Jim Haverkamp defines Strange Beauty the same way the Supreme Court defines porn: You know it when you see it.
The second annual Strange Beauty Film Festival at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham features more than 40 short films selected by co-organizers and local filmmakers Haverkamp and his wife Joyce Ventimiglia. Haverkamp, who is also an instructor in the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image at Duke, said they received more than 110 submissions from all over the world. Types of films featured include documentary, experimental, animation and short fiction—all related to the same ineffable theme.
“The films are simpler this year; they revert to the basics as a sort of a rebellion against the digital age,” Haverkamp said. “We saw a lot of simple animation, clay and forms of mixed media.”
This year’s selections are markedly different than last year’s 46 shorts, he added.
Former Durham resident Jason Middleton’s world premiere of “Sound Between Lines: Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra” is one of the most highly anticipated shorts of the festival.
The documentary follows a Durham ensemble improvisational orchestra that relies on hand gestures and minimalist musical experimentalism. Shannon Morrow, founder and artistic director of the Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra, and the musicians communicate signals through body language, ranging from specific commands like an order to the brass section to hold a note to ambiguous suggestions like a recommendation of pointillism. The screening will include a live performance by the orchestra.
Middleton added that his past experience making music videos taught him how to manipulate sound in film.
“I’ve seen how music can serve as a backdrop to the emotion on screen, as well as how moving images can serve as a way to forward the music,” he said. “With this film, I wanted to blend moving images and music, so that they exist on the same level.”
Two additional Durham-based artists—Tom Whiteside, a filmmaker and special-events technician at Duke, and Khristian Weeks, a sound artist and designer—will present “Interviewed,” a collection of 1960 clips on 16mm film.
Shot in Salt Lake City, Utah, the strips contain six seven-minute interviews conducted without obvious purpose or evidence as to who orchestrated them.
Whiteside and Weeks basically left the original archival film intact, inserting only a few minutes of video to give context to the people’s responses.
“What distinguishes this piece is that it shows real people, answering actual questions,” Whiteside said. “It says a lot about how we communicate. The answers these people give are so honest. The strangeness is present, but not [contrived.]”
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Similarly, “Yellow Movie” by Josh Gibson, an instructor and associate director for the Program of the Arts of the Moving Image and the, presents an unaltered view on daily life. The eight-minute film features Gibson’s two-year-old son Kavi doing routine activities, like finger painting, taking a bath and getting dressed.
“From the time my son was born, I began sort of obsessively filming him, making all of these home movies to capture as many moments as possible,” Gibson said. “But somehow everything digital felt very ephemeral. I wanted something tangible to remember things by.”
Gibson then asked his son what kind of movie he wanted to create, to which Kavi replied “a yellow movie.” After Gibson and his wife hand processed the 16mm film, they tinted it yellow and eventually compiled the shots.
Though the shorts are disparate at first glance, Haverkamp recognized the underlying connection.
“I think there’s this emotional core to every film,” Haverkamp. “And that’s what really makes them both strange and beautiful.”
Strange Beauty will run Feb. 17 to 19 at Manbites Dog Theatre in Durham. Tickets are $12 for individual screening blocks and $5 for students. For more information, visit www.strangebeauty.org.