VideoLOCAL: Each summer, Public Television tosses out its innovative P.O.V. series as a lifesaver to viewers sinking in the swamp of commercial TV (See related story, this page). And each summer for the last four years, a homegrown video festival does much the same for Tucsonans weary of one-size-fits-all television.
VideoTENSIONS, says curator Vikki Dempsey, "is mainly to promote social-political issues not normally carried on mainstream TV. The videos use alternative strategies in their production values. Some look like home movies. Some look really slick. All try to subvert the mainstream media."
That means that the videos deal with subjects impossible for commercial television even to contemplate. Tonight, for instance, in a line-up of five videos Dempsey has called VideoQUEER, she'll be showing Her Sweetness Lingers, by Shani Mootoo, "a love poem about lesbian desire," and Dear John, a flick by Jim Caiola about "gay male desire and its discontents." There's also Tomboychik, by Sandi DuBowski, about a guy and his grandmother dressing up in drag together, all the while talking about gender and sexuality and Jewish-American culture; Sis: The Perry Watkins Story, a documentary by Chiqui Cartagena about a black soldier who Dempsey says successfully fought the military ban on gays back in the '80s, and Outlaw, by Alisa Lebow, a documentary about "gender outlaw" Leslie Feinberg, "a woman who has lived 20 of her 43 years as a man."
Videos in other editions of the nine-week, every-Thursday-night festival will scrutinize disabilities, "throwaway kids," Native Americans and artists' collectives. Dempsey says the videos she picks out tend to be about serious issues but "to get the message across, they have to be entertaining. They usually have a sense of humor."
They also tend to be short.
"That's also a problem: they can't be shown on TV. Even PBS requires videos to be 27 minutes at least. These average 15 minutes."
Dempsey screens the videos at the UA Modern Languages Auditorium. A UA grad with a bachelor's in film production and media arts, Dempsey will start working toward a master's in New Genre studies in the fall. She ferrets out the independent videos by going to festivals. Plus, she says, "I have strong connections in the video distribution network. Last year I spent four months in New York looking at videos."
The festival, partly funded by the UA Office of Summer Sessions, got going when fellow student Mai Kiang proposed it to the media arts department. When Kiang landed a job in New York before the first season began, Dempsey stepped in.
"It was gonna die unless someone else took it over," she remembers. "I found some summer money available. I've been doing it ever since."
Dempsey eventually began to feel that the evenings of consciousness-raising she'd been staging were not quite enough to effect change. So this summer she's given the series the tongue-in-cheek title Grassroots Community Dating Service and turned herself into a matchmaker.
"I wanted the festival to become more activist, more culturally involved," she explains.
Each night of the festival, representatives of community groups working on the issues raised by the evening's videos are on hand. For tonight's VideoQUEER, the gay and lesbian support group Wingspan will be there. Planned Parenthood reps will on hand for VideoOUST, about throwaway kids, and Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest staffers will be around for VideoCRACK-UP, about disabilities.
Dempsey is also lending a hand to local videomakers by staging a video contest. The tapes, which must be in Dempsey's hands by July 21, must have been produced in video originally, not transferred from film; must be 25 minutes or less; and may be in any genre, including narrative, documentary, animation or experimental.
"They're encouraged but not limited to socio-political work," Dempsey says. "I'd rather see what the local scene is like."
Entries will be screened by a panel of local video types; and winners will be shown August 3. Dempsey expects no problems in getting entries. After all, video is the new art form of the masses.
"Video is cheap, open to everybody. If you have any talent at all you can get somewhere. A lot more women are working in video (rather than in film) because of the lower expense and because they can handle the equipment themselves.
"These are people who grew up watching television. If they're at all intelligent they realize how television can be mind-controlling."
Video is their way of talking back.
VideoTENSIONS screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through August 3 at the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium. Admission is free, but a $2 donation is requested. See Film Clips for a schedule of screenings. Call 621-7352 during regular business hours for information and submission guidelines.
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