In My Backyard: Year 6

Surprise! I have no head cold sob story I can share with you for the third year running to kick off our annual missive on the triumphs and near misses of C-U Blogfidential, the only Web site dedicated to filmmaking and movie viewing in downstate Illinois. I can’t even draw a cheeky “pain for our arts” parallel from my root canal last week because A. the good doctor began but did not finish the procedure due to an unhealthy root in need of antibiotics, and B. the good doctor numbed me up quite well and I hardly felt a thing. Then again, considering what has transpired during the past year, obliterated sensations and underlying decay might be apt analogies as anything…

Year 5 finished up strongly after motivation nearly bottomed out during the summer. Apparently, we can only handle so much consecutively or concurrently at the Secret MICRO-FILM Headquarters, for what should have been cinema nirvana between last January and May – the first New Art Film Festival, the second IMC Film Festival, the 12th Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, one issue of C-U Confidential, two issues of Bachelor Pad Magazine (to mix it up a bit), and general CUBlog upkeep – nearly sucked our energies dry. We certainly trust everybody enjoyed these efforts but for us, noble thoughts led right to extensive work that simply didn’t let up until before Memorial Day weekend. A few weeks later, the Family Pankoke suffered a genuine blow by losing our Pappy to the ages, bless his soul.

I contemplated placing CUBlog on hiatus and posting did slow to a crawl, but one day a funny thing happened on the way to the Sesquicentennial Neighborhood. We recommitted our dedication to the Confidential lifestyle and picked up steam again. Old friend Tyler Tharpe climbed aboard as a columnist, Michelle Kaffko turned in a bonus “Knife in a Gun Fight,” local filmmaker Robin Christian contributed two articles, once-shelved department Clean Slate returned to coerce readers into constructive thought, and yours truly engineered our first product giveaway, yet the most cohesive step forward in Year 5 involved our comprehensive “news column” C-U Biz-en-scène. If anything currently posted here is proof incarnate that we keep loving tabs on Champaign-Urbana’s film arts and stubbornly wear it on our sleeves, it’s the Biz.

I’ve also thought about shelving CUBlog for other reasons. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, something is missing from this relationship between us and you, the dearest readers, as well as you, the rest of Champaign-Urbana. I just can’t place a finger upon the underlying problem and it would be too cynical and hopeless for us to believe the people who populate our immediate world don’t care enough collectively about what we’ve been doing for more than a decade. We open Comments on CUBlog and receive little to no interaction; we consistently issue weekly Mailing List reminders and have subsequently lost subscribers; we ensure a steady flow of Facebook updates which are seen (per the statistics) but rarely acted upon (we don’t need statistics to realize this); we run a pre-order form for the C-U Confidential ’99 special in last year’s CUZine and nobody bites. Frankly, I’m fucking stumped.

It’s a frustrating conclusion to draw because we know this dire portrait is hardly absolute. CUBlog would not have 87 subscribers on the Mailing List, 273 fans on Facebook, or 13 friends on the C-U Confidential YouTube channel if people found no value in our efforts. CUBlog also would have no CUZine to speak of, let alone proudly distribute at “Ebertfest” and other events, if not for advertisers who find it worthy as a promotional tool. We’d certainly attract little interest during those festivals, public screenings, Champaign Movie Makers and Central Illinois Film Commission meetings, and the like if folks didn’t trust the product we put out there. We appreciate every single ounce of collaboration and camaraderie afforded us, but during certain hours of certain days it just doesn’t seem sufficient enough for us to pursue this over the long haul, under our own power, and on our own dime – save those advertising dollars, which all go towards CUZine – unless we’re merely doing it for ourselves.

Some will argue self-satisfaction should be more than enough reward. For better or worse, we’ve aimed higher since day one. We hoped (and still hold out hope) CUBlog could appeal strongly to general audiences and also attract a regular stream of collaborators with enough desire or ambition to put something back into the project, given its community-specific aspects. We have a hard time gauging the former and, sadly, we’ve never come close to entertaining the latter. On our worst days, acknowledging this reality while continuing to move forward is much harder than you probably can imagine.

As of this writing, shall we quit and head for the hills? (We know, we know, “What hills?”) No such luck, friends, we’re not giving up the ghosts of C-U movies past and present quite yet. We see upgrade potential in CUBlog and we’ll be constantly retooling our direction while considering alternate futures, lest this folly burns out like MICRO-FILM before it. So, what do we do? We’re glad we asked and, since we’ve publicly thrown this question out there numerous times before with nary a response from anyone else, we’re even glad to answer it for ourselves.

