By Mark Alpert
Every so often writers need to take a break from writing. I’m a big believer in this piece of advice from German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”
So this weekend I’m taking a break by participating in the 2014 Video Art and Experimental Film Festival. I became involved with this organization because my son has been friends for the past eight years with the son of Dan Fine, the festival’s director and chief curator. When my son was younger he’d often end up at Dan’s apartment and I’d have to go there to pick him up and take him home. Whenever I got there, whatever the time, my son would plead to stay a few minutes longer, and so I spent a fair amount of time talking with Dan about his work in the field of video art. It’s hard to define the genre; they’re usually short pieces, between one and fifteen minutes long, and they differ from traditional short films or documentaries in that they emphasize the power of images or the novelty of technique or the impact of sounds and music rather than narrative storytelling. The videos are sometimes strangely beautiful, sometimes genuinely disturbing, and often just plain weird.
Over the course of many conversations Dan discovered that I’m in love with the sound of my own voice, and so he invited me to be an emcee for the festival and a moderator for the panel discussions among the video artists who participate in it. Before each festival Dan and his team of curators sift though hundreds of submissions from artists and choose the best thirty or so. The videos are screened for three nights at Tribeca Cinemas, a wonderful theater in Lower Manhattan near Canal Street. We showed some fantastic pieces Thursday and Friday nights, and we’re going to wrap up tonight with another panel discussion and a big party. If you happen to be in New York you should definitely stop by; the website for tickets is here.
But the truth is, even when I’m taking a break from writing, I’m always thinking about it. Even though most of the videos don’t conform to the traditional narrative format, I sometimes get story ideas from them. And the best videos reinforce my conviction that shorter is usually better. I love powerful two-minute videos that make their points without beating the subject to death. In all forms of art, you want to leave your audience hungering for more.