A. Harbor's Terminal Island, whose name itself appropriately describes a nearly forgotten and desolate place that often makes a cameo as a backdrop in film and television. The wiggling strands of well-lit reflections of water dance and flicker onscreen in a meditative look back at a lost world, as slats of wood, metal wires, and creaking grating form their own compositions in carefully framed shots. Ephemera of long-gone seafarers, such as old-time safety-match posters, pinups, and occasionally menacing images, peel away to reveal the ravages of time. The film's sound is just as compelling, with man-made noise contrasting with songs of wildlife and the subtle sounds of the sea. All told, the film adeptly reflects this L.A.-based CalArts Film and Video instructor's experimental approach to documentary filmmaking.

Lee Ann Schmitt, 'womannightfilm' | Courtesy of the filmmaker
Lee Ann Schmitt, 'womannightfilm' | Courtesy of the filmmaker

Associate Director of the Film Directing Program in CalArts's School of Film and Video, artist and filmmaker Lee Anne Schmitt's projects include a look at American history as well as a series of shorts about motherhood, tradition, and the imminent danger of brutality. The latter includes "womannightfilm" (2014, 6 min., 38 sec., 16mm film to digital, color, sound), which makes its U.S. premiere at REDCAT. "Shot on 16mm over a number of years, the film rephotographs and rephotographs, until the image itself is a ghost," Schmitt describes this particular work. "It is a moment in time, and then that moment is gone." Her depiction of an unsettling urban landscape is a poetic visual account of a nightly routine driving home, with scratchy 16mm film evoking an organic silent terror, one made more palatable with spoken word.

Visual and theater artist Janie Geiser teaches object performance and interdisciplinary performance at CalArts School of Theater, and is Co-Director of L.A.-based nonprofit Automata, which aims to preserve the art of puppetry as well as other lesser-lauded forms of media. She's also an experimental filmmaker and the auteur behind "The Hummingbird Wars" (2014, 10 min. 43 sec., Digital, color, sound), a hypnotic, compelling series of antique images tied together through the use of highly innovative editing, evoking the 19th century kinetoscope as well as the 20th century kaleidoscope, appropriately suggesting the traversal of time. Making its West Coast debut at "Transforming Spaces," the film comes across as a quirky, bemusing collage of sound and images, but its message goes deeper than that: It's a tribute and reminder of the act of producing theater during wartime, yet suggests war is at its core a timeless phenomena.

Abigail Severance, 'Kinesthesia Series' | Courtesy of the filmmaker
Abigail Severance, 'Kinesthesia Series' | Courtesy of the filmmaker

Collectively, all of the films create a spellbinding lineup that sustains the viewer's attention, effectively transporting the audience from a small, progressive theater in Downtown L.A. to a world full of vivid imaginations, deep creativity, profound reflections, and an otherworldly realm where the struggles, chaos, and monotony of life are re-contextualized and re-presented as riveting and magical cinematic gems. Whether it's films such as Abigail Severance's abstract documentary "Kinesthesia Series" or Julie Murray's own highly experimental meta-cinematic adaptation of scenes from a Hong Kong action film, "End Reel," each of these nine films are a testament to the highly inventive, innovative minds of a robust experimental film community based in the City of Angels.

"Transforming Spaces: New Films from L.A. Filmmakers" screens Monday, March 30, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. at REDCAT, located at West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, 90012 (213) 237-2800. General admission tickets are $11. Tickets for REDCAT members and students are $8. Tickets for CalArts Students/Faculty/Staff are $6.

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