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September 13, 2004
RESFEST 2004 (Sept 9-12 New York City)

[IMAGE of Director Shari Roman from the program Shorts #3]

Operating just below the mainstream cultural radar for eight years, RESFEST has become something of an annual film geek gathering point with aims to incite creativity and progress in the digital film community. Consider it sort of like a political convention with way better video montages and without all the balloons, lying and homogenization.

Started from humble beginnings in the mid-1990s, RESFEST has grown to become an ambitious undertaking for festival director Jonathan Wells and his colleagues. The group received over 1,500 submissions for this year's festival series and, after weeding out the fluff, assembled an eclectic mix of short films, music videos, a feature film, and motion design projects to showcase.

Either from a delirious need for stress-induced migraines or a desire to spread the beauty to the masses - or possibly both - Wells' ambitious RESFEST will bring its traveling circus to 33 cities spread across 13 countries on 6 continents over the remainder of the year. Beginning with the kickoff in New York, the media carnival hits international ports of call ranging from Cape Town, South Africa to Osaka, Japan to Zurich, Switzerland before winding up in Istanbul, Turkey in mid-December for its last hurrah of 2004.

While the assessment that RESFEST is a forum for Mac-toting geeks may indeed be superficially spot on, a deeper dig finds that it is actually much more that
that; something akin to a movement showcasing innovation in the art of film around the world. With that said, one need not be some techie or videophile with a history as an A/V nerd to really marvel at the beauty and creativity that the filmmakers have applied to their art. With that mission of universality resting perhaps above all others, RESFEST began its whirlwind tour at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York City on September 9th.

One of RESFEST's biggest selling points is its schedule. The festival lacks any real filler, and is packed with three programs of short films over three days, digital studio tours, a feature film (the surfing movie Sprout), a retrospective of Warp Records' Music Videos, Anti-Bush political features, a Shynola animation retrospective, panels of distinguished speakers, live music performances and more. What appears on paper to be nothing less than a scheduling and logistical nightmare was pulled off in New York as a fluid and organized affair.

Yet when it comes down to it , efficiency isn't really a selling point for visual media; its all about enjoyment. At any art festival one would expect a bit of self-aggrandizing, a healthy dose of the obscure for the sake of being obscure, and a measurable amount of pretension. However the refreshing aspect of RESFEST was how grounded and sincere the films, especially the shorts, were. You can't get further away from art school pretension than with Jason Wishnow's Oedipus, a motion design film that re-imagines Sophocles' tragedy with various vegetables. There's nothing more slapstick than a flock of loyal cauliflower or a potato gouging out his own eyes. Perhaps you'd have to see it to understand, and that is precisely what you should do.

The first night of shorts was a study in imaginative and innovative film making. Peter Cornwell's claymation Ward 13 was as gripping as any live-action movie (or like Wallace and Gromit on acid), while the hilarious and quirky Pol Pot's Birthday, by director Talmage Cooley, was an excellent example of discomfort as humor, or really dissecting the awkwardness of a scene.

Remaining delightfully partisan, on the third night came Bushwacked!, a collection of videos ranging from humorous to chilling. All films either lampooned denounced, or otherwise spoke out against the Bush Administration agenda. With something like 30 short films it was almost propaganda overload, but really amazing to see how well the filmmakers can get a point across in such little allotted time.

As Jonathan Wells proudly points out, RESFEST is the largest festival of its kind. Whereas size and scope are certainly worthy accomplishments, more important is the truly global nature of the festival, one that allows it a strong thread of interconnectivity. The festival is truly a worldwide celebration of the human experience, a cutting edge and thoroughly entertaining affair. However much RESFEST may leave the film school kids and video geeks salivating, it also presents an opportunity for the average person with a culturally consciousness to see some amazing work that is both artistic and informative.

SEE ALSO: www.resfest.com

--
Dan Williams
A staff writer based in Brooklyn, New York, Dan Williams is a frequent contributor to LAS magazine. He once lived in Köln, Germany for a semester, is currently persuing his MBA in New York, and recently switched sides and began working as a publicist for Special Ops Media in New York.

See other articles by Dan Williams.

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