Illuminating the Experimental

There was the time in 2002 when avant garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas attended the James River Film Festival to present his work. Festival director Mike Jones recalls staying up late with Mekas and others at a bar, drinking tequila shots and vigorously toasting, “To film!” “To cinema!”

“Next morning, we’re all dragging,” Jones recalls. “Except for Mekas, who was bright and up and ready to go. He went to every program that year.”

Mekas, a vigorous advocate for non-mainstream film, died on Jan. 19 at age 96. “He was there to write about it, nurture it — he raised it,” Jones says. “He called himself a ‘filmer,’ not a filmmaker, because he didn’t like to edit, and he recorded entire lives and cultural scenes for years and years.”

This year, in tribute, the festival on Saturday, March 16, at 8 p.m., presents an “Experimental Double Feature,” which includes a three-hour homage to Mekas, with his “ Lost, Lost, Lost ” (1977) and “Walden” (1968). Ahead of this, though, is Guy Maddin’s 2017 “ The Green Fog ,” which is a 61-minute “de/reconstruction” of director Alfred Hitchock’s “Vertigo.” This makes for a long, strange night. “I like the notion of going through the fog, getting lost and finding Walden ,” Jones says.

So, Richmond, prepare for the 26th experience of cinematic adventurousness provided by the James River Film Society, March 13-17. See the complete roster here .

Guests include Betzy Bromberg , the former director of School of Film/Video at CalArts, who’s made experimental films since 1976. Jones says that her CalArts origins resonate with some film buffs since the school became the springboard for people who went on to George Lucas’ team of Industrial Light & Magic . “So much of the first ‘Star Wars’ wasn’t computer or digital effects,” Jones says. “It was wood and paint.”

Bromberg supervised optical effects for commercial films such as “Wolfen,” “Teminator” and the original “Tron,” but these allowed her to pursue her personal projects. She’ll present examples of her works: film at the Virginia Commonwealth University Grace Street Theater, 8 p.m. on March 15 ($5), and digital on March 16, 3:30 p.m., at the Byrd Theatre ($5).

Master puppet builder Tim Clarke worked with Jim Henson in the 1980s and made the Mystics and Crystal Bats in the cult classic “ The Dark Crystal ," and among his Fraggle Rock characters is Uncle Traveling Matt, whose name puns on special effects . “The Dark Crystal” will screen at the Byrd Theatre, 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, with an introduction by Clarke and a Q&A afterward ($5). Completists and collectors can purchase Boglin . That same day, at 5 p.m., he’ll lead a puppet-making workshop at Gallery5, though the number of participants is limited to 10 ($20).

Mark Robinson founded Teen-Beat Records while in high school and followed this into filmmaking and indie rock musicianship, at present performing with Evelyn Hurley in Cotton Candy .

At 4 p.m. on March 17 at the Byrd Theatre, he’ll present his long-in-the-making “Amateur on Plastic,” documenting Washington, D.C., musician Butch Willis and his band The Rocks. Things get started at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond on Wednesday, March 13, with a tour of Richmond-based filmmakers and 16 mm films made through the 1970s into the 1990s by David Williams , Tammy Kinsey , Michael Hensdill , F. T. Rea and, yes, Michael Jones.

The classics play during the day at 2 p.m. at the Richmond Public Library’s Main branch: Thursday, Luis Bunuel’s controversial “surrealist documentary,” banned in 1932, “ Land Without Bread ,” and Edgar Ullmer’s darkest of film noir, the 1946 “ Detour ,” and on Friday, March 17, German Expressionist F.W. Murnau’s groundbreaking 1927 Hollywood film, “ Sunrise .”

The festival also takes you around the world in eight films, with the traveling omnibus of Rural Route Films , 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Leslie Cheek Theater ($8). The collection of shorts originates from the United Kingdom and Hungary, and includes an entry from Richmond residing and VCU chair of photography and film Sasha Waters Freyer .

And what film festival worth its celluloid is without bizarre midnight movies? On Friday, March 15, at The Byrd is Harmony Korine ’s 1997 “ Gummo ,” ($5) with Chloe Sevigny. Vaguely based on a dystopian Xenia, Ohio, the film, quips Jones, “Is not for the xenophobic. There’s nothing politically correct about it. But it has a great soundtrack.”

The Saturday midnight fare is Alejandro Jodorowsky “ Santa Sangre ” (1989), involving an escaped mental patient who gives his arms to his crazed mother for her to commit violence.

On a lighter note, on Sunday, March 17, at 8 p.m., the Silent/Music Revival this time out has Jean Vigo’s 1933 silent “Zero de Conduite” ( Zero for Conduct ), with the band The Wimps — who’ve never seen the picture — playing behind the screen. This is followed at 9:30 by horror-comedy “The Leprechaun” (1993) featuring a young actress named Jennifer Aniston. Whatever happened to her?


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