THE ARTS: Skizz Cyzyk (Founder, MicroCineFest)
By Heather Joslyn
Skizz Cyzyk is giving a tour of
the Hampden home he shares with his girlfriend. In the basement, he sweeps
his hand proudly toward his film - and music - making gear, much of it acquired
through resourceful scavenging: an eight-track recording setup, a drum kit,
guitars and amps, old projectors, an editing machine he’s storing for a friend,
an animation table he built himself. “I want to live down her,” he
sighs happily. “I keep praying for a blizzard, so I can just stay home and
work.” Then he turns toward a couch and carpet, adding, “And that’s where
filmmakers are gonna sleep.”
He’s referring to some of the more than 100 filmmakers from all over the country who descended on Baltimore a few days later for the second annual MicroCineFest, a five-day event spotlighting underground, mostly low-budget film and video. The event drew more than 1,000 attendees to two Fells Point venues and was the biggest local expression yet of the DIY film scene Cyzyk, 32, nurtured at Waverly’s Mansion Theater, where he organized screenings for five years until moving out this past spring.
It was another Baltimore filmmaker who inspired young Paul Cyzyk. (“Skizz” is a nickname he got in high school; he began using it to spare his schoolteacher parents further embarrassment after City Paper wrote about his punk band.) As a teen in Cockeysville, he stumbled across John Waters’ book Shock Value, and began checking the book out of the library “every other week.” Entering Towson State University in 1984, he discovered the film department; around the same time, he started arranging screenings of his and other people’s films to accompany punk-rock shows at a Lutherville teen club called Toad’s Basement. The first short he booked, Mouse In A Blender, starred the bass player in Cyzyk’s group. The title was self-explanatory. (Cyzyk’s capsule review: “It was pretty gross.”)
In 1993, while living at the house known as The Mansion Theater, Cyzyk wrote a letter to CP, criticizing an article about local filmmakers. After it was published, his phone started ringing, and people began talking about having a showcase. “Somebody smart-assed me and said, ‘You wrote the letter, you’ve got the house, you should do it,’” he recalls.
For the next five years, the Mansion hosted more or less monthly screenings, often bringing in out-of-town filmmakers; a planned confluence of three such visitors one weekend last fall blossomed into the inaugural MicroCineFest. In the meantime, Cyzyk played in a variety of local bands (including Blister Freak Circus, Garage Sale, and Dirty Sanchez) and made movies of his own, including Four Films In Five Minutes and Little Castles, a documentary about Formstone that premiered at the Maryland Historical Society this year.
George Figgs, owner of Fells Point’s Orpheum Cinema, calls Cyzyk “the broker” of the local film scene: “He’s the distributor of underground film in Baltimore.” The Orpheum has featured works by Cyzyk and other underground filmmakers, and hosted screenings for this year’s MicroCineFest. The collaboration continues: Figgs is planning an art/repertory multiplex in Highlandtown, and he says one of the screens will be programmed by Cyzyk.
As hard as it is for Cyzyk to find time to hunker down in his basement and work on his own art (he also clerks at Video Americain), he feels a sense of mission in presenting the films of others. He’s weary of the notion that “nobody ever gets famous without leaving Baltimore, unless you’re John Waters.” And shining a spotlight on local filmmakers, he says, will create more of them.
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