THE BEST MOVIE OF 2002: It just might be The Girl on the Train in the Moon, a video art installation by the Portland filmmaker and photographer Bill Daniel. I write this realizing that few phrases are more frightening to the experienced experimental filmgoer than "video art installation": It usually means "poorly executed assemblage that I'll expect you to judge for its intentions instead of its results." Not so this time. Daniel's piece is a strange hybrid, a documentary sculpture, in which footage of the railroad hobo's world is projected onto two screens, one situated so as to resemble a campfire, the other a moon-like disc in the sky. On the soundtrack, we hear the sounds of trains, the crackle of a fire, and snippets of interviews with rail riders and other devotees of hobo lore, telling the legends of the men who leave their mysterious tags on the sides of railroad cars. When I saw the installation Sunday night, Daniel actually set it up outdoors, with the audience gathered around his virtual campfire and two bags of kettle corn circulating among us.
The hobo documentary is the highlight of the Lucky Bum Film Tour, which stopped this weekend at a Baltimore venue appropriately named the G-Spot. (Like its namesake, it's hard to find the first time you look for it, but well worth the extra effort.) Aside from a slight but amusing short by Bryan Boyce -- State of the Union, which reimagines The Teletubbies with George W. Bush as the Baby Sun God -- the other films on display were directed by Vanessa Renwick. They're a mixed bag, as experimental films tend to be -- in cinema as in science, most experiments are failures -- but in this case, the good outweighed the mediocre. I especially liked Richart, a profile of an outsider artist, and Worse, a deliberately ambivalent film about abortion.
The tour started in September and will continue through December, stopping at offbeat venues across the United States and probing occasionally into Canada. As moviemaking becomes cheaper but conventional distribution grows more difficult, it's great to see ultra-independent filmmakers finding new ways to get their work before the public. Especially since, in this case, the work includes one of the best pictures of the year.