By Michael Aushenker
Expect a wild cinematic ride when PXL: THIS 23, the 23rd annual film festival featuring movies shot in PixelVision with the long-discontinued Fisher-Price PXL-2000 camcorder, screens Monday at UnUrban Café in Santa Monica.
In 1987, Fisher-Price introduced the PXL-2000, a black-and-white video camera for kids, in Toys R’ Us stores nationwide.
The release came just as the home video industry was booming, said film and multimedia artist Gerry Fialka, who will emcee the evening. With video cameras costing about $1,000, the PXL carried an initial price-tag of $179.
Kids, however, didn’t embrace the PXL. After a run of about 400,000 units in two years and a price drop to $100, the company stopped making it in 1989. Today, a PXL-2000 can be found at garage sales or floating around on eBay for anywhere from $200-400.
“The kids rejected it, probably because it [shot movies] in black-and-white,” Fialka said. “PixelVision is very bare bones. It’s sort of like making a film with pencil and paper.”
The product did, however, click with filmmakers. In his 1991 debut “Slacker,” Hollywood filmmaker Rich Linklater embedded a two-minute black-and-white sequence shot in PixelVision. Anne Hathaway messes around with a PXL-2000 in the 2010 romantic comedy “Love and Other Drugs.” Director Kevin Smith has discussed the device on podcasts. Sadie Benning, John Humphrey and Michael Almereyda have also emphatically embraced PixelVision.
“Artists picked it up and said, ‘Wow, I can make art with a camera for $100,’” Fialka said.
As the PXL-2000 records picture and sound to audio cassette tape, this year’s festival also celebrates the 50 years since the invention of the audio cassette.
Fialka, who also holds the monthly UnUrban showcase “Documental,” launched the PXL festival in 1990. He cites the philosophical underpinnings of works by James Joyce and Marshall McCluhan as inspiration for his annual celebration of PixelVision-produced creativity, likening his festival’s aesthetic to punk rock’s DIY (do it yourself) ethic: Anybody, from a 4-year-old kid to a nonagenarian, can pick up a PXL-2000 and make a movie.
Just ask four-year-old Ruby Qi Tondelli, whose existential “The Pony Pokie” will debut on Monday night; or 10-year-old Chester Burnett, who is entering for his third consecutive year with “Indiana Donut & the Raiders of the Lost Cream Puff.”
Tondelli and Burnett are on the younger spectrum of the 41 entries in this year’s festival, which includes a pair from Fialka — parts one and two of “Cast Off Your Metaphysical Shark Cages,” which he said “re-imagines Jean Renoir as a leprechaun/lupercalian social engineer/singing preacher.” Groovy!
PXL THIS 23 screenings are from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday (with pre-show festivities at 6 p.m.) at UnUrban Café, 3301 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Call (310) 315-0056 or visit laughtears.com/PXL-THIS-23.html.