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By Rory L. Aronsky | April 13, 2005

To San Francisco’s Red Vic Movie House and Oakland’s Parkway Theatre they will come. Together, they will see what I have seen. And I wish I was one of them. This year, the 8th Annual Hi/Lo Film Festival has a program that stretches across all emotions. There’s a fat guy in Gainesville, Florida who collects animal parts and makes things out of them. Disturbing. Another creative mind dissects his life through a series of drawings that are still in progress as they are seen. His life is our lives. Bigfoot gets down and funky in a man’s a*s. Crazy. However, this is only a sample of what’s to be had this year, which makes me all the more envious. But trust me. Next time San Francisco approaches my horizon, it’s gotta be when these types of films are unspooling. The Hi/Lo Film Festival stands for high concepts and low budgets. The minds of many collect themselves into one, and in turn, here are my takes of some of the short films in store for unsuspecting audiences.
Secret Santa ^ Directed by Alan Harris ^ F**k Secret Santa already. You wanna give gifts at the office? Give them to me where I’m standing. This whole secrecy business, buying gifts that are no more needed than an extra hole in my butt, is complete bunk. There’s enough guessing by way of relatives giving gifts as to whether it will be something worthwhile or a big honking gift that sucks the life out of the holiday as well as three holidays after. There’s a fellow in here trying to figure out how to tell if a tree is a Douglas fir and is encountered by an angry, wacky son of a bitch who’s completely ticked that he even thought of giving gifts to his wife, until our quick-to-explain hero lays out the Secret Santa concept. In this world, novelty socks are considered perverse. But it’s fun!

Found Artists: Gary Crom ^ Directed by Curtis Craven ^ Might as well meet Gary Crom now because if he’s ever on the street, hide your valuable pets. To him, art comes from all parts of the animal world, as well as himself. There’s a sword made out of the bill of a swordfish, a desk from a tree, and a penis and one ball made from healthy wood and diseased wood, respectively. Like it so far? Take a gander at his skeletal rat still in the trap. He’s trapped a lot of animals and while he’s not likely to trap too many hearts, he exemplifies the documentary form with the help of Curtis Craven, by showing that documentaries are about rooting out what’s hidden from our eyes. It’s unsettling, but I wouldn’t ask for anything less.

Candy Girl ^ Directed by Charles Roxburgh ^ Space is so irresistible, so fun, so…….spacey. There’s so much room out there, for James Cameron’s ego, a couple of deadly creatures, and this girl. It’s all shades of red in her world, which puts her in a fun form of space travel, blasting across the universe to buy her dog a bone while the mutt tears up everything back at the ranch. The 16mm work makes it even more charming, especially in those moments of blast-off and rocket riding.

Tales of Mere Existence ^ Created by Lev ^ Life through the drawings and deadpan words of Lev is a life better lived. With the drawings in constant continuation as they’re onscreen, he profiles what makes him h***y, procrastinates, and attempts to devise a strategy to meet good-looking girls that isn’t smashed by Richard on the other cash register who seems to get all the chicks. He demonstrates that even simple language can get the point through just as much as grandiose statements in life. And it’s deeper with him because he is on our level, walking the streets and thinking about what we think about. Sex. People we can’t stand. Work we don’t want to do. He’s the best at it in drawn form.

Petunia ^ Directed by Aaron Hughes ^ One of these festivals cannot exist without a minute hint of existentialism, such as in this animation which has a bit of Plympton, and a whole lot of thought. Here, an old man seemingly in the throes of retirement takes divine pleasure in the flower that always sprouts up and he runs through the field and floats with it, until it withers and dies. Then it’s sadness until a new flower rises and the cycle continues. That is, until he dies. And then it’s a different beginning. “Petunia” has its own impact here. It’s not quite as present as the other shorts, but it leaves a bug in the ear, more to think about long after it’s finished.

Broadcast 23 ^ Directed by Tom Putnam ^ Being raped by Bigfoot is no laughing matter, except when it’s not you. Then have a couple of screams, gasps, and some more guffaws. Here, an intrepid, wide-eyed explorer is out in the forest again on Valentine’s Day, despite the objections of his girlfriend, hunting for the beast that knows no mercy and loves a Crisco-greased hole. Poor, poor bastard. Years of intensive therapy won’t help his problems. Remember that if Bigfoot fucks in the forest, no one can hear the noise because it’s sitting right on top of that man who will never be an actual man again. Tom Putnam’s got a sick mind, but he’s all the better for it.

Rotation ^ Directed by Erin Hudson ^ At the Four Flags Farm, the technology of the masses is slowly encroaching upon what used to be a patch of home. Wind is being farmed in these areas for energy but at every turn, even with the reserved optimism of the woman here, those things are all around. Why bother a couple that has spent 35-40 years keeping their land the way they see fit because of the heritage? Because we wouldn’t be a******s otherwise. Apparently, in our world, you ain’t no kind of man until you can market some land, even when someone’s already there. For these two, their years should count for something.

Spam-ku: I won a haiku contest about spam ^ Directed by Steven Tsuchida ^ The losers in this world are an at once unusual breed. Hopeful yet hopeless and useless optimism clouds their minds and they believe that everything of importance that they want in their world will come to them. This guy is just out there. Really out there. He’s won a haiku contest in writing about Spam and the prize is a lifetime’s supply of Spam. Spam, the luncheon meat that never seems to go out of style even when it deserves a swift goodbye kick in the rear, is his excitement. The performance of the Spam obsessive is very low-key, making it even a little darker. This looks to be as far as this guy will get with his life and that’s no great loss. More out there for everyone else. The Spam-ku is admittedly a lot of fun.

The Hi/Lo Film Festival has its great ideas in place. It provides a sampling of works from all around the country and hopefully more features in the near future. For now, there is an eclectic selection here that personifies what being different is. And it’s worth it.

The Hi/Lo Film Festival goes down April 14-17 in San Francisco and Oakland. For more info, check out the festival website.

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