By Cera Deibel, Assistant Editor
On the first Saturday evening of September, a candle-lit chapel was crowded with a group of 20-somethings chatting amongst themselves while clutching $2 PBRs and bottles of wine. Behind them, a projector whirred before a white screen, readying to show a handful of films created by artists from around the Bay Area. The setting for this gathering, The Convent Arts Collective, is a former nunnery located in the Lower Haight that has been converted into a 24 person live-work artists commune. SFAI student Ariella Robinson, a current resident artist at The Convent, has been utilizing the space to curate a series of art gatherings, including this one, often featuring members of the school community.
The evening’s bill consists of Devil of the West - a featurette directed by BA student Alex Lilburn and BFA alumnus Katherine Franklin - preceded by a program of shorts, curated by Lilburn, featuring the video work of Gray Tolhurst, Zoe Kuhn, Kolby Rowland, Miguel Novelo, and Marcelo Brasil. The shorts range from hypnotic and atmospheric to poignant and humorous.
Devil of the West is a neo-western, exploring classic themes of murder, betrayal, and a search for purpose. The story follows “The Kid” (played by alumnus Charlie Pollard) as he navigates his life as a hitman working for the inscrutable “Bureau,” represented by SFAI’s own Kenneth Thomas in the role of Agent Kissinger. A botched job and tempestuous personal relationships leave The Kid on a quest for revenge and an escape from his haunting guilt, eventually leading him to the mysterious Keeper of the Distance (Marcelo Brasil).
Watching The Kid’s journey, it becomes apparent that the film’s narrative relies a bit too heavily on ambiguity, and overly played out themes, to fully flesh out the main character’s development and reasons for his inner turmoil. Much of the acting leaves something to be desired, and is perhaps the film's greatest weakness. However, the area in which Devil shines the brightest is in its brilliant cinematography and mood-defining score. Artfully shot between wide environmental panoramas and close ups that encapsulate the drama of a scene, Franklin’s background in photography is clearly responsible for setting much of the films unique tone. Vast green landscapes peppered with abandoned structures and detritus evoke the style and soul of classic westerns without any of the dust or spurs, cars substituting for horses, while desolate city shots make even our compact San Francisco feel like a lonesome range. Paired with a score by Brian Fulda that is reminiscent of Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack, it organically sets the tone without overpowering the scenes and acts to draw out emotion in places where much of the acting fails.
It is excellent to watch such a cleanly produced featurette come out of a program whose history is so rooted in the experimental. At the close of the film, Brasil’s character asks “Are we going somewhere, or are we just going?” While the ending of Devil trails off in the “just going” direction, the work of Lilburn and Franklin is already well on its way.
Devil of the West can be viewed at www.vimeo.com/173019566
For more information about The Convent SF, visit www.conventartssf.com. If you are interested in contributing work to any future art events organized by Ariella Robinson at The Convent, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org