You could call it the Can Film Festival, since most of the films are shipped through the mail in protective cans, but the Biograph's semiannual festival of homemade films went instead with "Expose Yourself"; tonight and tomorrow, the Georgetown theater will present "The Best of Expose Yourself," a three-hour program featuring a dozen films by Washington filmmakers, each a winner of previous festivals.
"It's a great way for filmmakers and their families to get together to see each other's films," says director/actor John Huckert. "It sure beats the basement. With Reagan in office, maybe we'll get a talent scout in the audience."
The series started in 1974, partially inspired by the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass., where showings of local homemade films had been a popular attraction for a number of years. According to Biograph manager Jef Hyde, who's been running the show for several years, "The first few years were for grins, not for awards." The current awards are less than staggering: First prize earns $50 and a pass book, while second and third earn $25 and pass books. More importantly, "Expose Yourself" provides one valuable service that can't be measured in dollars and cents: exposure.
These days, few movie houses show shorts of any kind, much less 15- to 30-minute films made by local filmmakers. And though there are other showcases -- the Evol Film Society for 8mm, the WAFL festival, occassional shows at American and Maryland universities -- the Biograph's is the best publicized and best attended. The theater usually gets about twice as many films as it can show at each session. They range from the winners (chosen by applause) to losers that never reach the screen. "After a while, you learn three or four ways to be diplomatic in your refusals," says Hyde.
The "Best" films, all short in 16mm, include the long ("Black Girl" by Marilyn Weiner, a 30-minute urban Cinderella story) and the short ("A Very Short Movie" by Jim Trainor and Matt Vurek, which clocks in at 25 seconds), the animated (three by Trainor and Vurek), the antiquated (Rich Burch and George Heon's spare Civil War episode, "Brothers") and the insane (the Langley Punks' "Alcoholics Unanimous"). The Langley Punks, operating under the name Hollywood/Travesty Productions, are probably the best-known local filmmakers, or at least the most notorious. Their body of work -- including such titles as "Insruance Salesmen from Saturn," "Intestines from Space" and "Curse of the Atomic Greasers" -- has been successfully showcased at the Biograph.
The Stooges/Lampoonish humor of the Langley crew is in contrast to Joel Jacobson's three-minute "Blue Sueade Shoes," in which an assortment of Georgetown street people from 10 years ago lip-synch to the Carl Perkins classic. It's an effect that's been used by such diverse sources as Madison Avenue and Milos Forman ("Taking Off"), and remains thoroughly amusing when it's done as well as Jacobson does it. Likewise, Richard Barer's "Reflectovision" is a hilarious sendup of Veg-o-matic, Ronco and all the multipurpose wonder tools advertised on late-night television. At five minutes, Barber could belabor his point, but the waves of laughter at both the visual and verbal inanity make the time fly.
Among the longer films are Michael Day's "Fat Tuesday," a 22-minute semi-documentary about Mardi Gras debauchery; Bill Kolberg's "Zero Hour," a 21-minute sci-fi drama about an alien invasion aided by children whose parents are too preoccupied to notice a new playmate; Robert Clem's "Chinese Laundry," a 13-minute exploration of missed romantic opportunities centering on mixed-up laundry packages; and the Weiner, Burch-Heon and Hollywood/Travesty offerings.
The most intriguing film in "The Best of" is John Huckert and Scott Guthrie's "The Water That Has Passed," a 25-minute film that recalls George Lucas' early work, "THX 1138." Beautifully shot, the film features a dark, sci-fi vision of forced rejuvenation and mechanical life encroaching, and eventually violating, the simplicity of a hobo's life. The film is an unsettling mix of concrete and lyrical poetry, well-acted and engaging edited. Huckert has tacked on a three-minute trailer for an expanded, feature-length version called "The Passing," and it looks every bit as riveting as this short version. Huckert is a filmmaker to watch for, the most conspicious talent uncovered in the Biograph's already adventurous showcase.