When the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego hired Neil Kendricks as its film curator in July, museum officials must have known the result would be eclectic, and maybe downright weird, films.
The San Diego-based filmmaker, photographer, visual artist and writer has collaborated with MCASD over the last three years on alt.pictureshows, an annual event that showcases independent, alternative and avant-garde short films. Kendricks' own films tend toward the experimental.
Now Kendricks brings his filmic sensibilities to a new film series at MCASD's Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla that begins next week and runs intermittently through December.
While there's no thematic connection among the films, they all represent opportunities for San Diegans to see movies they likely won't get to see anywhere else.
"I deliberately wanted (the series) to be an eclectic range of films," said Kendricks. "I see my mission as being a little broader in that I would not only like to build an audience for Sherwood, but also broaden the audience's taste, and expose them to something new that they might not have experience with, or something really old that they might not have seen."
First up on Oct. 21 is the San Diego premiere of "The Real Dirt on Farmer John," directed by Taggart Siegel and produced by Teri Lang. The documentary tells the story of John Peterson, a Midwestern farmer, artist and eccentric thinker who turns his traditional family farm into an experiment of art and culture.
"Farmer John created a commune in the heart of conformist America," said producer Lang. "He lost everything and was forced to take a journey of self discovery. 'The Real Dirt' is an uplifting story that weaves the past and the present while showcasing the life of a rebel. This is where art and farming coming together in a thrilling, dramatic way."
Amid a failing economy, vicious rumors and violence, John -- an outcast in his community -- makes his farm a haven for hippies, radicals and artists. The film charts the end of this idealistic era as the farm debt crisis of the 1980s brings about the tragic collapse of the farm. The work represents 55 years of John's life as a farmer and activist, seen through family home videos, personal interviews and photographs.
Lang, a native San Diegan and former manager of the shuttered Cove Theatre, is now CFO of Cinefemme, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization founded to encourage and support women who pursue artistic careers in the film industry. She will be on hand for the San Diego screening to introduce the film and attend a question and answer session afterward.
"Real Dirt" will have a limited theatrical release in January, which means it likely won't make it to San Diego, a largely commercial-market movie town. The MCASD screening may be the only opportunity for local audiences to view the 11-time film festival award winner.
The series continues Oct. 28 with a screening of Frank Grow's "Love God." This twisted bit of loony-bin delirium is based on real people and events that Grow experienced in pre-gentrified downtown San Diego, a few years after President Reagan cut funding to California's mental health system and an entire population of the mentally ill were forced out of hospitals and onto the streets.
"Love God" isn't the type of film you're likely to see at the local cineplex or even arthouse movie theater.
"Neil Kendricks is a savvy film curator," Lang said. "What is interesting about this series is that these are films San Diegans can't easily see anywhere else. They are movies that might challenge the way viewers see 'film' and art."
Whether it's a slice of Americana, a cinematic freak show or a classic film, Kendricks' main goal is to broaden moviegoers' experiences. But he's especially interested in providing a space for experimental film, which he said has an important role in forming the filmic arts.
"I do feel like this is an opportunity to give a forum for people doing work that maybe is pushing the envelope in some interesting, dynamic ways -- and that tends to be people doing more experimental stuff," he said. "But today's experimental work is tomorrow's mainstream. If you look at the history of film, artists are always ahead of the audience, and eventually the audience does catch up, does get hip to what someone may be doing that seems strange or unusual now."
As an example, Kendricks cited the prominence of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's work. His popularity wouldn't be possible without the groundbreaking work of Jean-Luc Godard, a French filmmaker who experimented with editing, visual style and narrative. As a result, audiences today are much more sophisticated and attuned to nonlinear storytelling, Kendricks said.
"That's just one example why this stuff is important," Kendricks said. "It helps inspire and influence other artists down the road. Eventually what is a strange, disorienting art experience becomes perhaps just another way of experiencing that type of artwork. Audiences will have integrated that way of experiencing into their visual vocabulary."
The series will also feature the short-film showcase "Future Femme" on Nov. 19 and the 1933 classic "King Kong" on Dec. 7. All films start at 7 p.m., except for "Love God," which screens at 9 p.m. MCASD La Jolla is located at 700 Prospect St. Admission to the films is $5 for members, students and seniors, and $7 general. For more information call (858) 454-3541 or visit www.mcasd.org.
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