The full schedule for VideoFest’s AltFiction chapter, on through Sunday at Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station, dropped just ten days ago. This new siphon throws a focus on experimental films, narratives and work made for television — a lot to watch in vastly different modes of watching.
Austin’s Kat Candler personifies this blend of programming, in the sense that she’s the kind of filmmaker who trusts audiences to be patient yet is succeeding in television and moving the form ahead. Candler was just named showrunner for Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar. She’s been working on the OWN series since she came on as a director in season one, and at 8:30pm Saturday she’ll talk about the show and her role in making it.
The picks that follow check in on trajectories of players whose influence in this area is heavy. Frank Mosley, who stars in Cameron Bruce Nelson’s gorgeous pastoral triumph Some Beasts released today for public viewing, is a sought-after, festival-decorated actor, and a director with two features to his name. Ya’Ke Smith’s work has made its rounds to 80 film festivals, Cannes among them. He served as an industry-active mentor to students at the University of Texas at Arlington, and now UT Austin.
The selections below enter grief and change through mother-and-child relationships via different perspectives.
Casa de mi Madre | Sunday, 9:15pm, Texas Show
There are only five real shots in Frank Mosley’s 12-minute short Casa de mi Madre, for which Nelson directed photography and acted as producer. We open with a wide panorama of the Cuban countryside as an unseen fire billows smoke against the pinkish dusk. There’s a woman on a balcony shouting down to an unseen boy. And then there are the film’s two main twin scenes, both involving two mothers scolding the young boy, briefly interrupted by a semi-abstract shot of a village pick-up soccer game.
Given the simplicity of the film’s handful of shots, it is impressive that Mosley has ambitiously attempted to cram so much meaning into them. In the first of the two main scenes, the middle-aged woman from the balcony has lured the boy into her flat for a drink, only to fall into a meandering, stream-of-consciousness monologue that brings her deep into personal anguish over her maternal regrets. The boy is reduced to a surrogate, and the scene moves slowly as the camera stays locked tight on the face of actress Carmen Rodriguez, who plumbs her unexplored grief. When the boy finally escapes and arrives home (late), his real mother gives him a proper scolding for worrying her. Nevertheless, the experience appears to have affected him – perhaps even changed him.
I say perhaps because whether Mosley’s film works or doesn’t work is entirely bound up in whether his slight and suggestive style here resonates with the viewer. Shot in Cuba as part of a filmmaking residency led by Black Forest Cinema and overseen by late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Mosley appears to be internalizing that great director’s penchant for suggestive ambiguity and blending of fiction and documentary effects.
For me, the most evocative aspects of the movie were its color, observational detail, and the chattering of village white noise on the soundtrack, simple details that lend his set piece life and depth. But the narrative components – the fire, the soccer, the pair of mothers – don’t stick as well to the backdrop. The story offers impressionistic brushstrokes of anguish, but it comes on suddenly and with so little context we’re left with little sense of where and how to root the experience of the emotion. We know we have watched something happen, but what, exactly, is never clear. But then, like many of childhood’s most formative experiences, perhaps that is exactly the point.
— Peter Simek
The Beginning And Ending Of Everything | Friday, 7pm
Short films are exciting to catch in theory because they’re so often later designated as the original catalysts for first features or whole careers. Filmmaker Ya’ke Smith’s Dawn, written with his wife, Mikala Gibson, created a different wash of newness: a birth of empathy in the viewer, for people climbing back into their lives after emerging from the prison system. Each person who endures a sentence leaves a whole personal universe that shifts in uncountable ways while they’re away, changing.
Smith knows this because he watched his sister navigate her own transition. At VideoFest in 2014 he showed the film and spoke about his quest to synthesize her experience for audiences who have no idea what it’s like — or to acknowledge those who do know. Now Smith, who later saw Dawn air on HBO, has a web series on the same theme. In The Beginning And Ending Of Everything we meet Angelita, who arrives back to freedom to find her child is missing.
Like in Dawn, Smith seems determined to help viewers grasp the subtler logistical stresses faced by the protagonist — finding a couch on which to crash, the pain of having to ask for a place to sleep as a mother — another storm inside all the while, as she tries to stay sober. The modest, comfy furniture in the shots and the presence of blankets create that thin space between coping and not coping, and the small solace that keeps one afloat.
— Lyndsay Knecht