The Academic Film Archive Manifesto
Who are we... where do we come from... where are we going?
Attending an Academic Film Archive of North America 16mm program represents more than a simple cinema experience. Seeing a film through the insular viewing world of 35mm cinema in a conventional theatre can be rather like experiencing the world of two-dimensional art by leafing through a book of beautiful paintings at a measured pace, surrounded by other people... rarely will you see a poor representation, nor will you be able to smell the linseed oil, or feel the texture of the painting: you have the image, but not the artifact. Our ciné16 shows take the further step of treating each unit of film as an artifact, with all the lines, splices, and color changes under consideration as elements that contribute to that particular unit as part of a series of historical events surrounding it.
We can tell a lot about a film by reading it as an artifact, and we can hazard guesses as to the atmosphere under which it was shown: filmmaker John Barnes' prints are rarely spliced, whether they come to us from film libraries in Oakland, Iowa, or Arkansas (does this mean that instructors, after previewing the film, thought it too high brow for their K12 audiences, and thus rarely showed the print at all?). Films from big city school districts are often terribly abused... does this indicate a disrespect for film and equipment, or could it mean that urban students are so thirsty for films that these were shown constantly, and the financially-starved urban district could afford neither the labor to repair the films, nor the funds for replacement footage?
At ciné16, we are in the enviable position of seeing lots of films originating from many sources, and are fascinated by the cultural aspects of 'film as artifact'. As a viewer, you get to participate with us on an interactive basis when the film breaks, the lamp blows, the power goes out. We will continue to show great films that have color-shifted to red, or are broken (in fact, one of our past shows was titled "Fragments"... featuring films with missing titles and reels which tell a story beyond the one intended, by virtue of the omission).
So ciné16 exists really as a 'museum' more than a cinema... we'll show work by filmmakers with whom you may not be familiar, and we'll explain why so many films are being tossed away by major public institutions all across the US, and deleted from cinema distribution catalogues. We may even occasionally coin words to describe concepts that are only now being formulated to describe a 'school' of filmmaking (a case in point: we have directors like Paul Saltzman and Bert Salzman --- no relation --- who specialize in films that depict aspects of the transference of knowledge from one generation to another, generally crossing over cultural hurdles as well. We call these directors 'cultural transitionists' because the school can be so well defined, and beyond these two, there are dozens of short films which fall into this category. So many, in fact, that in the future we'll feature an evening of cultural transition films.)
If these filmmakers are so significant, why aren't we aware of them?
In order for us to appreciate a film, we must first be exposed to the fact that it exists, through advertising, reviews, and other mention in the press. Not only does 16mm get little press, our last experience with it is generally in the last few months of high school, well before our appreciation for film has begun to fully develop. As it does develop, we get our film fix fed by mass media (and if we're lucky to have an art house in the area, maybe we'll find out about wonderful historical films such as Carné's Children of Paradise), and we'll mentally throw 16mm into the "educational film" part of our memory, and disregard it as a proper art form. So in essence, we have no access, no way to return and look at 16mm with new eyes.
We at ciné16, often get asked if we'll show campy "fifties lifestyle" films. Many of these films fall under the large umbrella of "educational film", but are primarily concerned with guidance, health, and civics subjects. We'll admit that they can be fun, but the objective of ciné16 is rather to explore, defend, and promote the truly great elements of 16mm film, which we classify as classroom academic film, a phrase we've coined to define films that fall into the broad categories of art, science, literature, history, and social science. Judging by our interviews with museum personnel, film archivists, and directors, we may be in the vanguard... there simply doesn't seem to be anyone else looking into this "hidden corner of North American cinema"..
There's our mission at ciné16: to show films you won't see otherwise, highlighting little-known directors, exploring film-as-artifact, and defining a new area of film study. Our intention is to provide a unique film program every week, with very few films being shown more than once. Admission is always free of charge.