Cellular Cinema – A Moving Image Manifesto

Welcome. I’m glad you’re here. We have a lot to discuss, and a lot to do.

Based on 20+ years of making movies, 10+ years of teaching people how to make movies, and 30+ years of loving cinema, I believe that we badly need new language to discuss the cinema in our time, which is, as I write this, the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. Because we are currently stuck with largely outmoded, largely dysfunctional ideas, ideologies and terminologies that influence, mostly for ill, how we relate to moving images.

Why Cellular Cinema?

Cellular Cinema is a name that came bubbling up out of the collective unconscious to me in 2014, in the planning stage for an upcoming screening of experimental film and video at a small, strange and wonderful venue in South Minneapolis called the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater.

I had been thinking something along the lines of Minnesota Experimental Film (MNXF) or some other inelegant acronym like that. But Cellular Cinema rang for me, like a bell… most of the works were on physical 16mm film, the technical name for which was celluloid – this is the plastic stuff itself, upon which the light-sensitive chemicals are spread.

But Cellulose is organic matter that is part of plant cell walls – and this organic aspect was what excited me, making the conceptual link between Cinema and the Cell.

Cells are in some sense self-contained, microscopic living creatures, while at the same time they participating in larger, continually evolving ecologies of organisms and ecosystems.

So, Cellular Cinema to me describes a methodology of cinema that is small in scale, self-contained in terms of resources, and unpredictably alive in terms of content and form.

I believe we are witnessing the twilight of the era of Macrocinematic Art. The business model deployed to produce a narrative feature film using the industrial model, whether in the context of Hollywood or what is quaintly called “independent filmmaking,” is unsustainable, detrimental to the creative process, and almost always unhealthily exploitive of the time, energy and talent of those involved, driven by the outdated mythology of the ascendant auteur.

The corporate film industry is a place for entrepreneurs, hustlers, and MBAs – not for artists anymore, if it ever was. We say, leave the hustle to the hustlers and the movie business to the businessmen. We choose instead to turn our energies toward salvaging the art form of the moving image, in all of its messy, intimate and unprofitable glory.

We are far from the only ones who feel this way – there are experimental filmmakers and moving image art communities like ours around the world – but as far as we know, we’re the primary voice speaking on behalf of this approach to cinema in our region. Similar efforts exist as near as Madison and Winnipeg, but we are the only ones we know of making this case in Minnesota.

Industrial Cinema has its place, as entertainment, diversion and distraction, an opportunity to disappear for a few hours, alone in the dark. Industrial cinema drives us apart, absorbs us in our own personal screens, streaming pretty content to numb our senses and distract us from thinking, feeling and communicating with those around us.

Cellular Cinema, meanwhile, presents an opportunity to explore the immediacy of our surroundings and to connect us empathically and experientially with the subjectivity of other humans, to be challenged and uncomfortable and confused and entranced and amazed.

Cellular Cinema opposes the deadening effects of marketing, branding and self-promotion. Cellular Cinema rejects the debt-ridden and investor-driven framework of media-making and distribution on an industrial scale with commercial intent.

Cellular Cinema does not scale, is not an online or streaming experience, will never make anyone wealthy. Our internet presence is solely intended to direct people to our small, self-contained, live and in-person events.

Cellular Cinema exists because the moving image is a profound sort of magic, and that magic can be used to bring us together and make us feel, or isolate us and make us numb. Let’s choose together.