Featuring the outre and odd, Onion City festival is the anti-Oscars

SHARE Featuring the outre and odd, Onion City festival is the anti-Oscars
SHARE Featuring the outre and odd, Onion City festival is the anti-Oscars

Overdosed on Oscar hype? The Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival backs the opposite end of cinema’s spectrum. For stars and storylines, look to Hollywood. But for special effects made by hand, there’s this little-known annual showcase.

Chicago Filmmakers presents a four-day series of 47 works. Opening night is 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Six more programs screen through Saturday at Ferguson Theater at Columbia College Chicago.

ONION CITY EXPERIMENTAL FILM & VIDEO FESTIVAL When: Wednesday-Saturday Where: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State; Ferguson Theater, Columbia College, 600 S. Michigan Tickets: $8 ($14 for opening night) Info: chicagofilmmakers.org

Festival director Patrick Friel is a former programmer at Chicago Filmmakers, the Andersonville-based nonprofit that has overseen Onion City since 2001. He teaches experimental editing at Columbia.

Two trivial entries are thankfully only a minute long. Pierre Yves Clouin films a pillow in the uneventful “Heads Rest.” About “08.09.14” Yoel Meranda unhelpfully tells us: “This is me playing with the video recording of a Skype conversation.”

At 72 minutes, “Sauerbruch Hutton Architects” is the longest and the least experimental entry. The late Harun Farocki documents three months of talk among Berlin architects. “I’m in Pittsburgh and It’s Raining” by Jesse McLean relates the workaday woes of an Anne Hathaway stand-in on the set of “Love & Other Drugs.”

Toying with Hollywood is a tradition among experimental filmmakers. In “Iterations,” Gregg Biermann slices and shuttles Jimmy Stewart’s reverse shots in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” “The Flies (The Birds II)” is Susann Maria Hempel’s sly sequel to Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Forty-one flies — named in the credits — flit about a miniature set to the tunes of a Schnellpolka, “The Skaters’ Waltz” and “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Joshua Gen Solondz mutates clips from Japan’s original “Godzilla” in his gorgeously grotesque video “It’s not a prison if you never try the door.”

To make “sound of a million insects, light of a thousand stars,” Tomonari Nishikawa buried 100 feet of unexposed film overnight near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. He sees his celluloid as if inscribed with insect calls, starlight and radioactive dirt.

Another evocative title is “Seven Times a Day We Bemoan Our Lot and at Night We Get Up to Avoid Dreaming.” The provocative video “Fag” hurls that three-letter slur in 260 fonts at viewers. For titling “Model Fifty-One Fifty-Six” a different filmmaker repurposes the model number of his cardiac telemetry device. Quite odd sources inspire Onion City’s film and videos, from diagrams in a World War I medical handbook to the Kaiser’s apothecary who invented pigeon photography that was then used for aerial reconnaissance. Vika Kirchenbauer and Martin Sulze deploy pigeons with tiny video cameras for Berlin flyovers.

One video offers poet Tracie Morris performing her slavery-themed “Afrika,” and another quotes an 1892 speech, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians With Whites.”

Although politics animate some works, most are really about sight. Shiloh Cinquemani works wonders simply by framing flowers in “Narcissi” and “Rose.” Her delirious flux of glances electrifies the old-fashioned still life.

There is no Academy Award for best experimental film.

Bill Stamets is a local freelance writer.

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