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Keeping It Reel In Niagara

I have to say, right now, we may be be experiencing a new golden age of film in Niagara. There’s the obvious and fantastic programming at the Film House and the (actually pretty good) theatres at the local malls; but we also have the Brock University Film Society, beachfront movies in the summer, the Shaw Festival Film Series, and the Performing Arts Centre even has musicians scoring films on their beautiful stage. Love it, embrace it and enjoy it, because I hope we all think that this cinema decadence shouldn’t go anywhere.

A decent movie has always been a good excuse for a good night out and that will never get old. But with that idea, less people are watching films together at home. Streaming and pirating are so easily available, the need for physical media is quickly disappearing.

More importantly, what happens to the role of the show ‘n’ teller, the collector, the enthusiast? Streaming sites curate playlists for you based on your interests and there aren’t a whole lot of video stores to go peruse through (props to That’s Entertainment for sticking around).
But is anyone asking what will happen to all these artifacts of the past?

If I don’t keep my Mighty Ducks VHS tape, will I be able to tell my kids about why the Anaheim Ducks became my favourite NHL team? Will I have to rely on old .mov files on a hard-drive? Netflix? Youtube?

Is that our future? Pointing our remote at the TV and finding a never-ending list of anything you ever dreamed of? Was (is) physical media really a boon to our lives and lifestyles?

I guess I’m asking more questions than I should, but I think about this a lot. I love films. I love music. I love video games. If Marie Kondo tells me to rid of my collections, do these things just disappear forever? Should I feel bad about that? What’s ‘joy’ anyways?

Vinyl has made a comeback. But, it’s still bulky. Is watching videotapes, or listening to a CD really that different than dropping a needle? Will vinyl become the only physical media society will consume other than the newest console’s video games (which probably sell as much digitally as they do physically)? What about videotapes? DVDs? Old GameBoy games? Do Blu-Rays really sell anymore? Does anyone have a laser disc player? What about a reel-to-reel?

Turns out, a gentlemen named Jonathan Culp independently owns a large sum of reel-to-reels (a barn’s worth!), and he’s been screening them down at Mahtay Cafe every Sunday at noon.

Culp also curated and hosted the first term of NAC film school at the Niagara Artists Centre this past December. The second term begins in February and is offered at a Pay What You Can rate. These two opportunities (along with the Cult Canada series, also at Mahtay) are some of the few ways to experience film in a micro-cinema (home theatre) type of setting around here.

We bonded over the films being shown as part of the NAC Film School (which included Vivre Sa Vie (Godard), M (Lang) & Seven Samurai (Kurosawa)). These reels were donated by Brock University and came to the Niagara Artists Center when I was a high-school Co-Op student (16 years ago!). He drove the truck over: “it nearly destroyed the axle,” but we never met. The donated collection to the NAC is impressive and the majority of them are finally seeing the light of day because of these screenings.

Culp was exposed to the television and film market at a young age – his grandfather worked for a company that distributed education films. He studied Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University, ‘while they were still using two inch reel to reel tapes for the studio assignments. We were still using a razor blades on tape.” He now has a barn full of them.

“My first collection was from the St. Catharines Library in 1993. I bought all these films for a dollar and made my first collage film out of those. I regretted cutting up the originals, but over time I learned that a lot of these films are very entertaining in and of themselves,” he said.

For the past eleven years, Culp has been involved with the Trash Palace cult film series, and in 2015 he edited 434 Canadian Movies from the ‘tax shelter era’ into a singular piece of art. He looked for videotapes from the 70s and 80s and then transcribed each of them to aid in the development a narrative that led to an alien invasion of Canada. Taking Shelter is a hard film to follow, but when doubled as a research project of the times, it further drives my earlier point as to: what will happen to the history of film if physical media disappears?

At least some people are making art with them.

Currently, Culp is working on a three-screen collage of old corporate training videos that will be screened in the near future. With this, Culp is making part of the focus on the art of screening films, “as lately, I have realized that people are as interested in the machines as they are in the film. There’s not a lot of room for subculture in film exhibition right now because of the scale that it’s at,” he said

“There’s a kid of guerilla film sensibility because there’s so much access and ease of everything, but there is definitely a middle ground because there’s such a mystification around the technology.”

So, did I answer my questions to myself about the ideas of collecting and the future of physical media by talking to Culp? Not really. But, I did get a chance to meet an inspiring artist and collector who consistently brings their collection out to show it off and share with people, further cementing my notions of how important physical media is. Who knows? Maybe it’s because I like shopping in non-grocery and clothing stores. Maybe I like asking questions to no one in particular. Maybe I should just watch more movies.

The NAC Film School Second Term: Film Noir Schedule is:

Feb 11 – Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)
Feb 25 – Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer 1945)
Mar 11 – The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
Mar 25 – The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
Apr 8 – Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)
More information can be found at nac.org.

Mahtay Movie Matinee happens every Sunday from noon-2 pm at Mahtay Cafe.

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