Minnesota Unearthed, a series that seeks local audiences for Minnesota films that have won national and international acclaim, continues this Wednesday at Trylon Microcinema with an experimental piece by Christopher Michael Beer called Fade. The film was made on a shoestring budget in 2006 when Beer was a freshman at the University of Minnesota, and stars local actress Adia Morris.
Minnesota Unearthed launched at the Trylon last September, and will continue through February 1. It's the brainchild of local filmmakers Dan Schneidkraut and Joe Larsen, who have both struggled in the past to get venues to play local films.
In recent years, says Larsen, there has been more interest in local filmmaking, as well as an incredible amount of film festivals. However, the pieces picked for the series were made before there was much of a community, and many went unseen locally. "A lot of these no-budget, lesser-known films have more opportunities now," he says. "A repertory series like this shows the public what they missed."
Though the series ends in February, Larsen hopes to revisit the idea in the future, perhaps with lesser-known films from the '80s and '90s.
Larsen says he chose to include Fade in the series because he likes its minimalist qualities. Because it is very low budget, it "relies more on atmosphere and visuals than dialogue," he says. It can be difficult to find local films that are more challenging and experimental, in part because the scene here is so based in commercial work for Target and Best Buy. "The films that come out of here are usually audience pleasers," he says. Fade takes on more philosophical issues.
In a nutshell, the film concerns a worker named Chloe (played by Adia Morris), living in an Orwellian compound, where she is kept emotionless. Chloe is made to do repetitious and meaningless tasks until one day she is given charge of a disobedient resident who inspires her to explore her underlying curiosity. Chloe decides to leave the compound, and discovers the loneliness that can come from being away from society.
When he made the film in 2006, Beer was taking a lot of film theory courses at the U, and incorporated them into his work (though it wasn't a production done for school). Fade is particularly inspired by Louis Althusser, who wrote about apparatuses in everyday life. Beer's use of Althusser's theories focuses on apparatuses in society that are ideological.
Looking back, Beer would have like to have had a larger budget to make the piece, but on the other hand he says the low budget creates a "nice underdone quality." He also says that Morris's performance as Chloe has allowed people to forgive him for the low production value.
Initially, Morris had auditioned for a different role, but because the actor playing the main character, who was originally male, had a scheduling conflict, Morris took on the part. The gender of the lead shifted, but nothing else. "Certain people read it a little differently, but nothing is changed," Beer says. "I cast the best actor for the role."
Since making Fade, Beer has gone on to make a short film called liska while studying in Prague. Another feature called Faux had a showing at the Lagoon for the Pride Festival. He made an additional short film called metronome., which premiered in England and has also been shown in Manhattan.
Beer has shown his work in some film festivals, but for a piece like Fade, he didn't want to do the circuit. "Festivals have become their own industry," he says. "Everybody has a camera now; it's so consumer-friendly."
Instead, he found some people who were supportive of the film, such as Ryan Oestreich, formerly of the Oak Street Cinema and St. Anthony Main, who included Fade with another film screening. The work was also noticed by Jesse Richards, founder of the remodernist film movement.
The remodernist film movement came about following Richards's manifesto about the direction he feels cinema needs to move in. Richards got into contact with Beer and some other filmmakers that share a similar vision. Beer's latest short, metronome., is a collaboration with the group. The gist of remodernism in film is paying attention to smaller moments, rather than some giant event, as well as drawing focus to the passage of time, including tidbits that fall away from traditional narrative. "It's about seeing the beauty of imperfection," Beer says.
Beer made Fade before he knew Richards, but once he read Richards's manifesto, he sensed a similar vision. "I said, 'Wow, we see eye to eye.'"
Unfortunately, Beer won't be present at the film screening, due to another project he's working on in New York where he's now based. However, he enjoys hearing feedback from people on his work. Some people have compared Fade to a Gus Van Saint movie. "People say it's similarly stylized," he says. "I take that as a compliment."
As for the film's focus on the passage of time, Beer says those who are willing to let it sink in really appreciate it. "It seems to make people think," he says.
The Wednesday evening screening of metronome. and Fade starts at 7 p.m. at Trylon Microcinema. Tickets are $8. For more info, click here.