Baltimore Sun article:

Festival benefits fringe films
MicroCineFest draws more - and more varied - works

Chris Kaltenbach

Published on October 30, 2002
2002- The Baltimore Sun

Contrary to what you might have heard, the term "underground film" does not refer to a bunch of movies that nobody would actually want to watch.

In fact, the opposite is true, insists Skizz Cyzyk, founder of Baltimore's MicroCineFest annual underground film festival, the sixth edition of which opens this evening at the G-Spot on Falls Road. He and his fellow screeners - about 20 in all - are constantly shooing away films where the only people who could actually endure watching them are the filmmakers themselves. MicroCineFest, he insists, is a showcase for works that are both quirky and watchable. "Our Web page has a whole list of `don'ts,' films we're not interested in," Cyzyk says in the course of a discussion at the offices of the Maryland Film Festival, where he works as the organization's programming director. "It's amazing how many filmmakers don't even read that list. We have an entry fee, so there's money at stake. You'd think they'd read that list and think, `That sounds like something I made. I don't think I'll send it in.'"

Among those films that can pretty much count on a rejection slip from Baltimore's annual celebration of the outer boundaries of cinema:

"A serious, reality-based drama (particularly starring college-age kids discussing relationships)"; "A cute romantic comedy (particularly starring college-age kids discussing relationships)"; "A gangster flick starring college-aged boys with goatees, wearing sunglasses & blazers, walking around in parking lots holding guns sideways (unless it's really funny ... intentionally); "A self-indulgent, depressing experimental piece. We like experimental when it's made with some thought, effort, and consideration for its audience."

For next year, Cyzyk adds with an exasperated chuckle, look for an expanded list. "We're adding a lot of other things," he insists. "We don't want porn. I don't know why people send us porn."

The ground rules Cyzyk has established seem to be working; MicroCineFest enjoys a growing reputation among the country's underground film festivals, such that Baltimore is emerging as something of a showplace for films aimed at the other side of the fringe. Filmmakers fly in from all over the country to attend the festival, and screenings at the G-Spot are frequently sold out.

So what can fans of fringe cinema look forward to this year? The usual assortment of envelope-pushers, films that defy convention in ways both ingenious and - sometimes - indecipherable. And it's often the indecipherable ones that are the most fun to watch, if only to spend hours after they're over trying to figure just what in blazes was going on.

Take, for example, Murderous Camouflage, an 84-minute feature from director Tom Kiesche, the saga of a unique squad of homicide detectives whose trademark is getting under the skin - literally - of murder victims.

"We enjoyed it while we watched it," Cyzyk says earnestly. "We really thought other people might find it too silly and too corny, but we're really hoping that people come with an open mind, just ready to be slap-happy."

And what of the folks responsible for Murderous Camouflage? "The filmmakers are most likely just a bunch of goofballs who like to amuse themselves," he says.

Love this film, in other words, and love MicroCineFest 2002 - five days of what Cyzyk calls "movies of questionable subject matter, made on questionable budgets, with questionable production values."

That would include tonight's opening feature at 6, Jon Moritsugu's Scumrock. "It really plays like an art film, but made by hipsters," Cyzyk says. "On the one hand, it seems like it might be pretentious, but on the other hand all that pretension seems like he's just having fun. It's just a fun, silly feature."

And tomorrow night at 7, at Bengies Drive-In, it's 1964's Spider Baby, spotlighting a dangerously deranged family of children suffering from "progressive age regression," watched over by a butler played by Lon Chaney Jr. (in his last film role). "It's just creepy," Cyzyk promises. "It's one of those movies where you spend the night in a creepy house with some creepy people."

Audiences with less expansive attention spans may want to check out the festival's many shorts programs. New this year is a collection of films that are safe for kids - much of MicroCineFest is decidedly not - lumped together under the title "Shorts for Kids ... Weird Ones." Set for 3 p.m. Sunday (and admission is free!), the films include Il Spaghetti Occidentali (Spaghetti Western), an Italian (a.k.a. Spaghetti) Western acted out by an all-vegetable cast; Moo, an ode to the dangers of cow-tipping; and the self-explanatory music video Dead Kitty.

"They weren't exactly the sort of things we'd normally program," Cyzyk says, "but we hate rejecting those sorts of things. So we put them all together, and you've got a program you can bring your kids to."

Which hints at a wider truth, when it comes to MicroCineFest: Despite his insistence that a lot of people who fancy themselves filmmakers don't have a realistic sense of their own abilities, Cyzyk really is an advocate for underground films. If you've got talent and commitment, and if you're honest enough with yourself to know the difference between the stuff you do well and the stuff you don't do well, he's on your side.

"A lot of the films we like, we get the feeling they're probably not being shown at a lot of other festivals," he says. "So it's kind of our mission to show them."

Movie madness
What: MicroCineFest 2002
When: Tonight through Sunday
Where: The G-Spot, 2980 Falls Road
Information: 410-243-5307 or
Tickets: $3 per program ($5 for Spider Baby at Bengies Drive-In); $30 for an all-festival pass

[image] "A Visit From the Incubus" shows Friday at 10.

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