Small Acquisitions Over Time Equal One Big Collection

Say goodbye to Cinema Project for the summer. Last weekend, their final frame for several months flickered in the musty upstairs event hall of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) local office in the industrial-turning-leisurely inner southeast neighborhood. They hope that this marks their last event after two years of gypsy-like, ad-hoc presentation from unusual venues throughout every quadrant of Portland. Hopefully by this time next year, they will be developing a permanent library of representative works made by past visiting artists, and could even be operating from a permanent location.

On this warm, late spring Saturday night, I was also covering the final night of three for Creative Music Guild’s Improvisation Summit of Portland, and that too capped an important milestone, being their annual festival program. I learned from conversations with Directors of both organizations that the two were engaged in talks to collaborate on the opening of a performance space and office. This is a move that I think would be excellent, as it pairs film with music at any given time. Given CMG’s shift toward contemporary dance, it makes the union that much more compelling.

Regardless of collaborative venues, the importance of Cinema Project’s plan to curate and preserve a film library means they will need sufficient space to do so. That might be why they took this showing to announce that they were seeking space to hold office and host screenings as early as the start of the fall season.

The one-hour program that was Small Acquisitions included seven shorts by three filmmakers, Dani Leventhal, Jonathan Shwartz, and Saul Levine. These are the inaugural selections for the new library.

Each piece led into the next without applause or reintroduction, which was easiest, being that the longest reel was twenty-one minutes — probably because that film wasn’t a reel at all being digital video — and the shortest was three minutes. Actually, three were Super 8 stock, two were 16mm, and two were video. With three mediums, I remember upwards of five different projection machines. I neglected to ask specifically why. I realize now that Cinema Project has a technology preservation focus to their mission, by featuring stuff that plays with the medium.

The experience of this selection — all mashed up into a string of fascinating images of great variety — is psychedelic and pensive. I would call it a study on film techniques, yes, but also a study of experience. If the war continues by Jonathan Schwartz is a five-minute piece that truly rises to the top. It is basically five minutes of olympic-style ski jumpers gliding through the air. Though some of their takeoff and landing is shown, it is mostly just humans flying with long planks on their feet, wearing bright space-age clothing, seeming like birds or mythic creatures, fantastically graceful and at peace while conducting death-defying athletics. It might be the repetition of similar images that made it so memorable, but it also resonates with the soul.

Frame of "All That's Solid" by Saul Levine
Frame of “All That’s Solid” by Saul Levine
Accordion scene in “Hearts are Trump Again” by Dani Levanthal

That film was sandwiched right in the middle, so let’s go through the other six. Opening was All That’s Solid by Saul Levine, and it was three minutes mostly of painted faces, the kind that remind me of frightening clowns and abstract portraits by schizophrenics. Following was Hearts are Trump Again by Dani Leventhal, a collection of urban-life-moments from apparently Europe and America. What strikes me the most is this accordion close-up. The player’s hands are slightly in the frame, to give context to the instrument, but the focus is on the breathing and the pattern of the musical machine. It feels so alive when focused on like that. The music carries on as images move along in a string of life-snippets, including a woman waiting for her sperm donor, kids playing the blues on a rooftop, various animals, and some familial scenes.

Levine was the most prominently featured, in a way, with three pieces. His films were first, third, and seventh. Falling Notes Unleaving is a devotional piece and the longest of his batch (9 minutes), shot on Super 8, but it is largely tourist footage from the funeral of Anne Robertson (important filmmaker) and from his 2012 Cinema Project hosted Portland visit. It has a vintage home movie feeling despite everything on camera being contemporary. I don’t know if he was shaking the camera or had some editing trick, but this scene of a woman breast feeding and her dog can be almost unbearable as the frame jerks and jars around. Of course it is fascinating to feel that way from the images, and it was soothed by soft, blurry colors without form.

Leventhal, clocked in the most screen time, at thirty minutes, and his Platonic could be said to feature this screening, being twenty-one minutes. A number of contradictions play out through imagery in this one. A woman camping explains her life-affirming spiritual experience. A different woman recounts her experience of running away from gangsters, her husband narrowly escaping gunfire in a car getaway, saving her son but only by endangering them first, and the boy remembers junkie-dad as a superhero. That part is cut in with what appears to be mental health clinic security footage. But a lot of it was sourced from a camping trip, where moments of intimate conversation are spread throughout.

Frame of "A Certain Worry" by Jonathan Schwartz
Frame of “A Certain Worry” by Jonathan Schwartz

After a whole lot of exploration and emotion-triggering images, there remained only two three-minute bits. Together,  A Certain Way by Schwartz and Melts into Air by Levine helped distill everything down with mostly abstract, grainy images — a collage of opaque but shifting moods.

All of these pieces require much more engagement than a pleasant-looking story, hence the feeling of discomfort from watching it. For those who enjoy self-discovery, discomfort is the territory of great fruit. For those who love creativity, discontent is the wellspring of their work. These artists all have a way of working in this territory, and it is very telling of Cinema Project’s curatorial vision when this is a showcase of their first acquisitions. They have an important role to play in the appreciation of film.

Two of these films are available to stream for free and the links are below. We will congratulate Cinema Project when they announce their new space and eagerly look forward to their next season.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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