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Pushing Film to its Limits

Eyes & Ears to host experimental art show at Olympia’s Black Front Gallery.

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Sometimes the umpteenth comic book/sitcom’s leap to the silver screen fails to make for an illuminating Saturday night. Locating alternative entertainment may require a bit of digging.


Enter the Black Front Gallery, the site of this year’s (deep breath now) Pushing Daisies Underground Experimental Film and Sound Show. Event organizer Kevin Jacobs hopes the moniker doesn’t conjure macabre images. Though partly inspired by his dark-humored short The Obituary Writer, Kevin decided Pushing Daisies was an apropos phrase for a springtime exhibition of works from his experimental filmmaking posse Eyes & Ears. The gallery itself exudes a similar pleasantness. Nestled among a few old-fashioned storefronts on Fourth Avenue in Olympia, Black Front’s main showcase room will turn into an intimate screening space for local avant-garde art on Saturday, May 24.

Eyes & Ears started several years back and united a small group of diversely-talented artists. Their unique work with Super-8 and 16mm film usually appears publicly this time of year. Former shows have sprung up at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum and RampArt in Tacoma. Hearing that Black Front might close its doors next month, Jacobs jumped at the chance to promote his team while still paying tribute to a respectable venue in his community. Funds raised from Pushing Daisies (a $4 donation is asked from all attendees) will go to both the gallery and participating filmmakers. The art world for Jacobs consists of an interconnected variety of forms that can (and should) support one another. His mission is simply to “keep the arts alive, whether it’s filmmaking, two-dimensional work, or an interesting sculpture. It’s all related.”

E&E evolved out of Crackpot Crafters, a direct animation group that Devon Damonte founded in 2004. These artists paint over and punch holes in reels of film stock, then run it through a projector. Light hitting the special paint produces a dreamy stained-glass effect. Crafters member Jason Gutz likens the visual experience to “a Jackson Pollock painting moving on the wall.” Jacobs met Gutz and Damonte at a workshop and found others who shared his affinity for multimedia art. Proclaiming Damonte as “the king of direct animation in Olympia,” Jacobs credits him for much of his filmmaking training. Several pieces by direct animators, including Gutz’s work The Jinnee, will screen alongside live-action shorts at Pushing Daisies.

Gutz believes his collaborators’ creations provide a necessary escape from mainstream cinema’s oftentimes overwhelming presence. The means of expression he utilizes skirt the traditional conventions of narrative structure. “Whatever rules are set up in film schools and Hollywood about the correct way of making [films] gets thrown out the door,” maintains the mostly self-taught artist. He classifies his style as “critical cinema” — an objective stance that sees the classical model for what it really is: just one way of doing things amidst a spectrum of possibilities. By replacing dialogue with title cards and an experimental score, The Jinnee hearkens back to early cinema’s silents, made in freer conditions before the studio system’s rigid standards rose to prominence.

Pushing Daisies aims to uphold this freewheeling attitude. The show begins around 8 p.m., and music from the band Bloodclot (with Jacobs on guitar and Gutz on trumpet) will accompany the evening’s kaleidoscopic pageant of surreal imagery. Among the works presented is Tony Norberg’s Grebronics, a segment from his semi-autobiographical debut feature PixelRealistic. “My films are a way of releasing tension from my day job,” laughs Norberg, a serviceman who spends free time constructing elaborate special effects. His earthy, outlandish props play the real stars of Grebronics.

They also make a cameo in Obituary Writer. A black-and-white homage to the gritty action flicks of Steve McQueen’s heyday, Jacob’s supernatural story chronicles Burt Bronson (the name a product of two other ‘70s icons (guess who) and his ability to converse with the deceased while typing out their obituaries. This work will conclude the evening.

Though realistic about the “marginal likeability” of experimental film, Jacobs remains hopeful about the turnout on Saturday. He says visitors will most benefit from the experience if they are “searching out for something completely different than the normal film you would see at the theater.” However you may approach the avant-garde, Pushing Daisies’ sardonic blend of music, effects and bizarre images plants a strong idea in your mind: Sometimes art can take root in your own backyard.

[Black Front Gallery, Pushing Daises Underground Experimental Film & Sound Show, Saturday, May 24, 8 p.m., $4, 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.6032]

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