In the French short “Martin Cries”, the title character searches futilely for his friends on empty building sites, over ocean waves, and across the desolate L.A. cityscape. He takes his frustration out by kicking furniture, doing donuts on a motorcycle, and maniacally shooting off rocket-propelled grenades.
Martin, by the way, is an avatar, and his player is irked because he can’t find anyone else to join him in a game online. The entire film takes place in Grand Theft Auto V, and director Jonathan Vinel manages to make it a strange and unsettling little study in existential longing.
“He’s setting it in another realm altogether,” says Tammy Bannister, who programmed the Vancouver International Film Festival’s two MODES series, which focuses on artists who bend the bounds of conventional film. “Virtual worlds are a place where you can talk to people all over the world, in a whole other reality. It’s a place where you can push the boundaries of what you would do in our reality. You can act out with violence. And the depths of emotion that come from this pixellated character are just incredible.”
“Martin Cries” is just one in a wildly diverse group of films that Bannister’s pulled into a program offering fresh perspectives.
“It’s about making space outside the traditional area of filmmaking. I was looking at themes that we don’t get to explore in much depth,” Bannister explains over the phone.
What kept coming up everywhere she looked, she says, was the idea of fake news and the related questions: What is real? How can we have simultaneous realities? And is reality completely subjective?
In the MODES 1 program, Vinel and five other filmmakers upend our viewpoint using video games, drones, technology, and other techniques and strategies. Amid the offerings, Aussie artist Dennis Tupicoff’s “A Photo of Me” takes an old snapshot of himself as a child and animates it—using both actors to play the family gathered around the baby and rotoscope, blending it all with film-noir clips and jumping back and forth through time. “He’s acknowledging that this memory is distorted,” Bannister says.
Elsewhere, look for Italian artist Quayola’s near-hallucinogenic evocation of Claude Monet’s gardens, “Jardins d’Eté”, employing technology to make the famous brushstrokes move and warp.
MODES 2 also looks for unusual perspectives, grouping seven shorts around the concept of cultural ownership and appropriation.
In “Green Screen Gringo”, Dutch director Douwe Dijkstra trots a mobile green screen around the carnivalesque street life of Rio de Janeiro, during the downfall of the Dilma Roussef government. The device allows him to juxtapose wild imagery—a shoe-shiner backgrounded by a political protest, or a suburban Indigenous family contrasted with a shot from the jungle.
“He’s found a new mode of presentation: the idea of the green screen and finding a way to make this patchwork, a live quilt with pieces all attached,” Bannister observes.
Elsewhere, queer glitch artist Sara Naomi Goodman uses technological tricks to tackle climate change in “Charged Landscapes”, while “A Tall Tale” finds German artist Maya Schweizer juxtaposing the folklore and cinematic legends of Ireland with shots of castle ruins.
And make sure to catch the humorous short doc “Roadside Attraction”, Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan’s film about a gaggle of gawkers who have gathered on a nondescript strip of pavement in the American South. It needs no narration, no drones, no high-tech touches to speak massively about the state of Trump fervour right now. And it’s about as close as the program will get to fake news’s favourite son this year.
MODES 1 is at Vancity Theatre on September 28 (6 p.m.) and October 11 (8:45 p.m.); MODES 2 is at Vancity Theatre on September 29 (8:30 p.m.) and October 2 (4 p.m.).