matt mccormick

FilmWatch Weekly: OMSI goes avant-garde

Two members of Portland's cultural superstructure host visiting artists, while a third announces plans to leave town

A pair of veteran participants in Portland’s truly independent film culture will be back in action over the next couple of weeks, presenting the work of visiting artists, while another is on the verge of departing after over two decades spent laying the foundations of the city’s experimental film community.

The non-profit collective Cinema Project was founded fifteen years ago, its stated mission to promote avant-garde cinema from the past and present. In a shifting lineup of venues, from Produce Row warehouse spaces to chic photography studios, this dedicated group of true believers in the power of sound and image loosed from narrative shackles presented challenging, fascinating work from around the world, often with the filmmaker in attendance.

As one might imagine, this was a fairly thankless task, from a financial perspective, and in February 2017 the group wrapped up what had been billed as its final season of regular programming. Now, though, Cinema Project returns, at least for the moment, after an 18-month hiatus, with a screening of films by the Belgian artist and researcher Anouk De Clercq on Wednesday, July 11. This time, however, it won’t be in some drafty loft with the whirring of a 16mm projector as background audio (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but on one of the largest movie screens in the Portland metro area: the Empirical Theatre at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: It’s raining cats and dogs. Road trip!

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

In a lot of Oregon schools it’s spring vacation. Maybe you’re already off someplace with the offspring – a beach cabin, or the dreaded Disneyland. (Hint: Enchanted Forest, south of Salem, is a lot closer and a lot cheaper, and it’s open this week.) Maybe your kids are grown and gone, or you don’t have any, but a little early-spring zip out of town sounds like a good idea. Well, why not? Interesting stuff happens all over the place.

Out the Columbia Gorge, the Maryhill Museum of Art opened last week for the 2016 season, which will run through mid-November. I haven’t made the trek yet, but I will, partly to see the museum’s freshened-up display of international chess sets, a collection I find fascinating even though I don’t play the kingly game. There are also interesting-looking exhibitions of American Indian trade blankets (this one doesn’t open until July 16; the others are open now), classic American art pottery, several paintings from the collection that are too big to be on permanent display (size matters, especially when there’s limited space) and – this should be a kid-pleaser – animal paintings from the permanent collection.

"A Golden Retriever," Edwin Douglas, 1900, oil on canvas, Maryhill Museum of Art

“A Golden Retriever,” Edwin Douglas, 1900, oil on canvas, Maryhill Museum of Art

That includes the 1900 A Golden Retriever (above), by the Scottish painter Edwin Douglas, and to be sporting about it, you might want to take the nippers first to the Portland Art Museum to see another great big painting, Carl Kahler’s My Wife’s Lovers (you don’t have to spill the beans on the title), which is on loan through May 15 and is being promoted as “the world’s greatest painting of cats.” Hey, this is the Pacific Northwest: It’s raining cats and dogs.

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Interview: Matt McCormick on “Buzz One Four”

The Portland filmmaker's latest project is about the crash of a nuclear-armed bomber that was piloted by his grandfather

Matt McCormick was Portland before Portland was cool. Or when it was still cool, depending on your perspective.

A mainstay of the city’s independent film scene since the 1990s, he was the driving force behind the screening series Peripheral Produce, which began in 1996 and eventually spawned both a video label and an annual event, the PDX Film Festival, which ran from 2001-2009. (The name stood for Portland Documentary & eXperimental.)

McCormick’s work has played at the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and many other places. His narrative feature “Some Days Are Better Than Others” premiered at South by Southwest in 2010, and his 2012 documentary “The Great Northwest” retraced an epic road trip taken by four Seattle women in 1958.

His new undertaking, though, hits close to home. In 1964, a B-52 bomber carrying two nuclear bombs crashes during a snowstorm in rural Maryland, about 90 miles from Washington, D.C. It was one of several “Broken Arrow” incidents, accidents involving atomic weapons or warheads, that occurred during the Cold War. The pilot of the plane was Major Thomas W. McCormick, Matt’s grandfather.

McCormick will be screening a work-in-progress version of “Buzz One Four,” which takes its title from the plane’s call sign, on Sunday night at the Hollywood Theatre. The film feature interviews with experts and family members of the plane’s crew, along with a wealth of archival footage that illuminate the story of this particular tragedy. The filmmaker answered questions via e-mail about the project.

Thomas McCormick, the grandfather of filmmaker Matt McCormick, posing with aviation legend Charles Lindbergh

Thomas McCormick, the grandfather of filmmaker Matt McCormick, posing with aviation legend Charles Lindbergh

ARTSWATCH: Buzz One Four is more straightforward, both narratively and aesthetically, than most of your previous films. Was it a challenge to shift gears from an experimental, non-linear mindset to something more conventional?

