Roger Beebe doesn't believe that bigger
(or more expensive) is always better. His
collection of shorts, which he showcases at Sun-Ray Cinema on June 19, cost him less than $80. Some of the 10 films cost less than $1. Ranging in duration from 90 seconds to 21 minutes, they use a combination of found footage and media clips with added voiceover. The shorts cross social barriers and explore cultural trends, using humor or stark exploration to get his point across. He says his films are accessible to anyone wanting "to take a chance on something different."
Beebe's Sun-Ray event, which he describes as his "farewell to Florida show," concludes his 13-year career as an associate professor teaching film and media studies at the University of Florida. (Beebe is moving to Ohio, where he'll continue teaching.)
One of the videos Beebe is presenting is Historia Calamitatum (The Story of My Misfortunes), the longest film in the program, which won honors at each of its first four festival outings, including an honorable mention at the 2014 Chicago Underground Film Festival.
Historia Calamitatum — the name is taken from the autobiography of a medieval French philosopher, written in Latin — documents Beebe's personal journey in developing his ability to, well, cry. The film touches on preconceived notions of masculinity, and is narrated with an Ira Glass-like introspection that is both meaningful and self-deprecating. In the film, Beebe meticulously records every time he cries and what exactly spurs him to let it all out. He logs everything, from a breakup with his girlfriend to a particularly heart-wrenching episode of Top Chef to Duke University's basketball victory over the University of Connecticut.
"Sports are set up to be melodramatic," he explains. "I don't think it's any surprise that
it gets me."
Famous Irish Americans takes a similar approach in its social commentary, but leaves the humor behind to take a close look at how we perceive cultural boundaries. It weaves the outdated one-drop rule of racial classification — that is, the idea that someone with even one drop of African blood is black — into a larger picture about how we arbitrarily identify and designate heredity. Constructed as a Q&A, the film feels a bit like a very-low-budget educational video. In it, Beebe asks his audience whom they perceive as being Irish — Shaquille O'Neal or Ed O'Neill (Married with Children's Al Bundy.) The goal, Beebe says, is a "hyper-flat exploration of race, America and the limits of binary thought."
Both Touch Me Karaoke and Congratulations rank among Beebe's more experimental films, and confront the audience with notions of an American dystopia — sometimes in an amusingly satirical manner. Congratulations is part of an installation piece that has been featured at the Disjecta Contemporary Art Center of Portland and the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
Beebe says it's a story about "how we ‘perform' gender" — the "irony in the era of Third Wave or ‘post-feminism' [in which] there are still a lot of women disabling themselves in the interest of looking sexy." The video records a graduation ceremony's stairway, focusing on the feet of the passing students. Women are shown stepping down cautiously in increasingly high heels.
Touch Me Karaoke features live performances by audience members while the film screens. It's his most controversial piece, one that shows graphic footage of the effects of venereal disease, soundtracked by Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick." "The point of the video was mostly just the funny collision of a song that uses illness as a metaphor for love with actual footage of sexually transmitted disease," he says.
Beebe says that no matter the film, the underlining idea is to point the lens back at us, at the society and constructs we've created. "I feel like my films are really American," he says. "Not so much ‘go USA,' but deeply inspired with that kind of [American] sensibility."