I arrived with high winds and dry air to Albuquerque on Wednesday, April 15th for the 10th edition of Experiments in Cinema. A student and volunteer picked me up and rushed me over to the Hiway House Motel, a quintessential slice of 1950s Route 66. The pale orange and baby blue facade mimicked the clouded blue skies of Albuquerque.
The festival took place about two blocks away from the Hiway House down Route 66. The Guild Theater is at the heart and soul of independent film in Albuquerque. A single screen theater complete with digital projection, 35mm, 16mm and Super 8mm capacities. The theater can and does play anything and everything. Inside the small lobby, student volunteers and Basement Film folks greeted filmmakers, about 30 in all traveled here from around the country and world to experience the community that Experiments in Cinema creates. There was a strong Northwest contingency with Caryn Cline, as the Basement Films artist in residence, Ruth Hayes from Olympia, Ben Popp from Portland and myself. The festival is put on by Bryan Konefsky, his students at University of New Mexico Albuquerque and Basement Films, a volunteer run non-profit organization that houses over 7000 16mm films, mostly from Albuquerque Public Schools. I was lucky enough to get a tour of Basement Film’s space and experience the awe of their collection. Basement Films hosts filmmakers and workshops throughout the year to share their collection and love for film.
Minutes after I arrived at the Guild, I spotted a man wearing all black with a long, braided ponytail and magnificent pause/play circles tattooed on his hands. This was Bryan Konefsky. In it’s tenth year, Experiments in Cinema and Bryan are running strong, with over 600 submissions and 100 films screened over 8 curated shows. Bryan was a film reel full of smiles, energy and passion for us filmmakers, the festival and community that he’s created here.
The films over the course of five days reflected this community and compassion for experimental film. Each screening delved into different explorations of ‘experiments’ that go beyond time, space and genre. Due to the sheer multitude of films shown and the immensity of the programming, I will share selections and tidbits that reflect the integrity of the festival on a whole. A majority of the screenings dove into new works by film artists from around the world, ranging in time from less than 1 minute to 30 minutes and in all cinematic mediums. It was a pleasure to see a program that seamlessly moved between digital video, 16mm from the projection booth, to Super 8mm magnificently humming inside the theater.
On Friday night, we experienced a spectacular expanded cinema performance by Mike Morris that explored the boundaries of interdisciplinary projection. Morris seamlessly interwove 2 16mm projectors, digital projection, 2 videocameras and sound mixers into a world of sensory exploration. His first piece, “2nd Hermenutic”, drew lines of vibrant red and blue across formats and invited the viewer into this utopia of cinema, where film and digital images work together to create the film. The fully immersive experience contrasted with the single screen works of much of the festival in a wonderful way.
Another fully immersive program invited viewers into the world of avant-garde Polish cinema. Curated by filmmaker and scholar Kamila Kuc, this screening opened up a wide range of time and exploration into the culture of Polish cinema. The films opened awareness to the issues facing Poland throughout the 20th century, particularly the post-war period. The program stood as a cinematic history or segment of such. The work spanned from anti-Nazi film with beautifully, vibrant coloration and fierce narration about the state of Nazi Germany to a 1980s piece about the fall of Europe. Many of the films shown were rare and some almost completely lost, making the program even more unique and meaningful in sharing lost treasures.
Caryn Cline’s artist in residence work drew upon this same theme of accessibility to rare films and previously unseen cinema. Each year, an artist is chosen to create a film from Basement Film’s collection and screen the work as part of the festival. Caryn Cline created a beautiful film from a selection of the collection that focused on women’s experience of coming of age. The film consisted of segments from women’s puberty educational films, complete with animated uterus images, cut with beautifully shot images of Amelia Earhart speaking to the audience and camera in yellow, aged hues. The film exposed an intimacy of community between girls and women in the process of coming to one’s body in aging. This process is an embodiment of the film itself, as with age the celluloid and images shift and change depending on the environment, as does women’s bodies. The film emphasized aspects of women’s cinema that traditionally remains unseen and unspoken, which mimicked the programming of the festival in creating a supportive community to explore these unknown realms.
Beyond the screenings themselves, each evening commenced in gatherings at local bars, where filmmakers and organizers celebrated the films of the evening. At these events, there was an air of collaboration and sharing that was extremely refreshing and inspiring. The mood of the entire festival reflected the importance of creating community between and among filmmakers in continuing to experiment together. Thank you to Bryan, all the folks at Basement Films, the students at University of New Mexico and the filmmakers that made Experiments in Cinema an incredible experience.
Linda Fenstermaker is an experimental filmmaker and graduate of Hampshire College. She works primarily with 16mm to explore interactions and relationships between body and landscape. The emphasis on celluloid film/photography and paper collage comes from her attraction to the material aspects of creative expression and the ways in which technology enters into an art form. Her films have been shown in various film festivals and micro-cinemas worldwide, including Atlanta Film Festival, Portland Underground Film Festival, Alchemy Film Festival, Other Cinema and Experiments in Cinema. She teaches 16mm film classes at the Northwest Film Forum and currently lives in Seattle.