Free Range Cinema

There's nothing to it: 'Esther Levine's Chicken-Washing Technique'
Potter-Belmar Labs
The Low Voltage Film Festival
Speedboat Gallery
Saturday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

From my laptop, the downloaded Reloaded looks like a virtual riposte to Jedi Master George's all-digital universe, wherein the clones have clearly won the war. For the Wachowski Brothers, whose interest in preserving the human element extends to their use of celluloid and several real sets, it isn't the Force that binds the galaxy, but what they call "purpose." Quit school to pursue the independent study of black leather and A Better Tomorrow, their bios suggest, and you, too, could have a shot at reloading the Hollywood blockbuster.

But in a gallery far, far away--the Speedboat in St. Paul, to be exact--another experiment in genre revision is being readied for release. And in this case, the cost of bringing the product to market is a mere two bucks--roughly 50 million times less than what Warners has spent on Reloaded's advertising alone. Indeed, for the price of a six-piece order of McNuggets, Michigan-based Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens were able to enter "Esther Levine's Chicken-Washing Technique" in the Cooking Show category of the Low Voltage Film Festival being held this weekend at the Speedboat. Here's a movie whose coolest weapon is cutlery, whose soundtrack consists of nothing but elevator music, and whose sole special effect is the curious tinting of Super 8 footage to make Ms. Levine's bird look as if it's being marinated in Orange Crush.

"It has all the things I like in a movie," says Hayley Bush, who co-curates Low Voltage from her office at Lula Vintage Wear, the Selby Avenue clothing store she has owned and managed since 1992. Devoted to the democratization of fashion and film in equal measure (her artists' collective is called Everybody A/V!), Bush held the inaugural fest last year in the basement of the Tilsner Building during the Lowertown St. Paul Art Crawl and charged an affordable five bucks per ticket. Box-office revenue was funneled into cash prizes for film- and videomakers whose work competed within various generic categories--the Disaster Movie, the Documentary, the Musical, and the aforementioned Cooking Show among them.

Last year's winners, chosen by a jury of local-film experts, bore such names as "Grandma's Super Elixir" (Comedy) and "Fuckin' Heavy Metal" (Musical). This year, the Why My Movie Was Late category has been dropped in favor of Horror, and at least three fledgling Cravens have managed to make the deadline. Mike Alvin's "The Asbestos Killer!" is a funny and efficient little slasher whose victims are Uptown Theatre employees. (Serves 'em right for abetting bourgeois cinema, you say?) Dale L. Kirvelay's "An afternoon in the park..." begins with black and white shots of a bicyclist enjoying the Rice Creek Regional Trail and ends with her blood on the lens. And Ryan Schaddelee's "The Legend of Hot Rod Hearse" is a video bedtime story that does juvenile horror proud by turning its lone female into the epitome of pure evil.

David Pitman, who runs Low Voltage with Bush under the auspices of his nonprofit Artist's Forum, says the micro-festival is an idea whose time has come. "Filmmaking has become so accessible that it's like drawing now--almost anyone can pick up a camera and shoot. But getting the work seen by an audience is still a major challenge. So it's important to provide a venue for this work. For [Bush and me], it's about nurturing a growing community."

An artist himself, Pitman shot a piece for Bush's other ongoing film project, "5 by 24," which invites local directors to begin creating mini-movies based on a one-sentence concept and then screen the works in public just 24 hours later. Though the next edition of "5 by 24" is still a month away, a similar exercise (sans the short production schedule) is being featured in Low Voltage: The makers of "Chicken-Washing" cast a flock of more lively feathered friends for a clip contrived in response to the phrase please release me. And really--isn't "Please release me" the thing that any low-budget indie would say if it could talk?

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