A Guide to the Unseen Festival: Eight Not-to-Miss Program Picks

Vonnie Quest, "Remnants of a Room."
Vonnie Quest, "Remnants of a Room."
Vonnie Quest
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For the uninitiated, experimental film is difficult. It has nothing to do with star-studded Hollywood-style scripting and the gimmicks of special effects; instead, it’s an art practice driven by technical experimentation and non-linear visuals, telling stories obliquely — and often, very slowly and subjectively. Only a handful of filmmakers, students and curious onlookers floating in the global experimental-film universe take this work seriously — one reason that the Colorado-produced Unseen Festival, with a title alluding to the genre’s invisibility in the public eye, is a miracle of programming.

Capaciously curated by festival hub Counterpath Press, 7935 East 14th Avenue, Unseen’s second year starts rolling on September 1, comprising a full thirty days of screenings of 200 films from nearly fifty countries, narrowed down from a whopping 500 entries. In addition, each evening includes a literary reading and/or dance performance, and as if that weren't enough to absorb, there’s also a nightly string of off-site after-parties and guerrilla screenings at locations to be announced, as well as tie-ins with East Colfax Avenue restaurants and businesses in Counterpath’s immediate neighborhood.

To get you started, here’s a list of program picks. If you like what you see, dive in and pick a few screenings of your own.

Ivelina Ivanova, "Microdistrict."
Ivelina Ivanova, "Microdistrict."
Ivelina Ivanova

Opening Night!
Counterpath, 7935 East 14th Avenue
Saturday, September 1, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

The Unseen Festival gets off to a rosy start with rare Denver dance performances by writer/dancer Serena Chopra and CU-Boulder dance/new-media legend Michelle Ellsworth and films by an international roster of alternative-cinema artists, including American found-footage filmmaker Roger Deutsch (and producer of the ’80s cult film Blank Generation), whose 2018 film Fathers and Sons, a personal family history using photos, home videos and archival footage to explore his Hungarian/Jewish roots, will be screened. Some audience members will migrate after the show to a location TBA to view D. W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 silent classic Birth of a Nation, Part 1.

Eden Mitsenmacher, “Couldn’t Dream Anywhere.”
Eden Mitsenmacher, “Couldn’t Dream Anywhere.”
Eden Mitsenmacher

Future Light
Thursday, September 6, 7:30 p.m.

This space-themed evening looks to the skies, examining the cosmos through the eyes of seven filmmakers. Mexican filmmaker M. Dianela Torres — whose segments in the program, Sincronía and Juno, contain NASA imagery and are scored using sounds from space — will appear in person, ready to let you pick her brain. Before the lights go down, authors Rowland Saifi and Vincent Carafano will read; the evening’s Unseen off-site screening will be the visual feast that is Koyaanisquatsi.

Laurids Andersen Sonne, Man From Iota.
Laurids Andersen Sonne, Man From Iota.
Laurids Andersen Sonne

Boulder Screenings
With a whole month of dates to work with, Unseen Fest programmers gave a nod to the University of Colorado Boulder film community by scheduling four dates on the CU campus, where an emphasis on integrated media studies prevails, while still honoring the hands-on spirit of late experimental film pioneer and longtime Boulderite Stan Brakhage. Filmmakers will appear in person at every one of them, many of them with ties to Boulder and CU, including faculty members and grad students past and present.

Laurids Andersen Sonne, Man from Iota
NEST Studio for the Arts, CASE Building, University of Colorado Boulder
Sunday, September 9, 5 to 7 p.m.

Encounters With the Unknown: The Cinema of Dakota Nanton
Visual Arts Complex 1B20, University of Colorado Boulder
Monday, September 10, 7 to 9 p.m.

Work/Prints: Taylor Dunne and Eric Stewart
NEST Studio for the Arts, CASE Building, University of Colorado Boulder
Sunday, September 23, 5 to 7 p.m.

Moment of Yield: Recent Work by Toma Peiu and Luiza Parvu
NEST Studio for the Arts, CASE Building, University of Colorado Boulder
Monday, September 24, 7 to 9 p.m.

