Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cine Soiree Visits the Northwest


The Portland-based microcinema Grand Detour has packed its summer schedule with many enticing cinematic experiences, visiting artists, local talent: No Fest, Stefan Gruber, Cut and Run, David Sherman, Jodie Mack, and myself.  The culmination of the season is the "Bad Film BBQ" an open screening where people may bring whatever films they're most embarrassed at having made.

The flower-suffused city of Portland is an Elysium to the "foodie," with an array of food carts clustered in lots, little portable kitchens with an array of different delectable offerings, although Thai cuisine seemed to dominate. And let's not forget the obligatory visit to the venerable Powell's Bookstore.

Ben Popp is programmer of the Grand Detour screening series, with fellow-filmmaker Karl Lind helping to host some of the visiting artists. The venue was an anonymous looking multi-purpose art space, currently under renovation (hopefully the renovation will include a track for a curtain that can go along the windows and sufficiently darken the room for screenings). Not too dissimilar in feel from Light Industry and the spaces they would use in downtown Brooklyn and in Sunset Park before the move to up to the north end of the borough: The somewhat raw multi-purpose art space, the folding chairs, the constant battle of light and darkness in a space with big windows.



Some time to chat with Seattle filmmaker Jon Behrens on curatorial collaboration, with his idea for simultaneous screenings in New York and Seattle of programs of we would send to each other.  Then off to the Northwest Film Forum.

The Northwest Film Forum in Seattle is more of a nailed down space: an actual cinema and screening room, not borrowed or rented space from, or in collaboration with, another organization. The programmer, Adam Sekuler, described the venue in comparison to New York cinema spaces as being more of a combination of Anthology Film Archives, IFC, Film Forum, and the Walter Reade, in that it shows the work of film artists, documentarians, indie filmmakers, but is also a place that screens revival theater and art house movies, and even a few more mainstream foreign films to boot.

At the time of its founding the name of the "Northwest Film Forum" had been the more informal-sounding "Wiggly-World."  I kind of miss that name, although perhaps I'm also missing the practical side of the equation, inasmuch as it's likely to be a lot easier to get state funding if your organization is called Northwest Film Forum instead of Wiggly-World.

Drinks afterwards at nearby Vermilion.


A while back I recall reading Ed Halter's comparison of East and West coast film scenes in his article: "Portland vs. NYC, Plus 'Views from the Avant-Garde' at this Week's New York Film Festival"

Ed described his impressions of a dichotomy of the aesthetically formal, "artsy" east coast, and the west coast film scene's sensibility of DIY informality:
A certain solemnity of purpose has certainly accrued around the New York scene, where a great deal of experimental film activity circles around venerable institutions like Anthology Film Archives, MOMA, the Whitney and Lincoln Center, which screens its annual "Views from the Avant-Garde" showcase later this week as part of the New York Film Festival. . . In contrast to New York’s dense, neotraditionalist, introspective atmosphere, Portland feels giddy with a traditionally Left Coast sense of newness, autochthonic reinvention and a politely neopunk lack of interest in either satisfying inner professors or playing to curatorial predilections. Or so it seemed to me when I visited there on Labor Day weekend for the first annual Peripheral Produce Invitationals, eager to see what was happening a continent away.
I was a little bit curious about this question of New York vs. Portland artistic sensibilities that Ed wrote about back in 2001.  How much of it hold true today, ten years later?

Somehow I think this contrast has softened over the years.  The influx of digital formats and web-based media, the tragic loss of reversal print stock, the watering down of the once prestigious term "film festival" so that now that other every little grassroots screening calls itself the "such-and-such film festival."  There is now such a greater diffusion of layers within each community that it is harder to make such a sharp distinction as it was back then (for instance, if you said "filmmaker" instead of "video artist" back in 2001 it meant something, whereas now it's getting to be a pretty meaningless distinction in 2011).  And so east and west are each more mixed up with a range of sensibilities, the distinction feels more fuzzy, with more exceptions to the general rule than there used to have been.

At least, that was my impression from this brief westerly journey.  It would be interesting to get Ed's perspective on this (Hey Ed, care to put something down in the comments section?).


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cinema 16 benefit for Millennium Film Workshop

A fantastic evening of live music and film at Millennium Film Workshop, when Molly Surno presented a special "encore" screening of previous Cinema 16 events as a benefit for the venerable media center.  The film scores were performed by Nick Yulman, Joseph Keckler and Dan Bartfield, Forma, and Ablehearts.

Molly has really tapped into something special with her focus on live music and cinema.  There is a feeling of excitement that permeates a Cinema 16 screening; the sense of being part of a unique experience, with music that isn't part of each performer's repertoire, but is specially created for the event.  There is a mixing of the audience between those who might attend concerts and shows, but who do not ordinarily attend experimental film screenings, and those who are familiar with some of the films and regularly attend screenings, but for whom the musicians and their compositions are a wonderful discovery.  This makes Cinema 16 a little something of an antidote to the potential for provincialism of the different niches of the art scene.


The event was also the first of a series of fundraising endeavors for Millennium Film Workshop.  Like many other arts organizations, the media center is struggling in the face of cutbacks to art and culture that are taking place in a climate where the Republicans in Congress blithely propose such things as the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (as well as many other targets, like the NEH, Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and so on).
For those who remember the "culture wars," this is nothing new, but it is always disconcerting when an organization that is such an important fixture to the cultural life of the city (Millennium has been a resource for artists and a place where scores of film and video makers have shown their work since its founding in 1966) is at risk.  Let's hope this new culture war will soon die down, but in the meantime let's all pitch in and make sure that the arts organizations important to our community don't wind up casualties.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Red Hook Cine Soiree 2011

3pm - Saturday
August 6, 2011

499 Van Brunt Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn

(across the street from Fairway)
Screening room is on the first floor, accessible to all.

Joel Schlemowitz presents a salon of experimental & underground films.

A summer afternoon and short works of avant-garde cinema?  Our agenda is to program our soiree attuned to the enchantment of the season of Mid-Summer Nights' Dreams, to indulge ourselves in the hazy and lazy segment of the calendar, to enlighten ourselves lightly and sprightly, to work Puckish mischief on the screen, to take respite from the oppressive sun in the magic lantern parlor by the sea.

Expect red wine and soft cheese and 1920s foxtrots on the Victrola!