This interviewer knows his subject well

FILM

December 31, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN FILM CRITIC

On Tuesday, the American Film Institute's Silver Theater in Silver Spring will present "The Short Films & Videos of Skizz Cyzyk: a retrospective spanning 1983 to present."

Baltimore cineastes have grown to know Cyzyk even better than they know his films because of the gracious, humorous and erudite introductions he gives to visiting moviemakers at several Charm City festivals. So rather than make a vain attempt to match his charm and learning, we cleverly asked Skizz to introduce himself.

So, for the lowdown on the man and his films - here's Skizz interviewing Skizz.

You've been making films and videos since 1983. Is this your first retrospective?

Why yes it is, thanks for asking.

How come it's in Silver Spring and not in Baltimore?

Because the AFI asked for it, and their theater is in Silver Spring.

Every now and then the Creative Alliance screens one of your works at the Patterson, but otherwise it is hard to see your work in Baltimore, even with outlets like MicroCineFest and the Maryland Film Festival. Why is that?

I'm the festival director for MicroCineFest and the programming manager for the Maryland Film Festival. I have made a point of never programming my own work at either festival because I feel it would be unethical. So I'm at the mercy of others for screening outlets in Baltimore. Besides, I don't want to overexpose my films in my hometown.

Why is that?

Have you ever gone to a film screening where the filmmaker is present and so are all of his/her friends? Isn't it annoying? The film could be downright awful, and it will still get a great response, causing the non-friends of the filmmaker in the audience to wonder what all the fuss is about. I try to avoid that situation, both as an audience member and a filmmaker, though this upcoming retrospective might turn into that kind of screening if enough friends make the trek to Silver Spring.

What can they expect if they come to the retrospective?

A 70-minute mishmash of stuff. I'll be showing some films and videos that I'm proud of, some I'm ashamed of and some I'm just plain unsure of. When I started putting the program together, I realized that most of my '80s work needed some beefing up before I would feel comfortable showing it to the public. In some cases, the only video copies I've ever had were shot off a wall with a VHS camera. So I've splurged for better video transfers and have been busy restoring several projects so that they will look and sound much more presentable than ever before.

I've spent more money restoring some of my films then I spent making them in the first place. I make my films and videos as cheaply as possible, keeping with the do-it-yourself aspect of underground filmmaking, and that has a lot to do with how they turn out. Content-wise, I tend to create mostly for self-amusement, and since I'm usually amused by culture that isn't always appreciated by large audiences, I have no idea how my work is going to go over in front of an audience.

What are your films about?

That's the beauty - sometimes even I don't know! There's a recurring stuffed rodent. There's aliens who come to Earth looking for Pez Candy refills. There's a glass head, an intruding eyeball, an exploding baby doll, gumdrops, hair dryer chairs and a lion playing drums. There's cheese, pickles, tweezers, a cast of hundreds, a sign that says "YARN" and a fez-wearing vampire playing the accordion.

What are some of the highlights?

Besides the newly restored versions of the older work, I'm excited about the three new pieces that will be showing. The first is Hair Dryer Chairs Version 2004, which is a piece I've been working on for years. It stars about 75 friends of mine, and a pair of hair dryer chairs. The other two shorts are my first 16 mm animated films in 12 years. One, Managers Corner, stars an animated Earl Weaver colorfully answering questions from baseball fans. The second one, Gumdrops, stars, well, gumdrops, and this will be its first public screening.

If I could be any vegetable, which one would it be?

No serious journalist would ever ask such a thing.

I know, but I figured I'd give it a try.

For information on Tuesday's screening, go to www.afi.com/silver/new/nowplaying/2004/v1i15/mars.aspx.

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