HISTORY OF THE BISBEE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

May 15, 1999

Dear Friend,
Jeff Shriver has passed your name onto us as someone who might be particularly interested in advance notice of The First Bisbee Underground Film Festival, a free outdoor event which we have received a permit to put on in Brewery Gulch's City Park this summer on the evenings of June 25, 26, and 27.

Why Bisbee

Last winter we bought a house on Opera Drive in Old Bisbee. A day trip to Bisbee around Christmas time convinced us that Bisbee was a town that really moved us with its beauty, eccentricity, and fascinating history. We also realized that a full move was not possible as tied as we are to teaching, artmaking, etc. in San Francisco so we decided that initially Bisbee would be a place to spend part of the year. During our frequent walks down the gulch, our imagination was captured by City Park as a possible setting for a Film Festival. It seemed like "a readymade", with its central location, concrete shell, and sense of enclosed openness.

Film: Mainstream vs Underground

When most people think about cinema they think about what is available to them in movie theaters and at their local video store. We are at a time when, unless you are living in a major American city with eclectic venues for all kinds of interests, it is unlikely that you will see anything outside of the latest roster of films cranked out of the Hollywood studio system. Yet historically, in the United States and Europe, there are thousands of examples of films which have been marginalized by economics, wonderful thoughtful experimental films made on shoestring budgets which because of their short length, unconventional subject matter, radical aesthetics, or unprogrammability, sadly never get seen by people who would delight in them greatly. Mainstream Cinema evolves in a gigantic invisible and celebrity studded studio system, millions of dollars and miles away from us; Underground Cinema exists in our midst. Mainstream Cinema happens in dark, well swept institutional "Theaters" in the company of strangers. Underground Cinema happens in the company of friends, programmed by artists and film lovers in any available/locally inspiring space. Mainstream Cinema happens in towns and cities which can afford to sustain it. Bisbee, like many small towns in the country, obviously does not fit the demographic for a firstrun theatre. But the flip side of this is Bisbee's potential readiness for another approach to film viewing, which is where we come in.

Our Vision for this Summer and Beyond
We are very curious about bringing film to an entirely new place. We want the first Bisbee underground film festival to combine the fun and sociability of a local gathering with the excitement and education of the film viewings. Embedded in all of this is the optimism of initiating projects at a grass roots level so that they may gather up momentum in the future as well. Do we want Bisbee to be another Telluride or Sundance? No, not really: these festivals were exciting and new in their beginning years; now they have become shopping grounds for industry people at the expense of a lot of inventiveness and sincere unselfconscious experimentation. Perhaps this festival in years to come will become a small Southwest destination. For the time being, we are very happy to just get it going and learn from the feedback that we get.

Our Set-Up
With the exception of the large screen which The Central School Project is letting us use, we're uhauling everything there from San Francisco. This includes a powerful 16mm. arc projector, elements of a PA System, microphones, a second projector, a video projector for installations, posters, a large handpainted festival banner, silkscreened T-shirts, and printed matter to be handed out at the film shows. We're also bringing the small Italian pump organ from our Cinema to be used for silent film accompaniment. As we're new to Bisbee, we're pretty much relying on our own funds for this first summer. Recently, 2 philanthropic funds awarded us a total of $500 which we'll use to put up the musicians and to have an opening night reception in June.

Silent Film LIVE w/ Howe Gelb
We are thrilled that the Tucson based musician, Howe Gelb has agreed to accompany silent films on the first two nights. Howe will be composing original soundtracks for the influential proto-surrealist serial film, "Juve vs. Fantomas"(1913) and the classic first William S. Hart Western, "The Bargain"(1914). Howe is a stalwart of the Southwestern sonic-landscape; With his own unique idiom which combines country, rock and improvisation, he is the creative force behind Giant Sand and The Band of Blacky Ranchette. He will be bringing his small "rig" of guitar, tape samples, pump organ & piano to City Park for this event. This cine/musical collaboration with the Bisbee Underground Film Festival will be a one of a kind confection under the warm June sky.

Nights of Films- Themes and History
While each evening has a theme (see calendar and descriptions), within any program there is a cross-historical selection of films which range from the turn of the century to the present. As film historians, we recognize dynamic veins of influence and inspiration from one genre and generation to the next. And in a town such as Bisbee, which is living with the constant reminder of it's own history, we believe that our approach to combining the old with the new as part of a "living history" is a shoe that fits.

Sincerely,
Rebecca Barten and David Sherman
May 15, 1999

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