A giant sculptural net that appears to hang out of the sky. A series of meticulously created murals. Bright red smokestacks that release clouds of water vapor. The prevalence of public art in the Triad has increased in the past decade, bringing about a fresh new look on old abandoned plots of land and faded walls. And yet, it’s rare to see examples of film as public art. A new project at a/perture in Winston-Salem aims to fill the gap.
Flashes of action blare across a screen that’s nestled inside the independent cinema’s storefront window. A handful of stools congregate in front of the scene and a curtain adds to the display.
“There’s 1.3 million people that walk past our window on Fourth Street over the course of a year,” says Lawren Desai, the founder and head curator of a/perture. “We have something that we can contribute.”
They used to just run trailers in the window, but Desai says that film can be just as engaging as a street mural or a sculpture in the park.
“There’s a whole push for public art and we thought about how films could play a role in that,” she says.
The project, which has been aptly titled “Street Side Cinema,” kicked off this past summer and opened with a slew of short films from all over the world, handpicked by the cinema’s staff from thousands of submissions. All of the films are considered short films and the average run time of an entire program is about 20 minutes.
The upcoming program of short films runs the gamut from inventive animation to 60-second microshorts; all were created by women.
In collaboration with The Future of Film is Female, an organization that supports female filmmakers, a/perture will be screening six films in its front window, starting on Dec. 20. The theater was initially sent eight pieces and narrowed it down to the six, with the help of high-school girls from a/perture’s after-school program, Girls + Screen.
“We watched them and then rated them after each viewing,” says Gray Gordon, a/perture’s education and special programming coordinator. “Then we had discussions after each one and then moved onto the next one.”
Gordon says he was surprised at which films the girls gravitated towards.
While the microshorts by Kristine Gerolaga manage to pack a punch in just a minute — telling the story of a reunion between sisters or a spoof about the aftermath of a couple on a Jimmy Kimmel skit — Gordon says the girls’ favorite submission was the longest of them all.
“Feathers,” a fantastical film that follows a young black boy who gets sent to a “school for lost boys,” spans 20 minutes and is arguably the darkest piece in the program.
Created by up-and-coming director AV Rockwell, the film has been called “a love letter to black boys” and delves into the effects of institutionalized racism and trauma. Subtle hues of blues and greens and vibrant reds soak the screen as protagonists follow Elizier as he navigates his new life within the boarding school’s walls. Elements of surrealism evidenced in the way the film is shot, to the slightly ominous orchestral track in the background create a dystopian feel. The work teeters back and forth from Elizier’s present day to snippets of a happier past with his dad who, it is revealed towards the end of the film, was killed in a traffic stop by police. (Rockwell has said in interviews that she was inspired to create the film after the shooting of Philando Castile).
Gordon says that short films are the perfect medium to display in the window not only because of how easily they can be consumed, but also because of how unique they are.
“It allows for more freedom of expression,” he says. “The films have to grab viewers but also give them the narrative punch and satisfaction that a longer film might have.”
Other pieces in the program deal with lighter subject matter.
“Spell of the West,” by Sam Lane, imagines the dreamy, jewel-toned world of a lone female farmer who tends to her cacti in the middle of a desert day after day. A bit “Adventure Time”-esque in style, the short follows the protagonist who, with the help of her horse and woodland friends, has to track down a villain who chopped down her precious trees.
“We don’t have the opportunity to show a lot of short films here so this I think is a really cool way to target that audience,” Desai says. “Especially the younger audiences and introducing people to the art of film.”
Rain or shine, the films run on a loop in the theater’s window and a program tacked onto the wall shows viewers what they’re watching. Desai says the project is a win-win because it allows people the opportunity to interact with film more and for creators to get more exposure for their work.
“It’s really great to see,” Desai says. “There are so many people making films and they just them to be seen.”