The best films at Brainwash Drive-in/Bike-In/Walk-In Movie Festival are often structured as short, self-contained stories with a rise and an "aha" moment. Among this year's highlights are Christopher Preksta's The Mercury Men — in which a cubicle worker is challenged to save the world in five minutes — and Sean Buckelew's hand-painted animation And the Birds Flew from the Trees, which depicts a walk in the forest — with a twist.
Yet Brainwash is better known for material that skews way, way, way avant-garde. Jeff Vilencia's 1993 film Smush, which screened at the inaugural festival in 1995, comprises eight minutes of actress Erika Elizondo squishing worms — first with her bare feet, then her mother's high heels. It was featured alongside Ben Gardella's Karma Wash: Hare Krishna Hit and Run, which tells the story of a guy who hits a pedestrian, then takes his car to a "karma wash" to have the stigma removed, and Traffic Man, which had an actor stand on the island at Shattuck and University avenues and pretend to direct traffic, even though he was really just following the lights. Naturally, you would expect a lot of outré, funky-minded ideas to proliferate in a festival originally inspired by Burning Man, and later named for the famous Brainwash cafe and Laundromat in San Francisco's SOMA District. But it just gets funkier.
Now in its fourteenth year, Brainwash has a real sense of rootedness in the indie film community. It began as a stunt, said founder Dave Krzysik, with a program featuring a couple dozen films, all laid out on a Xeroxed sheet of paper. But the thing had legs — particularly since local filmmaker Les Blank helped launch the first event, and even submitted one of his old student films, which ended up winning an award. ("It was actually a good movie," Krzysik assured.) In the ensuing years, Krzysik worked hard to ensure the cult status of Brainwash. He's tried to perpetuate a myth that festival director Shelby Toland is actually an alien — one of a strange foreign race that have infiltrated this planet in search of movies "that are less boring than what they have abroad." He's given the festival a sense of ritual, in that it begins with an invocation and culminates with an awards presentation in which all honorees get bowling trophies (along with more valuable prizes such as Gorilla Film Production software).
This year's program comprises two screenings of fifteen short films, which will be shown in the Mandela Village Arts Center parking lot (1357 5th St., Oakland). Patrons can roll, trundle, or drive in, with or without their lawn chairs in tow, and catch a whole night of wackiness for $9 a head. Granted, predictability ends there. Friday through Saturday, July 25-26. 9 p.m. BrainwashM.com
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