Now in its fifth year, Durham’s Strange Beauty film festival is one of the most curious and flat-out fun movie events in the Triangle, if not the entire space-time continuum. A carefully curated blend of experimental, documentary, narrative and animated short films, Strange Beauty has an aesthetic all its own.
That’s entirely by design, says Jim Haverkamp, who runs the festival with his wife and fellow filmmaker Joyce Ventimiglia. Sitting at a picnic table outside Motorco Music Hall in Durham, just down the block from the film fest venue at Manbites Dog Theater, Haverkamp talked about the festival’s unique approach.
“Joyce and I are pleasantly surprised every year at the quality of entries and the fact that people keep entering,” Haverkamp said. “Every year we get to push the boundaries of what ‘strange beauty’ is, because it’s never been a hard and fast thing to us. We’re always trying to push ourselves as curators.”
New work debuted
This year’s 46 short films, selected from more than 350 submissions, will be screened in four blocks next Thursday through Saturday (June 12-14) at Manbites Dog. The films range in length from under a minute to just under a half-hour, sequenced in four programming blocks starting at 8:15 p.m. each evening, plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.
More than a dozen filmmakers from the Triangle and North Carolina are in the lineup, along with films from as far off as Germany, France and Australia.
New this year, local avant-pop outfit Felix Obelix will debut an original live musical soundtrack to the short film “The Cameraman’s Revenge,” a 1912 stop-motion short from Polish animator Ladislas Starewicz. The short film – you can check it out on YouTube – tells a tale of intrigue and adultery among a group of jaded, um, beetles and grasshoppers. The Felix Obelix performance is scheduled for the Saturday afternoon screening block.
During the Saturday night screening session, the Strange Beauty Aural Fixation will return to the festival with a listening block of audio documentary and art. Also on Saturday night, Strange Beauty will host an “informal tour stop” from Women With Knives, a trio of experimental animators currently traveling the East Coast.
Embraced by audiences
Haverkamp said that, over the five years running the festival, he’s come to appreciate both the worldwide community of filmmakers dedicated to artistic short films, as well as the local Triangle audience that embraces the work.
“We want the audience to be genuinely surprised, challenged, pleased and sometimes disturbed,” Haverkamp said. “It’s so gratifying that there is an audience for this kind of work.”
Filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul – who, like Haverkamp, teaches part-time at Duke University’s Arts of the Moving Image program – said the Strange Beauty has an approach to curating and sequencing that makes the festival unique.
“I don’t think I know how to define it, but it’s delightful,” Kaul said. “One of the joys of making short films is to see how they get programmed with other short films, and it can vary greatly depending of the venue and the programmers.”
Josh Gibson, also a local filmmaker and Duke instructor (and, as it happens, Kaul’s husband), also praised the festival’s approach.
“The wondrous aspect of Strange Beauty is its programming,” Gibson said. “The lineup is a raging party with the misfits and outlying films of the festival world. It’s like the kids who never got along well with the other kids on the playground suddenly find each other, link hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ Backwards.”