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Arboreal Treats

[whitespace] The best of the Ann Arbor Film Fest on display

By Richard von Busack

THE NAME "Detroit" may share the root for the word "deteriorate." The way a great city was allowed to mortify has a terrible voyeuristic fascination, but director Nicole Cattell finds something hopeful in these ruins. "Come Unto Me: The Faces of Tyree Guyton," the standout entry in this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival, explores the work of Guyton, an artist who coped with the desolation. Guyton made a huge sculpture out of his yard and the abandoned house next door to him. He called the resulting assemblage the Heidelberg Project, after a street he used to live on. Guyton's installation, which became a local landmark, was built out of junked car parts and other rejected materials. Guyton explains his references: the sycamore tree in which discarded shoes hang like fruit represent the feet of the lynched; a derelict school bus he hauled up and decorated was painted in honor of Rosa Parks, and the exterior of his house is a memorial to his grandfather.

It is an inspiring documentary but partisan: the neighbors who consider Guyton's work an eyesore are only given the barest replies. And Jenenne Whitfield, later the executive director of the Heidelberg Project, is credited as production coordinator on the film. Whitfield tells a good story of how she was recruited into Guyton's scheme. She was driving down the street and saw the artist polka-dotting his house. "What the hell are you doing?" she asked. "Painting my house," Guyton answered. "But a house is supposed to be just one color." "Is it?" The score is by Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, and John Coltrane.

The other selections this year seem weighed heavily toward collages of found footage and feature films. Too often, these opuses are nothing more than a game of "guess which film?" (Footage of open-heart surgery turns up in two of these experimental films in succession.) Of these collages, "Women Are Not Little Men" by Lisa Hayes is the best. It's a filmed version of a 50-year-old textbook about women in the workplace, and it's full of chauvinist baloney, preposterous statistics and crypto-science guaranteed to have you smiling like a timber wolf. Some could call it heavy-handed feminism, but Hayes certainly has her evidence.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival shows Saturday (June 1) at 7pm at Room F-12 at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. $5 donation to benefit KFJC radio; bring $2 in quarters for parking. Also plays Sunday (June 20) at 4pm at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the June 17-23, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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