MicroCineFest Year One By Mike White. Running from October 1-4, 1997 in Baltimore, MD "The City That Reads," the MicroCineFest had an incredibly successful first year...

Running from October 1-4, 1997 in Baltimore, MD "The City That Reads," the MicroCineFest had an incredibly successful first year.

So what makes this festival so different from, say, a New York Underground Film Festival or a Chicago Underground Film Festival?

Well, duh, it’s not called the Baltimore Underground Film Festival, now is it? The MicroCineFest doesn’t necessarily show "under-ground" movies such as the fetish, blood & boobs films that are usually intended to shock and dismay mainstream crowds... ooh, how subversive!

No, the MicroCineFest steered clear of the typical festival fare, providing a program that even a mutha could love.

Some of the films in the MicroCineFest have played at the aforementioned festivals as well as Slumdance and Slamdance; there are only so many good indie films to go around. However, the MicroCineFest isn’t really a "best of the fests," it’s more of a "best of the best of the fests" extravaganza—a lean, mean festival machine.

How do you know what films you want to program to make it a highly enjoyable four day festival? Well, you attend a lot of festivals and see a lot of movies and the MicroCineFest’s programmer and Überlord, Skizz Cyzyk has done just that. The only two times that I met Skizz had been at the '93 NYUFF and the '97 CUFF, this guy gets around!

The MicroCineFest was held at the Mansion Theater, a former funeral home and coffeehouse, which has played host to a schedule of film weekly screenings since 1993 as well as serving as a recording studio for local musicians and a residence for over a half dozen students and filmmakers. Works were shown in video and 16mm being broadcast to all parts of the three-story house: at one busy Friday night screening the Mansion’s kitchen held host to ten to twenty guests watching the fest on a 13" TV on top of a refrigerator as the "video lounge" and main theater were already packed to capacity. This cozy little arrangement not only provided easy access to some cheap eats from the concession stand but created a great atmosphere!

All this for a mere $3 a ticket! Can you believe it? Says Skizz about the low, low prices, "I can’t afford to spend $6 on movies I’ve heard about much less take that kind of chance on films I know nothing about. I just assume that most filmmaker’s are broke like me. Plus, the cheaper the tickets the more chance of people coming—and filling the seats and getting the films seen is more important than making money. We chose to spend little money setting up the festival. We chose to make it accessible to those with little money. In the end, I hope our biggest expense is making sure the money goes to those that deserve it—the filmmakers."

Putting my finger on the best thing about the festival would be tough. I'd be torn between the great films, the wonderful staff, and the impromptu midnight screening of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park!

Dancing Outlaw, Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes Hollywood, Can't Get a Piece of Mind, Take a Trip with Jeff
Oh, what a party it would be if you could get the stars of these four films together; Jesco White, Supie-T and Jeff. If these films teach us anything it’s that freaks are fun! Making light of the mentally ill is generally frowned upon of late but hillbillies, performance artists and, well...goofballs, are still fair game—god bless America!

Dancing Outlaw is the story of Jesco White, last of the mountain dancers (think Bring In The Noise, Bring In The Funk set to bluegrass music). Actually, Dancing Outlaw’s the story of Jesco, Jesse, and Elvis—three distinct facets of Jesco White’s personality. As Jesco he’s one mean sum-bitch who can raise a ruckus with his wife, as Jesse he’s at the top of his mountain dancing game, and as Elvis he likes to spend time in his shrine, surrounded by memorabilia which might inspire him to belt out a song or two.

Jesco’s story was directed by Jacob Young and originally appeared as a West Virginia public television broadcast which gained quite a cult following. A copy happened to get passed to TV’s Tom Arnold who decided it'd be a good idea to invite Jesco out to The Big City to guest star in an episode of Roseanne. Jesco’s journey to Los Angeles is the basis for Dancing Outlaw II. The premise is good, a simple "fish out of water" tale, but wears kind of thin after a while. The funniest thing about it is trying to decide who’s more of a genius, Jesco or Tom Arnold. I guess Jesco never married Roseanne so I'd say he’s the winner, hands down! Proceeds from the screenings of Dancing Outlaw were donated to Jesco to buy him a new hot water heater for his momma’s trailer.

Can't Get a Piece of Mind was the last in a screening of works by Robert Banks whose other work was highly experimental; a lot of manipulation of the physical film medium. I was actually impressed by his experimental work—it takes a lot to do it well and not be predictable. It seems that every blossoming film student has manipulated countdowns and film leader but Banks actually incorporated these into the theme of his film M.P.G. (Motion Picture Genocide).

Thus, it was fun to witness Banks implementing his experimental background in his documentary about Supie-T, a Vietnam veteran-turned-performance artist/punk rocker who specializes in "jams"—spoken/screamed-word pieces where he often beat-boxes parts of the music or sound effects. Supie’s music might not be spectacular but his dogged determination has got to be applauded for the vast depths to which his obsessive behavior plunge.

Can't Get a Piece of Mind appears to wear out its welcome early as I soon got bored hearing "fans" of Supie’s describing his music. However, once the focus turns to Supie’s love of "The Queen of The Airwaves" the story really gets underway!

