Kenai visitors center to host 'Bob's Shorts: In Public'

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

It's not every day that an eager crowd forms to catch a glimpse of Bob's shorts. In fact, for Kenai Peninsula residents, it will only happen today.

Bob Curtis-Johnson, the technical director of the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association in Anchorage, is in Kenai today to show his shorts -- short films, that is -- and talk about film preservation and independent filmmaking at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

"Bob's Shorts: In Public" will be a first Thursday event starting at 5 p.m. at the visitors center. In the first part of his presentation, Curtis-Johnson will screen a collection of historical Alaska footage titled "Our 20th Century."

"It's Alaska essentially done with one clip per decade," Curtis-Johnson said.

The film starts around the turn of the century with gold rush footage shot around White Pass and the Yukon. It includes clips of missionaries coming to Alaska in the 1920s and 1930s, early homesteaders, statehood celebrations, ANWR in the 1980s and ends with footage of the 1999 New Year's celebration in Anchorage.

During this part of the evening, Curtis-Johnson will discuss historical film and the importance of preserving it. He will be more than happy to give tips for film preservation to people who have old footage in their possession, although he said he won't have much time to review films or seriously assess them.

"In my experience, people come out of the woodwork, especially when we do the historical presentation," he said. "They'll say, 'Well, I think I've got something in my basement or stashed away in the attic.'"

In the second part of his presentation, Curtis-Johnson will expose his shorts. He plans to show 14 short films, each under 10 minutes, of varying styles, including art films, documentaries and humorous shorts.

The name of the filmmaking group and screening events was not his doing, Curtis-Johnson stressed.

"It was not my idea. I had really lame names (for the group) in the beginning days. People were really upset about it and kept pushing this one on me and I finally said, 'All right.'"

Even though he didn't name the group, Curtis-Johnson endorsed its formation.

"One of the archive's goals and one of its mission statement elements is the continued documentation of Alaska's people and events, so (Bob's Shorts) kind of dovetails with that. ... So far it's been one of those grass-roots things that get going. There's not a lot of formality, just a lot of energy."

The films are made by independent filmmakers who are part of the Bob's Shorts group in Anchorage. The group consists of a wide variety of filmmakers. Some are first-timers, while others have taken filmmaking to a level of commitment far past hobby -- although none are filmmaking professionals.

"One of the first expectations I had was that folks would come out of the professional community and do this as a creative experiment," Curtis-Johnson said. "It was far more supported by the amateur community. I guess that makes sense, since the definition of amateur is really 'for the love of something.'"

And just because the films are made by amateurs, doesn't mean they aren't worth watching.

Curtis-Johnson has selected a cross-section of films so there should be something to appeal to everyone.

"Wrapsody in Silver" by Laura Bliss-Spaan is an ode to duct tape. Another film, "Rocky," was made by 10-year-old Max Silverman and is about, appropriately enough, a rock.

"Outdoor Ice" is a documentary-style film by Tom Pillifant that captures the love Pillifant's hockey teammates feel for playing their sport outdoors on natural ice.

Curtis-Johnson is showing one of his films as well, titled "Are You Sure You Want to Quit?" He described it as an art film that the audience will have to make up its own mind about.

One of the cutest films on the roster is "50 Hedgehogs" by Ellen Twiname.

"Ellen is a first-time filmmaker that stumbled onto one of the neatest things that's been done for us," Curtis-Johnson said. "It's essentially a documentary. She was trying to find something to do her film on and one of her co-workers said they had 50 hedgehogs in their house. She said, 'Oh my Lord, that's my movie.'"

The films should take about an hour to show. Refreshments will be served at the viewing.

"Most (films) are in the realm of three to seven minutes, so the great thing is if you don't like it, it'll only be a few minuets and you're on to something else," Curtis-Johnson said.

But with the care he has taken in selecting the films, and with the warm reception they usually receive, it is hard to imagine any won't be liked.

"I've been surprised by the quality and inventiveness of the things that have been made, and I think that will show (at the viewing)," he said. "You won't be sorry. This one's a crowd pleaser"

Curtis-Johnson will give a shorter version of his first Thursday presentation at noon at Kenai Peninsula College.

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