Brian Springer pulled his first full-length movie from outer space. His second he found waiting for him in his childhood.
In 1995, Springer drew eyeballs to Spin, a novel take on the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign he assembled from raw satellite feeds. Capturing politicians and media types in unguarded, pre-broadcast moments, Springer explored how televisual personas are constructed for viewer consumption. He also exposed, as he puts it, "public figures' contempt for public discourse." Spin aired throughout the U.K., on 30 PBS affiliates in the U.S., and via (naturally) satellite-based Free Speech TV.
A couple years after completing Spin, Springer visited his parents, in northeastern Kansas, and began documenting their ongoing obsession. Nearly 30 years earlier, when Brian was about 10, C.W. and Doris Springer had become convinced that a farm about 90 miles away, in southwestern Missouri, was home to treasure buried centuries earlier, by Spanish explorers. Since then they'd spent roughly half their weekends there, in an operation complete with mechanical earth-moving equipment, cave exploration and mounds of debris piled like something left by monstrous gophers. Brian (like his younger brother) was taken along, until he left home at age 18.
Not long after Brian Springer began documenting these efforts, C.W. Springer died, in 1998. It took Brian Springer several years, and a stint in graduate school at the University of California-Santa Barbara, to make something of the material. His hour-long video essay The Disappointment: The Force of Credulity, which premieres Jan. 9 at the Film Kitchen screening series, is an unconventional, oddly compelling look at repressed histories both personal and cultural.
The video's title is borrowed from a musical play dating to colonial America, a didactic piece written to squelch what was then an epidemic of treasure-hunting. Just as colonial treasure-seekers were motivated by folk magic, and obsessions with secret journals, so were Springer's parents: Their big digs were sparked by a cryptic piece of rock art and fueled by a "diary" dictated by his mother, channeling the spirit of a Spanish explorer whose party buried the supposed booty.
There's more: The Springers' search proceeded on land owned by a descendent of Kate Austin, a late-19th-century anarchist farm wife who was friends with Emma Goldman but is otherwise invisible to history. Further, during the course of shooting, Brian Springer learned that his father was haunted by his military experience in Korea, where as a forward observer he watched U.S. troops napalm Koreans he'd come to "know" through his binoculars. And the whole of The Disappointment is narrated by a strange, lizardlike limestone sculpture, an apocryphal artifact speaking in a synthesized, female and rather British voice.
If Kate Austin had a diary, as seems likely, it's gone missing, even as her family has tried to repress her scandalous (if paradox-filled) memory. Meanwhile, Springer's parents invented a diary -- in part, it seems, to sublimate C.W.'s own traumas.
Springer, now 47, lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and will attend the Jan. 9 screening. It will be the premiere of The Disappointment, and he's planning to seek other outlets for this video about the things we keep buried. As he says, "It's a tape about remembrance, and it's remembering ways of forgetting, which I think is very central to the narrative of searching for buried treasures."
The Disappointment screens at Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Jan. 9 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood. $4. 412-316-3342, x178 or www.pghfilmkitchen.org