The seductive power of film had to duke it out with the equally narcotic effects of music and literature in my formative years. During my high school and college days I collected and absorbed books as if I had a hellhound on my trail and the only thing keeping it at bay was my list of "Modern Library books I must read before I die."
Accompanying my love of literature and the book (because those can be two different mistresses) is a foursquare obsession for music - not playing, sadly, but appreciating an eclectic who's who of jazz, international and whatever one calls modern music. Life is vastly preferable if Miles Davis, Ali Farka Touré and Andrew Bird are scoring it.
Both of those interests led to gigs at music and bookstores while working my way through college, but it wasn't until my passion for film and my love of teaching led me to a film school in Santa Fe, N.M., that I recognized how well film provided me a way to connect all of my interests - and connect me to others. And it wasn't until I received an e-mail, eight years ago, from a friend who told me about the inspired people who had started The Pickford Cinema and who were looking for someone to manage it, that I could see a future in film.
Uprooting a life is never easy, and while I couldn't foresee the challenges ahead, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made to return to Bellingham and help turn The Pickford Cinema into one of the finest art cinemas in the northwest. The fact that my job allows me to foster community at the same time is a big plus. I made mistakes: my first calendar for the Pickford was chock full of everything from Polish stop-motion animation to late-period French masters. It took me a beat or two to see the relationship between a programmer and the community, what worked and what needed to be saved for later. But what wonderful mistakes!
I recall the first major film festival I attended as a virgin programmer: Toronto, 2002, gorging on 53 films in 9 days, making careful notes on each, and pinching myself to stay awake during midnight screenings of work from obscure Marseilles filmmaker Robert Guédiguian. This is where I witnessed a packed room of hardened industry professionals give Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine a standing ovation - both as a successful and artful documentary and because it was clearly going to be a big hit. I practically stumbled out of my chair on my way to a pay phone in order to secure it for The Pickford.
Film is by its nature, and its magical, almost alchemical appearance on a screen, a "window on the world." It can transport the viewer to another time and place, as exotic as the imagination can achieve, or as close as our own backyard. It encourages empathy with our fellow humans and brings us closer to subjects that we never dreamed of. I eat it up.
A few years ago I began teaching film again at Whatcom Community College and found myself falling in love with the study of cinema all over again. Like my familiar hellhound of yore, its companion film hounds are kept at bay with my Sight & Sound lists, my canons of undiscovered westerns and film noir, or the lust in my heart when I see a Criterion Collection disc I've yet to experience. Connecting students with film, and with The Pickford Cinema, is a truly uplifting community building experience.
Recently I started working with Kaveh Askari from WWU and Suzanne Blais on a KVOS program called The Pickford Classic Movie. Each Sunday at 8 p.m. we find a classic film that we love and we get to tell anyone watching why. I've been able to revisit films that I've admired for a long time and get introduced to new ones by my colleagues - the feeling of discovery is no different from finding a gem at a film festival or in the ever present stack of screeners at my desk.
I've got hellhounds on my trail, but I love every minute of it.