Local Arts Groups present Two 16mm Film Events on Saturday

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By Tom Warner

High Zero Festival
Sat, Sept 21, 1pm
Theatre Project
45 W. Preston Street

Sight Unseen
Sat, Sept 21, 2pm
Central Library
Wheeler Auditorium

This Saturday, September 21, two local arts groups are partnering with Pratt Library to host events featuring some of the best and rarest films from the Sights and Sounds Department's celebrated 16mm film collection.

High Zero Festival
At 1pm at The Theatre Project, curators Tom Boram and Bonnie Jones will have local and international musicians perform live improvised accompaniment to three rare Baltimore neighborhood-themed films at the 15th annual High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music.

By replacing the original soundtracks to these rarely screened 16mm films (which have never been digitized or available in other formats) with live improvised music, Boram and Jones say the event promises to be "a one-time cinematic experience," one that breaks the festival’s pattern of nightly performances in an attempt to "define the undefinable."

Angels Screenshot
Still from Derek May’s "Angel" (1966)

The two-part matinee program, entitled "Live Scores for The Greatest City in America," kicks off with Jackson, Mississippi-based Alvin Fieldler (percussion), Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar) and Christina Blomberg (pedal steel guitar) jamming away to Robert Cole’s Market, a 1980 short depicting a typical day at Federal Hill’s bustling Cross Street Market, and Chris Buchman's Dantini the Magnificent, a 1968 "film poem" profiling a day-in-the-life of legendary Baltimore magician Vincent Cierkes.

A second group of musicians including Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Will Schorre (modular synthesizer), San Francisco’s Walter Kitun (inventions) and Magda Mayas (clavinet, piano) and Sabine Vogel (flute, electronics) from Berlin, Germany, follows with an improvised score for A Carnival of Ugly. This 1967 WMAR-TV documentary, written and produced by George Gipe (co-writer of the Steve Martin comedies Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man with Two Brains), uses beautifully framed landscape shots and carefully edited montages of urban decay to show how pollution afflicted the natural environment of Baltimore’s metropolitan area in the late '60s.

Sight Unseen
Next, at 2pm, the mobile cinema group Sight Unseen partners with the Pratt Library to screen eight experimental films from our 16mm film archives at the Central Library’s Wheeler Auditorium. Developed with support from the MICA Launch Artists in Baltimore Award, Sight Unseen aims to engage diverse communities and distinguished venues with the prominence and potential of the moving image.

Curators Lorenzo Gattorna and Kate Ewald’s "Sight Unseen: Sights & Sounds from Enoch Pratt" program promises "audiovisual displays of unbridled cinepoems, contrast-filled fantasies, televised filmloops, violent diptychs, laboratory graphics, plein air dreamscapes, paranoid studies and multiplied microcosms" as it showcases rarely seen works by Scott Bartlett, Lillian Scharwtz, Aldo Tambellini and former Baltimore-based filmmakers Stan Vanderbeek (who ran UMBC’s visual arts program until his death in 1984) and  Michael Tolson (a.k.a. tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE).

Mirrored Reason Still
Still from Stan Vanderbeek's "Mirrored Reason" (1979)

The full program is as follows:

Gattorna and Ewald believe their program’s "rapid-fire as well as resonant sequences highlight the rich and radical extent of this Baltimore-based analog archive both chronologically and content-wise."

Coincidentally, Sight Unseen’s one-hour program also compliments the High Zero festival’s musical mission, as several shorts have outstanding soundtracks. Perhaps the best is Derek May’s 1966 short Angel, which features the Stormy Clovers performing music composed by Leonard Cohen.

This film about a young man, a girl, and a dog in the snow has the quality of fantasy and uses beautiful high-contrast black-and-white cinematography to explore the possibilities of overexposure. Today Pratt’s 16mm film collection is getting a lot of exposure, too—and we couldn’t be happier about that!

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