Long shot: Everson makes a visual poem

Still from Kevin Everson's Erie.
Still from Kevin Everson's Erie.

One thing I look forward to during the Virginia Film Festival is the chance to view edgy, experimental pieces that usually only screen in urban centers like Chicago or New York. But this year the arty offerings are few and far between. Two exceptions are Kevin Everson's new feature, Erie, and a group exhibition by Everson's art students at the former C-Ville office on the Downtown Mall.

Erie contains elements familiar to Everson fans: a focus on middle-class African-American labor and leisure, an ambient soundtrack, and indications of the filmmaking process, such as scratched ends. Nevertheless, it's a departure from the UVA art prof's previous features. Shot in northern Ohio and Buffalo, NY, the 81-minute black and white film is a series of single takes, lasting between 10 and 11 minutes–- the amount of time a film spool moves through a camera's magazine- that are unrelated narratively.

Everson says he's been thinking about one-take filmmaking for some time, but when he was in Europe last year he began to conceive of a piece that would string together disparate scenes, connected only by their subjects' focus on a task at hand. Alternating between static shots and ones involving action, interiors, and exteriors, Erie is a meditative visual poem.

Opening on workers putting up a Volkswagen billboard intended to appeal to African Americans, the film cuts briefly to Niagara Falls, and then settles into a prolonged shot of a young girl in a white shirt staring at a flickering white candle. The composition is beautiful, but as the minutes tick by, with next to nothing happening, the small things–- the twitch of the girl's mouth, a drip of wax, the sound of a dog barking–- become enormous.

And so it goes for the rest of the film, slow and ponderous. Which is not to say there aren't breathtaking moments. In one memorable shot, Everson's camera pulls back from a vocalist and pianist practicing a sentimental song on a tinny upright to follow a dancer krumping to music blasting from a CD player in another part of the warehouse-like room.

Erie screens on Thursday night, but 18 of Everson's University of Virginia students carry the filmic art torch through the weekend with a series of video installations at 106 E. Main Street. According to fourth-year student Vashti Harrison, the eighteen pieces "are made for people to walk in and of," and several are site-specific.

Erie, screens at 10pm on Thursday, November 5, at Regal 3 on the Downtown Mall.  For more information, call 1-800-UVA-Fest. Everson's UVA art students' video installations are on view Friday and Saturday, 9am-10pm, at 106 E. Main St. (former office of C-Ville). 434-242-4211.