"Non-narrative means you don't have to have a big production crew. You can do everything yourself," says Chris May, TIE's founder and executive director. "People who make non-narrative films do so because they have a love for the medium, so that's what they are playing with. I think a lot of times, maybe they have something to say, and they have no way to say it except through the abstract form."
So what remains when you remove the story? A boundless space in which to explore shape (as British filmmaker Tony Hill does in the three-minute Geometry and Gravity) or voyeurism (Scott Stark's Angel Beach squashes vintage images of bikini-clad women into a compressed commentary on our need to look) or the relationship between life and film itself. After all, film has a life span, just like plants and people. Vulnerable to elements, it changes over time. That's the idea behind a number of this year's offerings, notably Don't Panic, It's Organic, a multiple-projector piece that documents the carnage wreaked when Jason Livingstone exposed two sets of film to corrosive materials -- mud, dirt, snow, etc. -- then allowed them to germinate, and deconstruct, in two very different environments.
"We received a number of films about life, and things getting older, regeneration, about organics and how it relates to film," May says. "It was sort of an accident, but it became a theme for the festival. I don't know what it says about our culture. Maybe this has something to do with the digital age, but people seem to be craving a more earthy experience."
To that end, TIE films explore both the scientific and the aesthetic implications of film: Each one (there are more than 100) was shot on some form of celluloid, from Super 8 to 35mm. Though digital video has come a long way toward appearing more film-like, purists such as May feel there's something missing when you remove the hardware that the old-fashioned format requires. The projector's click and the spinning of the reels are as much a part of the experience as the images that reveal themselves on the screen.
"I feel like they are two different mediums, like the difference between being a painter and being a sculptor," May says. "Video has more of a place in art galleries and museums, whereas celluloid is more about cinema and having the lights off. It's more of a ritual thing."
TIE's full program won't be announced until the first day of the exposition, but organizers have dangled a few carrots along the way: Highlights include "Cinema in the Sky," a collaboration of director Robert Schaller and avant-garde artist David Wagner, wherein three different films will be projected onto airborne kites, animating them like living things. Many of TIE's filmmakers will be present, leading workshops and Q&A sessions with attendees. And Campbell's soup fans will have a chance to eat up Andy Warhol's rarely seen Haircut, the infamous single-shot film of a man being sheared for 25 minutes. Kind of gives new meaning to the director's most trusty command: Cut!