You can call the films of Brian Dean Richmond beautiful if you want. Just don't call them "poetic."
Richmond's heard the term used more than once to describe his (and other people's) short experimental works, which favor visual exploration over telling stories, or at least telling them in conventional ways.
For one of his films, 1997's Rope Swing, Richmond and his brother-in-law tied a 16 mm Bolex camera to a rope and used it to capture privileged glimpses of the huge, 350-year-old beech tree over whose branches they slung it. Shot in black-and-white, with up to four overlapping exposures visible on screen at a time, Rope Swing is a mind-expanding portrait of a natural phenomenon it would be easy enough to walk right by.
But to Richmond -- whose work has been screened at festivals internationally -- calling the film "poetic" forces an analogy with a different art form. True, both disciplines use rhythm. But one depends on words and the other on photographic images and sounds.
Labels aside, Richmond's uniquely powerful aesthetic will be on display when he shows four recent shorts at the April 13 Film Kitchen. The evening will also include Dan Stauffer's short Hope and two computer animations: Brian Vogt's Passage, depicting a journey inside famous works of art, and Jung-Mi Yoo's The Legend of Hahoe Masks, a retelling of a folkloric tale about a Korean artisan.
One of Richmond's offerings is Hocking and Ohio, a six-minute film shot over five years near Athens, Ohio, where he was an Ohio University graduate student and instructor. The footage focuses on a spot along the Hawking River where he liked to paint. "That was like my hangout spot in this little town," says Richmond. "It was my favorite place."
The black-and-white film's opening recreates the feeling of a seasonal flood, using rhythmic editing and overlapping exposures of marshland and flowing water. Other images include native grasses printed directly onto the film (rather than photographed) -- one way Richmond's works retain their resolutely hand-crafted feel in an increasingly digital age. Hocking and Ohio's soundtrack, meanwhile, draws on the bluegrass music of Athens. "The music of their town is amazing," says Richmond, himself a member of two Pittsburgh-based bands, as a multi-instrumentalist in the Johnsons Big Band and bassist in The Working Poor.
Richmond will also screen three new shorts; like Hocking and Ohio, each will be exhibited via two 16 mm projectors running simultaneously. Somewhere (9 min.) is a partly abstract piece that incorporates a rainstorm photographed with a strobe light, a mock weather report and his niece singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Richmond says the film is about "weather and passing."
On the more playful side, Richmond will screen What Do You Got?, in which his two young sons play cheerleaders echoing his hometown Murrysville's famous pine-tree sign (the one spelling out "Murrysville") along a hillside paralelling Route 22.
Finally, there's Oh Numbness, a collaboration with Working Poor singer/guitarist/lyricist Alan Lewandowski, who contributed the text that accompanies images shot partially pre-dawn in an eastern Pennsylvania bamboo grove. Even Richmond would agree that this film, at least, involves poetry.