Supie has a real thing for female college disc jockeys (a pretty specific fetish), especially one woman he called "The Queen" who had to move out of Cleveland to escape Supie’s incessant yammering and off-kilter behavior. Supie doesn’t really appear too violent, just annoying, however he threatens suicide if The Queen of The Airwaves doesn’t return his calls/letters or thank him for all the tribute jams he’s written about her. Check it out:

"But, see, that’s not the situation here, when I’m saying I’m gonna pull the pin. That’s not the situation here at all. And I talked to the Queen Of The Airwaves about this when we were friends, so this is something we’ve discussed—that Chris and I discussed. I told you that if I ever pulled the pin, it would 'not because you left town, that would be the reason. But it would be if I was backed into a corner that I found there was no way out. That’s the way I feel right now, with the disgrace that I feel. If she would’ve seen me one last time, if she would’ve talked to me one last time, that would’ve given me the strength to continue on. So she’s not to blame for me pulling the pin if I pull the pin, but she can prevent it by one phone call... by one letter. One phone call can save my life. If she refused to make that call and if I pull the pin, well she’s not at fault—it’s not her fault that I’m dead, that I pulled the pin. It’s not her fault that I was weak. But yet, that’s the way I feel now, I feel weak, I feel backed into a corner where I don’t want to live on with the disgrace that I feel I’m suffering from. I feel that one phone call from her would give me the strength to continue on. So even though she’s not at fault for me dying there is something she could do now to prevent it. So if I pull the pin, and this comes out to the public, you know in the rockudrama, if my fans see this, this might weigh heavily on her that she could’ve prevented it with one phone call if she really knew how I felt..."

Incredibly, the transcription of this rant goes on for pages and pages—I don’t have the space to print it all here.

It’s utterly bizarre to report that of these three subjects, Jeff is the most normal. That’s right, Jeff who does interpretive dances based on those of the women at the burlesque clubs where he used to work, Jeff who thinks Gumby’s the best pet a guy could ever have since he won’t ever crap on the floor, Jeff who really enjoys showering and writing songs about the shower; Jeff’s good. Very good.

Take a Trip with Jeff is the shortest of the these documentaries which helps make it the best of the four just because Jeff never wears out his welcome and leaves you wanting more! Lance Weiler’s film has long been a favorite at The Mansion’s weekly screening and it’s easy to see why; he’s fun, socially conscious and one heck of a songsmith.

You'll probably be reading about Weiler’s latest piece, The Last Broadcast as it’s touted as the new ultra-low-budget hit of the festival circuit. If we’re lucky Lance will get immensely popular and Take a Trip with Jeff will get a national distribution deal.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot & Neil Diamond Parking Lot
A cult favorite for years, I had never had a chance to see Heavy Metal Parking Lot until Jeff Krulik’s retrospective at the MicroCineFest.

The concept is a simple one; a camera, a microphone, and thousands of drunk/stoned/stupid Judas Priest fans all converged for a 1986 concert in Virginia.

At once it’s both an anthropological study of a sub-culture and a time capsule from an age when big hair and muscle T’s were all the rage (well, they still are Downriver...). The scariest thing might be that these people are still walking around in society, as well as the folks who hang out in the parking lot before a Neil Diamond show. The question posed when viewing these documentaries back to back is, "Which group is scarier?"

Do you happen to know who’s the black deli-worker and ex-private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks? If you said, "Shank" then let me assure you, you’re damn right! David Morely’s Shank is the best Blaxploitation film I’ve seen since Truck Turner !

Shank is the story of Shank Surefire, the hippest private eye in Baltimore. Shank’s hired by a good friend to investigate her sister’s murder. He uncovers a ring of corruption and scandal that could topple the nation’s two-party system! If there’s one man up to the task of putting everything right, it’s Shank, baby!

Beginning as a student project and turning into a fully-realized thirty minute 16mm work of art, Shank should be hailed as a classic and watched along with, or instead of, films like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasss Song. Great acting, terrific story, wonderful wocca-wocca soundtrack, superb directing, Shank has it all, baby! Throughout this film the thing that ran through my mind the most (in second place was, "damn, this is terrific!") was, "I have got to show this movie to everyone I know!"

Luckily, it’s available to order at just ten bucks a pop from Dave Morely, P.O. Box 905, Baltimore, MD 21203.

William Shatner Lent Me His Hairpiece
With a title like that, where can you go wrong? This piece by Ken Hegan is high comedy on what looks like a community access budget. It’s the tale of Bill Shatner’s magical toupee, a hairpiece that was borne of Hades and endowed with the power to give its owner incredible powers (how else do you think Captain Kirk got to boink every babe from the Alpha Quadrant?) and its short-lived time in the hands and, moreover, on the head of Hegan. The actor playing Shatner is dead-on and gives a performance rival only to the real William Shatner. Hilarious!

It seems that this is the second in a series of Canadian tales—the first being Farley Mowat Ate My Brother. If I hadn’t watched the film version of Never Cry Wolf I might not have found this as funny but knowing the type of non-cannibalistic tales that Mowat scribed, I was in stitches at the relating of the bloody fate of Hegan’s sibling.

A brilliant film about man’s inability to effectively communicate with his fellow man in the harsh urban landscape of today’s metropolitan areas.

Shot in stark black & white, this film is as beautiful as it is poignant. It struck a chord into my heart, not only as a believer that no man is an island but as a man who is incredibly embarrassed to have a bowel movement in a public lavatory.

Loafing tells the tale of five men who cast off their chains of social pressures and buck the stigmas associated with the hushed atmosphere in the can. Instead, they revel in their humanity and hold a contest to see who can lay the most impressive turd. It’s a heart-rending look at what our culture should strive to accomplish.

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park
You know you’re in for trouble when Hanna-Barbara are producing a made-for-TV movie about a evil android builder. And when such a movie stars KISS, the biggest rock group of the ’70s, you’ve got the promise of high camp art.

KMTPOTP doesn’t disappoint. It’s difficult to describe this film as a whole instead of relating crowd-pleasing scenes. There are a lot of slow spots to the film—those happen to include any scene without KISS. But, oh, those scenes with the fab four? Incredible. The special effects, the acting, all beyond comprehension!

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