They said they'd never do it. "We had a rule that we'd never repeat a performance, and never tour," laughs Christopher May, founder and director of The International Experimental Cinema Exposition (TIE), headquartered in Colorado Springs. But TIE didn't realize that they would eventually have a fifth anniversary to celebrate. The world premiere of the Experimental Film Tour takes place Friday, Dec. 10, at Denver's Starz FilmCenter at the Tivoli, in honor of the organization's first five years.
The nonprofit group formed in 1999, functioning for the first two years in Telluride, and then moving to the Pikes Peak region to host international films and guests. TIE grew over the years, developing a cadre of board members and volunteers, and as it grew, the staff selected some favorite films that newer members haven't seen but want reshown.
Hence, a change in plans. "Well, it's our anniversary, so we thought, Let's do a small tour in North America, in odd places like Palm Beach and Cape Cod," said May. The tour will run through five or six cities, with the premiere in Denver being the only date in Colorado.
The arduous selection process began as May and TIE directors sifted through the over 500 films that TIE has shown in past festivals and exhibits. They chose films that were audience favorites but also important to TIE's members. In one instance, May remembers, a filmmaker (Thomas Comerford, director of Fey Eyes Pin Holes Drums Hum) shot a movie using a pinhole camera. It was the first film ever made using this method. "One fellow argued strongly that it just couldn't be done. Eventually, he ended up making four pinhole camera films himself."
The tour is a sampler, showcasing the best array of what TIE has to offer -- 13 contemporary and archival films by the likes of Ilppo Pohjola, Trevor Fife, Martin Arnold, Stan Brakhage, Thorsten Fleisch, Nathaniel Dorsky, Comerford, Peter Tscherkassky and Frank Biesendorfer.
Film (Dzama) by Deco Dawson taps Man Ray and Salvador Dali to attempt the lost form of 1920s surrealist cinema. Jonathan Schwartz's Den of Tigers thrusts you straight into West Bengal, India, while Darling International by Jennifer Reeves explores the darker side of sexual (specifically, lesbian sadomasochistic) relationships. Most of the movies were shot using 16 mm film, but two 35 mm Cinemascope features bookend the program.
"We also bring back films from 'the grave,'" said May, referring to the feature Un Chant d'Amour, a rare classic by French writer Jean Genet. Long since banned, the copy TIE will show is the only print in existence in North America, having been smuggled to America in the 1970s.
Interest in experimental films eventually comes down to a shared love of the cinema, says May. "We're the only international festival dedicated to experimental film rather than digital -- we just showcase celluloid."
TIE's members are not snobs, but they do express a preference. "We're hoping people come away with an appreciation for avant-garde film -- really, just appreciating film itself, in celluloid form, as opposed to digital. We see digital everywhere -- with TV, computers or cameras," said May. "It's like an oil painting compared to a watercolor. It's not worse, just richer."
-- Kara Luger