A sign of festival bounty or contemporary shortfall, Migrating Forms (May 11-20 at Anthology Film Archives), New York’s annual recap of what used to be called “the avant-garde,” and now might better be called “lo-fi cinema,” offers about a third of its programming to rep considerations: 35mm prints of Chuck Jones shorts, Fritz Lang’s Indian diptych, Adachi and Wakamatsu’s Red Army, and a 16mm, fade-resistant copy of Raúl Ruiz’s On Top of a Whale. Nothing better! With zero competition, Migrating Forms is probably the city’s best film festival; in opposition to the usual form of festival gloat, Migrating Forms’ 31 programs over 10 days seem less dedicated to the dubious hagiography of surveying every vein of avant-garde, than featuring its programmers’ own, divergent interests.
Modesty’s a good question for a YouTube era of art, but films made by friends and for friends, screened by friends and for friends, at least seem the product of specialized networking that’s probably the only viable future for making and distributing work. If right now there’s a lack of figures of central importance, it’s probably because it’s probably a given that central importance is not something any moviemaker could admirably attain. So instead there are smaller pleasures, almost none of which I’ve seen; given the inevitable ass-pulling and hopelessness of A-G shorts to brook consumer reports, it would probably be as well to speculate on all the stuff I’ve yet to see.
There is Daniel Schmidt and Garbiel Abrantes’s Palácios de Pena, a kind of soft-spoken Corman fable, and their grizzly take on Portuguese imperialism in the strange wraiths of teenage girls. There is Ben Rivers’ Slow Action, a film that runs with the otherworldly fetishism of ethnographic docs to posit every captured sight as a beautiful, dubious speculation of science-fiction. And there is Laida Lertxundi’s A Lax Riddle Unit, seemingly another handheld documentary of Lertxundi’s weird, off-suburban zone, where sights seem preconceived with 60s R&B playing in some disjointed netherworld out of time; Lertxundi’s only way to mark time’s passing is to cut to variants off her sites, days earlier or later, when the song and light have changed. The world, in a set groove but zero momentum, plays as some sort of cover of itself.
The highlight for me, critically and otherwise, is automatically Traveling Light, an-hour long record of a day’s train ride by my friend and long-time movie sparring partner, Gina Telaroli. A narrative abandoned twice—first when the cast and crew were halted by a snowstorm halfway through their journey and forced to split; later when GT eschewed all narratives at the editing table to figure only their traces—Traveling Light plays as erstwhile fiction and erstwhile documentary, a travelogue of nothing more than the conditions of it’s making. Deceptively simple, a kind of found piece of concrete dialogue between track sounds and a dwindling light that halfway through turns the movie from half-representational to half-abstract, it’s one of the only recent films, narrative, avant-garde, or otherwise, that seems to have sacrificed itself to its subjects to determine its course.
For a couple weeks, GT and I carried on an email exchange about whatever we wanted, and I let her edit it, with usual scrupulousness, however she pleased. A former inner-city basketball coach, GT’s turn to movies in the past few years seems both a product and response to new possibilities for digital profusion: works seem to emerge on their own timetable, assembled as a critical response to their own subjects and materials. Within these few weeks, her first two features will each have festival premieres—A Little Death at the Berkshire Film Festival, Traveling Light at Migrating Forms—alongside publications of a new series at MUBI, Amuse-Gueule, a piece in Kent Jones’s anthology on Olivier Assayas, and maybe most significantly of all, her piece on Jerry Lewis in an image montage that seems a form of her own invention. Just sampling.