Aug 20, 2007

Echo Park Film Center: A Microcinema Flourishes

If west side traffic, class size, cost and the conveyor belt approach to continuing education has put you off of UCLA Extension, there is an alternative, at least for the entertainment aspirant on the east side. The Echo Park Film Center offers workshops in digital filmmaking and editing, as well as 8mm and 16mm filmmaking and handprocessing for $60 to $250 per workshop (less if you're a member;) class size is limited to five students for digital classes and ten students for 8/16 mm classes. Free classes are also available to youths and seniors.

And if summer blockbuster-fatigue has set in, there are regular screenings of work by local, internationally known and student filmmakers. This Thursday Waiting for Fidel screens, a notable documentary about trying to interview El Jefe in Cuba in 1974, along with Castro's Library, a look at the Independent Library Movement in Cuba today, and Art Wicks of Badger's Quay, which takes in Newfoundland's floating homes. The program starts at 8 PM, admission is $5.

Founded in 2002 by Paolo Davanzo, Ken Fountain and Joe Hilsenrad in a store front on Alvarado just off Sunset, the focus is on documentary and experimental cinema and process over product, according to the mission statement on their website. Davanzo made the decision to establish the center in response to touring the world with his own films and finding in many places flourishing microcinemas and art spaces that were outlets for alternative filmmakers pursuing their own visions.

Taking note of rich irony, he realized there were no such spaces with consistent programming in Los Angeles. He envisioned a place where film could be celebrated "free of pretension," as well as be taught and archived for the community; where equipment was available for rental or to be borrowed; a place where ideas could be nurtured and exchanged a far cry from the Hollywood system obsessed with churning out product and enslaved to the bottom line.

In an age of exploding media and the corporate interests that control it, an institution like EPFC seems almost insurrectionary. Not worry about the bottom line?! Experimental?!

At a recent Sunday night screening of I Pity the Fool, an experimental film that was a meditation on the plight of Detroit, an audience of dedicated viewers was bucking the trend of the sprawling Sunset Junction Street Festival nearby. The setting and the nature of the work on view was reminiscent of the period in New York's East Village during the late 1970s and early 1980s, a hotbed of avant-guard activity that sowed the seeds of today's mainstream culture. (As an example, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who wrote the music and lyrics for Hairspray, were integral to that mileau, headquartered at Club 57, in the basement of a Polish church.)

While the future can't be known, it isn't unimaginable that tomorrow's cutting edge is being honed in a place like EPFC. And with the emphasis today on a little screen that you view alone amid a jumble of targeted ads competing for your attention, or a behemoth home entertainment system that isolates and deadens through personalizing the experience, sitting in a storefront cinema and viewing work with an audience of like-minded individuals is a reminder of an essential role of film: as communion.