By Gordon K. Smith
The September 10th Roundtables were devoted to Experimental Video and Video Artists who are marking the 25th anniversary of the Dallas Video Festival with some startling combinations of video, art, and live performance. In attendance were VideoFest Artistic Director/DFW Video Guru Bart Weiss; Video Art Programmer Mike Morris, who teaches at University of North Texas, SMU and Richland College; and Video Artist/Dancer Danielle Georgiou, who teaches at Eastfield College and UT Artlington.
Weiss started off with a description of the opening night video art events. “There’ll be three distinct areas of emphasis. Opening night, Thursday, September 27, there’s the live performance that Mike and Danielle have been putting together, happening in the Fleischner courtyard, while everything else is going on. Second is our Expanded Cinema, night before the festival opens, the 26th. There’s fourteen great artists doing original work for the wall of the Omni Hotel. You can see video art on your computer, but you have no idea what it really looks like until you see it on a wall. The soundtrack will be played on KXT that night, which will be really awesome. The third part is a little broader. We try to show all ways video art has been made – classic TV, contemporary TV, documentaries, drama and video art. You just approach it the same way you would sculpture or painting. If you watch video art with the same standards you bring to a “Seinfeld” episode, you’ll find it annoying and aggravating. But, if you have some patience with it, then the subtleties of the work become profound. Six different compilations are put into thematic perspectives (“Famous People”, “Incidental Odysseys”, et.al.) for the Fest. Buy a whole day pass, if what you’re watching is not your cup of tea, just go next door and give something else a chance…we’ve got an incredible selection of pieces this year.”
“This is the third Video Festival I’ve worked with,” said Morris. “This year, I was asked to program experimental video. Great, that’s what I do as an experimental video filmmaker and I teach that. It differs from what gets shown at other festivals because there’s no chance of commerce coming from this work, that’s not the goal. These are very important works, shown internationally at places like The Whitney, Rotterdam and Venice. Artists like Michael Robinson, Jim Cohen, Lori Felker. We’re lucky to have Video Association of Dallas to exhibit them.”
On the opening night of the Festival in the Fleischner Courtyard of the Dallas Museum of Art, Morris and Georgiou will be part of “Iterations”, an evening of “expanded cinema,” combining live performance with cinematic, televisual and digital image transmission. “It’s an evening of film and video performances, based around formal ideas of repetition and generations of technologies for making moving images”, Morris says. “Danielle will be performing a piece that combines live dance with 16mm projection. An artist from Houston named Kyle Evans will be doing an AV performance with a cathode ray monitor. Another local artist, Andrew Blanton, has written custom software that produces projections based on sound. It’s a complex set of technologies.”
Georgiou described her unique concept. “It’s based on how interactive video can be. The audience in the courtyard can interact. It’s an immersive environment instead of just theatre…as a digital performance artist, I make video art and performance art combined, and I also teach it and have my own dance company. I’ll be bringing myself and also some dancers from my company. I’m also screening my own work during the experimental video block (“Danseuse Priv”e”) on Saturday night…I always wondered what it would be like to dance with myself, so I made it possible, and it’s weird but cool. In the video that’s part of the block, I dance in layers in top of each other. In the (Thursday) installation, I’m dancing live with the screen behind me. That’s something new. I’ll be improvising around the people. You never have the same performance twice in a row.”
“Our third collaborator in the piece is Julie McKendrick of Denton, a sound video artist who’ll produce live sound,” Morris added. “It’s still a work in progress, but we’re very excited by it.”
Some other events not to miss, according to Weiss:
“We’re bringing in Gene Youngblood, author of Expanded Cinema, the major book about the experimental film world. He’s been staying in touch with the world as it’s been expanding, and will be giving a lecture on Sunday. And I would consider MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (groundbreaking 1929 Russian silent) part of the experimental video. It’s showing Friday with with a live score by Voices of Change. And SIDE BY SIDE, a documentary comparing film and video, hosted and produced by Keanu Reeves, with interviews with directors like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and David Fincher…a constant subject for the last 25 years, and this brings it all together.”