MATT MCCORMICK: The biggest challenge was staying true to my filmmaking sensibilities while not letting them get in the way of the story. The facts surrounding this event are fascinating and historically important, and it is a story that involves a lot of different people, so I wanted to be sure to clearly present the information.  That said, I have no interest in producing the typical PBS-style talking-head documentary, so the challenge was privileging the information while artistically exploring the emotional and more abstract boundaries surrounding the story.

 

AW: What was the process like researching some of the archival material you’ve included in the film? What was the most difficult stuff to acquire?

MM: Searching for the archival materials was one of my favorite aspects of making this film.  I spent almost two weeks at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C., and could have easily spent months there.  The Air Force produced a lot of motion-picture documentation.  The challenge was going through it all.  Much of it is still on 16mm or 35mm film, so viewing it requires stringing it up on an old flatbed editing system. It’s a slow process.  The truth is I really only scratched the surface–there may be more pertinent material out there that I still don’t know about. It’s kind of a rabbit-hole.

 

AW: You used Kickstarter to raise funds for “Buzz One Four.” What was your experience like using crowd funding and would you recommend it to other filmmakers?

MM: The Kickstarter campaign is what made making this film possible. It ultimately accounted for 70% of the total budget.  Running a crowd-funding campaign is a lot of work and very stressful, but had it not been for the Kickstarter this project never would have happened.

 

AW: I know you’re still finishing up “Buzz One Four”, but what’s the next step?

MM: I have been working on “Buzz One Four” for three years now, and for the most part working completely by myself, which is pretty ridiculous considering how big this project is.  But that is why I’m really looking forward to this work-in-progress test screening.  Since I haven’t had that team of creative cohorts to bounce ideas off of, I’m really looking forward to testing out these ideas and seeing how they play with an audience.  I’ll be passing out questionnaires at the screening and soliciting feedback, and then after considering it all, decide what, if any, changes I want to make to the film. Once all of the creative decisions have been made and implemented, I will then start the technical aspects of finishing, like the final sound-mix and color correction, which are costly procedures you don’t want to begin until you are certain there will be no more changes in the edit.  At that point I will begin submitting to festivals, and thinking about the next project!

 

AW: What lessons can we take from not only the Buzz One Four incident but all the Broken Arrow incidents in the 1950s & 60s? 

MM: On one hand we can look back at the Cold War and shake our heads at how insane our actions were–we really were lucky to get out of that without starting a world war or accidentally nuking ourselves.  But it also becomes clear that there are a lot of correlations between the Cold War and the War on Terror: two vaguely defined ‘wars’ which very much hinged on abstract threats that lead to very real escalations of military spending, surveillance, and very aggressive foreign policy.  If there is a lesson from Buzz One Four, it’s that there are ramifications to these actions: people die and lives are changed- not those of the politicians and generals making the decisions (or the military contractors profiting from it all), but those of the service members implementing the tasks and the unfortunate civilians who find themselves in the onslaught.

 

(The “Buzz One Four” work-in-progress screening is at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, at the Hollywood Theatre. Tickets are $10.)

 

By Brian Libby

According to the old saying, the Velvet Underground’s first album only sold about 1,000 copies but everyone who bought it started a band. Perhaps something similar could be said of Matt McCormick’s Peripheral Produce screening series, which returns at 8 p.m. Saturday to the Hollywood Theatre. More underground whisper than big splash when the screenings began, Peripheral Produce has championed and inspired local indie filmmakers from the start.

Peripheral Produce returns at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Peripheral Produce debuted in 1996 at Portland rock club Thee O in Old Town (better known in its previous incarnation as the legendary X-Ray Café). McCormick had recently moved to Portland from Albuquerque and increasingly favored making experimental short films with super-8 and video cameras to playing in bands.

Only 14 people showed up that first night. But a succession of Peripheral Produce shows in the late 1990s helped introduce a number of artists who would go on to international acclaim, including director Miranda July, novelist/screenwriter Jon Raymond, filmmaker Vanessa Renwick, and McCormick himself. July, Raymond and McCormick had all seen their work rejected by the Northwest Film Center’s annual Northwest Film & Video Festival, so McCormick sought to exhibit his films and those of his friends in some of the same clubs his favorite bands played.

After numerous Peripheral Produce screenings in the ‘90s, it morphed into the Portland Documentary and Experimental film festival (better know as the PDX Fest) in 2002. But by the middle of the decade McCormick’s own filmmaking career had advanced enough that it was discontinued in 2009. After three years however, McCormick has put together what he’s calling a 15-year retrospective of the Peripheral Produce and PDX Fest days, which he’ll present  Saturday (August 4) at the Hollywood Theatre.

“There was something magical happening that I am not sure is happening now,” McCormick says of local experimental film in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “or at least it was happening very differently.  It is important to point out just how much computers and the Internet have changed things.  It is so easy to communicate these days that we take community for granted.”

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