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By Allen White | February 14, 2000

With a plethora of festivals from which to choose in San Francisco, I often marvel at how people can still come up with a film event different enough to compete in this saturated market. Although the SF film audience is one of the most appreciative and film-knowledgeable in the world, their incurable hipness makes them somewhat jaded. God, how tiring it must be to be so cool all the time.
The Brainwash Movie Festival does not fill an original niche, that of the short film program, but it is currently one of the more durable, semi-annual film events in the Bay Area. Most would-be short-film festivals don’t last, and eventually disappear to the mists of time. Brainwash has proven to be quite long-lasting, and this is for several reasons. Firstly, the festival is connected with and run by a member of the Laughing Squid cabal, the mysterious Shelby Toland. The Squid are a loosely-knit gang of party-goers, pranksters, and culture-shockers, whose membership overlaps that of the notorious Cacophony Society, and whose legions could always be found at such events as Burning Man (which, in case you haven’t heard, is officially no longer cool, as this last year’s crowd was as ugly as a Fort Lauderdale spring break).
In addition, Brainwash is typically held at the Werepad, a film and performance space that is home to trash-film and neglected-culture connoisseurs, and has a groovy retro-hip atmosphere conducive to such events. The result of these two factors is that the festival has strong connections to the SF art and film scene.
24 short films will be screened, each no longer than 13 minutes (according to the festival’s rules). These works represent a range of ideas, and certainly, of quality. The built-in pitfall of attending short-film programs is being subjected to the awkward experimentation and obvious stylistic theft of film students, and such films should rarely be forced upon paying public. Short film is typically about the presentation of a single good idea. If the idea sucks, all the talent in the world isn’t going to save you, because unlike with longer works you only have one chance to redeem yourself. Good intentions don’t always make for great entertainment. On the plus side, these festivals are a way to support the local arts community. Though Brainwash solicits from around the country, a third of the festival’s current works are local. This gives audiences a unique chance to peel back the surface of Bay Area filmmaking, and see the raw, unpolished clay beneath. And as the filmmakers often attend, you get unique access to the creators of these works. If you want to be a filmmaker, connect with other filmmakers as a way to get involved, or just hang out with them to feel smugly cool, then this is the place to hook up with the local scene.
The name of the indispensable filmmakers’ center, the SF-based Film Arts Foundation, often appears in the credits of these films; included in the program is a short, “I, Sock Monkey,” by SF’s own super-8 superstar Danny Plotnick, who also happens to be an FAF instructor. Notable pieces in the program are:

SLEEPLESS MOVIE: An intelligent, intriguing “poetry film” that conveys its message through onscreen text, but expands its experimental exploration of text with image and sound. Its style is an excellent representative of the broken/distorted aesthetic that has prevailed for the last several years (think Nine Inch Nails videos), and its industrial noise soundtrack mirrors the grimy imagery.

PSYCHO LEGOS: A parody/homage which does Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot recreation of PSYCHO one better, by exactly replicating the famous “shower scene” with computer animated Lego characters.

DUNDERBECK’S MACHINE: A wacked-out, nutball piece of animation, which was seemingly inspired by an old children’s schoolyard rhyme. It concerns the manufacture of sausages from such ingredients as dogs, cats, and inevitably, people, but is far too looney-tune to ever go for gross-out. A twisted, bargain-basement audio track accompanies the film with a set of unique sound effects. Funny and disturbing at the same time.

SEX LIFE OF A CHAIR: A Bill Plympton-esque piece of animation which details the mating and procreation rituals of household furniture.

The Brainwash Movie Festival runs February 18th and 19th at the Werepad in San Francisco (with an award presentation after the show on the 19th) and also shows on February the 20th at Tuva in Berkeley. Details and tickets are available online at:

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