Basement Films is a dedicated collective that keeps a massive collection of vintage film reels as a resource for alternative, DIY, experimental, and micro-cinema.
ALBUQUERQUE—The Netflix studios rise up all around the Mesa Del Sol building on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico. As far as I could see, the studios were quiet with the SAG and WGA strikes still keeping what has been a flourishing film-production state out of work. When I was last at Mesa Del Sol there was no Netflix studio and no strikes, but neither guild’s halt of work has stopped the work that Basement Films has been doing since its inception in 1991.
Basement Films is a dedicated collective that keeps a massive collection of vintage film reels (including the largest collection of 16mm prints in the Southwest) alive, as a resource for alternative, DIY-based, experimental, and micro-cinema.
Seven years ago, I helped Basement Films move to Mesa Del Sol from their titular basement at the Harwood Art Center in downtown Albuquerque. Most recently, I helped them pack up once again to move to their new home at Central New Mexico Community College, located near Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood.
Its president since the early 2000s, Bryan Konefsky was once a painter but fell in love with moving image experimentalism and experimental film history after moving to New Mexico and falling in with a group of like-minded artists. Since he took over, Konefsky has overseen and encouraged educational engagement with the collection, started the Experiments in Cinema international film festival, and instituted an artist-in-residence program for visiting artists to explore the collection and “present their findings” however they see fit in a public forum.
The collection contains but is not limited to outdated educational films, regional and historical footage of New Mexico, home movies shot on 8mm, vintage porn, documentaries, animation, short films, and features.
“In a way it’s a Sisyphean task, keeping the prints alive,” says vice president Beth Hansen. Many of them are on film of a quality akin to newspaper print, meant to be viewed and then discarded. But their historical value can not be overlooked, and Hansen sees the nature of the films’ continual decomposition as part of their beauty. Much of the collection is being slowly digitized, but presenting the reels through original-form projection seems essential to the experience of viewing them. It’s a way to participate in physical cinema, something that is slowly disappearing. Yet that’s the way film stays alive, through projection and interaction.
Many of the collection’s recent acquisitions are collections of antique home movies from those who could no longer afford or care to house them any longer, donations given during the COVID-19 lockdown. These and other “Media Muerte” (as Basement Film merch shirts read) are presented and played with in many different forms.
In 2019, the rental stock of an out-of-business VHS store came into the collective’s hands. So they made up a new non-existent video store, complete with uniforms and a pop-up location, and threw a “going-out-of-business sale” to raise money and help move the VHS tapes into collectors’ and purists’ hands. An old Blockbuster fan’s perfect performance piece.
Most recently on September 18, they hosted a screening of guesswork: videos by Adán De La Garza at Alpaca Gallery in Albuquerque. De La Garza, a Denver-based artist and Month of Video founder, has been supported in his video art over the years by Experiments in Cinema and Basement Films. The viewing started with a silent test reel from an old 8mm print he filmed when he was a teenager circa the early 2000s making Jackass-like skate videos. (Konefsky chimed in before the screening began: “When I first started teaching, Steve-O was my student.”)
With the garage door of the Alpaca partially open, muted sounds from the streets filtered in. On the screen were teens doing various acts of vandalism: spray-painting, driving recklessly, doing half-assed stunts. Outside the screening, it was a mostly quiet Monday night, but a lone distant siren added an unexpected yet fitting soundtrack. This is the kind of perfect unplanned coalescence that one can experience when present at alternative cinema screenings.
As the videos went on, the artist’s work matured before us, including the mesmerizing Protest Etiquette (2020), which sees De La Garza’s chaotic roots from the Jackass-like material crystallize into something more contemplative and focused as the artist strides across the salt-rock treachery of Death Valley with what appears to be a lit Molotov cocktail balanced on his head.
As I helped pack up at Mesa Del Sol with the help of various members of Basement Films, including former president Keif Henley, who tirelessly runs Albuquerque’s oldest independent theater, the Guild, I asked Hansen if she had reflected on the organization in relation to the current strikes. “In a way, it serves to strengthen our mission, which is a counterpoint to mass cinema,” she says. “Basement Films has always been about DIY and community-based cinema.”
This Sunday, September 24, Basement Films is having a moving sale from 9 am-4 pm, with projectors and other A/V equipment for sale, at Orpheum Community Hub, 500 2nd Street SW in Albuquerque.
Experiments in Cinema v19.8 is currently accepting submissions for its 2024 festival and will have its screenings in April of next year at the Guild with gallery installations at Sanitary Tortilla Factory.