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Calarts in Moving Pictures: A Mini Tribute

Wormholes

Since its establishment in 1971 at the Disney-endowed California Institute of the Arts, the School of Film and Video has cultivated a hands-on, experimental, interdisciplinary approach to filmmaking whose undergraduate and graduate practitioners have gone on to exert an enlivening, eccentric and even subversive influence on the look, sound and attitude of American movies and television. Think Pee-wee’s Playhouse (starring CalArts alumnus Paul Reubens). Think The Matrix (sound designer Dane A. Davis). Think Powerpuff Girls (animator Craig McCracken). Think The Nightmare Before Christmas. Think Pixar. Think SpongeBob.

Think square pants.

And keep on thinking, as did Museum of Modern Art film curator Joshua Siegel, when he began the nearly three-year process of wading through 1,400 or so specimens of CalArts student work to assemble MoMA’s 39-program “Tomorrowland” tribute to the School of Film and Video, running through August 13. For those of us who won’t be traveling to New York this summer, the Los Angeles Film Festival is presenting, in a single program that runs just under two hours, a kind of homeopathic distillation of “Tomorrowland” titled “CalArts in Moving Pictures: A Mini Tribute.” Highlights of the show include Pixar co-founder John Lasseter’s 1979 Lady and the Lamp, a rough sketch for the animation juggernaut’s hopping desk-lamp logo; SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg’s road-trippy, Zap-comical 1992 Wormholes (think Victor Moscoso and those sinisterly mutating Mickey Mouse ears); The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick’s 1981 Seepage, an innovative blending of cell animation and stop-motion puppetry; Stasis, a 1978 short from Museum of Jurassic Technology founder David Wilson; and, among the more recent selections, 9 in a Chimney 10 on a Bed (2002), another surreally crushing childhood reminiscence from the amazing J.J. Villard, perpetrator of 2003’s award-winning Bukowski-meets-Beavis and Butt-head animation Son of Satan.

This “mini tribute,” then, is all about acorns, mustard seeds, seminal work, embryonic talent. And if that rings your bell, you’ll do well to head straight from it over to the Majestic Crest theater where, at 9:45 p.m., LAFF begins its repeat screenings of seven programs of brand-new shorts, including two showcases (sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) of work by high school students — some of whom doubtless have their sights set on CalArts. (Italian Cultural Institute; Wed., June 28, 7 p.m.)

—Ron Stringer

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