Too clever for its own good, Mead Lake (1992) contrasts two academics nattering about the rhetorical paradoxes of a newspaper editorial about Third World hunger with images of Hoover Dam and its environs -- with the implication that both world hunger and engineering projects are man-made constructs. This is all executed rather too smugly to be effective, Kibbins not realizing that the same deflationary deconstruction at work on the editorial could be applied to his own earnest statements.
His best film to date is instead P & Not-P (1994), which sets up logical conundrums about a protagonist who can be thought about but who doesn't really exist. After 15 minutes of choice intellectual play, the film pays off as Kibbins converts it into a parable about the invisibility of the homeless. Both of these films benefit from clever musical scoring and Charles Schner's clean, precise black-and-white cinematography.
The director's latest effort, The Alien Seaman (1998), suffers by contrast as it relies on found footage and video instead of movie film. Grotesque scenes of charred corpses being reassembled after boat explosions are intercut with video of a gloomy sailor wandering around an abandoned ship, scheming to turn back time and prevent a similar 1917 explosion that haunted his childhood. This unlikely plan never comes to fruition -- after all, if it's hard for living people to turn back time, for the dead it's probably harder, and this sailor is indeed supposed to be dead. Whatever its individual merits, Kibbins' work deserves to be better known, if only for its confident blend of philosophy, whimsy, earnest politics, and good filmmaking.
-- Gregg Rickman
Mead Lake, P & Not-P, and The Alien Seaman all screen Wednesday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College), Berkeley. Admission is $6; call (510) 642-1124.