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Free Form's function

The Free Form Film Festival is a travelling cinema, play, rock show and art exhibit. Sue Carter Flinn checks in with its Halifax stop.



“Hold on, let me give a quick hurray — we just found out we’re not lost,” says Ryan Wylie, turning away from his cell phone to cheer on his fellow passengers. Navigation woes are inevitable as the co-founder of the Free Form Film Festival travels across North America in a convoy of three vehicles—two vans and a truck—stuffed with technical gear and a dozen musicians, lighting and video artists. You can hear the buzz of talk and traffic as the group drives through a Maine tollbooth on their way to Dingwall, Cape Breton, for the next stop on their tour.

The Free Form Film Festival, the brainchild of Wylie, along with artists Tyron Davies and Mitchell Hill, is embarking on an ambitious 35-city trek across North America. Starting in Los Angeles, the live music, multimedia and short film tour will wind through towns big and small, rivalling major concert tours for clocked kilometres, before arriving at Halifax’s Maritime Conservatory for Performing Arts on Friday.

Although film festivals have become synonymous with red carpet shenanigans and million-dollar contracts, Free Form deals in free expression.

“There are a lot of elements in the creation of media that just aren’t seen in your standard movie theatre or on TV,” says Davies. “We’re there to be an outlet for the types of things that don’t get shown. To us, a film festival should be an open exchange of ideas, and some you can’t express in a typical movie structure. Some things are more abstract, some people have different world views that don’t fit into a typical movie narrative, or even a typical documentary.”

Artists submit their films to the Free Form founders, who in return promote, book and curate different shows for each area code they visit. Although the individual programs may vary, the format stays the same: a 70-minute screening of short films, followed by a live video and music performance.

“We curate our shows especially for the audience to make sure that the same film doesn’t play that’s played there before,” Wylie explains. “Our mix is eclectic enough that we know that people are going to like a few things that we’re playing, so we’re not afraid to take chances. Some films might challenge people a bit more, but we still hope that they get something out of them.”

Davies describes his own short film Aluminum, originally created as a music video for Chicago rock band Mahjong, as “cola wars meeting global warfare.” Found footage of warfare and consumer goods mix to create a satirical rapid-eye product placement. Don’t blink too long or you’ll miss Pepsi and Coke rocket launchers. Another short film that has been making the Free Form circuit, the animated Grimm’s Tales II: Death of the Hen by Brian Dewan, was picked up for an online version of McSweeney’s, the American bastion of literary coolness.

The centrepiece of the festival is the The Human Story. After the last short film and music interlude, all of the musicians, video and lighting artists join together for an hour-long performance. Live electronica and acoustic music, provided by drums, piano, synthesizers and other instruments, swells and builds, while videos are mixed and projected onto large inflatable globes, in an attempt to explore our collective human experiences. Not exactly a two-minute pitch: Wylie admits that it can be difficult to explain this abstract concept.

“We don't really make much separation between different art forms,” he explains. “In some ways it’s been hard to know who to promote it to. We say we should get a film critic out, and a theatre critic, and a music critic, and an art critic, because even the inflatables themselves are interesting installations.”Although the Free Form Film Festival is ambitious in both miles travelled and in concept, their philosophy is rooted in the right place, especially for those who are sick of the summer’s commercial film schlock.

“We’re definitely not anti-narrative. If it’s a good film, it’s a good film,” says Davies. “But so many things that are produced are derivative of 100 things that came before them. They’re just not really refreshing. We want to be entertaining, but we want to provide fresh forms of media and communication.”

Free Form Film Festival, September 9 at the Maritime Conservatory of Music, 6199 Chebucto, 8pm, $10.

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