REEL AMBITION (excerpts) by Tracey Middlekauff
Baltimore Magazine, September 1998
    You’ve heard of John Waters.  The name Barry Levinson no doubt rings a bell.  You may even know about Steve Yeager, who won the 1998 Sundance filmmaker’s trophy for his documentary Divine Trash.
     But there are plenty of filmmakers in Baltimore you haven’t heard of.  They’ve chosen about the most expensive –not to mention competitive- art form around.  And in the process, they’ve made Baltimore –yes, Baltimore- into a thriving film community.  Local filmmakers are showing up at festivals all over the place.  They’re even winning awards.  Unfortunately, awards don’t pay the bills.
     Without a studio contract or wealthy patron, trying to survive as a filmmaker is no easy proposition.  It requires resourcefulness, a willingness to be very broke, and most importantly, a real love of one’s craft.  As it happens, there’s a solid core of Baltimoreans who have all of these traits down cold.

     You could make the argument that there wouldn’t even be much of a local film scene if it weren’t for Skizz Cyzyk.  Since 1985, this ponytailed 32-year-old has been instrumental in organizing venues, making music videos, judging film festivals –and yes, sometimes he even makes his own films, as well.  He went to Towson State for eight years, just so he “could have access to all the film equipment,” he says.
     Cyzyk has worked at Video Americain for certain bill-paying purposes (please, no Tarantino jokes) for the past four-and-a-half years.  Last winter, he taught a film class at Johns Hopkins.  He ran the Mansion Theater, a venue for local and national independent film, shorts, and experimental film, in the living room of his rented Victorian house off of York Road and 42nd Street, for five-plus years.  But with ticket prices at a low, low, $2 suggested donation, the Mansion wasn’t exactly raking it in.  Now he’s showing films at the Lodge in Highlandtown, in what has been called Skizz’s post-Mansion operation.
     And of course there’s MicroCineFest, Cyzyk’s first, and very successful, attempt at the art of being a festival director.  At last year’s first-annual festival, audiences were treated to the Balitmore premiere of Jon Moritsugu’s bizarre Terminal U.S.A.  Planning for the second MicroCineFest is already under way.
     Cyzyk’s filmmaking talents certainly don’t suffer from his involvement in so many projects.  His 4 Films In 5 Minutes is a trilogy of primary-color-splashed, frenetically animated shorts.  Two of the segments, “Cheese Tweezer,” and “My Little Pickle Love Song,” feature the neurotic/melodic up-tempos of his band, Blister Freak Circus.  The film has won several awards at festivals, most recently the Grand Prize at the Golden Shower Video Festival in San Antonio.
     “I would love for filmmaking to pay the bills,” the soft-spoken Cyzyk says.  “Then I could spend all day making films.”  Unfortunately, he’s had some minor setbacks of late, especially regarding the recent Formstone documentary, Little Castles, which ended in a dispute with his producer.
     Undaunted, Cyzyk is starting work on Whopping Intersection, “a film I’m making to have fun again,” he says, funded by an Individual Artist’s Award for Filmmaking from the Maryland State Arts Council.
     The very reason that Cyzyk is so admired as a filmmaker is the same reason he’s probably never going to get rich.  If he does manage to make a living at this, he’s going to do it “without selling out.”  Which he defines as?  “Making bad music videos for bands I don’t like.”