CFF’s new Cine-Rama means independent film year-round
The influences of Chris Dortch and Mise En Scenesters (MES) can be found all over the Chattanooga film scene. Their fingerprints can be found in the smallest places.
An example: CAPTURE 2015 is just around the corner (Sept. 18), beginning its second year as a significant community filmmaking project. Filmmakers from all over the city will be challenged to make a short film that will be edited and scored by professionals in the industry. This year, Mark Covino, director of “A Band Called Death,” is a guest juror. “A Band Called Death” was first screened in Chattanooga by MES.
Without Dortch, the film might have passed the city by. Maybe the appearance of Covino is simply a happy coincidence and a continuation of a theme—last year, the guest was Denny Tedesco, director of “The Wrecking Crew,” another fascinating music documentary about unsung musicians. But humans are prone to seeing patterns, and I’ve been around long enough to know that little was happening in Chattanooga film before MES. After MES is a much different story.
Perhaps the best example of MES contributions is the formation of the Chattanooga Film Festival, a direct result of the love of film nurtured by Dortch and his film-loving fanatics. The first year was by all accounts well received. Year Two saw the appearance of Elijah Wood, Alex Winter, Bobcat Goldthwait, and patron saint of genre film, Joe Bob Briggs.
While the incredible speed in which the festival became successful is due in part to the hard work and vision of Dortch, Bryan Center and the staff of the CFF, community support has also been crucial.
Chattanooga has rallied around the concept of a major, established film festival—sooner, rather than later, the CFF will likely become the Sundance of the South. But until now, there has been an itinerant feel to both groups. MES showings have bounced from room to room, from warehouse to theater to restaurant, looking for a real home.
The Chattanooga Film Festival, as the successful younger brother of Mise En Scenesters, followed suit. Finding sufficient space for film screenings in Chattanooga is expensive and difficult. But now, thanks to ArtsBuild and their new building, located at 301 E. 11th St., the CFF and MES finally have a home. It’s called Cine-Rama. It’s long past time.
The tale of where it all came from is best told by Dortch himself: “For years with Mise En Scenesters, I would save all the extra money from every paycheck I got and try to bring at least two screenings a month of something special to town. Some months would have a higher electric bill or a flat tire or something, and I’d only be able to muster one screening. I’d actually feel guilty.
“Then CFF began, and for four jam-packed days in the month of April we got to bring more films than ever before to Chattanooga, to huge and super-appreciative audiences no less. After this April’s second festival closed down, we realized that the attendance had nearly doubled from year one to year two. Suddenly, once a month and four days every April wasn’t going to be good enough.”
Now, with the new space, the goals of the CFF are simple. Dortch says, “Making sure that not only the history of film, but the craft of filmmaking is something that gets passed down to future generations of visually inclined Chattanoogans has been a huge part of our mission from the very beginning.”
“The space will also be available for other emerging arts nonprofits, who, like us, might not have a permanent home to host their offerings. It’s by no means all about CFF. We want to make sure there is always something cool and arts-related happening at the space.
“There is so much talent here I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am at the possibilities of it all. The space will also serve as CFF’s offices and year round headquarters.”
Commitment to film and its preservation led to the acquisition of something unique and new to the film community. MES and the CFF have access to many films that can only be shown on a 35mm projector, and to have a 35mm projector in any theater space is a rarity in the digital age. But Dortch and the CFF staff understand that it is always preferable to see a film through its intended medium.
“Film history and film preservation have always been a big concern,” Dortch says. “We had to have a place where no matter what format a film existed in, we could screen it. The 35mm projector we’ve acquired for the space is truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I nearly got misty-eyed when I first saw it, and I think a lot of people will feel the same when they see it.”
The state of Chattanooga film is stronger than it’s ever been, thanks to the work of MES and the CFF. With the inclusion of their new art house theater, Cine-Rama, Chattanooga is in for a treat. Dortch says, “I know it sounds lofty, but I’m hoping for nothing less than turning the Cine-Rama into the hub for all of film and filmmaking in the Southeast.”
Given what I’ve seen, there’s nothing lofty about this goal at all.