For the second roundtable discussion that afternoon, Bart was joined by Dallas animator Keith Alcorn, who made local history in 2002 when he was nominated for an Animated Feature Oscar for JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS, which he produced with partner John A. Davis at their production company DNA. Alcorn’s NANNA’S FUN CHEST series of rude-and-crude animated shorts have long been a staple of the festival, and will get their due in a special anniversary compilation to be shown during the fest. They talked about the Stop-Motion Animation Workshop, a co-production of the Dallas Museum of Art, which is a two-hour animation workshop for children.
“John was a former student of mine, and Keith graduated from UT Arlington, where I teach,” Weiss began. “We’ve been showing the work of Keith and DNA as long as we’ve been doing the festival. His series of NANNA AND PUSS-PUSS – if you haven’t seen it, I call it fart jokes with a grandma and a cat. An amazing contributor to our community – DNA went from a company of three to 250, and they kept the work in Dallas. The current incarnation of NANNA is part of the program, and Keith also did the PSA’s running on CH.5 now. We used to do these workshops for kids during the fest to teach kids how to make work and media literacy…so we brought that back for Saturday. To have Keith around to inspire them is really great. We once showed a sizzle reel he did as part of The Texas Show one year – “
“Back when Jimmy Neutron was called Johnny Quazar,” Alcorn continued. “We did everything in-house because we couldn’t afford anything. I got my ten-year-old nephew to do the voice of Johnny, and we pitched it to Nickelodeon. They wanted to do a franchise…at the same time we were working on the Saturday morning kid show “Weird Al”, and we had a band called “Sex Change Cop”. One of our songs turns up in THE ANT BULLY (2006, their second feature). My nephew is now the voice of Puss-Puss.”
Bart remembered a favorite animated opening that DNA did for a past Fest. “One year they did one of our favorite intros, which famously combined King Kong and Big Tex.”
“It was our first attempt at 3D – we’d always been a 2-D animation house, since we started in 1987”, Alcorn recalled. “We called him King Tex at the time, because the State Fair wouldn’t let us call him Big Tex. Apparently it was ok for it to look like Big Tex though. He terrorized Dallas, climbed up on the Bank of America building and swatted helicopters.”
He recalled their company’s struggling early days. “When John and I started DNA, we were making $16 to $18,000 a year – even in 1987, that wasn’t much. This was before the big animation boom (of the ’90s). We started in John’s duplex and we’d say, ‘Wanna give it ’til the end of the week?’ Probably said that ten times the first year. First year or two was touch and go. We hired our first employee in 1990. By the time we got to 250 people, we had to rent theaters to have company meetings. In my wildest dreams I didn’t see that coming…one of our early freelance employees was Mike Judge. MTV had seen some of his work, and wanted to talk to him about doing a series. He almost quit, but we convinced him to keep at it. He had a great idea the right time, and it just exploded. Just follow your passion!”
What were some of his earliest animation influences? “Pretty much taught myself. Did some super-8 animation of things I moved around. Hanna-Barbara, Looney Tunes were all we had back then. I loved Jay Ward (creator of “Bullwinkle and Friends’) and collected Captain Crunch commercials on 16mm to study them frame by frame on a Steenbeck. Tex Avery, Bob Clampitt…I love the tricks they used.”
I asked Keith how it feels to get an Oscar nomination.
“We had it on that morning when they announce the nominees, but everyone was telling me we wouldn’t be nominated – it would be SHREK, MONSTERS INC, and WAKING LIFE. My wife was there getting our son ready for school. They read them in order, so JIMMY NEUTRON was first. You know how you just stare at some things and don’t get it, and say, ‘whaaa???’ My wife started screaming, and my son didn’t know what was going on. The phone started ringing. Our agent and manager called us, good luck, yada yada, thought they hung up, but didn’t – they left this long voice mail on our phone, talking to each other about how we don’t have a chance…we told them later!”
To see KING TEX on Youtube, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQtkGzSxMiY
To see some NANNA AND PUSS-PUSS cartoons, just enter those words in the Search field on Youtube, there’s several there. The NANNA AND PUSS-PUSS compilation shows Friday September 28th at the C3 Theater at 9pm. SIDE BY SIDE plays Sunday, September 30th at 12 noon. For information on the live performances, lectures, workshops and other events of the Dallas VideoFest 25, go to www.videofest.org.