First things first: The Telluride International Experimental Cinema Exposition (or TIE) is different. Now in its second year, the four-day fete offers a conceptual counterpart to the mountain town's more famous movie-thon. While the Telluride Film Festival screens small films that have a shot at being picked up for wider audiences, TIE widens awareness of film as an artistic, abstract and ultimately visual art form. It comprises works by filmmakers from twelve countries, many of whom approach the camera as a paintbrush rather than a pen: With the exception of a few documentaries, all films to be screened are non-narrative, which means there are no "plots," "actors," confinements or contrivances.
"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!