Our editorial concentration has been focused on the Biz lately and although we’re pleased with how it has turned out, we’re also highly disappointed that readers haven’t been inspired enough to regularly generate conversation through it. CUBiz requires a sizable chunk of time to assemble, so we may downscale its breadth or cut back its frequency between June and August to make room for giving all our outlets attention. CUBlog is way overdue for its overhaul involving revised copy, improved graphics, and other minor accruements. The YouTube channel will earn a “sister station” over on Vimeo, while adding Twitter to the arsenal is not out of the question. We also believe we need to balance the CUBiz grind with generating other content of scope, returning long-form interviews and feature articles to the fold. The most involved spin-off projects, for which we won’t provide specifics just yet, involve ventures into video content and additional print titles on top of the annual CUZine and the ever-lingering return of MICRO-FILM. As usual, watch right here for announcements and calls to action.

You do like some personal cinema with your action, don’t you?

~ Jason Pankoke

C-U Blogfidential: Year 5
Posts: 94* ~ Comments: 38 ~ Interviews: 0** ~ Articles: 3
Columns: 5*** ~ Reviews: 1 ~ Links: +1 ~ Publications: 1

C-U Blogfidential So Far
Posts: 492 ~ Comments: 61**** ~ Interviews: 9 ~ Articles: 9
Columns: 5 ~ Reviews: 6 ~ Links: 369***** ~ Publications: 6

*Technically this means we posted a bit less than in Year 4 but note the informational and anecdotal density of most C-U Biz-en-scène columns, which are the equivalent of three to six average-length posts in years past. You’re welcome.

**Technically it looks like we haven’t talked to anyone for quoting purposes on CUBlog, but regular readers will know better; this category tallies up the long-form discussions. Regardless, the goose egg looks rather forlorn sitting up there. We’re hatching a plan to introduce a new breed of Q&A du C-U.

***We’re fudging this total twofold by A. not including CUBiz since it functions more as a compilation than a column, and B. including all of Michelle Kaffko’s “A Knife in a Gun Fight” entries, which stretch back before last year’s “Backyard” when we weren’t smart enough to debut a Columns category.

****Your humble editor was happy to see this once he decided to leave the Comments open on most postings. Your humble editor would be much happier if this count had reached triple digits and then some by now. CUBlog is trying its damndest to post editorial worth conversation up here every week; your dialogue tells us if we’re keeping your interest or striking a chord and the evidence tells us we’re not achieving either goal. Help us out, folks. It only costs you a few minutes and thoughts per comment!

*****Technically the near-identical number here proves we slacked on our pledge from “Backyard” Year 4 to update our blogroll and remove dead links. Whether you believe us or not, we have begun composing a fresh directory Page that will replace the side-column links. Watch for it this summer!

One Response to In My Backyard: Year 6

  1. Bogdan :

    “What hills?” That made me smile…
    When my wife and I moved to this little cozy part of the world, we came…like most people, driving a U-haul truck behind our happy yellow bug. Two dogs and a cat where also part of the adventure, while in my head, there was a mantra going over and over and over again: CORN FILEDS, CORN FIELDS, CORN FIELDS..

    I must say, I knew CU from a few years back, but to drive through the torrid summer in such caravan configuration was a “joy” to my eyes – used with mountains or ocean waves.

    And then, literally out of the corn fields, this artsy town emerges, and I must say – after nearly 7 months – that it simply grows on you…

    This must have been one long introduction, but you asked for thoughts, Jason, so here are mine, as a token of appreciation for your honesty to pour your heart out. Believe it or not, I know exactly what you mean, in many ways.

    So, let’s look at the positives. You guys have a pool of talent, a great atmosphere, very little film production tradition (compared with other University towns), and…you have CU Blogfidential.

    Should you stop? No, I would not say that. Change and tweak some things? YES.

    The producer of the documentary I am editing right now recently told that Chambana is the sixth best place to live in this country. I dare say that if it had a mountain, heck – even a hill – it would be not sixth, but perfect.

    What is important for us, filmmakers, is to always understand our environment. Without that understanding, we live inside our own paradigm, rarely making sense of the reality outside the realm of our passion. So yes, maybe in order to gain the participation of your readership, some changes are due. I can’t really give advice, just ideas. I myself am going through the process of understanding my new environment, and trying to see how “where I’m at” can meet others with similar passion for the craft of filmmaking.

    Alas, I say to you “don’t give up.” And I’ll be shooting some ideas your way, so that my advice would not remain just empty rhetoric..

    Stick around. I will.