Prismatic Ground is an annual film series highlighting the latest and greatest in experimental and boundary-pushing efforts from groundbreaking new filmmakers. This year’s festival runs May 4-8 and here are a few highlights:
One of the many mid-length films playing this year’s series, Constant comes from directors Sasha Litvintseva and Beny Wagner, and may very well be the most fascinating film in this year’s lineup. Ostensibly an experimental deep dive into the history of measurement, Constant is an essay film that combines gorgeous 3D animation, diagrams and live action footage to tell the story of measurement as it pertains to the relationship between knowledge and power. At just 40 minutes, the film may sound dry and almost too heady, but the film’s given a superb dry sense of humor by narrator Cynthia Beatt, which when paired with this narrative that evolves from one about one’s interest in understanding the human body to the use of measurement in settler-colonial history gives the film even more weight and power. Aesthetically quite similar to a piece like Our Ark, Constant is a briskly paced film that rewards multiple viewings, with its focus on three shifts in the history of measurement giving some much needed structure to an otherwise cold work. We watch as the film goes through things like the rise of land privatization in Europe, to the Metric Revolution all the way to the rise of Big Science today, all the while asking questions about agency, humanity, justice and power. Blurring the line between cinema and the gallery space, there really isn’t a film quite like Constant.
4. Lake Forest Park
Next up on this breakdown of the 2022 Prismatic Ground lineup is one of the more haunting efforts among the collection. The film tells the story of a group of teens who are attempting to come to terms with the death of a classmate. With the actual event itself only referred to briefly over the radio, the focus of the film is less on the act of violence than the crippling sense of loss and pointlessness that comes in its wake. Feeling closely in conversation with the films of Gus Van Sant (particularly his Paranoid Park which feels almost essential to this film’s existence), the film is an observational, searingly intimate rumination on death and grief. Set opposite the equally oppressive rain in the Pacific Northwest, Lake Forest Park is a breathtaking piece of filmmaking in the body of a quiet, thoughtful character study. Truly a singular achievement.
Jumping into the world of shorts now, Goat is just one of a dozen or more engrossing shorts featured here at Prismatic Ground 2022. A film inherently about gender, politics, style and the intersection of all three, Paige Taul’s barely three-minute short is an evocative, gorgeous black and white story about about a girl and her knit top retro Air Jordan 1s. What is ostensibly a young woman describing her Jordans and what they mean to her, this engaging short packs quite a wallop into its brisk runtime. Even occasionally jumping, literally, into the surreal, Taul’s short feels in keeping with a specific brand of modern American independent cinema, particularly filmmakers like Kevin Jerome Everson. It’s a
2. Earth II
Now back into the world of features. Maybe the most exciting feature in the lineup, Earth II is at the very least the most esoteric of the feature films here at Prismatic Ground 2022. Coming from the minds of the Anti-Banality Union, this 97 minute feature is a collection of clips from various films, ranging from The Matrix to The Martian, that are chopped together to tell the story of the end of the world. In many ways the science-fiction take on a documentary like Los Angeles Plays Itself, Earth II strips away the snarky commentary, simply letting each clip paint a portrait of a civilization on the brink of collapse. With the 1% hell bent on getting themselves off the planet they helped light on fire, Earth II is brilliantly paced post-post-modern thriller that recontextualizes everything from the status of the Hollywood blockbuster to the type of fascists we celebrate in these films (the particular placement of Will Smith as a Blue Lives Matter AmeriNazi is thrilling). Truly cannot remember the last time a film this searingly political was also this inherently exciting. A real masterpiece.
1. Home When You Return
Speaking of masterpieces, the film of the festival may very well be Home When You Return. Carl Elsaesser’s 30-minute knockout takes the melodramatic works of poet-turned-filmmaker Joan Thurber Baldwin and turns them into a mysterious, strangely surreal double exposure of a homage. Opening with an introduction that sets the film up with a comically disquieting cloud that hangs over every subsequent second, Elsaesser’s film feels the closest we’ve gotten to making good on the phrase “Lynchian,” in his darkly comic reverence for mid century melodrama and his use of sound and photographic distortion. Instead of seeing the wild-haired auteur as a referential figure and more a reverential one, no moment here feels flat. A masterful meshing of visuals, sound and text, Home When You Return is a brilliant, darkly comic short that brings to tactile life the way memories stick themselves to the walls of the spaces we share them in.