'Daughters of Northern Darkness'
Launching a new film festival is never easy, and local filmmaker Heidi Moore took on the task of putting together the female-focused Medusa Underground Film Festival almost entirely on her own, willing it into existence based on her own taste in movies and her connections among female experimental filmmakers. That meant that the first-ever event catered to a niche audience, but it also made Medusa into something genuinely unique, a glimpse into the kind of strange, bold and often off-putting movies that don’t usually get programmed at film festivals. In that way, it had a lot in common with the late, lamented (at least by the small number of people who attended it) PollyGrind festival, which was a similarly strange and sometimes inaccessible collection of films reflecting the unique tastes of its creator, Chad Clinton Freeman (who’s since left town).
Over the course of three days, Medusa showcased dozens of short films and one feature, Dylan Mars Greenberg’s ReAgitator: Revenge of the Parody (Greenberg also gave a short musical performance on the festival’s first night at Backstage Bar & Billiards). The idiosyncratic selections included some fairly straightforward genre fare, but also made room for many, many films that were more or less unclassifiable, from a movie produced by Pornhub to a music video for a death metal cover of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” Plenty of the movies were baffling or unpleasant or both, but even the worst offerings were interesting and memorable, worth slogging through for their sheer oddness and audacity.
Some of my favorite films at the festival were built around goofy jokes, like the TV-commercial parody Daughters of Northern Darkness, an ad for a “black metal Barbie” that amusingly skewers the stereotypes of the Scandinavian heavy metal genre in the context of an ad for fashion dolls. That’s pretty much the definition of limited appeal, but it made me smile, as did the Australian short The Apocalypse Will Be Automated, in which a group of friends are thwarted in their efforts to flee from zombies by their uncooperative self-driving car. I also enjoyed the wry humor of the stylish Parlour Tricks, a black and white short that starts out as a typical ghost story (complete with séance and ouija board), only to turn absurd when the medium accidentally conjures up the spirit of a dog. Those horror and sci-fi pieces played alongside abstract oddities like Eileen O’Meara’s Panic Attack!, an amusing animated ode to anxiety, which was darkly funny without any genre elements at all.
'The Apocalypse Will Be Automated'
A lot of the heavier, more serious films just came off as obtuse, but the films that sustained a tone of dread could be very unsettling. My favorite among those was Nicole Goode’s Supine, about a lonely taxidermist who picks up a hitchhiker. Goode builds a tender dynamic between her lead characters, which makes the eventual deadly outcome all the more horrifying (if also kind of sweet). Liz Tabish’s To See You, a pastiche of paranoid 1970s thrillers, also succeeds at building emotional tension that pays off with a horrific climax.
The Study room at the Artisan (where the films showed on Saturday and Sunday) looked full with only 15 or so people in the audience, and some screenings had decidedly lower attendance. But any audience at all for an event like this is promising, and among the people who attended, there was a strong sense of solidarity and community, especially for the filmmakers sharing their work in an environment full of supportive women. The important thing is for Medusa and Moore to build on that, to invite more creators to share the kind of weird, alienating, distinctive visions that can only be appreciated at a festival like this. In that sense, Medusa is off to a great start.