IOW: When We Were Freaky

November 2, 2000, seems like such a long time ago. On that evening, what would be the last instance of “freaky” cinema activity took place at The Highdive and the New Art Theater and informally at Boltini lounge. It had been a magical, meteoric climb from the ranks of unknown grassroots events to a desired stop on the Nineties festival circuit for indie filmmakers and their work, but a few months after its fourth closing night the Freaky Film Festival would vanish despite talk of transplanting it to Seattle or Portland. With one co-founder splitsville and the other settled in the C-U but otherwise willing to move on, the freakin’ coffin lid had been nailed shut without much resistance.

Ten full years later, we’ve witnessed the coincidentally named Freeky Creek Short Film Festival, which could carry on the Freaky spirit although its scope is limited due to the smallish environs of host Sleepy Creek Vineyards. We also just received a coincidentally timed overture to assist with the next IMC Film Festival, which we once tagged as a worthy successor to Freaky although its purposeful political leanings dampen any sense of “fun time” as was characteristic of Freaky, even when it played key pieces from the end-of-millennium zeitgeist like 30 FRAMES A SECOND: THE WTO IN SEATTLE. We’re ecstatic that our community is trying once again to develop avenues for championing the non-mainstream cinema, but we can’t help but exhale a big heavy sigh as no one is replicating the Freaky formula quite yet.

As mentioned last week on C-U Blogfidential, we felt the Freeky Creek atmosphere did echo the “insider” excitement of attending the original Freaky due to what it projected even more overtly than the movies themselves – a sense of the forbidden. Your humble editor made the connection most distinctly while watching a Freeky Creek film that truly felt like a throwback to the indie, gritty Nineties underground, TEA TIME directed by Eric Deutschman, while its high number of animated entries including our new favorite local film, BEDTIME FOR TIMMY, inspired us to think of our friend and former Urbana resident Johnnie May, who spent endless hours creating strange little shorts like the following:

Shot on Super 8 like TEA TIME but almost by necessity given the single-frame technique required to photograph stop-motion animation, ISOLATION tells the tale of a forlorn soul with a ping-pong head who lives in an askew Tim Burton world and discovers a heavy metal doppelgänger neighbor through a crack in the wall. Several other examples of May’s C-U work, which involved much hovering over a table top in a basement (hence, Tabletop Studios) can be found on his YouTube channel, including the first FIGHTING GUY – proving without a doubt that pipe cleaner people do kick major ass – and the lovably lo-fi music videos for “Drive On” by The Signalmen and “Completely Dresden” by Hushtower. These and others, including the conspicuously absent CASTLE ASSHOLE ’99, played the original Freaky when they were brand new and, to this day, their raw handmade nature qualifies them as possibly the most unique body of local film that we’re aware of. Auteur filmmaking couldn’t happen more naturally to a nicer guy than Johnnie May.

By the very nature of this post, we see how cinema that was formerly the exclusive province of societies, film schools, and the festival circuit can easily be accessed via the Internet or distributed via high-quality DVD, even if catering to marginal audiences with peculiar tastes. Case in point is the industrious Freaky favorite and long-time Super 8 advocate Danny Plotnick, whose offbeat works appeared consistently on the underground circuit through the late Eighties and Nineties. Some of it can be watched alongside his more recent Vlogging and shorts (including the sublime Internet favorite, OUT OF PRINT) on YouTube as well as enjoyed on the recent Microcinema DVD release, WARTS & ALL: THE FILMS OF DANNY PLOTNICK:

This promo is heavy with cuts from two Plotnick mind-benders which played the original Freaky in 1997 and warped your humble editor’s sense of what “made” an independent film, with their shaky cinematography, obvious post-produced sound, and sense of otherness due to that wondrous Super 8 sheen: DEATH SLED II: STEEL BELTED ROMEOS, with the Penn Jillette-ish heavy pestering drivers at an intersection, and PILLOW TALK, with the woman yelling maniacally at neighbors through the walls in her über-dank apartment. The cheeky black-and-white sub/dom comedy short on view, SWINGERS’ SERENADE, also played Freaky in 1999 along with the sock-monkey-on-the-town opus I, SOCKY.

As much as the medium and the methods for making movies have changed over time, the modus operandi for pairing them up and putting them on public display remains the same – to offer audiences the unseen and unusual, often for the first time locally, regionally, or world-wide. Our longing for the Freaky Film Festival mystique here at the Secret MICRO-FILM Headquarters comes not from burdening ourselves with nostalgia for those four long-gone events but hoping that we will once again feel that tingly “hell, yes” sensation while sitting in on the current guard such as the IMC Film Festival and the Freeky Creek Short Film Festival. It is our sincerest hope that those events can grow and develop distinct identities that will attract the best our current underground brethren have to offer. At such a time when we feel sufficiently freaky, dearest readers, we’ll be sure to let you know but until then, we’ll merely be as happy as clams.

~ Jason Pankoke

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