Interactive cinema (what?) comes to the Twin Cities


What does the future hold? What follows us from the past? What more can we learn about the present?

Bringing the ancient tradition of the magic lantern show to the 21st Century, multimedia performance duo Potter-Belmar Labs, of San Antonio, Texas, answer these questions and more in their live cinema performance, Fortune. Fortune is #76 in a dizzying array of independent and experimental films featured at the 8th Annual Bearded Child Film Festival—expanded this year from Grand Rapids, Michigan to include Minneapolis. It all takes place at Bedlam Theatre, August 13-16.

What is “live cinema”? During Fortune, wooden nickels featuring words describing states of being are handed out to the audience members. PBL’s Jason Jay Stevens asks questions relating to the senses, and audience participants may respond with their words. Ten of these words—such as “Up Till Now,” “Meanwhile,” “Your Attitude,” “Anxiety,” “Love,” and so on—are matched with ten positions those familiar with the tarot may recognize, creating a narrative, distilling all the audience members’ energy into the big cauldron,” said PBL’s Leslie Raymond. After probing the audience’s collective subconscious, PBL then cull from the cauldron (run through their computers) putting the pieces in order, resulting in unique live mixes of sound and moving image. “Original sound and image compositions are interwoven with samples from the culture at large and field recordings, generating a tapestry of allusion, abstract narration, and dreamlike hallucination,” explain PBL. Sampled film and video shot by Raymond, as well as appropriated and composed music by Stevens, are built into unique sound and film compositions.

As a duo, PBL have produced and shown experimental films and new media internationally for several years. Fortune evolved from performances they’ve done in the past. Stevens “hatched the idea,” said his collaborator/wife Raymond. “We’ve both been fascinated with divination for many years.”

Fortune provides a context for people who don’t have experience with experimental cinema. PBL have performed for a range of audiences, from those who’ve never experienced experimental cinema to those who are steeped in it. Fortune was a success on a West Coast tour in May. In Roswell, New Mexico, they played for artists-in-residence, a farmer, and museum curators.

“We don’t want to be didactic,” says Raymond. “We’re not saying, ‘this is fortune-telling.’ We just performed for 125 little kids. We told them, ‘this is not like movies you see at home. This is like dreams, very different. And sometimes you wake with a resolution.’”

The element of audience participation in the duo’s performances grew from PBL performing on a loading dock at art crawls in San Antonio. People walked past and came up to talk to Raymond and Stevens, not realizing a performance was underway. “So we developed a system,” says Raymond, “where people contribute written suggestions and we projected them with our sounds and images. That was our half-way step to where we are now. Before that, we used to do A/V Battles in Michigan. The audience drew from a deck of cards, and teams would display their interpretations of those words with their experimental films and sound. When the audience can participate, they’re more interested.”

“It’s kind of an outgrowth of Fluxus and Happenings,” she continues. “At film festivals, people commune together. It’s important to maintain the social aspects of film-going.”

Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.