Front Row Micro

Get off the regal rollercoaster- wobbly chairs, borrowed screens and film lovers make for real cinema adventure

"Microcinema" means a small theatre, but it also means do-it-yourself ethics, documentaries that wouldn't get made any other way and art films that distort cinematic conventions (and sometimes break projectors). It means gatherings that bring members of the underground film community together and give everybody's work a niche. In Portland, it also means food fights, full moons, threadbare loveseats and work that gets you on the edge of them. And it means business.

Cinema Project      Lighthouse Cinema
Space: seats 75       Space: seats 49
Screen: 10 x 10      Screen: 10 x 10
Projector: 16mm    Projector: 16mm

Nearly three years and no fewer than 22 experimental film and video programs after the Four Wall Cinema Collective was formed, the group has split up to cover more ground.

Originating as Cinema Next Door, an "underground" theatre in filmmaker Alain LeTourneau's basement, FWCC established itself as a collective endeavor two years ago, screening films from past and contemporary avant-garde heavyweights like Peter Hutton, Nathaniel Dorsky, Chris Marker and Jill Godmilow in a fourth-floor cinder-block studio (the Oak Street Building, 425 SE Oak St.).

LeTourneau and cofounder Pam Minty have now reinvented this space as Lighthouse Cinema, paring down their season to free up time for personal film projects, while former Four Wall members Autumn Campbell, Pablo de Ocampo and Jeremy Rossen have re-formed as the Cinema Project.

The Cinema Project is geared toward the same sophisticated sensibilities as FWCC, now operating at a higher speed. Its first season of visiting artist screenings has already commenced, featuring copresentations with PICA, PSU and the Northwest Film Center, along with events at its home base, Million Theater, 120 NE Russell St. (See the full schedule at the end of this article.)

Hello! Video

Space: varies, but always has a liquor license
Screen: back walls, borrowed screens
Projector: "Often, I find someone with a projector."

Ray Daniels couldn't afford the viewing fee that most festivals charge for submissions, so the 30-year-old video artist walked down to his local bar and started showing his work. "You get more of a reaction from the audience, which I really like," says Daniels. The shows, which started just over a year ago at Bar of the Gods, became monthly jamborees that remain "collective to the point of near anarchy." Hello! Video has maintained a break-even income while branching out to other venues including Disjecta, Stumptown (downtown) and Holocene and drawing an average of 20 submissions per month for the 10-minute-maximum, punch line-mandatory line-up.

The Know

Space: in limbo
Screen: will be bigger on the rebuild
Projector: video, 16mm

The Know has always been good at getting its Alberta Street neighbors to scratch their heads. Jon Van Oast, who has copiloted the microtheatre/lounge with Josh Bovinette for a little over a year, says, "We just started by throwing together the parts we had–projector, screen, a few chairs–and opened the doors!" The parts snowballed to include couches, theatre seating for 40, a pool table, video games, Internet stations, rotating art shows and, of course, film screenings, which included the Pirate Film Festival (a benefit for last summer's Zine Symposium), midnight showings of The Big Lebowski and various solo experiments by local mad scientists (e.g., The Qualified Astropath, filmed in gibberish, subtitled in English, accompanied by comedian Phantom Hillbilly). Last August, the Know temporarily closed its doors "due to the whims of real estate and property issues," but Oast and Bovinette plan to reboot soon in a new, larger location. Oast says fans have been supportive, except for "when that dude took our cashbox with all of $11 and some change. Lame."

La Palabra Café-Press

Space: 150 standing capacity
Screen: 8 x 8
Projector: 8mm, 16mm, video, digital

In addition to the darkroom, letterpress, typewriters, philosophy library, newsstand, computers and wireless Internet access at La Palabra, you'll find an editing suite for Super 8 developing and transfer. Open since August 1 of this year, Krista Marshall Arias' creative space-cum-café–a 1500-square-foot formertheatre wardrobe space on NE Garfield Street with a café service trailer out front–has already started a "cine A mano" Tuesday night film salon for works-in-progress and novices; hosted film gatherings with cycling, hitchhiker and immediatist themes; brought internationally screened experimental filmmakers to the space; and started planning a Poetics of Film series for next summer. Arias is accepting submissions of film pieces with poetry as audio through March. She is also screening cartoons on Saturday mornings.

Shows take place at La Palabra Café-Press, 4810 NE Garfield St., 503.493.0333

Myth Media

Space: Newspace Gallery classrooms
Screen: basement walls, borrowed screens
Projector: rented from the Lake Oswego library

At Myth Media's first Broadcast showing, the turnout was only about six people. "They were probably cops," says Lisa Wells, who helped founder Peter Bauer take Portland's first and only "open-mic for filmmakers" from a basement on E Burnside to a basement on SE Belmont Street to a gallery on SE 10th Avenue. Above ground, Broadcast has become a forum for film- and mischief-makers to share their projects under cover of the full moon every month. Bauer established Myth Media as a nonprofit three years ago with his sights set on "cultural and environmental change." Currently, the group is adding schools to its roster of lecture venues. Local students treated to a Myth Media movie day are asked to examine how their culture's myths are created. Bauer might ask if they can identify edible plants from their region, smells that indicate dangerous wildlife, or the trees and shrubs in front of their houses. Then he'll ask if they know who J. Lo is.

