Iowa City’s Headroom film series returns on Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. at Public Space One with a program called the “New England Home Movie Tour.” Since 2013, the Digital Studio for Public Arts and Humanities at the University of Iowa has organized Headroom to offer experimental cinema programming to the denizens of Iowa City. This year, programming is being organized by curator UI Cinematic Arts faculty members Michael Gibisser, Jason Livingston and Jesse McClean.
Headroom presents a new group of films each month, offering looks at short films that fall under the broad designation of “experimental”—films that attempt to explore or expand the possibilities of cinema as a medium in a multitude of ways. For their first screening of 2015, they will present work by a group of filmmakers from the Northeastern U.S.—Luther Price, Jodie Mack, Robert Todd, Jonathan Schwartz and Jo Dery, as well as Colin Brant and Warren Cockerham, who will be in attendance at the Feb. 4 screening.
The films in the New England Home Movie Tour do not seem to be exactly the “home movies” the title suggests, but that doesn’t mean the title is necessarily intended to be sardonic. Instead, “home movie” is probably meant to refer to the handmade, deceptively amateurish aesthetic of the experimental films. According to Headroom, the series “aims to share films that embrace the contemporary DIY strategies, politics and aesthetics of an enduring, artisanal and personal approach to filmmaking.”
Home movies—actual home movies—are also a type of filmmaking tied to an era before digital technologies made captured video omnipresent in our lives; an era in which moving images were captured on material film, and in which setting up the projector to share the films with friends took considerable effort. The term therefore suggests a type of materiality absent from most contemporary self-captured video: sounds and images stored on film and run through projectors.
Thus the Home Movie Tour focuses not only on work shot on 16 or 35mm, but also on films that—and here is where the importance of “experimental” comes in—makes us think about the (now passé?) medium of celluloid film itself. Scream Tone by Jo Dery, for example, is a three-minute “direct animation” film, meaning that instead of using a photographic process, the frames of the film were drawn or painted directly onto the filmstock.
Moreover, Dery’s film experiments with the sound technology of analog cinema: The sound heard during the film is produced by the images themselves, as most analog projectors produce sound via an optical reader. (A traditional sound track, too, is an image printed onto the film, hidden from the audience’s view by a masking aperture and “read” by a device that re-converts the sine-wave images into sound.)
Films like Dery’s experiment with the possibilities of cinema not just as a mass-produced, narrative medium, but as a craft, a medium of personal expression, and an art among others in the dynamic field of 20th and 21st century art movements. Iowa City is no stranger to this type of film—students and professors in the University of Iowa’s Cinematic Arts department have been making and screening such films for decades—but Headroom provides the town with the opportunity to sample a diverse range of cinema beyond the narrative-centered films of both the multiplex and the arthouse.
Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that all the filmmakers would be in attendance. Little Village regrets this error.