Slightly changed, film fest lives on

August 31, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach

MicroCineFest may be finished, but it's far from gone.

A staple of Baltimore's arts scene for more than a decade, as well as one of the pioneering and most respected underground film festivals in the country, MicroCineFest wrapped for the final time last November. But festival founder and guiding spirit Skizz Cyzyk, whose day job is chief programmer for the Maryland Film Festival, promised the annual soiree devoted to psychotronic cinema would soldier on in one form or another.

Next week, Cyzyk will begin making good on his promise (threat?) with an appearance by filmmaker and longtime MicroCineFest favorite Roger Beebe, who will be at the Creative Alliance Sept. 8 to introduce a series of his short films and to discuss his work.

"I knew that we could stop doing the festival," says Cyzyk, a Towson University alumnus who started showing underground films at a decaying former funeral parlor on York Road, dubbed the Mansion, in 1993. "But that wasn't going to stop all the filmmakers I'd made friends with from contacting me when they wanted to show their films in Baltimore. I knew that I was going to want an outlet to show them to people."

Kristen Anchor, director of Creative Alliance MovieMakers (CAMM) and the woman who programs film offerings at the alliance's headquarters in the old Patterson Theater, welcomes the chance to host Cyzyk and his unconventional filmmakers.

"I feel personally linked to MicroCineFest," she says. "When I moved to Baltimore 12 years ago, my first introduction to the Baltimore film community was at the Mansion. I feel like Skizz and MicroCineFest in a lot of ways got me really interested in film."

For 11 years, first at the Mansion and later at the G-Spot gallery on Falls Road, film fans with a taste for the twisted and an appreciation for the avant-garde would gather to watch short films (and the occasional feature) with names like Given: The Undead, Kill Them and Eat Them and Scumrock. The seats were uncomfortable, and the equipment wasn't always dependable. But the sense of camaraderie was palpable, and there was genuine excitement in never knowing quite what to expect.

Beebe, with his innovative sense of cinema and his willingness to try all sorts of new visual paths, typifies the sort of fearless filmmaking MicroCineFest has always championed, Cyzyk says. "He's clever, and as a filmmaker, he's very hands-on. You see his films, and you know that his actual fingers have touched practically every single frame of his work."

As an example, Cyzyk sites Beebe's One Nation Under Tommy, which was shown at MicroCineFest 2005. "He took a Tommy Hilfiger TV commercial, and he had somebody watch it, and had them write a script based on it. Then he gave the script to a filmmaker and had him make a commercial based on that script, and then he had another filmmaker write another script. This went on for several generations of films and projects, until the film was almost unrecognizable as a Tommy Hilfiger commercial."

Cyzyk cautions fans, however, not to see this as the first step toward a full-fledged MicroCineFest revival. At least not under his watch.

"Once I said it publicly, that this was the last one, that was it," he says. "I've been accused over the years of always saying it was going to be the last one, but I stand by the idea that I never said `definitely.' Once I did, that was it." He'll continue putting together occasional shows, and even take his act on the road when invited (he's taking a selection of favorites from past MicroCineFests to a festival in Bend, Ore., in October).

But his days as a festival organizer are done. The demands on his time, Cyzyk insists, had gotten to be too much. "I started as a filmmaker, and my career got sidetracked by my working with film festivals. A lot of the people who were part of MicroCineFest, they were spending their time making films, and I wanted to be one of them."

Plus, he notes, filmmakers have so many more places to show their work than they did just a few years ago when MicroCineFest was at its peak and attracting fans from throughout the U.S. "YouTube killed the festival," he says, sounding more resigned than bitter. "Filmmakers could easily put their films on YouTube, and reach a much larger audience."

Still, MicroCineFest and those brisk fall nights at the G-Spot will be missed. Especially by those of us who didn't have to worry about putting it all together every year.

"That's the thing," Cyzyk says with a chuckle. "During the festival, I never really got to enjoy it all. I was usually busy staying sober and staying on top of everything."

The Short Films of Roger Beebe is set for 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. Tickets are $8, $6 for alliance members. Information: creativealliance.org or 410-276-1651.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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