Newspace Gallery

Space: studio portion of gallery
Screen: the back wall
Projector: borrowed from next door

In Gordon Winiemko's mockumentary

Enjoy, two San Franciscans become so infatuated with the Coca-Cola emblem they resort to wandering the streets naked save for swirls of red and white paint. In Chris Bennett's 580-square-foot studio, Portlanders can run photo shoots, acting classes or workshops, or see innovative work by filmmakers who are passing through (as Winiemko was). They can also join local directors sharing works-in-progress at the monthly Broadcast gathering (see above) and catch the short films of directors from around the world through the Independent Exposure Screening Series, curated by San Francisco-spawned Microcinema International. Bennett says, "I consider myself a facilitator" who wants locals and out-of-towners to know the space is available for their projects, even if nobody gets painted.

Shows take place at Newspace Gallery, 1632 SE 10th St., 503.963.1935

Peripheral Produce

Space, screen, projector: roving sites have included the Hollywood Theatre, Cinema 21 and the Guild Theater.

In the foreground of Portland's contemporary microcinema is Matt McCormick's Peripheral Produce. After acting as a renegade screening conduit around town for roughly five years, Peripheral's production efforts were honed into the Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival, now in its second year of soliciting "quirky and challenging work" from around the world. Under virtually nonexistent overhead and "a couple small grants," PP also maintains a microcinema distribution label that is nationally recognized. McCormick, who makes his own films as the Rodeo Film Company and is an alumnus of the Sundance Film Festival, among others, wants the PDX Film Fest to continue bringing underground film heroes and "scouted talent" to town, saying of Portland, "the film and arts community here is more supportive than anywhere I have ever been."

Tiny Picture Club

Space: nomadic
Screen: theatres, PVC pipe and canvas, sides of buildings
Projector: 8mm

For the Tiny Picture Club's sixth show, the group divided the packed Guild Theater audience in half and passed out labels marked "Hero" and "Villain." A spokesman from each side was elected, snack food was cocked and the show Heroes and Villains rolled 8. "The hero would walk on screen and the villains would yell, 'Kill him!'," remembers Reed Harkness, who started the club with a group of friends. Since the fall of 2000, seven themed shows (e.g., Secret Places and Car Chases) have screened with spontaneously assembled bands at venues and campouts up and down the West Coast. Audiences have gotten the chance to draw on film, join group bike-rides to venues and take workshops at Harkness' house when it becomes the "Tiny Picture Lab." A core membership of about six has remained constant since the beginning, while handfuls of others fluctuate as time and enthusiasm allow. Jeremy Sedita helps organize shows, Emily Halderman is credited with the group's moniker, Devin Harkness with the idea to make their logo a Superman symbol with an "8" replacing the "S," and Chad Essley with drawing the perfect sketch of it "in, like, five seconds."

Kaja Katamay is a writer who lives in Portland.

The Cinema Project's 2003 Visiting Artist Series continues to bring champions of experimental cinema to Portland through Dec. 14. If you missed Betzy Bromberg, David Gatten and Trinh T. Minh-Ha, don't forget to catch the rest of the series. Here's your guide.


Nov. 18-19, 7:30 pm
Cinema Project, 120 NE Russell St.

Stratman's Portland audience will get to see what the audiences at this year's Sundance Film Festival and Rotterdam International Film Festival didn't: the work that preceded her multiple-award winning short In Order Not to Be Here (2002), "a new genre of horror movie" that explores America's culture of surveillance in suburban car parks and elsewhere. On Nov. 18, Stratman will screen the shorts From Hetty to Nancy (1997), On the Various Nature of Things (1995), and Untied (2001). IONTBH shows the following night alongside new work by Chicago filmmakers, which Stratman selected.


The Matter With Film
Dec. 8, 7:30 pm
Cinema Project, 120 NERussell St.

Liminal Lumen Cycle
Date, time, location: TBA

On Dec. 8, Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder guest curate a program of hand-manipulated works by filmmakers from around the country, including Brian Frye, Devon Damonte, Jeanne Liotta, Cade Bursell, Bruce McClure and Jennifer Reeves. Tactics include hot iron ink transfer from a plastic tablecloth onto film and developing negative prints by burying them in contaminated soil. "The objectification of film as matter and the matter of objectifying go hand in hand," says Gibson. On Dec. 9 or thereabout, Recoder, whose work has been referred to as "projection performance," will screen his latest opus of light and illusion, Liminal Lumen Cycle.


The Loudest Muttering is Over
Dec. 12, 7:00 pm
City Council Chambers, Portland City Hall, 1221 SW4th Ave.

(Cosponsored by PICA)

Civilizationally, We Do Not Dig Holes to Bury Ourselves
Dec. 13, 7:30 pm
Cinema Project, 120 NERussell St.

Between 1983 and 1993, Souheil Bachar was the only Arab among six men to have been taken hostage in Beirut. In 1999, he collaborated with cultural research foundation the Atlas Group, based in Lebanon, to produce 53 videotapes about his imprisonment. Only #17 and #31 are available outside of Lebanon. Oh, and Bachar doesn't actually exist. He's the fictional creation of Walid Raad, the Lebanon-born artist whose work has been featured in festivals worldwide and was selected for the 2002 Whitney Biennial. At a PICA-sponsored lecture on Dec. 12, Raad will present slides from the Atlas Group files. The following night, he'll screen Hostage: The Bachar Tapes and read from interviews with Bachar, discussing his collaboration with the Atlas Group.

About This Story

  • Author: Kaja Katamay
  • Published Online: Jan 13, 2012