Updated: Mar 8, 2019
'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.