At FLEX, lower your avant-garde and experiment

The Florida Experimental Film/Video Festival is new to Tampa. You won’t find this material at the multiplex.
MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE   |   Times (2018)
Florida’s festival for avant-garde, experimental and underground cinema, FLEX, runs through Sunday, mostly on the University of Tampa campus. Thursday’s Shorts 4 program is co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and features shorts that are mostly of a LGBTQ sensibility.
MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2018) Florida’s festival for avant-garde, experimental and underground cinema, FLEX, runs through Sunday, mostly on the University of Tampa campus. Thursday’s Shorts 4 program is co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and features shorts that are mostly of a LGBTQ sensibility.
Published February 7

The good news: Tampa has another film festival, and LGBTQ filmmakers and stories are well-represented in it.

FLEX, the Florida Experimental Film/Video Festival, is new to Tampa after calling Gainesville its home from 2004 to 2015.

The less-good news: The works FLEX screens, through Sunday at various locations, will appeal to a relatively small number, even of avid moviegoers. Words like “experimental,” “underground” and “avant-garde” tend to scare people off, some because they’ve seen examples they didn’t like, but many just because the terms sound scary or pretentious.

FLEX screenings are free, so you can afford to check it out and see whether you’re bored, confused or delighted. And since the pieces are short — a couple run just over 30 minutes, most under 15 — you won’t suffer long before moving on to something else.

I confess to being among those averse to much experimental filmmaking. I, sometimes, wish I were on the same drug the filmmaker must have taken so I could appreciate it. Rarely do I find something artistic in the overuse of multiple exposures, non-focus, negative color, potentially seizure-inducing flashing lights, stream-of-unconsciousness narration and other devices common to the avant-garde.

Yet, occasionally, I’ll see a point to odd juxtaposition or appreciate the way found footage is used. Several films I previewed for this festival shared a (coincidental?) theme of ‘80s nostalgia I enjoyed. Jet Boy Jet Girl by the Damned has been my earworm since hearing it in Fifth Metacarpal.

The Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival co-sponsors the Shorts 4 program at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. It features nine shorts, mostly of an LGBTQ sensibility, but oddly starts with Kristin Reeves’ Music of Desire, in which a heterosexual couple demonstrates how to pleasure each other against a soundtrack that might come from a half-century-old sex ed video. Distorted images illustrate a concept common to several of these films: “If you can’t tell what you’re looking at, it ain’t porn.”

Never Never Land by Michael Fleming of the Netherlands is about pursuing physical perfection. It combines old commercial images with graphic footage of cosmetic surgery and, for some reason, carpentry.

Storm by Aditya Dawar of India is a brief montage of male mud wrestlers, wrestling and resting, with copious closeups of crotches and butts; it’s a refreshing break from the subtlety or complexity of other films.

In Fifth Metacarpal, Canada’s Scott Fitzpatrick details how he broke his hand, shows it being bound, and almost incidentally mentions his first gay sexual experience.

Fellow Canadian Wrik Mead’s Outcognito follows homophobic comments with brief excerpts from coming-out stories behind a mix of live and animated visuals.

In The Eddies, trans filmmaker Madsen Minax shows too much of Memphis and too little of themself. Of the title characters, apparently recruited via Craigslist, Eddie No. 1 talks about flooding in Memphis and watches war movies. Eddie No. 2 offers the program’s most graphic images. Minax makes it two Eddies and a Freddie by adding an unrelated Queen video.

Pressed by Kimberly Forero-Arnias features crude, vague animation of a man exploring his body. In Becoming, Ariel Teal keeps introducing a story she never tells, mostly about sex with men.

Meanwhile, Strangely Ordinary This Devotion by Dani Leventhal is the main lesbian attraction. You may prefer the clips from Prince’s Purple Rain and Chantal Akerman’s Je Tu Il Elle to original footage of rocks and water, sometimes showing an apparent lesbian couple and the girl they’re raising.

Warren Cockerham of FLEX also recommended some of the the Shorts 5 package at 6 p.m. Friday. Jimmy Schaus’ My Daddy Was a Gunman is a pointless but brief montage of clips from old Western movies. Alex Hovet’s Counter-Charge revives an adult videogame from the late ‘80s with a gender-bending twist to the hetero hero’s pursuit of women. Onward Lossless Follows by Michael Robinson buries the love story of a teenage girl and a middle-aged woman under a narration that pooh-poohs astrology while contrasting a drought in Southern California with the discovery of possible water on Venus.

Like it or not, you won’t find this material at the multiplex.

— thinhead@mindspring.com

FLEX

Florida’s festival for avant-garde, experimental and underground cinema runs through Sunday. All events are free and open to the public. The festival mostly takes place on the University of Tampa campus.

• Shorts 4 program at 8:30 p.m. Thursday is co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. UT professor Santiago Echeverry will lead the post-show Q&A.

For the full schedule, visit flexfest.org.

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