It was 10 years ago this week…

Sitting here in the Secret MICRO-FILM Headquarters, feeling a hell of a lot better and exponentially more ornery than I did at this time a week ago, I realize how defeating my words in my last post might read to some people. However, I can’t justify a rewrite because those insecurites, what-ifs, and self-criticisms (barely) touched upon in “In My Backyard” are true. In a glib recap, C-U Blogfidential and C-U Confidential sailed along unexceptionally in 2008-09 and your not-quite-humble-today editor isn’t exactly sure how or where to propel the Good Ship Opteryx from here.

What might have lightened my load had I considered bringing it into discussion is that, mere days after CUBlog completed its third trip ’round the calendar year, something else marked a separate anniversary of arguably greater personal significance. Any of you veteran Shampoo Banana scallywags recall the graphic below?

I remember sitting beside myself in unbridled glee after bringing home a big box of these floppy, 12-page things from the Mattis Avenue Kinko’s on March 3, 1999. About six years into my Champaign-Urbana residence and a parade of local activity involving such things as WEFT radio (which I still haunt on occasion), The Octopus (R.I.P.), and the Freaky Film Festival (come baaaaaaack!), I finally understood what do-it-yourself meant in the grander scale of things, even on the tiniest of levels, and then I did it. I made my own media.

I intended MICRO-FILM: The Warning Shot to be the half-step towards whatever MICRO-FILM was destined to be. Most of its copy came directly from a hearty e-newsletter that I edited and sent out to all of my friends and indie film contacts that February. Upon receiving it myself, I knew immediately that such a thing was simply too massive to expect a regular readership for it without inspiring migraines across the land. Then, I did what came naturally – I retrofit the copy into a traditional page design.

Despite primitive graphics, the cover itself is a compact snapshot that tells us as much about Champaign-Urbana film at the time as anything. The little frowning boy starred in PUT ON A HAPPY FACE, a stop-motion animated short by Suzanne Twining that won the top prize at the first Freaky Film. The precursor to C-U Confidential‘s “Wilhelm” private-eye character is then-University of Illinois graduate student Jack Bratich at The Canopy Club, acting in a filmed bit we made for the second Freaky Film. The 16mm cinematographer shot a thesis film for fellow Columbia College student Melissa Schmitt in Urbana the prior year, during which famed science fiction author Ray Bradbury spoke at Foellinger Auditorium. (The picture with yours truly dates from 1993.) Finally, the silohuette is of then-UIUC art student Jennifer Gutowski who worked at the former downtown Champaign indie record store Periscope, which closed a few months after this went to press. Er, the copy machine.

I kept the interior pretty spartan considering what I had to compse it with – Microsoft Publisher – and restricted the photos to outside margins, thereby allowing for maximum copy. Interviews included Ms. Twining as well as frequent Freaky Film guest Brien Burroughs (whose experimental solarized film URBANA helped put the freaky in the first year) and fellow movie magazine self-publisher Dennis Druktenis of Scary Monsters. I also added ruminations about the definition of independent film with contributor P. Gregory Springer and then-UIUC Ph.D candidate Steve Bailey, along with my extremely lengthy MICRO-FILM mantra that reads, well … earnest is a good way to put it. Not nearly as verbose as the greenest zinester telling it like it is from a 20-year-old perspective, but definitely a far cry from the editorial I hammer out now where nuance, logic, and restraint are often stronger virtues than the facts and the claims.

The same can’t be said for the press announcement that I coconcted two weeks later:

Some pretty bold statements in that particular copy, yes? We can also draw a timely “what goes around…” subtext in terms of what I had thought would take place after issuing Warning Shot. (To those unfamiliar with MICRO-FILM, TWS is technically not issue no.1; I guess that makes it no.0?)

I actually had no dreams for a big, glossy MF at that point, but wanted to try out a “local-zine” dubbed MICRO-FILM 101 as a 48-page, offset product. I can’t remember if I planned on doing it in a digest or magazine format, although it might have been the former given the only remnant of that concept:

The young woman is Cecilia Lucas, a UIUC senior at the time. Some friends and I had started shooting a Super 8 MICRO-FILM promo with her at the Channing-Murray Foundation the same week that I finished Warning Shot; the photo comes from a test shoot we did with her that Feburary to see whether natural daylight would be a strong enough element in the chapel. Even as a rough concept, this cover would only hold up in a smaller format and seems ready-made for copy-shop glory, not a rumbling printing press. I guess this constitutes an exclusive of sorts, one of those elusive little things lost in time that you only show a few confidants at the outset.

This could have been the C-U Confidential of its era had I followed through with an Illinois-specific issue. So, what exactly is “coming around?” The next CUZine, due in April either at a Boneyard Arts Festival or “Ebertfest” near you, will essentially channel the spirit of our stillborn MICRO-FILM 101 a decade after the fact, surely featuring “two dozen stories [however abbreviated for space] about filmmaking and film culture in the Midwest” and most likely hitting that 48 page benchmark should the Fates – and your advertising dollars – allow.

As for lil’ ol’ MICRO-FILM: The Warning Shot? If nothing else, it was the true beginning where I said, “What the hell…” and took my best shot, for lack of a better phrase. Maybe at some point, I’ll scan and post a complete PDF of TWS. It happens to be the one MF paper item that I don’t have the original electronic files for.

Remember a little viral number called Chernobyl? It was unleashed a scant few weeks after my modest effort on April 26, 1999, and taught me numerous lessons about dealing with unsolicited e-mails. Let’s forget that anniversary and move on, shall we?

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. I still have a small pile of Warning Shot hidden away here at MFHQ. If you’d like one for posterity, send $1 to MICRO-FILM, P.O. Box 45, Champaign, IL 61824-0045 for postage along with a neatly-written mailing address. I might throw additional goodies in the envelope for good measure.

p.s.2 For those possibly wondering, “Hell, Pankoke, why aren’t you making more of an effort to trumpet this occasion?” I refer you to the official 10th anniversary date of MICRO-FILMOctober 29, 1999, the night that issue 1 made its debut at the third Freaky Film Festival – and invite you to keep an ear to the ground. Better yet, keep reading C-U Blogfidential for related developments!

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