Urban Culture Vulture: Friday Night Conundrums and the Phoenix Art Museum

Here’s something that I’ve found to be true for myself, and most people I talk to: you can only go to so many Friday night frat parties before the world starts to look like a pretty ugly place. While that’s easy to recognize, what can be more difficult is finding something genuinely fun to do in place of them. Here’s where the Phoenix Art Museum comes in. Their weekend events are interesting, reasonably priced, and can even include food with admission. Because these are all things that appeal to me, I went to IFP Phoenix’s Masterpiece Challenge for filmmakers last Friday night at the museum to see whether this could really be a viable Friday-night alternative.

The Masterpiece Challenge took nine groups of independent filmmakers and gave them seven weeks to make a short film inspired by a piece of art in the museum. Their choices ran the gamut of what the museum has to offer, from its mesmerizing room called “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies” to Frida Kahlo’s disturbing painting, “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.” The films themselves were just as unique as the works that inspired them; in less than seven minutes, audiences heard the story of a depressed worker in a shoelace factory, a repentant priest, and a jealous husband’s murder of his wife, just to name a few.

My favorite, “Winding Road”, was inspired by Jan Van Dalen’s “Still Life, Vanitas.” Dalen’s painting showcases an explorer’s spoils, discarded. Director Diane Dresback’s film features its very own explorer, an aging, Billy Bob Thornton-esque musician, and explores his relationship with his sometime lover, a one-armed bartender. The painting’s spirit runs throughout the film, much as I’m sure the challenge’s organizers had intended.

Later that night, I talked to Independent Film Project Phoenix’s executive director, Webb Pickersgill, about the interplay between art forms that the Masterpiece Challenge fostered. He called the results “inspiring,” and said that the purpose of the challenge was to allow the filmmakers to mix things up.

“What happens is that we get stale as artists, and by using inspiration from other arts that we’re not used to, it helps stir up those brain cells and get us going,” he said. Pickersgill is right to call the films inspiring; each one offered not only a refreshing interpretation of the piece that inspired it, but also an entirely new, distinct artistic vision all its own.

Sound good? The winner of Friday night’s Masterpiece Challenge will be shown at the Phoenix Film Festival, along with the winners of Independent Film Project Phoenix’s two previous challenges. The festival runs from March 29 to April 5, and will be held at Harkins Scottsdale 101. The Phoenix Film Festival is Arizona’s largest film festival, and screens more than 150 films annually.

Come and support independent filmmakers by catching a few, or sit in on one of their filmmaking seminars. Volunteers who give 24 hours or more get a t-shirt and a full festival pass, so email volunteer@phxfilm.com if you, like me, spend most of your money on ramen as it is.


Email me at jlpruett@asu.edu

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