Although programming runs the gamut from Kubrick to Gwar, the James River Film Festival's roots are in the avant-garde, and into the underground, art cinema and beyond. It wouldn't be a festival without some strange and beautiful films made by artists working outside the mainstream.
One is filmmaker David Gatten, whose career reflects his fascination with colonial Virginia gentleman William Byrd, who wrote two noteworthy histories of the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina — one official, and one a secret satire.
Gatten, whose own dividing line is between teaching at Duke University and making films in rural Colorado, has made a series of experimental films inspired by Byrd's work — and the life of his daughter, whom he yanked back to Virginia from England when he learned of her secret history with one of his chief political rivals.
Gatten says his films are meditations on division. Appropriately, he appears at the festival twice, to present two parts of his dividing-line series, both bearing titles that would make an 18th-century writer proud. The first is "Secret History of the Dividing Line, a True Account in Nine Parts: Parts I-IV," (Friday, 6:30 p.m. at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). On Saturday, Gatten will present "Four Films Toward Part V of Secret History of the Dividing Line, a True Account in Nine Parts."
Both series, despite or because of the promise of nine films, comprise four silent shorts of various lengths, in black and white and color. Gatten will answer questions after each screening.
Also making two appearances is filmmaker Richard Myers, professor emeritus of art at Kent State University. Myers perhaps is best known for "Confrontation at Kent State" (1970), his statement on the immediate reaction to the infamous student shootings that year at the university, where he was teaching at the time. The festival screens three of his films this year, the first two featuring the Midwest experimental filmmaker in person, beginning with "Akran" (1969), which screens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Friday, April 12, at 3 p.m. A meditation on excess, it's especially impressive for its ultra-fast editing.
Myers also will be on hand Saturday at 7 p.m. for a screening of "37-73" at the Grace Street Theater. Some people have called it his most transfixing experimental film, a fantasy hinging on a boy's dream.
The festival concludes its Myers' triple feature at the Grace Street Theater on Monday at 8:30 p.m. with "Deathstyles" (1971), another response to the student deaths at Kent State, which also grapples with other issues of the era, including racial tension, anti-war demonstration and the maze of media growing around our collective conscious. S