Underground film surfaces in a funeral home

September 07, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

Three short films you're pretty much guaranteed not to be seeing on network TV or at the local multiplex anytime soon:

* "It Came From the Backyard," a six-minute horror short, made on an $8.75 budget, described -- with some pride -- using terms not printable in a family newspaper.

* "Psychedelic Glue-Sniffing Hillbillies." If the title isn't enough, here's how the film's creator describes it: "It's about American Culture."

* "Title 17," a three-minute film, featuring hundreds of FBI warnings against copying videotapes, that raises -- in its creator's own words -- the question, "If it's illegal to copy a videotape, is it illegal to copy the warning that says it's illegal to copy the tape?"

Nope, none of these are coming to a theater near you anytime soon. But fortunately for those who enjoy watching films that push the limit of what people expect, or who simply enjoy seeing young talent struggling to find an outlet, they're playing every month inside a decaying house at the corner of York Road and 42nd Street.

Baltimore's independent and underground filmmakers have found a home inside an old funeral parlor and a unifying force in a Dulaney High School graduate who specializes in animated music videos.

Skizz Cyzyk, 28, has been showing local independent films at the old Moran Funeral Home since March 1993. His H.O.M.E. Group film and video screenings are open to anyone who has a piece of film or videotape they want to show off. Admission is free and the atmosphere is loose -- people come here not so much to judge each other's work as to encourage the continued pursuit of what are admittedly some pretty strange artistic muses.

"It encourages local filmmakers who don't have big budgets, and people backing them, to just keep making films," says Cheryl Fair, a University of Maryland at Baltimore County graduate whose six-minute film, "Sweatshop," won an honorable mention at this year's U.S. Super 8 Film Festival at Rutgers University.

A mix of talent

"Some of it's pure [junk], and some of it's genius, and that's really good," she adds, praising the mix of talent on display each month. "You never know who's going to end up being brilliant."

"There's a lot of good stuff comes through there," agrees Craig Smith, the H.O.M.E. Group's projectionist and the man responsible for "Psychedelic Glue-Sniffing Hillbillies." "We just get a whole hodgepodge of stuff."

Bringing it all together is Mr. Cyzyk (Skizz, he says, is "just one of those dumb names I got in high school and it just took over"). Film, he says, has been an avocation most of his adult life.

"In high school, I kind of lived out in the country," he says from the room he rents in the old funeral parlor, now known as the Mansion Theater. "On weekends, I didn't have a car, so I couldn't come into town to see my friends, so I'd go and rent a video."

His work has won numerous awards over the years, including a handful of prizes from student film festivals at Towson State University -- where he so dominated the scene, according to a "Best of Baltimore" accolade he won from Baltimore magazine, that "TSU student video makers rejoiced when Skizz graduated."

He developed the idea for his film and video screenings last year, after reading a City Paper article about the city's underground film scene. Believing the article had just skimmed the surface, he wrote a letter to that effect that was published in the paper. Soon, the phone calls started pouring in.

Realizing he had started something, he decided to revive the H.O.M.E. Group, a forum for film screenings started several years ago by a legend in Baltimore's underground film circles, a man who goes by the name tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE.

tENT, as he's known to his friends , gave Mr. Cyzyk his blessing, and the H.O.M.E. Group was off and running (the acronym stands for Horse Opera Meanderthal Encounter Group, and Mr. Cyzyk professes no knowledge of what it means).

About 20 regulars

The group includes about 20 regulars, its organizer says, and screenings regularly bring an audience of about three times that many. In fact, he's added an overflow room to the 70-chair theater, where another 10 folks or so can watch the screenings on a television monitor (the rest get to watch on a screen strung between two walls of one of the funeral home's viewing rooms).

Unfortunately, Mr. Cyzyk's video talents have yet to prove profitable, so he's had to put them on hold in recent years to concentrate on jobs that pay a little better -- part-time work at Video Americain on Coldspring Lane (featuring one of the city's most eclectic video selections) and gigs with two bands: as a drummer for Berserk and guitarist for Blister Freak Circus. A videotape he's put together, "Eight Films and Videos," includes music videos he's created for both bands.

"I haven't really made anything in two years. I don't have any money," Mr. Cyzyk explains. "I'm still a filmmaker, I just don't happen to be filming anything."

The next film and video screening is set for 9 p.m. Sept. 14. For more information, telephone 435-3604

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