Microcinema Tour: Mallary Abel

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  1. I’m talking to filmmakers and curators about the state of distribution today. You and a partner started a roving film festival (feel free to re-name that), Cut and Run. Can you talk a little about that? What was the inspiration to start Cut and Run?

 

Yes – Cut and Run was a roving film festival where we did not just screen at the same microcinema. We travelled to microcinemas all over the place and screened our programs there. Brenda Contreras and I met at San Francisco State University in a film program. We were both were interested in starting a curatorial project that featured not just new – but older and classic works. We concentrated on screening experimental, avant-garde, and even an occasional home movie. At the time, we were just breaking into the microcinema community, and it was very exciting to see how such a genuine and unique niche in the art world has such a close knit web of people all working together, keeping it vibrant. 

 

  1. From my understanding, Cut and Run mostly visited microcinemas . Can you define microcinema? How do they function?

 

A microcinema is like a small movie theatre. It can be anything though – a studio, an old church, a converted store front…or a dedicated space that strictly runs as a venue to project films. Small cinemas are able to be set up almost anywhere. They’re different from your normal, high end movie theatre, in that the entire atmosphere and experience is much more personalized (I think). Because the films are generally smaller scale, a small scale cinema can offer the right type of set up… a cozy space, with discussions about the work, Q & As with the artists, etc. Microcinemas can program any films or curated programs they want to. So, the programming can be very diverse. That’s a great thing… 

 

  1. Getting into the logistics: How did you fund Cut and Run? How much did it cost?

 

Well – Cut and Run was sort of complex. We’d do screenings at Artists’ Televsion Access in San Francisco, then we’d hit the road and travel. We traveled all over – the West coast, the East coast, and the South. We even managed to get ourselves to Europe to do some screenings with the help of a kickstarter campaign. During that campaign, actually a bunch of filmmakers who’s work we were screening were generous enough to donate. They were supportive and wanted their work to be seen! That European tour was largely possible due to the fundraiser – everything else was funded by us, door revenue at screenings, and submissions. 

 

  1. How did your tour fit into the larger DIY movement, if it did at all?

 

I think Cut and Run is a good example of a low-budget film festival that was accessible not just for the audiences we were looking for – but also for filmmakers who needed a certain liaison for which to support the presenting of their work. We’d see a lot of the films we programmed in other experimental film festivals around the country, and that was a reminder that many of us were working towards the same thing. I think we helped get some filmmakers work out there and keep it out there. 

There were times we’d put a film from the ’60s in a program. We had no limits really, we just wanted to screen important work as often as possible. 

 

Like the rest of the DIY movement, we weren’t going to let our grand goals of running a film festival (albeit small) get away from us, even if it wasn’t financially giving us much revenue. 

We helped keep that beat of experimental film – and microcinemas – alive. 

 

  1. What were/are the advantages of curating one’s own program and taking it on the road? What were/are the disadvantages?

 

The advantages were that we were in complete control of where we wanted to go, and that we would get a lot of invitations to screen places. We were very much free, and had some amazing experiences.

The disadvantages were perhaps, that we worked a lot and invested a lot, and while we were returned with an immense amount of gratification from that film festival, it became hard to maintain. Money was perhaps an issue, but that wasn’t a major contribution to why Cut and Run ended. 

 

  1. Is there a type of film work than lends itself more gracefully to a  tour such as yours?

 

To me, films that have a specific message or feeling, and films that might push boundaries, or not be afraid to say what they want to say. Experimental, avant-garde, and documentary films lend themselves to a project like Cut and Run. Film that are one of a kind. Short films also are generally more feasible for these types of festivals.

 

  1. What advice would you give a film student or an out-of-school maker who might be interested in developing a film tour?

 

Obviously, I’d say, do it! Act responsibly, but gather your resources and get creative, and write down your vision of a film tour. Then start taking the steps to get there and you will see that it will beautifully unfold. I’d also say that, without the filmmakers themselves, there would be no film tour. It’s all about them and their work, in a way. 

 

  1. What are you up to these days? Talk a little about Gaze and any other recent curatorial projects.

 

Cut and Run ended it’s tours in 2011. Before C+R said so long though, I was approached by the programmer of Artist’s Television Access to help start a film festival strictly dedicated to screening work made by women. I teamed up with a group of people in the bay area and started running the new festival called GAZE. This will be GAZE’s 4th year. 

 

The unique thing about GAZE is that we screen works made by female identified artists. While a large part of the film world is controlled by men, GAZE is entirely run with the female gaze ideology. We’re also hoping to take a show on the road this summer – like Cut and Run would.

Aside from programming GAZE, I teach 5th grade and tinker with other film and art projects on the side. 

Mallary Abel is an educator and artist living in Oakland, CA. In 2004, she graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Cinema. She is also a recent graduate of Mills College where she studied Education with a focus on social justice. Since 2004, Mallary has been largely involved with curating and programming film screenings, nationally and internationally. She helped co-found and run an experimental film festival called Cut and Run. Currently, she teaches 5th grade, and co-runs GAZE,  a women’s film festival based out of Artists’ Television Access in San Francisco. She can always be reached at mallaryabel@gmail.com.

GAZE: http://http://www.gazefilmseries.wordpress.com

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Animation: Nina Paley, Animator/Illustrator/Cartoonist

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  1. Can You please introduce yourself to the reader who might not know of you?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nina_Paley

  1. As I said in our first email contact, I’m collecting a series of interviews with filmmakers who have taken varied paths toward distribution and marketing.

Your decision to use file sharing program Bit Torrent to distribute your animated feature, Sita Sings the Blues, has garnered a lot of attention. Can you talk about that decision? What were the factors that lead up to it?

My decision was to FREE SSTB, not “use file sharing program Bit Torrent to distribute your animated feature”. I knew that in freeing my work BitTorrents would probably be used to distribute it, but that’s not the point – I don’t personally use most of the distribution channels that get my work out into the world. The point of freeing my work is the audience distributes it for me. Distribution is simply not my problem any more. The audience does it faster, better, further and more effectively than I or any centralized distributor could.

  1. Could you share more about the ethics behind the file sharing movement?

http://questioncopyright.org/how_to_free_your_work

http://blog.ninapaley.com/2013/12/07/make-art-not-law-2/

http://questioncopyright.org/understanding_free_content

http://blog.ninapaley.com/2011/07/09/culture-is-anti-rivalrous/

  1. .  What’s your experienced vantage point on film distribution today? Are makers themselves being asked to carry more of the financial burden? What does the word “independent” mean in relation to film today?

Attention is scarce. Information is not. It’s not your film that’s the precious resource, it’s the audience’s attention. Getting attention is every artist’s problem today, and there’s no magic way to solve it. Freeing my work removes a huge obstacle, but it’s no guarantee of attention. It’s just one step.

  1. Although more film students are now shooting features, most graduate and undergraduate work in still made in short format. Much of your own work has been shorts, including the well-celebrated Minute Memes. How is distribution and marketing different for shorts?

Distribution and marketing is the same for everything I do: Free it, share it, and let the audience do the rest, if they so choose. Since a feature requires so much more time and work than a short I will put more time and work into promoting my next feature, when it’s done in a few years. But for me the principles are the same. Again, see http://questioncopyright.org/how_to_free_your_work

  1. Is there any advice you have for film students today?

Well I dropped out of college. And I stopped teaching college because I found most students were more interested in grades than the work itself, which I found kind of depressing. All I care about is the work. That’s all audiences really care about, too. 

More on Nina Paley’s work can be found on her blog:

blog.ninapaley.com