On Looking at Animals and the One Minute Film Festival

The One Minute Film Festival is no longer with us. For those unfamiliar the title is pretty self explanatory: a group of people made one minute short films and got together annually in a barn in upstate New York from 2003-2012 to screen them, commune & potluck. It was always an exciting project- the potential limitless, the projects fresh...but it was also a schizophrenic project that could easily give the feeling of a dog sitting on the tv remote, switching images, sounds & meanings into a blur instead of individual intention. The only commonality was length (the final installation of the fest attempted an exquisite corpse format with each filmmaker sending a snippet to another in attempts to create some semblance of connectivity or maybe to push the feel into utter chaos, which resulted in, mildly frustrating nonsense...) and the important part of the fest seemed to be the community it fostered: indie directors & artists coming together with their work & a covered dish. Now on view at Mass MoCA is a compilation of the One Minute Film Fest, an odd choice given the fact that I think the viewing experience was the most important level of the fest as opposed to the work itself...but it's cultural importance (a pre-youtube/post digital access time capsule) it embodies is something that I guess does belong in a museum, even if the most memorable films weren't too far from a sneezing panda....

The physical installation of the One Minute Film Fest exhibit was stellar: multiple carpeted rooms in a darkened, elevated gallery, each room a looping a series of films from a particular year of the fest, the walls adorned with posters made by the directors that helped to ground the flash film experience some. The idea of witnessing a pre-ish internet short film digest makes this an important cultural experience, as does viewing the progression of (mostly) digital video formats and trending topics & themes- as the exhibit info point out the fest spanned both the Bush & Obama administrations- even though there seemed to be little content dealing with any sort of timely or heavy topics...in fact, the most successful films seemed to be the same type that flood the internet daily: animals. After being mesmerized by Roxy's Endless Summer (a dog on a float, in a pool, as a group of adults create a whirl pool around her) I wondered why animals are so appropriate for the micro-film genre?
In search for this answer I stumbled on John Berger's essay Why Look At Animals?, a text that muses on the evolution of man and man's relationship with our furry little friends: language stemming from metaphor (us & them, defining the "them" as different than man/animal)--> to a Greek tradition of anthropomorphism (embedding the animal with human characteristics)--> to animals reduced to mechanized, moving parts during the industrial revolution (again, aligning the conveyor belt man with animals) --> to the nature of pets (scapegoats or projections of lacking emotional human connection of modern man) --> zoos/a complete marginalization of existence that Berger blames, in a sense, on capitalism (we have destroyed all of animal's real environments, all of the real connection we shared with them obliterated, in the name of industry, jobs, and a culture that has no place for them...except maybe on the internet that is.)

In Berger's terms I think he would have seen animal clips on the internet as a sort of extension of the zoo, a digital cage and barrier between man & beast that is even less "real," even further removed in the name of our new type of technological/capitalistic invention. At first I thought that maybe, just maybe, there was a slight return to the warm glow of anthropomorphism but I think the new way we look at animals is actually far more sinister: the humanistic situations and emotions that viral animal videos project might just be a replacement for our own human connections (shudder).

People are more removed from one another than ever before, virtually living lives...is our preoccupation with cute animals online a way to feel? A way to inject an emotion into our pixel laddened digital existence? A different sort of porn to evoke a different set of lacking feelings? I think the answer (eerily) might be yes. We've gone beyond the simple marginalization of animals Berger saw and created them into a trigger for the most base of human responses (feeling). Animal vids are a synthesis of each stage that Berger suggests we created between the growth of man and their relation with animal- spawning a language creation of otherness (lolz cats can haz cheezeburger?), a projection of human like attributes onto the animals to feel closer to them, acting as pieces of the viral video producing machine, marginalized from any sense of reality on the interwebs...and hell, what is the current digital age but a mash up of everything all at once? All of Berger's stages of animal & man's relationship bursting at the frame of Grumpy Cat!

Now, how did I get here? O, yes...the One Minute Film Fest! The One Minute Film Fest acted as a kind of historical bridge between viral video and short film but, most importantly, it acted as a full blown experience of human connection through the screenings and audiences it brought together each year, a thing that film is meant to do and that, one might argue shark cats riding roombas on the internet are also doing in a completely new type of communal, commenting audience- the bridge here the Mass MoCA exhibit inviting audiences to ponder these films in a newer type of film setting known as the museum...We each view these films on our own devices and then take to the internet or (gasp!) sometimes real life (Cinefamily even recently hosted a Cute Animal Film Festival series & a lecture on The Feline Gaze: The Art of the Cat Film as part of their legendary Everything Is Festival pushing the boundaries of viral cat videos and communal viewing experience- o good god, is the feature length cute animal movie the future of cinema? ) and share the clips of animal cuteness or cunning or human quality to bring us emotionally closer together. We've gone ahead and marginalized animals, reduced them to an "other" of animals-in-video-form, as a way to fill the void of humanity that we all experience between the 1s & 0s of our everyday lives, to maybe make our own technology driven marginalization feel more cute & fuzzy...I wonder what the next step for our furry friends of micro-short cuteness?  I can't predict our relationship with animals but I truly hope it teeters on the conservation/less marginalization for all side (like this breathtaking piece ) moving backwards in Berger's time line- as opposed to hurtling forth into a dystopic future of feature films made by robots of extinct cute bunnies!

(Note: as for the One Minute FF exhibit these folks had a nice showing: Jorge Columbo with his painting of a film 43rd Floor, Tine Oksbjerg's stark reflections Look away- Love is nowhere (it has a dog!), and Megan Cumps' dreamy, magnetic Swamp (a frog is in this one!).



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.