George Melies' "The Conjuror" from 1889. Wow.
ARKANSAS UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL5 p.m., Historic Malco Theater, Hot Springs. $10 per day, $20 for festival pass.
It's almost an embarrassment of riches for local cinephiles. Now, in addition to the Little Rock Film Festival, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Ozark Foothills FilmFest, the Arkansas Shorts Festival, an indie moviehouse in Little Rock where “The Room” screens monthly, we have this weekend's Arkansas Underground Film Festival to geek out over.
The festival is the brainchild of Dan Anderson, a 26-year-old Minnesota transplant who first came to Hot Springs last spring with his traveling experimental film festival, Bearded Child. He liked the town and decided to return to live, first as a respite from the harsh Minnesota winter and later, more permanently, when he was hired at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, where he now serves as technical and interim program director.
A joint production by the HSDFI and the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival, whose organizers have been instrumental in bringing special films to Hot Springs in recent years, the ARKUFF celebrates experimental film that exists — and as Anderson points out, has for years existed — in the margins of popular culture.
“The idea is to give people the history — that this has been going on for 100 years and it's always been underground, but it's always been there,” Anderson said.
To narrow the gap between the margins and the public, Anderson has programmed the inaugural festival largely with retrospectives in mind. He's made a point, too, to pick works from filmmakers with recognizable names, though usually for their work in another medium.
There's a theme each day: “Surrealism” on Friday, “Pop Culture and the Outsider Artist” on Saturday, and “Experimental” on Sunday.
Friday's films include a collection by pioneering 19th century French filmmaker George Melies (6 p.m.), whose special effects reportedly still remain a mystery to filmmakers today; the first film by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali (7 p.m.), and one of the few remaining films from Japanese master Kinugasa Teinosuke (7:15 p.m.).
The bulk of the day on Saturday is devoted to Andy Warhol (2 p.m.), including a documentary on the pop artist and two 16mm films (one stars Edie Segwick) that are on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and unavailable elsewhere. Later, a collection of shorts from the minimalist Fluxus Art Movement plays (6 p.m.). It includes work by the likes of Yoko Ono and John Cale. Two films by William Burroughs (7 p.m.), in which the author tries to mimic the same sort of mixed up consciousness of his prose, follow.
Much of Sunday is devoted to Stan Brakhage (1 p.m.), the godfather of experimental film. The retrospective reaches from his first film, which he made in 1952 at age 19, to his last, which he made in 2003 at 70 and on his deathbed, “clawing and scratching onto a strip a film,” says Anderson. Later, an avant-garde retrospective (5 p.m.) features films from George Kuchar, Jim Henson (pre-“Muppets”) and Joseph Cornell.
“In a lot of ways,” Anderson said. “Arkansas is the last frontier for some of these films.” Better late than never.