Friday, June 22, 2012

A New Generation Keeps It Reel on 16mm

Local Cineastes Discover Pratt's 16mm Film Archives

This Friday at 9 p.m., the Windup Space in Station North is hosting an evening of experimental film classics culled from the Sights and Sounds Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The hour-long screening, entitled "Sights & Sounds from the Vaults," features short films by Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage, Denys Columb Daunant, Amy Kravitz, Claude Lelouch, Pat O'Neill, D.A. Pennebaker, Lillian Schwartz & Chick Strand. The programmers are Meg Rorison, Lorenzo Gattorna, and Kate Ewald, who are also the principles behind the upcoming "Sight Unseen" experimental cinema series; supported in part by by a MICA Launch Artists in Baltimore (LAB) grant award, this film series will officially launch July 7th at the Windup Space with a screening of "The Films of Mary Helena Clarke." (More on that later.)

"Sights & Sounds from the Vault" is the latest film screening or film series to feature films from the Enoch Pratt Central Library's outstanding collection of over 2,100 16mm films. Though the collection reflects the general scope of most subject areas and genres, it is highlighted by a concentration in independently produced narrative and documentary films (including many Baltimore Film Festival entries), and experimental shorts.

A number of local cineastes have previously scoured the Pratt's 16mm film collection to find obscure or rarely seen films to screen at their performance event venues. One of the main attractions to these curators? All of the Pratt's 16mm film titles come with built-in public performance rights. In other words, they're free to screen without worrying about copyright infringement/intellectual property rights issues!

Early fans of Pratt's collection include former Maryland Film Festival program director Skizz Cyzyk (who frequently borrowed 16mm films from the Pratt for his Mansion Theatre film series) and Laure Drogoul, who continues to borrow 16mm films for 14Karat Cabaret multi-media events.

Then, in 2009, Miguel Sabogol started the Hexagon Free 16mm Film Series/Magic Eye Cinema Events in conjunction with Mary Helena Clarke at the Hexagon gallery/performance space in Station North (one of the reasons City Paper named the Hexagon Baltimore's "Best Multipurpose Space" in 2009). Around the same time period, Martin Johnson started screening obscure non-theatrical 16mm films from Pratt's collection as part of his NINETEEN23 (named for the year the 16mm film gauge came into existence) film series at the 14Karat Cabaret. (See also the NINETEEN23 Facebook page.) As Johnson told Urbanite writer David Dudley, when talking about Pratt's 2,100-film resources, "I've calculated that I've got ten years of material. Easily."

The material's certainly there for the taking - and free of charge, to boot.

For the record, this is the lineup for tonight's Windup Space "Sights & Sounds from the vault" screening:

By Lillian Schwartz
1971, 3 minutes
“With computer-produced images and Moog-synthesized sound, Pixillation is in a sense an introduction to the electronics lab. Its forms are handsome, its colors bright and appealing, its rhythms complex and inventive." - Roger Greenspun, N. Y. Times. Moog sound by Gershon Kingsley. Pixillation won the Red Ribbon Award for Special Effects from The National Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences in 1971.

By Stan Brakhage
1963, 3 minutes
A "found foliage" film composed of insects, leaves, and other detritus sandwiched between two strips of perforated tape. This handmade and optically printed masterpiece still holds mesmerizing pull years after its initial release.

By D.A. Pennebaker
1953, 5 minutes
Silhouettes at dawn set to a score by Duke Ellington capture the beautiful freneticism of 1950s New York City in this early example of cinéma-verité. Pennebaker writes, “I wanted to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and its packed-in passengers that would look beautiful.”

By Amy Kravitz
1985, 7 minutes
In this film named after the river of forgetfulness leading to the underworld, drawings are created from non-traditional animation media including rubbed and erased graphite, pigment, and aluminum powders to make a surface of unusual richness.

By Pat O’Neill
1967, 9 minutes
Incorporating footage of oil derricks in Venice, California and nude models filmed in the artist’s studio, this colorful, optically printed animation features kaleidoscopic shapes reminiscent of a Rorschach test. Synthesizer score by Joseph Byrd.

By Claude Lelouch
1976, 9 minutes
A single travelling shot through France in the early morning. This cinéma-verité classic is hypnotic, finding beauty in the monotonous forward momentum of the road.

By Denys Columb Daunant
1960, 9 minutes
Wild horses fight, gallop through water, and run through raging fire in slow motion set to a dreamy synth score.

By Chick Strand
1976, 10 minutes
An experimental ethnographic film featuring Venezuela distinctive for its complex layering of sound and image and the juxtaposition of found footage and sound with original images.

By Jordan Belson
1961, 8 minutes
Belson, a visual musician, creates an abstract film richly woven with cosmological imagery, exploring consciousness, transcendence, and the nature of light itself. “I think of Allures as a combination of molecular structures and astronomical events mixed with subconscious and subjective phenomena – all happening simultaneously. The beginning is almost purely sensual, the end perhaps totally nonmaterial. It seems to move from matter to spirit in some way.” - Belson

OK, now back to the details about how this exciting new experimental film series came about...As Cara Ober wrote in her May 22, 2012 profile for Urbanite magazine, the award was designed by MICA trustee Steve Boesel to encourage MICA graduates to stay in town after graduation and create meaningful projects that enrich Baltimore's communities. "MICA realizes now, more than ever, talent alone will not necessarily lead to career success," says Boesel. "But talent combined with an entrepreneurial, business-oriented focus multiplies those chances."

The LAB program budgets $100,000 for five annual awards of $10,000 each to five MICA graduate students. One of those recipients was 2001 graduate Meg Rorison (Photographic & Electronic Media), who won a grant for her "Sight Unseen" project. As Rorison told Urbanite, "This grant gives me more motivation and opportunity to push for ideas and collaborations that I wouldn’t be able to pursue otherwise. With regards to the future, I am not sure how long I will stay here, but I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I love this city and feel very connected to the community here."

Baltimore's better for her commitment; let's hope she, and this series, stay around for a long time.

Related Links:
"Sights & Sounds from the Vaults" (Facebook page)
"Launch Lab" (Cara Ober, Urbanite)
"The Great Ecstacy of the 16mm Film Series" (Hexagon film series)
"Baltimore Hostel's Free Fall Film Series" (HI-Baltimore Hostel series)
NINETEEN23 (14Karat Cabaret film series)
"In Search of Buried 16mm Treasures" (Hexagon film series review)
NINETEEN23's "Future Shock" screening (Urbanite review)

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