Prismatic Ground is becoming a must-attend filmmaker-centered showcase on the rise for underground documentaries, avant-garde, and experimental cinema in the heart of New York City. Founded by Maysles Documentary Center co-programming director Inney Prakash, the initial virtual festival counter-responded to the approaches of many institutions that have inadequately handled virtual exhibitions and poorly supported artists. Prismatic Ground pays filmmakers screening fees, doesn’t divide features and shorts via “waves,” and merges early career and established voices in its accessible presentation of politically engaged, personal, and speculative imagery.
As this hybrid festival adapts the in-person components each subsequent year, the 3rd Prismatic Ground will present works at the Museum of the Moving Image, Maysles Documentary Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema, Light Industry, and Anthology Film Archives with limited selections available online.
Taking place May 3-7, check out our picks to see below and learn more here.
Hello Dankness (Soda Jerk)
The 2016 U.S. Presidential election was full of psychotropic angst that left Americans frantic over their country’s fate. The hysteria of these events distilled people’s comprehension of the world, how they went justifiably bonkers and divided a nation.
Rogue documentary samplers Soda Jerk craft a political fable that centers on the search for secured destiny amidst a deal-breaking outcome. The all-archival satire features Bernie supporter Tom Hanks, Clinton supporter Annette Benning, Zuckerberg lookalike Jesse Eisenberg, and alt-righters Garth and Wayne, among other popular actors playing the core’s neighbors. Archival films are prevalent in past Prismatic Ground selections (e.g. Charlie Shackleton’s The Afterlight and Anti-Banality Union’s Earth II), where individuals become a motif’s surrogate. Soda Jerk up the ante by making it a stoner musical and having soundbites dubbing characters, igniting a humorous, jaw-dropping nostalgia that resonates with past voters while upping the precarity with apt music cues and dextrous edits.
Hello Dankness opens the fest at Museum of the Moving Image on May 3.
Keeping Time (Darol Olu Kae)
If music touches people in many ways that are integral to their perspectives, Darol Olu Kae grounds the form in his short Keeping Time by manifesting its ties with family and history through the lens of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (The Ark). Musician Mekala Session attempts to find his voice in the ensemble while honoring the legacy of the late Ark’s founder Horace Tapscott and his colleagues. In addition to exerting family footage and scripted scenes in the luscious analog film, Kae utilizes music as the story’s action and vessel, unlike most docs where it supplements the participants’ testimonials. The film’s musical aesthetics express one’s internal complexity, tradition, and process akin to L.A. Rebellion figure Barbara McCullough’s approach to the practice in her film Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes. Keeping Time is a spiritual overture to maintaining communal lineage and the essence of interconnectedness.
Keeping Time plays at Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 4.
Life on the Caps Trilogy (Meriem Bennani)
When Trump imposed the Muslim ban, Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani responded by illustrating an oceanic enclave titled capsules (short for CAPS) and alternating air travel with aquatic teleportation in her trilogy Life on the Caps. In the shorts Party on the Caps, Guided Tour of a Spill, and the eponymous closer, Fiona, a crocodile, plunges us into the American occupation of the capsules where they detain illegal teleporters. As media and information circulate, the teleporters shape a liberation movement after the island’s militarization. Combining projection mapping, motion capture, vérité scenes, and viral found footage, Bennani thwarts the government’s law and order with celebratory congregational gatherings and musical performances where the migrants develop infrastructure and unity. Her techno-futuristic dystopia enables the protagonists not solely to resist but also to party in the most oppressive and hostile spaces. She incorporates the scientific, the political, and the personal in her exploration of movement and travel.
Life on the Caps plays at DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema on May 5.
M*U*S*H* (Jodie Mack)
Stop-motion animator Jodie Mack’s adoration of materialistic objects’ relationship to humanity is notably present in her feature The Grand Bizarre (via a quilt’s universality) and her Wasteland shorts’ time-lapse deterioration of life. She continues this prerogative through the dispersion of flower petals in her newest short M*U*S*H*. In its silent 16mm demonstration, frenetic shot exchanges between a loose arrangement and a compressed piling of stems and petals resemble a person’s growth in their tastes and knowledge. Throughout the transitions, moments of stillness occur. They appear in unexpected fashion that emphasize the importance of rest and a need to stay in the present instead of accelerating to the future. In doing so, Mack lets petals and stems breathe and consume the air. M*U*S*H* blooms tenderness, discovery, and observation.
M*U*S*H* plays at Anthology Film Archives on May 7.
Where (Tsai Ming-liang)
It’s odd to attest to multiple worlds running at different speeds, yet slow cinema’s time lord Tsai Ming-liang and his onscreen embodiment Lee Kang-sheng make it a reality. In the new Walker chapter Where, a Buddhist monk (an athletic, steady Lee) from past anecdotes continues drifting across the streets while Days co-star Among Houngheuangsy hums and performs mundane routines. Filled with Tsai’s signature static shots, we see the pleasures of moving slowly. Simultaneously, the Monk’s bright red robe strikes the naked eye among muted colors, where he elicits majestic stares and wry reactions from pedestrians (including Among) amidst their regular speed. (At one moment the Monk almost stands still when a bus enters and exits the frame.) Lee’s presence as a controlled variable in this social experiment contests the binary of fiction and nonfiction, embodying Tsai’s capture of authentic behaviors toward the unusual. Where is a melancholic meditation that evokes curiosity towards life’s actions.
Where plays at Light Industry on May 6/7.
Prismatic Ground takes place from May 3-7 across NYC venues with limited selections available online.