Dallas — When it debuted in 1987, the Dallas VideoFest offered adventurous cinephiles, filmmakers, video artists, students, teachers, and the downright curious a unique blend of local, regional and internationally produced film and video art with an emphasis on new genres, experimental video, documentaries, shorts, feature films, and animation. The content usually encompasses the avant garde, cutting edge, out-of-the-ordinary, and the just plain unusual. This year’s festival—number 27, for those of you keeping score at home—finds the DVF doing what it does best: re-inventing itself.
Or, as the DVF’s founder and director Bart Weiss puts it: “After 26 years we decided to do things differently, but that’s typically what we do.”
This year’s festival (#DVF27), presented by the Video Association of Dallas, is scheduled for October 8-19 and includes 125 screenings spread across five venues. A big emphasis this year will be on community-oriented content. This will include two days of programs at the South Dallas Cultural Center featuring Charles Burnett’s dramatic feature Killer of Sheep, and a Columbus Day screening of the documentary This May Be the Last Time by Sterling Harjo, co-sponsored by the Native American Student Association of the University of Texas at Arlington.
“Since it’s already going to be going over two weekends, rather than not doing anything in the middle of the week or having things at the same theaters, we decided to take the festival to the people and to build out into the community,” says Weiss.
The festival will also present a compilation of pro bono work by Dallas-area producers, titled Doing the Right Thing and featuring work by Mark Birnbaum, Shelley Rojas, Allison Graham, Allex Voss, Deidre Woodard, Shelley Rojas and Christopher Bigbie.
“We do believe in the power of media, and there are people in Dallas who do corporate work who often will do pro bono work,” Weiss adds. “It’s often really beautiful work and it’s also really heart-warming what people have done on their spare time.”
There will also be a large amount of Dallas-themed performing arts-related content, including Christopher Dolder’s Meadows at the Winspear: Rite of Spring, which follows Dutch choreographer Joost Vrouenraets and the Meadows School of the Arts collaboration production of a contemporary version of Igor Starvinsky’s controversial ballet; Fallen Angel II, Mark Whittier’s follow-up to his 2008 documentary about the Bruce Wood Dance Company and the 2010 revival of Wood’s career before his recent death; and an intriguing opening-night repertory screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent-era work The Lodger with live accompaniment by the Dallas Chamber Symphony of a score commissioned from Douglas Pipes, something Weiss had wanted to incorporate into the festival for some time.
“We have never done an event at the Dallas City Performance Hall,” says Weiss, “and I would add that this is truly live cinema. The level of musicianship that you’re going to hear rises to the beauty of the film, and the film itself is just amazing. It’s one of those moments when you’re happy to live in Dallas and to have a beautiful space to see it in.”
Another significant change involves organizing the content to make it more accessible. Rather than large blocks of programming competing against each other for your attention, this year’s festival will consist of smaller clusters of content to make it easier for a viewer to catch more of what he or she is interested in.
“For a long time we’ve been running as many as four programs at any one given time during the festival, and as somebody who goes to lots of festivals…there’s always a high level of anxiety when you’re sitting in a room saying ‘Is this the place to be or is there something a lot better next door?’,” explains Weiss.
This streamlining also resulted in fewer short programs this year, with approximately 90 percent of the regularly featured experimental work for a new event called the Dallas Medianale, scheduled for January at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary.
“My thinking was that the experimental work didn’t get paid attention to,” explains Weiss. “I wanted make sure we honored [the material] and that it wouldn’t get lost in the mix. It’s going to have some nice surprises.”
Weiss added that there are more feature-length documentaries than in the past, including many tied into current issues, such as 1971, an examination of the burglary of an FBI field office that exposed the Bureau’s domestic spying program; and Killing the Messenger: The Deadly Cost of News, a look at the kidnappings, violence, and intimidation experienced by journalists around the world.
“The world is not a very nice place right now. There’s a lot of really difficult things going on, and independent filmmakers have a way of telling us things that transcend what TV news, newspapers, and magazines can do. I think that it helps us sort of place some of this into perspective.”
Though there are a lot of changes this year there are still plenty of returning favorites, including such perennially popular programs as the Texas Show compilation of short video works from across the state; the London International Advertising Awards, which prove that commercials can actually be an art form; and the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival highlights compilation.
Also back is Expanded Cinema, an event added in 2012 that has quickly become a popular recurring feature. It will utilize the facade of the Omni Dallas Hotel, as a giant projection screen—effectively making it the hotel the largest movie screen In the Southwest—for a compilation of video art titled Mirage, curated by Jenny Vogel, Assistant Professor of New Media Art at UNT.
“Jenny has gathered a group of New Yorkers and Texans to create original work. We’re really very excited. I’ve seen the first run-through of it and it’s really quite beautiful," Weiss adds.
The festival’s main event, the semi-regular Kovacs Award presentation, will be presented this year as well. Established in 1997 and named after TV comedy pioneer Ernie Kovacs, the award presented to artists who push the creative boundaries of television and comedy as an art form. Past recipients have included Joel Hodgson (Mystery Science Theater 3000), Terry Gilliam (Monty Python’s Flying Circus), and Texas’ own Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill); this year’s honoree is actor/broadcaster Harry Shearer of The Simpsons and This is Spinal Tap fame.
“We’re just really excited to have him here,” Weiss says. “Harry Shearer is a media Renaissance man.”
It’s a wide-ranging mix of programming that is just esoteric enough to arouse curiosity without scaring away casual festival-goers—just the sort of thing the festival has specialized in for nearly 30 years. Still, Weiss doesn’t feel the DVF is playing it safe.
“I really believe that we have to try something we’ve never done before, and if it’s not possible for us to fail then it’s not worth doing,” he suggests. “We feel the need to put ourselves in a place that is uncomfortable, and I think that’s the way we grow.”
» TheaterJones is a media sponsor and will be covering the festival, with interviews, features and reviews. Stay tuned to this special section to keep up with the event. To see info on venues, pricing and the films, see our festival schedule here.