Substream and Psychotronic: Baltimore's MicroCineFest '98
by Hal Johnson
Billed as "5 days of cool, underground, D.I.Y., substream, psychotronic
films from all over the world," MicroCineFest '98 wrapped this past
weekend in Baltimore. Now in its second year, the underground film
festival doubled its line-up over last year's inaugural launch,
featuring 49 screenings of 120 films.
To accommodate this ambitious expansion, festival founder Skizz Cyzyk
moved the event from the cozy confines of the converted funeral home
known as the Mansion Theatre, to two venues in historic Fells Point, the
scenic waterfront district, once the stomping grounds of John Waters.
The Orpheum Theater, an art and revival house reminiscent of Manhattan's
now defunct St. Mark's Theater 80 (rear projection and all) screened
16mm features and shorts programs and served as the festival central box
office, while the second venue, a converted loft space a few blocks up
from the Orpheum, housed video screenings (with the occasional 16mm
short thrown in for good measure). To make up for the necessary walk
between venues (local ordinances prohibited selling tickets at the
second venue without some kind of license-go figure), Skizz gave away
door prizes (trinkets, tapes, and other assorted goodies) and free
popcorn. Since all programs screened twice, devoted festival attendees
had the opportunity to see everything.
Skizz set the tone for the festival programming, "We're here to
celebrate the filmmaker who has passion, creativity, originality, and
ambition, but not necessarily a budget, a crew, equipment, or good
business sense." He continues, "I've said it before and I'll say it
again -- just about anyone who tries hard enough can make a 'good' film,
but it takes a certain special something to make a 'cool' film."
Festival highlights included the world premiere of "Bury the Evidence"
by J. Greg DeFelice, a wry, existential comedy that mixes equal parts
Buster Keaton, Samuel Beckett, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Quentin
Tarantino. The hapless protagonist (Andrew Elvis Miller) finds himself
in a mysterious apartment assigned five household chores to complete.
His mission is impeded by a rotating cast of characters that includes a
fast-talking coffee-drinker, a bossy real estate agent, and a bickering
mother/daughter team. Because the festival could not accommodate 35mm,
the film had to be screened on video. Nevertheless, it snagged the Jury
Prize for Best Feature beating out twenty-something angst romp "Green"
(aka "Whatever") from Karl Hirsch, Unabomber spoof "Ted," the postmodern
punk farce "Dog Years" and the insufferable "Reynard the Fox." Festival
stalwart Kevin DiNovis' "Surrender Dorothy," already garnering Grand
Jury prizes from the Slamdance, New York Underground, and Chicago
Underground (among others), was honored a Special Jury Prize: Way "Cool"
The numerous shorts programs provided a fun mix of narratives,
experimental works, animation, and docs. In addition to a Corky
Quackenbush retrospective and the Blackchair Productions' Independent
Exposure program, MicroCineFest '98 included theme programs like Low
Budget Video, all homemade videos shot and edited for under $100, and
Freakin' Funny, a sick and twisted collection of shorts that included
three works by Tony Nittoli ("Dyke Rat," "My Brother Cicero" and
"Junky"), Modi's trilogy of Manny Chevrolet films, and Best Short Film
honoree "Fast Food," Jonathan Fahn's note perfect Scorsese spoof set in
the world of greasy burgers.
The best (and most honored) program was Star Wars shorts, a collection
of works inspired by the landmark 1977 film. The program began with
the spoof that started it all, "Hardware Wars" screened in its Special
Edition format with added effects etc., and followed by "The Odd Stars
Couple," and "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars." Prizes were issued to
Evan Mather's "Godzilla Vs. Disco Lando" (Best Animated Video), a
fantasy that animates Kenner action figures, Jason Wishnow's "Tatooine
or Bust" (Best Documentary), a doc chronicling the fervor outside
theaters during the re-issue of Star Wars, and Bill Hardy's inventive
"Aka The Conversation" (Way "Cool" Video), a personal story about what
happened when he tried to create a fictional dialogue between Han Solo
and Indiana Jones. The audience honored the hilarious "TROOPS" -- think
Fox TV's COPS with Stormtroopers. And by the way, Skizz says he's lost
contact with "TROOPS" director Kevin Rubio. So, if you're reading this,
Kevin, contact Skizz and get your prize.
In the spirit of MicroCineFest, prizes are awarded to films of merit
made on a shoestring budget -- Low Budget jury honors went to Tom E.
Brown's "Don't Run Johnny" (Best Low Budget Film), and Matthew Silver's
"Mother and Son" (Best Low Budget Video). Jeff Sher's "Yours" was
honored as the Best Experimental Film.
The jury also issued a special award, The New Discovery, to Baltimore
Filmmaker Matthew Fulchiron whose trilogy of shorts "Quarter Life
Crisis," "Chocolate Milk" and "The Encounter" announce the presence of a
major emerging talent. Though he made them while a student at UMBC, his
films embody confidence and self assured style of a veteran filmmaker.
Hopefully, this honor will bring some attention to this heretofore
The vibe of the awards ceremony was low key by design as Skizz read the
list of prize winners after the closing night screening of Trey Parker's
"Cannibal: the Musical." Skizz and his dedicated staff of volunteers
should be commended for staging such a unique event in Baltimore -- the
ideal setting for a substream event.
For more information on MicroCineFest:
[Hal Johnson is a freelance writer living in Hampden, MD. He is
currently researching a book on funny redheads tentatively titled, Red
All Over: From Lucy to Carrot Top.]
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