Ten Little Indies

UT and AFS team up for a Doc Tour deviation: 10 films under 10 minutes long made for less than $10

Marko Slavnic's Soldier
Marko Slavnic's "Soldier"

It's that time of year in the Austin Film Society's doc tour cycle for something completely different, that change of pace, courtesy of UT's Radio-Television-Film department, known as the 10 Under 10 (Again) short series. Facilitated by RTF doc-bwana Ellen Spiro, the student series showcases short docs (under 10 minutes long) that are both inventive and low-budget, with an emphasis on the "low" – as in under $10. "There is a certain glamour in film schools about charging up the credit card to make a film with Hollywood aspirations, but I wanted to encourage and promote works made with more ingenuity than money – not only within an economy of budget, but an economy of time and scale," Spiro explains. "These works say what they need to say in a small package without sacrificing content or quality."

Some of this year's offerings push the envelope on the documentary form into the realm of the experimental, with subjects ranging from the heartbreaking to the hilarious, and styles stretching from the meditative to the frenetic. The opening short, "Soldier," by RTF undergraduate Marko Slavnic, gets inside the head of a young soldier who has just returned from Iraq. Boyish and shy, the soldier's profound sense of loss is palpable, but since he's bound by security regulations, we must interpret what he means to say through what he can't and doesn't say. And it is that which is unstated or stated only between the lines that is most moving in this short. It's clear that the soldier is suffering beneath the surface, from the loss of his friends' lives and perhaps from the loss of his own innocence. By not taking a position for or against the war, the filmmaker successfully forces the viewer to form his own response.

If the subject matter of "Soldier" strikes you as too heavy or deep, no worries; in less than 10 minutes, you will be transported to a completely different world, perhaps that of "Perfect Pet"'s passionate rat breeder. Ten minutes in this woman's world, and you might not mind having a rat sleeping on your pillow at night. "Beginnings and Endings," by Michel Scott, juxtaposes layers of beautifully painted film with multiple layers of personal documentary audio tracks. In just a few minutes, the short succeeds in bringing us deeply into the inner world of its maker as he confronts the most difficult of human events.

In "Texas Sumo Challenge," by Shara Lange, we get wrapped up in the seriousness of the world of Sumo wrestling – yep, right here in our own town – in which very large men (and one skinny one) get wrapped up in things that look like giant diapers, known in Japan as mawashis. Joshua Jaedicke and Claire Canavan's "Levi Oliver: Competitive Eater" is a greasy, processed foray into a world where whoever eats the most SPAM is the winner. In a diet-obsessed culture, this one embraces and celebrates those who like to gorge on disgusting food in pursuit of the triumph of winning.

Other works in the show embrace stylistic devices to tell stories that might be less interesting if told in more predictable ways. The cinematography in Sun Hee Cho's "This Road" is quite stunning, as are the interstitial effects and animations in Lisa Kaselak and Jeanne Stern's "Doubting Darwin." Jenn Garrison does justice in "Right Centric" to her subject, the photojournalist Todd Wolfson, by treating her visual storytelling as competently as Wolfson treats his photographs. PJ Raval's "Net 06" elevates Xeroxed circuitry to the realm of high art. The piece takes a very high tech element, processes it in a very low tech way, then manipulates it again with high tech editing software. Similarly, in "I Vedi di Kulala," Andrew Logan uses low tech claymation to tell a magical, imaginative story.

All of the shorts in 10 Under 10 take the kind of creative risks that fuel new ways of thinking about the documentary genre itself. The 68 original entries were evaluated and ranked by undergraduate RTF student jurors Alex Christ and John Blackwell. It then fell to M.F.A. student Jenn Garrison, the filmmaker who received the highest rating from the undergraduate jurors, to choose the final 10 out of 20 finalists. The series, observes Spiro, is a reflection of the larger world of documentary filmmaking, which seems to be moving from conventional structures and devices to a more imaginative, unexpected approach. Just look at the past two years of Oscar winners: Michael Moore and Errol Morris. end story

10 Under 10 (Again) screens as part of the Texas Documentary Tour on Wednesday, May 12, 7pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado). The filmmakers will conduct a Q&A after the screening. Tickets are $4 for current Austin Film Society members and new members joining before the screening, as well as students, and $6 for nonmembers. They are available only through the Austin Film Society by phone (322-0145) or at the venue one hour prior to screening. For more information, check www.austinfilm.org.

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