Rafal Morusiewicz, "Uprooting Ghosts: A Queer 'Fantasia on National Themes.'"
Rafal Morusiewicz, "Uprooting Ghosts: A Queer 'Fantasia on National Themes.'"
Rafal Morusiewicz

Two nights at Gildar Gallery, 82 South Broadway
Both Gildar Gallery programs during Unseen are politically driven, with multiple perspectives on world conflicts, from the ostracized Palestinians in Gaza to the exiled Jews of anti-semitic Poland — and, say Unseen programmers, they “show that Unseen is not just about abstraction, but also expresses tangible reality.” And it’s no accident that the first of these screenings falls on the weighted anniversary of 9/11, when the showing will be preceded by a reading curated by Tameca Coleman and including Allissa Woodson and Rashid Mohammed. Dancers Brooke McNamara and Lauren Beale will perform before the September 18 segment. All in all, the intersection of the art-gallery crowd and the experimental-film community might make for an electric dynamic.

Uprooting Ghosts
Tuesday, September 11, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Violence Is to Charge 600 Euros
Tuesday, September 18, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Lake Club
Saturday, September 15, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Unseen programmers call Lake Club an “underwater show,” and to that end, it’s packed with meditative footage and imagery. Chinese filmmaker Bin Li, a composer who’s only recently turned to film, will offer an in-person performance with help from clarinetist Rebecca Zinner, and Swiss artist Magali Dougoud will appear in person, as well. Authors Hanna Rose Shell and Laynie Browne will read to start off the evening.

Remnants of a Dream: Films Curated by Amir George
Wednesday, September 19, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Contorting Metaphysical Hijinks: Films by Amir George
Thursday, September 20, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

2017 Unseen Festival resident filmmaker and Afrofuturist Amir George is back from Chicago this year in the same role, with a two-night takeover — one evening as a curator and the second as an artist. Recently hired as a programmer for the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri, George returns to Denver with new vigor and a slew of fresh films from the black avant-garde. On Wednesday, a performance curated by Denver author Steven Dunn precedes the show; on Thursday, author Tameca Coleman curates readings by Rolanda Simmons and Ahja Fox.

Unseen Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, "Sun-Quartet: San-Juan-River."
Unseen Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, "Sun-Quartet: San-Juan-River."
Unseen Colectivo Los Ingrávidos

The Sun Quartet, Colectivo Los Ingrávidos
Peralta Projects, in the garage at 747 Elati Street
Tuesday, September 25, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Mexico’s Colectivo Los Ingrávidos could be the poster collective for the Unseen Festival, simply because its work is so politically sensitive that the members release their films anonymously. Inspired by the disappearance of 43 students of Ayotzinapa, Mexico, in 2014, The Sun Quartet tells the story in four parts contiguous with the four natural elements, beginning with protesting youth and ending with public outcry against drug cartels, causing a governmental shakeup. (Gallery owner Esteban Peralta was so taken with the collective’s powerful work that he’s screening his own satellite program of the group's films on September 7.)

Kate Speer looks into the future of dance performance.EXPAND
Kate Speer looks into the future of dance performance.
Courtesy of Heather Gray Photography

Closing Night! Best of the Fest!
Sunday, September 30, 7:30 to 10 p.m.

This is your last chance to catch films you missed during the festival’s run, with a program to be announced at a later date. The night will be preceded by a dance performance by Kate Speer and Megan Madorin. There will also be a late-night Unseen off-site screening of Birth of a Nation, Part 2, at a location TBA.

The Unseen Festival runs nightly September 1 through 30 at Counterpath and satellite venues at the Dikeou Collection, Georgia Art Space, Gildar Gallery, Peralta Projects and the University of Colorado Boulder. Full-access passes are an excellent value at $100; tickets for individual screenings are $7 at the door. Find a comprehensive schedule with program previews, film descriptions and filmmaker bios at Counterpath’s home page.

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