Off camera

A film without a camera is not another way to describe music without an instrument. According to local collective Mechanical Eye Microcinema, “A cameraless film is made by creating images directly on film stock. This can be done by painting and/or drawing directly on film stock or by scraping/scratching the emulsion or by other chemical or non-chemical manipulations of the film.” So, in terms of music, a cameraless film is akin to prepared or manipulated piano, in which an instrument’s sonic possibility is the “point” of the performance. The piano is not in the service of a score, just as the film does not adhere to a plot, characters or other elements beyond its surface, although elements of animation and other narrative devices are sometimes used.

Although the results could be described as abstract, especially in the sense of a non-representational image (e.g., abstract expressionism in painting), the means or genesis is concrete and utilitarian. Take the opening program on Friday, June 7, with its prosaic heading “No Cameras, Lots of Projectors.” Roger Beebe, film and media studies professor at the University of Florida, will perform “Films for 1 to 8 Projectors,” which basically uses light and reels (and some video) as marionettes. Beebe orchestrates the variously sourced projections as they overlap, distort and augment one another. Filmmakers Robert Edmondson and Nick Mendez, also from Florida, will screen works as well. (Friday, June 7: 6-7 p.m. at the Asheville Art Museum $5 Art Museum members or $6 non-members, plus admission.)

Less laborious screenings continue on Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9 at the AAM, with works from nearly a dozen filmmakers and video artists, including Jodie Mack, Ben Popp, Scott Fitzpatrick, Kelly Gallagher, Joshua Solondz and Devon Damonte. Significantly, the program includes Madame Winger Makes a Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century, a blithe manifesto on handmade films by the late Helen Hill, who was killed in New Orleans in 2007. According to the New Orleans Film Society, which hosted a memorial event for Hill after her death, “Madame Winger describes inexpensive ways to create films that include hand-processing and drawing directly onto the film. Helen wrote ‘It’s fun to handle film as a celluloid canvas, rather than as a fragile carrier of images. You can experiment and create the most beautiful images ever.’”

Hill edited Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet, a widely used instruction manual for making films by hand, with contributions from some of Hill’s colleagues in the art. Hill’s work particularly characterizes what’s most compelling about cameraless and handmade films — the delight that comes from making things, however crude or simple the materials, however seemingly atonal or “pointless” the results. Artistic doesn’t have to mean maudlin or intense, any more than a film has to be made by a crew of hundreds for millions of dollars. You can make films about your life — your friends and livestock and shoelaces and sadness — without even using a camera.  (Screenings of this program take place Saturday, June 8, from noon-1 p.m. and 2-3 p.m. and Sunday, June 9, from 1-2 p.m. and 3-4 p.m. $5 Art Museum members, $6 non-members plus admission.)

Scratch and Crow (1995) — Scratch and Crow (1995), by Helen Hill, via


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