Taking Route

Video artist Vikki Dempsey has been helping drive Tucson's alternative video scene for some 10 years now, as an independent artist and as curator of the annual VideoTENSIONS summer series. For the last decade, the free festival has brought to town tape that will never make it to the shelves of the chain stores. This year's edition, for instance, provides a Tomb Raider that has no truck with Angelina Jolie.

Two years ago, when Dempsey added film and digital to the video lineup, she changed the series' name to Alternate Routes. She's compressed the series to a single afternoon this year, but in celebration of its 10th anniversary, she has summoned a couple of éminences grises of the video world.

On hand this Sunday will be George Kuchar, a videographer out of the New York and San Francisco underground, and Scott MacDonald, a widely published historian and critic of independent cinema. Both will bring along new film and video to show and discuss; in between their presentations, participants will refresh themselves with food and drink at a reception.

Kuchar worked in commercial art in Manhattan before creating his own low-budget works, and he has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute. For the last 15 years, he's made raw video diaries about his own life, which he narrates himself. Chigger Country (1999), 30 minutes, chronicles his visit to an Oklahoma ranch. The characters include his ex-student, the woman's English boyfriend, a country fiddler and "the hordes of beef that roam the range in search of sustenance," Kuchar writes. Spawn of the Pagan (2000), a 20-minute video, looks into the lives of a pair of North Beach, San Francisco, residents who publish Research Books out of their book- and record-stuffed apartment. The video delivers what Kuchar calls "the pagan pronouncements of a powerful presence in the world of literature and ideas."

A final work, Cyclone Alley Ceramics, a 2000 video just 12 minutes long, records Kuchar's storm vigil at the picture window of El Reno Inn "way out west from Oklahoma City."

MacDonald, recently retired from a teaching career at Utica College of Syracuse University and at Hamilton College, has written innumerable critical essays on film, in journals ranging from Film Quarterly to Artforum. His latest book, The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films About Place, is forthcoming.

He'll show short works by three different artists. A brand-new 15-minute video by Peggy Ahwesh, She Puppet, makes surreal use of the Tomb Raider video game, the same one that has Hollywood all aflutter. Arbor Vitae, a 20-minute film by Nathaniel Dorsky, reflects on San Francisco. Peter Hutton's Time and Tide, a 30-minute color film, is a slowed-down meditation on the Hudson River.

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