The Hi lo Fest By Tom Fitzgerald. Braving bone-chilling winds and chattering hopheads, I headed down to the mean streets of La Mission district for the fourth annual Hi/lo Film Festival...

Braving bone-chilling winds and chattering hopheads, I headed down to the mean streets of La Mission district for the fourth annual Hi/lo Film Festival. Presented by the San Francisco comedy troupe Killing My Lobster as a venue for “high concept/low budget films for the adventurous and disenchanted” the fest returned for its second year to the Victoria Theater, a renovated Barbary Coast-era burlesque house. The twenty shorts screened were a real mixed bag ranging from solemn character studies to throwaway goofs.

Jeff Gove’s DV documentary Monster Business gives us a much appreciated behind the scenes peek at the ultimate in white trash entertainment....The Monster Truck Show! We follow sad sack driver/mechanic Jeff Bainer (aka Captain America) on tour competing with (and often losing to) his nemesis Bigfoot, the original anabolic four-wheeler. These five-second “races” are pretty anti-climactic. Two mutated rigs jump over some jalopies and whoever makes it over first wins. I guess you have to be there, smelling the diesel exhaust and feeling your fillings loosen from the gratuitous engine revving. But life on the road isn’t all grease and glamour. After signing autographs for the mulleted masses, the Captain winds up alone, holed up in some roadside roach motel. He was married for a time to a fellow fat wheel jockey as seen in a side splitting his-and-hers monster trucks-in-midair snapshot. Even though Gove’s covering a phenomenon focused entirely on pickups tricked-out with absurdly oversized tires, he treats Bainer and his world more or less with respect. Rock on.

Looking like a spectator sport straight out of THX 1138, Paul Harrison and John Wood’s shot-on-video no-budgeter Three Legged was a real crowd pleaser. The formula’s simple: bind two clumsy limeys together at the leg, aim a tennis ball cannon pointblank at ’em and voila! Instant big laughs and three minutes of gripping suspense! They manage to mostly dodge the machines shifting trajectory, but there are a few direct hits. Ouch! Harrison and Wood might want to consider Three Legged: The Video Game. I’d play it.

Hailing from the underexposed film scene in Venezuela, Diego Velasco’s slick 35mm featurette ID Citizen takes us on a tour through red tape hell, south of the border style. Think a visit to your local DMV is a pain in the ass? Check out the maze of grifters, con artists and bribe-hungry paper pushers that is Venezuelan bureaucracy. A long-haired teen needs an ID to avoid military duty and the deadline to get one is today! So, he’s up before dawn to beat the long lines but, uh oh, the ID machine just broke. Off to the only other government office. Oops! He’s is the wrong line. Damn! The clerk’s going on break. Fuck! The administrator’s leaving early. “You need an original copy of this, a notarized copy of that” and so on. So fast paced and polished I wouldn’t be surprised if tinseltown comes knocking on Velasco’s door.

Closing both evenings programs on a high note, Bryan Boyce’s channel-surfer social satires raised the roof of the ol’ Victoria. Special Report reveals the secret nefarious plots of vapid talking heads like Katie Couric and Connie Chung by replacing their news-speak with hyperbolic “world domination” rants from sci-fi camp classics like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Frankenstein Vs The Space Monster. Too cool! I’ll never look at Stone Philips the same way again. In Election Collectibles he appropriates footage from Al Gore and George Dubya speeches overdubbing their canned scripts with the crass hawking of two Home Shopping Network sports memorabilia blowhards. As they try to sucker us into buying their hot new item “Campaign 2000,” the candidates’ mannered gestures mesh perfectly with the obnoxious, monotonous paid programming mantras. Boyce deftly mixes these elements for maximum laugh-out-loud effect. Fuckin’ hilarious!

I was pleasantly surprised that, although the fest was assembled by a comedy team, there were a few downbeat efforts, the best being local boy Daniel Cavey’s 16mm Dear XXX. A reclusive loner has decided to completely cut himself off from rest of the world by indefinitely hibernating inside his suburban domicile, his huge record collection being his only outlet for emotional release and human connection. But lately even his own once-cozy setting is becoming a suffocating dead end. Could a head first retreat into the oven be far behind?

Tom Hodgson’s handsomely-lensed 35mm short The Red Scorpion basks in its own gloriously loopy mythology somehow involving a sea-faring spaceman, Bill Gates, and the end of the world.

In Island to Island Soopum Soh uses some of cinema’s simplest special effects to abstract the mundane ritual of commuting, in this case, taking the Staten Island Ferry, first by speeding up the boarding process so that passengers resemble anxious little insects. Then during the ride, Sohn slows things way down as bleary-eyed commuters stare vacantly at the camera.

The purest example of experimentation had to be 4 Vertigo. Les Leveque speeds up Hitchcock’s classic at a breakneck pace condensing the entire film into a dizzying nine-minutes. To further abstract, he has arranged the thriller’s frame into symmetrical mirror images both horizontally and vertically creating a kaleidoscopic four-petal flower pattern. Adding to the hypnotic effect, a few seconds of Bernstein’s soundtrack is looped and electronically treated. It’s either mind-altering or headache-inducing depending on your mood.

In the duds department, Michael Kennedy’s Survival of the Illest spoofs the increasing tiresome topic, hopeless homeboy wannabes. Poised at the Brooklyn Bridge some white bread honky proclaims he’s “The Man” or some such while spazzing and squirming in an attempt to breakdance. Ho hum. The Bureau of Inverse Technology’s Bit Plane is a tedious, unengaging eyesore. Its conceived as a series of test footage taken by a high tech military spy plane aimlessly hovering above the dot com ghettos of Silicon Valley. Occasionally, obtuse text pops up adding nothing but more boredom to this high concept clunker. Next! Jeremy Solterbeck’s Moving Illustration of Machines, the fest’s only major animation piece, exhibits a black and white environment of mechanisms sluggishly transforming each other. Yawn. Not much to say about Molly Lynch’s Dreamtime. At least it reminded me why I hate art school so much.

All in all a solid program, meeting and exceeding my expectations. It was refreshing to me that the yuppie body snatchers haven’t completely taken over Emerald City-by-the Bay. When the houselights finally went up, I scanned over the crowd. One audience stood out among the sea of thick-framed glasses and thrift store chic. Looking like a middle-aged truck stop waitress, she was passed-out drunk with her hands tucked into her bosom. Was she a Captain America groupie? Was she an “adventurous and disenchanted” fan of postmodern indie cinema? I’ll never know.

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