Jun 3, 2021 | Articles, Featured

David Sherman and Rebecca Barten

On the occasion of our encounter Micro is Big, which will bring together the representatives of some of our favorite theaters, we share with you one of the first texts to ever have used the term “microcinema”, written by the founders of Total Mobile Home microcinema, which operated in San Francisco from 1994 to 1998. 

After reading the X-Factor Manifesto, I started to write a sympathetically incensed summation of “the state of things.” But really, I decided, it would just be a junior re-iteration of a lot of the points which are stated so well already. So instead, I will here detail the curatorial project which I have initiated as an embodiment of a complex of concerns which bears a relation in its motivating factors to the substance of the Manifesto.

I am a 30 year old experimental filmmaker. My earliest political memory is the resignation of Nixon and I came of age during the era of Reagan and Bush. Not surprisingly, I haven’t had the cushion of funding for the development of my art. What you don’t have, you can’t lose!

As an experimental Film or Video maker, one must always deal with a frustration which comes from the literal and cultural immateriality of the medium of media. This “media” cannot exist as an object; film and video require a place to activate themselves. A place is a context where the intended cycle between audience and maker comes together for a moment. The formation of vital “places” of presentation, reception and dialogue allow for artists to grow and communities to be formed.

During the last two years, I and Rebecca Barten have run a small 25 seat basement cinema called Total Mobile Home microCINEMA. This project started with a desire to create an intimate place for filmmakers. We both saw intimacy as inherent to our medium and hoped that by creating a very specific environment, a variety of challenging works could be seen in a non-institutional, yet informed context. Very rapidly, it “worked.” After 120 shows, with audiences of one to 35 people, we are certain that funding is not necessary for a particular scale of what we think “meaningful success.” Our climate allows dialogue and discussion about works ranging from the seven hour Our Hitler to young filmmakers’ first Super-8 rolls. Often shows function as quasi-seminars where information is supplied yet the “authority” with the incidental makeup of any particular audience, is constantly shifting. Of course, our project has historical models that include the cine-clubs of the Surrealists, the cooperatives of the New American Cinema movement of the ‘60s, and spontaneous home movie screenings. Perhaps it is these kinds of gatherings that have nurtured artistic activity

and kept hope alive during times of cultural apathy.

Rather than concerning ourselves with ideological back flipping for phantom grant support, we use our precious time to simply keep our space going. Rather than official support, we have received an influx of personal gifts – an outdated video projector, 16mm equipment, a sound system, a lighting system, a backyard garden, and a goddamn pump organ, all contributed by people happy to see things just put to good use. Outside of establishment funding we are wonderfully free. We only program work that interests us; our only agenda is a rigorous treatment of where our curiosity leads us. Our project has connected us with artists and other small spaces around the world. Much to our satisfaction, we find that there are a number of spaces that are presenting experimental film on a small yet challenging scale, with little or no funding. Among like-minded spaces such as the Orgone Cinema in Pittsburgh; Inst’tute in Austin; Theatre Kino in Sapporo; Edison Electric in Vancouver; Other Cinema in San Francisco; Scratch in Paris; and the Exploding Cinema in London, there is a consensus that there is an appetite for intimacy in our public.

Our audiences are culled multi-generationally from very young people who are used to basement spaces to very old, established (i.e. 92 yr. old Sidney Peterson who was pleased to have a “salon”). This drive to seek out and experience an alternative results in groups of people who (usually) do not want to be blindly entertained. This is not to say that “if you show it they will come” – we all assume the occasional TOTAL failure.

Personally, what I have found most essential is my own engagement in many avenues of work within different yet complementary contexts. Everything that I do: working as an experimental film distributor, teaching, running a cinema, and my own filmmaking, builds towards a terrifying cross-reverberation. The connections generated through working in multiple contexts propels the artist into new situations where they are called upon to advise and direct cultural resources. Experimental filmmakers who work in art institutions, the industry, or copy shops MUST take advantage of their leverage, use all resources, and inject complexity into the products of their labor. Above all artists shouldn’t be demoralized by futility; small seeds GROW but if you feel that they must grow then you are paralyzed into waiting until something “big” comes along.