Mar 18, 2014

Cinema 16 and the Growth of Descendent Film Societies

by Curtis John

I must admit that despite having a sincere love of film programming that I was grossly unaware of its origins. Putting together what you hope is a solid collection of films and knowing instinctively but not truly knowing in reality whether the audience will truly appreciate it is a difficult thing; it mirrors filmmaking and other arts form in that way – both of which I know from experience.  But even without that familiarity, page after page of Cinema 16’s birth, ending, and inspirations in Scott McDonald’s Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society are illuminating; with that familiarity, it opens up a torrent of ideas of how to do whatever is creatively necessary to establish similar lofty goals.  Personally, the introduction is a bookmark heavy page turner and inspired my future programming goals and desired outcomes, especially with Vogel’s initial notes on how show respect for your audience (while not blindly catering to their every interest) and how to understand your members.   
As important as it was for Vogel and his wife Marcia to achieve their goals of serving a “vast potential audience”[1] with a variety of “simple entertainment with a touch of current events awareness”[2], they deftly realized the political ramifications of controlling the film image and that filmmakers needed a continuous forum to make that clear - their own society.  Even if one did not care for the films at every presentation, and as McDonald expresses this would happen regularly (beyond the arguments between the advocates for avant-garde cinema versus documentary as the focus of Cinema 16) their goal was to be subversive as well as to be dialectical and create “maximum thought – and perhaps action – on the part of the audience”[3] to show the power of film and how it can be used to change society.  But they also got the core of film going, that beyond genre and star worship how it can be, “a means of getting in touch with the immense and fascinating variety in the ways people live and with the myriad ways in which individuals express their inner struggles.”[4]
Past film festivals, which are commonplace now, reading about the array of micro and mobile cinemas in Incite issue #4  that mirror the scope of Cinema 16 and in many respects have grown beyond Vogel and his cohorts vision is very telling for the future of subversive and ultra-indie cinema.  Yes, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and similar groups do this to a more spectacular degree, but in 16’s spirit what’s really subversive about them?
If you haven't, check out the documentary on Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 made in 1993.  It is having problems loading so just click the link.
- Curtis John

[1] Scott McDonald. Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society (Kindle edition), location 202
[2] McDonald, location 231
[3] McDonald, location 284
[4] McDonald, Location 259

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