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Seedling films bring nature into view

story by April Robertson
arobertson@thecitywire.com

BENTONVILLE — A screening of short nature films dubbed Seedling Local Shorts will help round out activities  taking place Thursday (June 28) during Journey into the Wild, an “Art Night Out” event at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Hosted by the Seedling Film Association, four local filmmakers will take 12 minutes each to screen their productions, which focus on the theme of nature. Afterward, they’ll participate in an interactive panel discussion about the creation of their films.

“We have a very diverse range of films and diverse ages and experiences with our filmmakers,” said Jules Taylor, chairman of Seedling’s special events committee. “They have a theme of nature for these films: what does it mean to you, how it changes us, how we find it in our environment, how it affects us.”

The vague nature of this prompt seems sure to bring wildly varied results. Arkansas as The Natural State was a logical choice for just a festival, Taylor added.

“The gorgeousness of our state makes it easy,” she said. “You just want to film it.”

This year’s featured filmmakers are Joey Largent, a senior student at Fayetteville High School; Sarah Moore Chyrchel, video specialist and faculty multimedia liaison at the University of Arkansas; Dan Robinson, founder of Fiery Moon Productions; and Erika Wilhite, artistic director at the Arkansas Artist's Laboratory Theatre.

“We have an incredible film and artist community here,” Taylor said. “It’s our goal to bring to light and nurture this. We want to engage people in conversation about film and creation of art.”

Featured films
Roughly 10 films will be shown at the festival, amounting to about an hour of screen time.

Chyrchel, the video specialist, recently gave The City Wire a sneak peek into the program she’s presenting at Crystal Bridges, which includes a few of her earlier, experimental films: Rubespierre! Where the Sidewalk Ends, Dues ex Machina and a preview of her latest documentary, Witch Hazel Advent: The Story of an Ozark Poet.

Rubespierre! is the story of a city dog that goes to live in the country. The film lasts just a few minutes and is a kaleidoscope of brilliant color. The short depicts the dog’s ride to his new rural home, his head hanging out the car window. It also shows him being let out to swim in a creek, possibly for the first time, and bittersweet shots of Rubespierre running around fancy-free.

What’s better, it’s nonfiction.

During one of Chyrchel’s trips back to California, where she attended the Film Arts Foundation, she accepted responsibility of a friend’s dog that could no longer be its caretaker.

“I made this film to send back to my friends to show them that he was doing well,” Chyrchel said.

To create the desired effect of an old crackling film reel, Chyrchel used super eight-millimeter film and hand processed it in a dark room.

“You remove the 150 feet of film from a  2-inch by 2-inch box and turn the light on briefly to expose your images,” she said. “The process is a little like nature itself. It’s unpredictable. You don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Chyrchel shot the footage in the summer of 2002 at 18 frames per second, with three and a half minutes worth of film. It’s basically one long shot, with no editing.

“I like it,” she said. “You’re constrained by your media. It means you’re doing your own edits along the way, thinking ahead, which takes more planning.”

She created Dues ex Machina for an animation class, a quick feature of the planets and their movements in digital form.

“It’s based on Eugene’s orrery, a computer animation that leans heavily on the [Deus ex Machina] concept — that God created the universe like a machine then let it go, so now it’s falling apart,” Chyrchel said. “It’s kind of about nature and about destruction.”

The soundtrack of Dues ex Machina uses audio recordings from verified sources: how the planets and cosmos would actually sound if they were audible to the human ear.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends is a playfully imaginative feature with a child narrator reading the Shel Silverstein poem of the same name. It alternates black-and-white and color images in scenes exploring the intersection of nature and civilization.

Witch Hazel Advent: Story of an Ozark Poet is a documentary about Chyrchel’s grandfather, a man who fully immerses himself in nature by living off the grid. She plans to defend this film for her master’s thesis this summer.

Guests can also expect films that focus on the destruction caused by last year’s tornado in Joplin, the role of nature at the Willard Walker Hospice Center and more.

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