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Thursday, February 10, 2011

100 Profiles: Craig Baldwin Rages Against the Multiplex Machine

Posted By on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 8:45 AM

Craig Baldwin (right) has run Other Cinema for nearly three decades. - UNIONDOCS / FLICKR
  • UnionDocs / Flickr
  • Craig Baldwin (right) has run Other Cinema for nearly three decades.

100 Profiles
SF Weekly interviews 100 people in San Francisco arts and culture.

No. 99: Craig Baldwin

Forget about Sumatran coffee blends, lab-concocted energy drinks or full-bore action flicks. If you need a pick-me-up that'll spark your cerebral cortex for hours, simply engage Craig Baldwin in conversation.

The radical, tenacious force behind the long-running Mission District bastion of underground film, Other Cinema, Baldwin is a creative programmer and an obsessive filmmaker. He's also a verbal whirling dervish who'd be a splendid model for a San Francisco superhero comic -- any graphic novelists listening? -- albeit one with a flashier wardrobe.

"It's on the margin, that's what the Other is, it's on the outside, the margin, tiptoeing along this cliff face, the goat trail as opposed to the toll road on the other side," he says in his trademark rat-a-tat cascade of words, associations and ideas.

The "toll road" is Hollywood, needless to say, while Indiewood, if you will, is the "alternative" brand of American moviemaking that's scarcely less mainstream. Other Cinema begins its 29th year Feb. 19 at the storefront gallery Artists Television Access. It hosts political and experimental filmmakers who joyfully take on the twin bugaboos of conventional wisdom and disinformation.

"We're interested in motion picture work but it's not primarily about form," Baldwin explains. "On the other hand, it's not primarily about correct consciousness -- the path forward, the long march. It's a microcinema about micropolitics. You've heard it all many times, but I believe it. Voting, striking, community activity -- all those things are part of Other Cinema."

Other is a base for cultural and political resistance. It epitomizes an ethos that's argumentative, adversarial, and oppositional. Baldwin likens it to a David in a world overrun by Goliaths, and to a weed poking up through the concrete.

"The whole idea of a living-room cinema, a microcinema, a gallery cinema, an intimate cinema, among people who choose to come because they like the ideas, that's really kind of a microscopic idea," he says. "It's not institutional. It doesn't come from the top down; it comes from the ground up. I want to share this with other people."

Baldwin's dense and brilliantly edited movies, including Spectres of the Spectrum and Mock Up on Mu, are narratives constructed almost entirely from found footage the filmmaker appropriated and recontextualized. The films challenge the status quo on a variety of levels, though Baldwin sees them as not just political commentary but collaborations with dead filmmakers and catalysts for conversation among live audiences. In that sense, making films is an extension of his role, or "profession," as curator of Other Cinema.

"I never considered [running the Other] as a professional option," he says. "I considered it a natural expression of my milieu, my lifestyle. That's not too far off, three degrees, from being a filmmaker."

The basic impulse, Baldwin says, comes from sustaining a salon. That word can conjure ideas of subversion or great jolts of energy -- even more so when Craig Baldwin says it.

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