Folk Art For High-Tech Society 

Experimental Film: A Conversation

The following is a conversation with Matt McCormick, organizer of the PDX Film Fest, which will be playing Dec 12-15 at Cinema 21 (for more info, see film times). The festival is a collection of documentaries and experimental films from all over the country that otherwise would never be screened here. For this alone, the festival is cause for celebration.

So, what makes "experimental" film different from "normal" film?

If, by normal, you mean the stuff we see in movie theaters, then the answer is about 80 million dollars. Experimental film is made with the idea of creating a work of art, or at least using the form in ways that it perhaps has not been used before. Also, experimental film tends to be made on very small budgets with no real chance of ever making any money--so economic gain is never a motive. It's sort of like folk art for a high-tech society.

Do you think experimental film gets a bad rap for being too inaccessible?

Experimental film is as diversified as rock n' roll. There is stuff that is very accessible, often funny and easy to watch, while there are other camps that are extremely challenging. The important thing to realize is that there is a lot out there, and you can sort of pick your flavor. Also, an important thing to realize is how pop culture- and media-saturated we all are. You can take a show like The Simpsons or The Sopranos, and there are tons of cultural and social references that I think people get really easily, and therefore take for granted. Often times in the art world (whether it be experimental film, painting, whatever) similar references are made, but to perhaps more obscure things. Audiences have to work a little bit harder and put more effort into watching and interpreting them, and some may find that "inaccessible."

Well, if experimental film isn't always entertaining, then what's the value in watching it?

Is there value in "entertainment?" To me, value is productive; something interactive that is mutually beneficial. [Mainstream] entertainment tends to just want to occupy your time and sell you something. Experimental film is more like punk rock, or at least what punk rock was supposed to mean. It is defiant of commercial entertainment and often times, criticizes it.

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