The Heartbeat of Haverhill

Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA


IMG_4499 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival 2016

2016 marks the 3rd year of Haverhill’s Experimental Film Festival (HEFF). And for the first time, The Heartbeat of Haverhill was available to go to a screening. Check the link above for times and films

HEFF is the brainchild of brothers  Brendan & Jeremy Smyth and sponsored in part by the Haverhill Cultural Council. THOH/Alison Colby-Campbell is a member of HCC, and yet didn’t truly understand what to expect. It was fascinating.

IMG_4502 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival 2016

The Smyth Brothers founders of HEFF Brendan & Jeremy Smyth

Let’s start with the basics. The Haverhill Experimental Film Festival is a big deal. It spans 3 days, July 22-24 this year with multiple screenings each day showing a total of over 50 films.  Sessions are curated groupings of about six films. Our session lasted between an hour and an hour and a half. Admission is $5 per session. That is the deal of a century. Entrants come from many countries including, of course, the US, plus Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, Germany and Austria. During the evening showings there were about 50 attendees. Many from outside of Haverhill. (Excellent!) All screenings this year are held at The Barking Dog Restaurant and Tavern at 77 Washington Street.

The renowned jurors of the competitive phase are Ben Balcom, a filmmaker, curator and co-founder of Microlights, a pop up cinema that specializes in experimental cinema, and the technical director of the Milwaukee Film Festival. He is also an associate lecturer at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Kelly Sears is an experimental animator who has screened at film festivals internationally Sundance, South by Southwest, American Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, and at museums and galleries , The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Hammer Museum, and the Wexner, among others. She has been awarded many residencies including the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and Galveston Artist Residency. Sears is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado – Boulder.

For those of you who, like THOH, have no experience with experimental films, I have three suggestions:

  1. Throw out everything you believe a film to be. You cannot expect set running times, standard plot development, obvious good guys and bad guys in fact there might not be any “guys” at all, no people at all,  no identifiable images at all.  Sound is flexible, and meaning is sometimes tough to discern. That leads to point 2.
  2. Arrive early to read through all the program notes; this will help you understand (most times) what/why/how the filmmaker produced the movie.
  3. Some of these films are not created so you “love” them. Some have a message, some are visual experiences that evoke a feeling or thoughtfulness.
  4. If you get a chance, stay for the Q&A with the filmmakers. The questions people ask and the answers supplied go a long way in supporting your experimental film education.
IMG_4532 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival 2016

“Something Horizontal” required 3D glasses

Truth be told, my husband was gently shushed during the screenings for whispering to me more than once. I think that is unfortunate.These films are so different that you want to ask questions and seek understanding and there are only seconds between films, and the next film brings only additional questions and discoveries. My husband was shushed when he read the description of “The Trembling Giant”. He was prepared to hate it. The same shusher also asked for quiet of another man shortly thereafter (that man sat in front of me and I did not find his whisperings to be intrusive at all.) That man left the theater and shortly after his companion left, too. A funny thing happened to my husband – because he stayed he saw how gorgeous that film was, and since he is a still photographer I was able to witness its impact on his thinking. He had a half dozen questions for the filmmaker. The other couple didn’t get the chance to prove themselves wrong, as my husband did, or to develop the start of understanding the Experimental Film world. I am not sure, but THOH thinks the shusher was a juror, which makes it much more understandable, they have to experience the film undistracted by other viewers to effectively adjudicate. I just wish there were maybe separate sections in the small pop up theater like on the train with a quiet car and a speaking or rather whispering- friendly car. Or better yet  allow 5-10 minutes between films so we can discuss what we saw and head to the bar or the restroom without missing anything. I also wish there was signage outside of the restaurant to encourage unscheduled visits from passersby.

IMG_4512 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival 2016

These are brief films, the longest was 20 minutes; we saw this series of six.

“The Known Universe” by Lisa McCarthy shows every single “publicly available image captured by the Hubble  Telescope”. The images are small, distant at first then come in closer. THOH found this fascinating and the title so intriguing. It was amazing that everything we know about the universe made up no more than 4 minutes. I wished after seeing it at full speed, I could have slowed the universe down and relished each vast piece a little longer.

“Traces/Legacy” by Scott Stark has lots of flashing photos of a wide selection of items. Most interestingly these images generated their own unique sounds by running over the sound head.

“Something Horizontal” by Blake Williams.  Quoting the program:  “Flashes of Victorian domestic surfaces  and geometric shadows transform the physical world into a somber, impressionistic abstraction, while elsewhere a spectre emerging from the depths of German expressionism reminds us that what goes up must come down.”

“The Trembling Giant” by Patrick Tarrant who was on hand from London for the Q&A. His film is an “experimental nature  documentary that remediates the iconic landscape of the American southwest by filming through the take up reel of a 16mm film projector.” This was visually arresting and easily comprehensible. Just beautiful.

IMG_4538 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival 2016

Patrick Tarrant explains how he made “The Trembling Giant”

“Rothkonite” by Morgan Menegazzo & MariaChiara Pernisa This one is very hard to describe. Even the program listing is beyond THOH’s comprehension, but that problem is our lack of understanding not a critique of the filmmaker. “Rothkonite attempts to delete every configured memory and every conceptional obstacle with no memory and with no reference to a further reality…”

“Over & Over” by Michael Fleming is a “35 mm found-footage hand-manipulated collage film focusing on the depiction of fear and revenge in commercial cinema”. This was an interesting piece that THOH perceived differently than described. Without reading the program notes, I thought this was a criticism of established film making not for its propensity to promote feat and revenge, but for its lack of imagination. So many commercial films rely on the same formula. Good guy bad guy, chase scene, shoot out. In that interpretation it was the perfect promo piece for experimental film that strives to do more and innovative things with the media.

“The Order of Revelation:1-5” by Anna Kipervaser This film was 14 minutes of indistinguishable black and white images without sound which to the unenlightened like THOH just sounds inexplicable. But and this is an enormous but, those images are a visual alphabet created by the filmmaker to represent the letters used in the Arabic Quran. She than translated in the order in which the Quran was revealed rather than the order of canonization.  Utterly fascinating and so complex, it was like the invention of new hieroglyphs without the Rosetta Stone until the film maker answered questions. THOH hates to keep using the word “fascinating” but it was. Who even has the mind to think so conscientiously about this type of thing? Obviously Ms. Kipervaser, did, but who else could? It’s such a personal experience and passion shared with the public.

IMG_4543 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival 2016

Anna Kipervaser discusses her love of languages that led her to develop an all new visual language to translate the Quran

Experimental Film in my new (very limited) understanding is less about the audience and selling tickets and more about taking innovative risks with the media, of conveying messages in unique and powerful ways, of finding new dimensions in film. So if you like one film and not another, that’s fine, the same is true of every artwork – some resonate with you and others do not. The Heartbeat of Haverhill also noted that reading through the program provided incentive to visit again to see specific films who’s descriptions intrigued us, and who knows, perhaps finding a hidden gem from among those whose descriptions did not call to us so specifically. At $5 per session, it’s entirely affordable to experience something new several times over the weekend.

Having visited HEFF, THOH is even more convinced than ever that this is a city asset that we all should embrace even if we can’t be sure we will always “get it”.


(c)Alison Colby-Campbell





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Alison Colby-Campbell



Full-brain user demonstrating a healthy(?) obsession with marketing, promotion, writing, photography, house rabbits, the natural world, tennis, big and small problem solving, reading, hiking, HGTV and the flotsam & jetsam of everyday life. My three blogs Brain4Rent, The Heartbeat of Haverhill, Alison Colby-Campbell Photography are Wordpress based.

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