PSU Experimental Film Showcase at 5th Avenue Cinema

As part of Matt McCormick’s advanced experimental film class at Portland State, students will be showcasing their experimental film series Juxtaposed Realities at 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 11 at 5th Avenue Cinema. The showcase will feature twelve experimental films, ranging from documentaries and diary-style shorts to psychogeography and surrealism. Admission is free to all.

The idea of Juxtaposed Reality emerged from the concept of piecing two images together to portray a certain reality that challenges cultural norms, mainstream Hollywood and the art of filmmaking itself.

Matt McCormick, professor of theater and film at PSU, explained the importance of experimental filmmaking in challenging traditional modes of filming.

“Experimental cinema is this old question of ‘what else could we do with this camera?'” McCormick said. “Why just film people talking to each other and telling stories? What else can we do? From there, it opens up all this new potential of what a filmmaker can do.”

McCormick relates his current endeavor back to Stan Brakhage’s 1963 short Mothlight as an example of experimental filmmaking. Brakhage started with a long, clear film strip, and over time he collected the body parts of insects, glued them to the film strip and put the strip through the projector. The movie was nothing more than the light going through these body partsmoth wings, spider legs and other body parts—and projecting them onto the screen.

“It’s this idea of what can we do other than the traditional thing Hollywood has been doing for 100 years,” McCormick said. “That’s what these students have been doing this term and last term, breaking down the notion of what cinema is supposed to be and instead asking, what else could it be.”

McCormick emphasized the difference between traditional and experimental filmmaking, citing Hollywood as a main difference. Hollywood wants the audience to forget that they’re watching a film. Experimental film, on the other hand, does the opposite. Experimental film wants the audience to remember they’re watching a movie and to think about what that means.

“What does it mean that we’re all watching this?” McCormick said. “What does it mean that this filmmaker has taken these two specific images and edited them together?”

Experimental filmmaking asks the audience to be more intellectually involved with its process. It’s not about entertainment and escaping the moment, but engaging the work intellectually and hopefully being stimulated as a result.

The ideologies of these films are reflective of the ideologies of our culture, whether people are aware of them or not. According to McCormick, it’s about breaking down cultural norms and helping the audience understand culture in a new way.

“Experimental film asks the question, ‘how does this work relate to the culture in an ideological way?’” McCormick said. “If we don’t ask those questions, we won’t be aware.”

All the students part of the experimental film showcase are producing a variety of films that utilize different filming techniques. Mackenzie Blake, a student participant, is creating an autobiographical film about being born deaf. Blake was born completely deaf in both ears, and it’s not something she normally brings up in school or in her daily life.

“My parents had a lot of recorded footage of me as a child, and they ended up making a video diary about their experience with me being deaf,” Blake said. “I never thought much of it, and then I realized I can make something using this footage.”

Blake decided for her experimental film she’d transpose these video diaries into a found footage project titled Vestibular Matching Soundtrack. With this specific film, Blake is taking a sensory ethnography standpoint, attempting to communicate with the audience what her experience with hearing loss is like. (Sensory ethnography is a film movement that combines anthropology with film.)

The film uses subtitles and captions because these visuals are what she had to rely on growing up. Mackenzie wants to bring her audience into the reality of growing up deaf.

“Why not make my audience have to rely on subtitles, something that they’d normally hear fine, they’ll now have to struggle with it,” Blake said.

She hopes students will understand the value of senses and all the different ways of perceiving and experiencing the world.

Ross Reaume’s film Pedestrian is about growing up in Portland, and addresses the extent to which Portland has changed, and how it is continually changing. His project is part of a genre called psychogeography, which is about how landscape affects people’s emotions and mental state.

“For my project specifically, since I’ve lived in Portland my entire life and grew up here, it’s about how the city has changed since I’ve grown up and how the city has changed me,” Reaume said.

The film is partly diary, with Reaume talking about and explaining his experiences and memories, juxtaposed against the largely visual aspect of the film. The images of cityscape and suburbs combine with Reaume’s narration to show how Portland has changed over the years.

Reaume set aside a couple of days at a time to go out with his camera and tripod and film anything that piqued his interest or any location that had a specific memory attached to it. It was an abstract filming process, going around to random places around Portland and capturing what he saw.

“I’m usually trying to find something that is more tucked away, a place people don’t really know about, something that is more personal,” Reaume said. Pedestrian will include shots from Portland’s waterfront, cityscape, and suburbs, as well as the Raleigh Hills area where Reaume grew up. 

“I want [the audience], on a surface level, to gain a deeper appreciation for Portland, because there’s a lot of history here, a more emotional relationship,” Reaume said. “At a deeper level, I want people to become more aware of their environment and start paying attention to where they live and what surrounds them, and how that affects them.”

Reaume hopes people will understand the merits of not needing to stick to the structure often seen with most movies, where there’s a clear beginning, middle and end.

“Juxtaposed reality is the idea that each individual and person has their own perception of reality, so when juxtaposed together, we get a more complete objective view of where we’re living and how we as students are perceiving the world,” Reaume said.

“Experimental film is not for everyone, but hopefully, an audience will come with an open mind and also an interest in the same question, ‘what else can we do with film?’” McCormick said.

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