Analog film is dying as the equipment and tools of handmade cinema become harder to find, but the discipline is not yet dead. If not for people like Denver filmmaker and projectionist Curt Heiner, a product of the DIY underground who champions celluloid and works to preserve the human touch in film, it would’ve been long gone in this digital world. Heiner, who favors the 16mm format as a medium in his own work, serves as an old-school projectionist for the Denver Film Society and is a boardmember for Process Reversal, a nonprofit that shares his goals. Go behind the scenes of the experimental-film world with Heiner as he answers the 100CC questionnaire.
Curt Heiner: Not sure if I could answer this one definitely, but a big influence for me and my work doing 16mm projection performances for various bands and musical festivals has come from Karl Lemieux's work with Godspeed You! Black Emperor (as well as many of their other rotating projectionists). It definitely formulated my intrigue with loop projections and live manipulation of analog film and got me big into that creative mode. It also (maybe sadly) turned me into a hoarder of film projectors and other ridiculous film equipment to run loops with. I’ve acquired too much at this point, and a lot of it is just junk.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Heck, I'd have to say anyone that would be willing to come to a party with me is good enough for me! Three whole people?! That's pretty hard for me to pull off.
As far as experimental filmmaking goes, Colorado (specifically CU Boulder and the Front Range in general) has been a central and historical spot on the local, national and international scale for that community, and it still is. I'd say our community out here provides everything that you could want from a non-NYC-non-L.A.-middle-of-the-country-type place, and there are always lots of amazing screenings and events all the time. We're actually fairly spoiled in that way. I was lucky enough to attend CU Boulder and to have access to a lot of equipment and resources that really got me jump-started into my creative medium of film, and it was great. Not everyone has that opportunity, necessarily.
This is not a downside to the community by any means, but in a lot of cases, things are tied to a university setting, and something that Process Reversal is really focused on achieving, especially as far as access to educational things like equipment, workshops, instructors, etc., goes, is to try to bring a lot of those things out into alternative venues and locations that can be more accessible to the general public. We've also been looking to bring more screenings to different kinds of venues and locations that may not be completely associated with that genre of film or filmmaking, something that a lot of other series such as Collective Misnomer are doing in great ways as well.
There is a vast and relatively unknown niche community of analog experimental filmmakers that rides under the guise of the "artist-run film lab community," and the greatest aspect about that is how much networking, support and resource-sharing exists. It's almost a "hive-mind" sort of community; there are so many different people around the world who are extremely active on various forums, Listservs, websites and in-person (if you want to travel), who are all dedicated to keeping the knowledge and availability of analog film alive, accessible and available.
The community is all about sharing information, exchanging knowledge, passing down techniques and equipment, stuff that is harder and harder to get your hands on. It makes so many more people aware of analog film in so many ways — where to get, how to fix, how to modify, where to screen, how to make, etc., etc. I have yet to truly experience a downside to the global community other than the fact that I wish everyone was closer location-wise, but we at least get together quite often for various conferences in different parts of the world, and most places are great about hosting visiting artists in whatever way they can.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
I'm not sure if I even totally believe this, but I guess my advice would be to not be afraid of beating a dead horse. I've definitely fallen into some creative turmoil by the feeling that I'm not creative, that everything's been done before and that there's really no such thing as originality. I think you just have to try to not get caught up in the feeling that what you're doing is unoriginal, and learn to live with the fact that it is unoriginal in many ways. Learn to live with the fact that you're naturally going to imitate people and things that inspire you — it’s what starts all those gears working in your brain.
I think creativity is a form of imitation or mimicry in many ways. Make things that have spoken to you, because ya know the old saying...if you beat a dead horse long enough, then eventually its festering carcass will open up and all the blood and guts will spray and spew all over the place, and at that point you've created something visceral and real and beautiful. And you did that all by yourself. You didn't kill that dead horse; you just pulverized it into little bloody beautiful pieces, and that's pretty cool.
I think my favorite accomplishment was all the projection work that I was doing as a pseudo fifth member of the Kevin Costner Suicide Pact. I've always been extremely close to all those dudes, and I think we have really great creative chemistry; it just always felt so natural and fun creating stuff with them. We were on a pretty consistent run for a while as far as doing lots of shows goes, churning out new material, and for me it really helped solidify my style as an experimental filmmaker. I love live performance and using a projector like an instrument, and I also love not trying to coddle the film material that I was making. A lot of the processes I was using were prone to scratching, tarnishing, doing lots of stuff that you really shouldn't do with something as delicate as film. I was mostly working with stuff that I couldn't re-create again; I'd often reuse a lot of footage in different ways, but every show was a little bit different and unique because of it.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Ever since I got into filmmaking, whether it was from my time in high school making dumb videos with my friends to my time in college making more individual short-form experimental works, I've still always had an irrepressible urge to make a feature-length narrative shot on film. It's always felt a little out of reach for me for a variety of different reasons, whether it's financially or creatively, but that's definitely a bucket-list item that I've had. I've delved into narrative filmmaking in the past and kind of strayed away from it for a while, but I want to get back into it, and I need it to be a project I can feel (at least mostly) proud of. I've made so many things that I hate to show people out of embarrassment and shame...so much shame. I could have a whole film festival of shame, oh, boy….
I'm still very much into Denver. I was born here and have spent basically my entire life somewhere along the Front Range, so I've been ingrained in the community for a while (still could be even more so), but it would be difficult to give up the community that I know so well here. Denver has changed a lot. Seeing what's happened with RiNo and other places, it's been scary and depressing. I do really miss the golden days of Rhinoceropolis – that was my go-to scene for so long. The DIY community is still here, maybe in a different sense than before, but I think it can still thrive in Denver even with all the changes. I guess if anything, I may just need to go move somewhere else for a bit just for the sake of doing something else. Change and transition is good for growth, but I think in the end I'll always consider Denver my spot.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
That's difficult, but I'm wanting to lean toward Jake Jabs. That guy is a true showman if I've ever seen one, and he has such a prolific career. Boy howdy — if I only had his elegance and suavity, I could go places...
I need to buckle down and start really focusing on putting together a script for a feature-length narrative film. I really want to focus on that. I also haven't been doing as much projector performance stuff recently, so I'd like to get back into doing collaborations with more bands again. I've felt a bit separated from it for a while and need to just get myself back out there.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
That's a hard one, because so many artists are already noticed or realized by the community – just depends what community. But one filmmaker who has been in Denver for forever and is already noticed to a certain extent in various communities is Eileen Roscina. She's been a huge contributor/collaborator with Process Reversal. We had her screen a collection of her films for an Untitled Final Friday event at the Denver Art Museum back in April, and it was the first time I had seen a bunch of her films in succession, and I was pretty blown away by them. I know she's going to have some great new stuff coming out in the near future and hope to see more regular screenings of her work.
Follow Curt Heiner on Instagram and learn more about Process Reversal online.