"Expanded Frames" fest at Cinema Project

From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Oct 23 2008 - 23:24:40 PDT

Several times in the past Frameworkers have provided reports on
various events of note. In that spirit, here's a short report on one
in Portland Oregon last week.

“Expanded Frames” Oct. 15-17
at and organized by Cinema Project, Portland, Oregon

I was able to attend three nights of this festival that included
screenings, presentations, panels, and discussions. I missed the
opening night, “Todd Haynes As Avant-Garde Filmmaker,” interviewed by
Scott Macdonald.

On Thursday evening Scott MacDonald hosted two shows of Canyon
Cinema, primarily from key Bay Area participants of the earlier
years, reflecting Scott’s recent book on the history of Canyon. He
organized it as one show for male filmmakers and the second with
women. The selection allowed for some nice comparisons that showed
how similar subjects, techniques and aims were achieved by filmmakers
who worked as distinctive personalities but who also drew on and
learned from others.

In addition to the obvious differences that could be seen between the
genders, Scott raised the question of “how white” the films were,
that is, in retrospect the caucasian filmmakers represent mostly
white people (e.g., Larry Jordan, BIG SUR, THE LADIES; Anne Severson,
RIVERBODY), although some do take on matters of race (Robert Nelson,
O DEM WATERMELONS). Scott said it had been raised at the Flaherty
seminar: why was the experimental film scene so white? In
discussion, MacDonald offered the observation that perhaps films are
organized into categories that dramatize differences: thus African
American work tends to be programmed, discussed, and taught in one
framework even when the films are very experimental in form. He
pointed out that Su Friedrich’s DAMNED IF YOU DON’T and Marlon Riggs’
TONGUES UNTIED are similar, and appeared about the same time, but are
not thought of or programmed together.

I had some further thoughts on that question, which seems especially
pertinent in Oregon which the census enumerates as 93% white. If you
look at the early San Francisco scene of the 60s, you don’t find
filmmakers of color, but certainly the general Bay Area cultural
scene had its share of African American and Asian American writers,
musicians, etc. So experimental art takes many different forms, and
the cost of entry for writers and musicians is much lower in terms
materials, though it might be the same in terms of training. And
Canyon founders Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand whose early work was
shown, certainly were cross-cultural in some of their own films.

Between the two Canyon shows Ed Halter gave an illuminating talk on
the rise of microcinemas in the 1990’s. He included both fixed and
wandering sites and small dedicated festivals such as the NY
Underground Film Fest (which he had worked on). One striking
parallel he made was between microcinemas and the DIY ethos of punk
and post punk music. Not only did microcinemas often have close ties
to music in terms of sharing venues and screening films/videos as
part of performances (and including performances within films and
tapes), but they often shared a basic belief that the project was
temporary and provisional. Rather than trying to build a long
standing institution (which was often seen as compromised by the need
to endlessly raise grants and find sponsorship or to maximize
audience by changing programming to something more popular or
recognized), the microcinemas in all their variety aimed at short
term satisfaction of the organizers and accepted the cyclical nature
of the project.

Friday night presented programs of videotapes by Ina Archer and Kevin
Jerome Everson. Archer’s videos appropriate from commercial cinema
to display the more bizarre and distended images of race
representation in earlier eras. Especially interested in the more
performative moments of musicals and comedies, Archer’s recontexting
often manages to present both a shock of just how awful racist
stereotypes were while also showing the cleverness and engaging
nature of the performers. Her work such as 1/16th of 100% (1993, Hi8
Video, 22 min) has most often appeared in gallery and museum
exhibition and deserves a much wider audience. Her current project is
a mock documentary that “reconstructs” a fictional early African
American motion picture studio. It is fascinating in that it makes
the audience hunger for more about this fantasy, and in the process
makes us think about what is lacking—in history, in our collective
consciousness-- that makes us desire a myth.

A discussion led by Ed Halter followed on “A History of Black America
through Appropriated Footage” with Archer and Everson before a show
of Everson’s videos. Everson’s work often represents performative
gestures as well. Some are appropriated such as a Mohammad Ali press
conference or a press conference by Black mayor Carl Stokes following
urban rioting in Cleveland, but then reworked to bring out otherwise
subtle aspects, or are press footage outtakes that reveal the
construction of news imagery of African Americans. His original
videos often focus on short performances in the Black community: a
guy dancing and jabbing in a mock sparring routine while his buddy is
bent over the hood of a car fixing it, or a 93 year old man shot in
close-up in one take while he blows out all the candles on his
birthday cake. Everson commented that it was very hard to find
everyday images of the black community in archives: what exists tends
to be what the white dominant media found “newsworthy,” rather than
what the community experienced. His own work aims at making up for
that absence.

Saturday evening Jeanne Liotta presented two programs of Joseph
Cornell films, the first based around his appropriated images and
collage of them, and the second the images of New York City made
later in his life with various cinematographers such as Brakhage and
Rudy Burkhardt. Liotta, who had begun the preservation of Cornell’s
work, gave a broad ranging framework for the films which was
illuminating for viewers new to Cornell as well as people who had
seen some of the work before. Some of the films shown are not in
circulation and were a special treat.

A complementary program by Anthology Film Archive’s archivist Andrew
Lampert provided a fascinating entry into the practical and ethical
issues of working with film preservation and unpreserved films and
film elements. Since not everything can be preserved, what are the
priorities? And can we say not everything should be preserved? If
so, who decides and on what basis? Among the gems were Storm di
Hirsch’s double screen film THIRD EYE BUTTERFLY and Greg Sharit’s
recently restored TRANSIT.

Cinema Project had just finished their new black box screening room
in a building that houses various artist studios. The projection was
terrific with excellent prints and a good sound system, the ambiance
was friendly and welcoming, and the whole program ambitious and
varied (see the online program for full details). Full schedule:

This was a big step up for the five year old Cinema Project, and its
key organizers, Autumn Campbell and Jeremy Rossen. Perhaps it’s no
longer a “microcinema” as Halter described the form. A fair amount
of sponsorship and funding had to be raised for this signal event.
And the results justified the efforts. Certainly a festival like this
adds a welcome presence to the sometimes barren Pacific Northwest
experimental media scene. Encore!

Eugene Oregon

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.