Father and son horses, a transgender woman’s journey of adjusting to her new identity, humans wearing animal heads as everyday wear, and a sexualized robot.
No topic was off limits at the Vidlings and Tapeheads Film Festival, which was held at Ant Hall July 7 and 8 in Hamtramck. Kicking off its inaugural year, the film festival presented short films from around the world, with an emphasis on experimental and unconventional narratives. The screenings were divided into four categories: Made in Michigan, documentary, animation, and fiction. In between programs, attendees could buy a drink and listen to local acts in the adjoining Ghost Light Bar, or peruse original artwork that was just as odd as the films being shown.
No one was busy that Saturday afternoon like Jerry White. Along with introducing each block, the VTFF director raced around the medium-sized venue in between programs, checking on lighting and sound.
Organizing a film festival is nothing new for White. He has been a programmer for the Slamdance Film Festival and FilmQuest in Salt Lake City and served as a juror for the Oak Cliff Film Festival in Dallas. When White was a teenager growing up in Rochester, he often hosted movie screenings at the Planet Art Theater, which is located across the street from Ant Hall.
“I fell in love with sharing movies with other filmmakers, the connections you meet, the friendships you make, and potential future collaborators,” White says. “I was living in LA for about nine years, and LA and NYC have no shortage of film festivals. Michigan has a bunch of great ones, too, but I feel like there’s still a lot of room here to explore different types of projects, so I wanted to do something in my home state.”
Planning the festival took about six months. He began accepting entries in January through the submission platform, FilmFreeway. Attracting high interest, White received over 200 short films. The movies were initially screened by two programmers. If the films were approved by him, then other programmers would watch them and deliberate on which titles should be shown in the festival.
One of White’s favorite shorts that eventually made its way onto this year’s festival lineup was the animated film, “Hold Me (Ca Caw Ca Caw).” The animated film shows the toxic relationship between a human and a large bird. Trapped inside their own house, the couple can't seem to terminate their relationship, despite their unhappiness.
“Hold Me (Ca Caw Ca Caw) is gross sometimes, but it’s so masterfully done. It challenges you, and that artist is really saying something, and even if it’s a little difficult to get through, I think it’s worth it. It really shows a marriage, and a wife being used. I thought it was interesting to show that in an unconventional way.”
Festival attendee Justin Kavoussi came for the animation films. A film editor originally from New York City, he has edited the independent films, Applesauce and Born Guilty. Applesauce premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015, while Born Guilty premiered at the Sarasota Film Festival in Sarasota, Florida earlier this year.
Kavoussi said what he enjoys the most about experimental animation and independent films overall, is that they are usually personal, and seem like a “unique, creative vision” of the filmmaker.
“It seems more like someone writing a poem or a novel, “ he said. And you can experiment, you can go off in ways that might not be financially viable.”
Amy Ingalls enjoyed the animation program as well, calling it her favorite block. She found about VTFF when she met White through her position as production coordinator at Community Media Network TV, a public access channel in Troy.
“Every time I see one [a film], there’s something emotional or story-like that I can find myself in,” Ingalls says. “Every time I think I have a favorite, there’s another one that’s just as exciting. I could actually see each block by itself at a venue.”
Moviegoer Bri Petlock was interested in the documentary block. A film that stood out to her was “Back to Abstraction,” an autobiographical narrative about Los Angeles artist and writer, Stacy Elaine Dacheux. The film reflects on Dacheux’s days as a teenager to her time as a hospice worker in her 20s.
Petlock was not only attending the festival because she is a movie lover, but she also came to support White, who is a longtime friend, and Andy Menko, the media coordinator for VTFF.
“I know it means a lot to them, and they put a lot of work into this,” she said.
White plans to bring back the Vidlings and Tapeheads Film Festival next year and hopefully, for years to come. Changes he would like to make to improve the festival include flying in filmmakers whose work appears in the festival, and host panels and workshops. One of White’s panel ideas is to have filmmakers discuss how they reached success in their field in metro Detroit.
White is also contemplating on showing feature-length films at future festivals, but said he enjoys the experimental aspect of shorter films. He feels that short films take more risks, and that they challenge the audience more.
“I’m really happy the way it's gone,” White said. “I’m not trying to take over the world with this film festival, and I’m not trying to compete with Sundance. I like that we’re a niche festival, and I want to keep it that way.”