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TFMS Film Series showcases alternative animation

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

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A still image from the animated work of Karen Aqua, who will screen her films during the fourth annual Theater, Film and Media Studies Film Series' opening night, Feb. 14.

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A still image from an animated film by James Duesing, who will screen and discuss his films at St. Mary's College of Maryland on Feb. 21. The final event will feature animated filmmaker Lewis Klahr.

St. Mary's College of Maryland's first TFMS Film Series focused on experimental documentaries.

Year two, which introduced filmmakers and media artists incorporating home videos in their work, also introduced the concept of "orphan films," while last year's showcase of three environmental issues-steeped documentaries took viewers along for as many interesting journeys: a Yangtze River-eyed view of China, stomach-turning tours of food factories, turf wars inside a 14-acre community garden in Los Angeles.

Year No. 4 brings us to the genre of alternative animation, a genre the series will not only shed light on, but perhaps clarify and define.

The three featured animators — Karen Aqua, James Duesing and Lewis Klahr, in order of their appearances at the college — use vastly different techniques.

Klahr's "Wednesday Morning Two A.M.," his most recent piece, is captured at times with feature film-like sharpness. The sources of his imagery and animation, on the other hand, are cutouts and collages — objects and people, real or unreal and often as nostalgic as the music, which recalls more traditional cinema.

The 2009 work earned Klahr, who teaches film, video and animation at the California Institute of the Arts, a Tiger Award for Best Short Film at the 2010 International Film Festival in the Netherlands. At the TFMS Film Series he will screen his "Prolix Satori," seven recent films (one a trilogy) that measure out to 78 minutes.

Duesing's creations are rendered digitally. The six films he will screen span 26 years of output, from 1983's "Impetigo" to 2009's 15-minute piece about misfit computer hackers, "End of Code." His "Tender Bodies," from 2003, presents otherworldly figures pursuing base impulses in a sort of alien, post-industrial, violent video game world. As is common with alternative animation productions, there is no clear narration or communication. It's all ready for your interpretation.

On Monday, Aqua, a true master of her craft, will be the first of the aforementioned animators to visit SMCM's Theater, Film and Media Studies Department for a screening and discussion of her short, alternative and animated films.

Aqua has been making animated films since 1976, when she graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. The recipient of numerous fellowships, she has independently produced 11 animated films and has taught animation at Boston and Emerson colleges and workshops all over the country. Her short films have screened at film festival overseas and even on "Sesame Street," the children's television program, in 22 segments.

Meanwhile, a description provided by SMCM by way of Animation Magazine aptly describes her hypnotic, highly interactive films: Aqua, it reads, "has … a dancer's sense of movement and a musician's sense of rhythm."

Her newest film, 2009's award-winning "Twist of Fate," which was screened at Telluride Film Festival and at many other venues, will be among nine of her works shown Monday. The selection will begin with 1980's three-minute "Heavenly Brothers," an astronomical love story with music by the Handsome Brothers.

Much of Aqua's work expresses her interest in prehistoric or tribal lifestyles; often, as in "Ground Zero/Sacred Ground," in which ancient figures drawn in chalk come to life, an existence in harmony with nature is juxtaposed with one wreaking havoc on it.

Aqua, in turn, works with what come across as, for an animator, fairly natural tools: mostly pastels. Human creation, in general, is a common theme for Aqua. And in "Perpetual Motion," which explores the human idea of time, from symbols in caves to boxes in a calendar, no image stands out quite like the Ouroboros … the snake eating its own tail.

"Twist of Fate," though, moves away from the psyche and goes deep inside a body wrestling with disease, as it reacts to medicine prescribed by the people who actually understand something about the imagined processes that flash and pulsate before our eyes: rivers of colors shape-shifting like brain patterns as we take it all in.

The fourth annual Theater, Film and Media Studies Film Series will kick off at 8:15 p.m. Feb. 14 and continue on two consecutive Monday evenings in St. Mary's College of Maryland's Cole Cinema. The public events are free. Each will include a screening of animated works followed by a discussion with the filmmaker. The college is in St. Mary's City.

Twitter: @dicksonmercer

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