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Transmodern Festival 2010: Transmodern Films

April 20, 2010

Nancy Andrews’ “On a Phantomb Limb” | Image by

On the schedule for the 2010 iteration of the Transmodern Festival, the Thursday night activities included an Experimental Film Program. But on the program for the event itself, the same pieces are introduced as the videos.

Not too long ago, this would have been a significant error, particularly in the territorial world of experimental film and video. In the forty-something years film and video have uncomfortably co-existed, filmmakers have tended to exaggerate the materiality of films while video makers have focused on the instability of the moving image and its capacity to capture performance.

The eight pieces in this program embodied the tensions and contradictions that underlay the now concluded long war between analog and digital, film and video, the handmade and the computer-generated. The first few pieces in the program—Jeanne Liotta’s wired “Sutro,” Gregg Biermann’s structuralist remix of scenes from The Sound of Music titled “The Hills Are Alive”—worked better as expectation setters than works in themselves, alerting the viewer to the embrace of the archive and digital composition in the works that would follow.

The program picked up considerably with Martha Colburn’s animation “Myth Labs,” which retells stories of the American frontier, only this time the pilgrims and pioneers are constantly on the verge of becoming meth addicts. While the patchwork cutout figures are too familiar looking, the watercolor-like landscapes calm the piece. Colburn’s animation was followed by another crowd pleaser, Amie Siegel’s “My Way,” a montage of YouTube clips all featuring adolescents singing a song from High School Musical in their bedroom or other domestic space. While the Biermann piece overworks its raw material, Siegel’s piece has a much lighter touch, making it difficult to assess as homage, parody, or simply wry commentary on the copycat bedroom singers.

All of this led up to the centerpiece of the show, Nancy Andrews’ new hybrid work “On a Phantom Limb.” Mixing archival footage, fake archival footage, drawing, images of nature, and animation, the short tells the story of a woman who has a surgery that allows her to become a bird. While the piece is thematically connected to work of Guy Maddin, Andrews’ incorporation of her own body and drawings into the film makes it much more intimate than Maddin’s overwrought films. The whimsical, uplifting final act in “Phantom Limb,” in which the operation is complete and Andrews becomes a bird, pulls together not only the short, but the entire night’s programming. Andrews reminds you that there’s nothing wrong with hybridity, particularly if it allows you to see new possibilities for experimental moving images.

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