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August 22, 2000 2:00 AM
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BIZ: Microcinema.com: Doin' it in the Dark

BIZ: Microcinema.com: Doin' it in the Dark

Karla Esquivel




(indieWIRE/ 8.22.00) -- With the advent of cable modems and DSL, more and more people can view and download streams of short experimental films in the privacy of their own home. While companies like Atom Films and iFILM have certainly paved the way for these audiences and filmmakers to release their films online, other players in the field see a substantial niche in creating networks of real-time movie houses that will show this experimental work the good old-fashioned way: in a darkened theater, surrounded by friends and strangers. Enter Microcinema.com, who use both traditional and Internet networking strategies to build a community of fans and artists online and in real-time.


The official microcinema movement began in the early nineties as a venue to show these short experimental works that mainstream theaters and art houses were ignoring. These venues literally came to be known as "underground" because many screenings took place in basements. These impromptu theaters created a die-hard core of consumers and filmmakers, and spurred both the desire to see more movies and make new ones. Since then, microcinemas have been popping up like daisies worldwide, from Middle America to Eastern Asia.


Joel S. Bachar president and co-founder of Microcinema.com blatantly saw this need in Seattle back in 1996. An experimental filmmaker himself, Bachar found there were very few places to screen his work. Through his company Blackchair Productions, he created his own microcinema called "Independent Exposure" now entering its sixth season. Since then he has cultivated a massive networking cooperative of filmmakers, distributors and curators from around the globe.


In January, he and his business partner launched Microcinema.com as a way of enriching the microcinema cause through its various resources and to expand the awareness of experimental films to a larger audience. Headquartered in Seattle, the site includes a road map to other microcinemas, a screening room and up to date information on festivals, screenings and rental equipment. There is also information about their distribution rights of over 160 short works.


"We opt for distribution through exhibition." Bachar said in a recent interview. "Most filmmakers want their films to be shown through an alternative theatrical exhibition and ultimately we specialize and have a long history with that. We also want to expand the traditional definition to include the Internet, TV, airlines, home video and DVD but still maintain the strong off-line community."


While many online entertainment companies rooted themselves in an Americanized focus, Microcinema.com has gone to great lengths to create and maintain a strong international presence. Blackchair Productions and Microcinema.com together have screened films in twenty-seven countries and hope to build an even larger network. Microcinema's recent strategic alliance with GreenDogFilms, an extensive Internet source for multilingual independent short films, will insure a vital role for both companies. Ultimately they are both on their way to becoming the leading venues and distributors of such foreign shorts. GreenDog will share its vast library, while Microcinema will have the distribution connections to the online and off-line world.


"Microcinema's alliance with GreenDogFilms becomes important because it fulfills an international flavor," Bachar said. "The beauty of the Internet is that it defies boundaries. That's why Microcinema.com is devoted to an international commodity though online and off-line distribution."


According to Award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker Modi, whose comedic film, "Pump with a Chump," stars a crazed Henry Rollins bullying a panicky underdeveloped guy into working out, microcinema.com has been a vital resource. "For myself, there is nothing more important than having my work screened by as many people around the world," she said. "Microcinema.com has gone overboard in terms of making sure that my work gets seen and I get heard. As a director I get busy and am unable to seek out all the short film festivals. Microcinema has screened my work around the world from Seattle to Serbia."


In addition to the GreenDogFilms alliance, Microcinema has recently become content partners with a slew of other like-minded companies. They will share each others' libraries and in some cases will co-distribute each other's work. Big Film Shorts (www.bigfilmshorts.com) which has been distributing short films in more traditional markets like television and home video for the past six years, will work with Microcinema to strengthen short film exhibition. Pileated Pictures, LLC will serve as animation consultants to Microcinema, while dfilm.com will fulfill digital films in the library.


Owned and operated by filmmakers, the day-to-day operation of Microcinema has all the energy of a labor of love for the community in which it's a part of. For example, when it comes to curating shows, Microcinema.com works hard to insure that the flow of films fit well together, benefiting both the artists and the consumers. And there is a certain austerity in Microcinema's basic premise: That in these times of great technological advances there is still an important experience to be had in sitting in the dark with other people, watching films on a screen much larger than a 17" monitor.


"We really want to access filmmakers on a street level," Bachar said. Our companies are not owned by the big Hollywood system but by filmmakers. I work with filmmakers because I want the filmmaking community to feel like they have a grasp on Microcinema as a resource. It's really important for us to make sure filmmakers feel empowered and represented here."


[Karla Esquivel is a Seattle based writer.]


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