Screen Gems

Under the direction of rocker Bill Orcutt, the Alliance for Media Arts keeps the faith for Miami's cinema aficionados

Holt's interest in filmmaking ebbed when Semper's nightclub, where he shot Nightmare at Karioke and often showed his work, closed in 1992. But the opening of the co-op rekindled his interest. "You can work your ass off with no equipment and get decent results, but it's a lot better to work your ass off the same amount with good equipment and get great results," he reasons.

It's a sentiment Keddell, whose interest in filmmaking dates back to his days as an art student in London in the mid-Seventies, can relate to. Joining a co-op, he recalls, "was the only way you could afford to make a film. What film schools offered was less [important] than being amongst motivated filmmakers and helping each other out."

Tony Allegro, Alliance board member, tenured UM film faculty member, and accomplished filmmaker, understands the benefits of both having good equipment and working with other motivated artists. "I've had my own equipment for years," he says, "but most young filmmakers aren't that lucky. Experimental filmmakers are notorious for not being able to afford batteries, and for forgetting to charge them when they do get them. Let alone having $2000 for a good video camera or $1500 for a used Bolex. The co-op will be a big help to them.

"It's another important cultural resource for South Florida," he continues. "New York has the Millenium; L.A. has the Film Forum. Our history has yet to be written. It's a blank page."

Allegro foresees the co-op becoming a focal point for South Florida's small but lively underground film community. "The co-op is a developing program," explains the director of Toxic Syndrome, a one-and-a-half-hour, three-part, two-screen documentary of the arts scene in South Florida from 1983 to 1986. Late Herald film critic Bill Cosford called Allegro's opus "an important work" and "like some of the best avant-garde films, it has a cumulative intensity that builds beyond the apparent sum of its images."

Despite their best intentions, however, the majority of the co-op's members have a long way to go before they can legitimately hope to receive such lavish praise. The emphasis here is on passion more than perfection. Boswell cites the example of Charles Scott, a forklift operator who rides the bus for more than an hour each way from his home in North Miami to attend classes and workshops at the mini-complex on Miami Beach. Scott, whose interest in filmmaking only slightly predates the opening of the co-op, took Keddell's inaugural 16mm production class and has yet to shoot his first frame of film, but the co-op's directors have no doubt about his intention to do so, and soon. "Here's a guy who watches films, studies a lot, reads books on film while he rides the bus a couple hours each time. Works in a warehouse, just bought a Russian 16mm camera. That desire is what impresses me," Boswell says.

Some students have already started making films after taking classes there. Greg Aunapu, a Miami free-lance journalist who aspires to become a professional filmmaker, began working on a short feature this year after taking a 16mm class in the fall. "I knew nothing about the technical aspects of filming when I started," he says. "It was a good basics program." Aunapu plans to submit his twelve-minute comic short about a Hemingwayesque writer to the South Beach Film Festival and other independent film festivals, hoping that it will help him win backing for future projects.

Providing such opportunities to fledgling filmmakers requires a little money, though, and that's about all that the co-op has. Thirty thousand dollars in county grants and private donations obtained by Orcutt and the Alliance launched the co-op in the fall of 1993. The money was used to purchase sound, lighting, and editing equipment, as well as an array of 16mm, Super-8, and Super VHS cameras. Memberships and equipment rentals cover operating expenses like rent and utilities. Neither Boswell nor Keddell draws a salary from the Alliance. Their only compensation comes from the classes they teach and workshops they lead. (In addition to the $60 annual membership fee, classes cost $100 and participants can expect to pony up another $20 or so for film processing and materials.)

"We began with grant money, but I envision us becoming self-sustaining eventually," says the transplanted Keddell. Based on initial response, as well as the pressing need for reasonably priced equipment rental and a gathering place for the budding Kenneth Angers in Miami, Keddell's aspirations appear to be well-founded. While the co-op is not exactly a cash cow, income from memberships and equipment rentals is enough to cover overhead.

"Of course, that doesn't mean we don't want any more grant money," he's quick to add with a smile. "Grants equal equipment. But a lot of people don't even know we exist yet. And a lot of people don't understand what we do. We get a lot of calls from crazies, actually. People who think we're here to help them make commercials for free, things like that."

"A lot of people call with a script thinking the co-op will make the film for them," adds Boswell, clearly vexed by the thought. But the co-op can't be co-opted. "We got a call today. Versace's party. Mickey Rourke's gonna be there. They wanted us to film it. What a bunch of shit."

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