Film festivals have become strange things. Initially the repository for everything avant-garde and outside the Hollywood mainstream, they have quickly turned into bloated, let's-make-a-deal feeding frenzies. Think Cannes. Think Sundance. Even Seattle's festival has received criticism for being too large for cinema buffs to enjoy. But award-winning independent filmmaker Rick Pukis' second annual "Mini Cine" festival is committed to small films. Very small films -- eight millimeters across, to be exact.
In the tradition of the great experimental filmmakers from the '60s and '70s, Pukis has decided to focus his efforts in the realm of Super 8 film. Still the medium of choice for film school students, Super 8 has begun to show up in mainstream movies as well. Oliver Stone shot segments of several of his recent movies in it, and indie darling Jim Jarmusch regularly uses the format. This Sunday afternoon at Quinn's, Pukis hopes to give Spokane audiences a glimpse of the excitement that the medium has generated in film circles for decades, and a little bit of the ambience that can go along with it.
"When I look at this festival, it's more of an event than a festival," explains Pukis. "It's kind of like a social experience, because people can go there, and we show three of four films, and then you can hobnob, talk to the filmmakers, have a cocktail, talk to other people who've seen the films and just have this whole sensory experience. And Kile at Quinn's has just been wonderful. What he was trying to do with Quinn's is to make it a cultural place. I don't want to say hangout, but where he has music sometimes, and he has a restaurant, maybe some films. And he likes bringing people downtown.
"So we've gone in there, and we've checked out how we're going to project it. We're going to have our 16 and Super 8 projectors all ready, and we're going to be blocking off the front, and there should be enough space for about a hundred or so people to see the films comfortably."
Of course, being an independent filmmaker in Spokane isn't necessarily glamorous work. Pukis, who is also a senior producer for FOX 28, KAYU-TV, admits that along with finding funding, making room for filmmaking in his hectic schedule may be his biggest challenge. Nevertheless, he is enthusiastically committed to teaching filmmaking, and many of his students' works will be featured at this year's festival.
"I teach over at the Spokane Arts School. One student this semester, Derrick King -- his dad is a sculptor, and he makes these bird-like sculptures -- he did a film called The Birdman, where he basically documented what his father does with sculpture. It's a really intriguing film. And then there are a couple of other filmmakers, Travis Hiibner and Gary McLeod, and they do a lot of stop-motion type things. A piece they're going to have in the festival this time, My Head is Small, is dealing with claymation, and stop-motion animation. It's just a wild, experimental piece that has some very aesthetically interesting imagery."
Along with Pukis' works, and those of his students, he plans to present the works of pioneer filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Considered by Pukis to be "the Godfather of experimental filmmaking," Brakhage's influence has been acknowledged by movie giants as diverse as Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes.
"I tried to introduce the students in my class to experimental films. Especially Stan Brakhage because I see him as the Godfather of avant-garde filmmaking, creating all of those flash-pans and swish-pans -- all that stuff that they use on MTV today. But I've got two of his films, and I'm not sure if I'm going to show both of them or one of them. One of them is called Persian Number 6, where he painted on each frame of celluloid with paint from stained glass. The other is called Dance; it's his interpretation with a camera of what dance is."
While techniques like this may only show up occasionally in mainstream cinema -- usually to add a specific effect to a scene -- they stem directly from the possibilities that Super 8 film can offer an artist. "The film is something that you can actually touch, and you can hold up, and you can look at, and you can actually put tape splices or cement splices in there. So you're getting back to something that you can actually touch and feel -- that tactile type of sense. Which, when you're working with videotape or digital media, you're manipulating everything in a computer. So I think it goes back to those rare elemental type things of maybe when man was creating fire or something. It's the first thing that filmmakers got to do. They got to look at and hold celluloid."
Perhaps the biggest appeal of Super 8, however, may be the sense of freedom that it can inspire in a filmmaker. "A lot of people talk about it as being undependent. Because you know how expensive it is to go out and make a film, or even for example, videotape today. You might go out and shoot something that costs thousands of dollars. And I like showing people how to use equipment, and empower them, so that they can go out and maybe make a piece for a couple-hundred dollars. And so that's one of the big advantages of using Super 8, is that you can go out there, and if you have a story that you want to tell, you can do it at an affordable cost.
"I've seen the whole transformation go from film to videotape. I've been in the industry for a number of years now. And the neat thing is that with Super 8 film, you can go out and you can find a nice Super 8 camera, a nice projector, go out and buy Super 8 black and white or color film, and actually put together a piece for about $50. Now if you go into the digital realm, and you buy a computer, and you buy a camera that has a fire-wire input or output, plus all the other software for editing, you know you're talking thousands of dollars. And so with Super 8, you're giving instruments to empower filmmakers and artists out there that they can show anywhere that they can carry a projector.
"It's pretty funny, that today, there are filters and things on one of your non-linear computer editing systems, that let you make videotape look like film. But you know, people don't take film and try to make it look like videotape."
The possibilities, along with the sense of excitement and freedom that come along with Super 8, have given rise to an entire scene of Super 8 filmmakers and festivals. One artist in Seattle holds a Super 8 festival every few months, and one festival devoted to the format in Germany regularly draws around 50,000 attendees each year.
"There's something wonderful about having a little film festival, and having the house packed, and starting up the projector, and making an announcement, and then having the house go quiet. And everyone is just watching the screen flicker, and watching the imagery," he says. "And then when a nice cheer goes up at the end of it, you know, it's really satisfying. And today, when I was looking at a film from a couple students, they were so motivated after seeing what came back, they were like, 'I can't wait to go out there and do another one.' "
The Mini Cine Film Festival is at
Quinn's, 830 W. Sprague, on Sunday, April 1, at 2 pm. Tickets: $2.