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"ONCE Kittyhawk" (from 1972) is one of the films highlighted in the "Cinema Ann Arbor" book.
Frank Uhle
"ONCE Kittyhawk" (from 1972) is one of the films highlighted in the "Cinema Ann Arbor" book.

Digital Gym Cinema has trio of treats for cinephiles

Digital Gym Cinema (DGC) is an oasis for cinephiles in San Diego. You can catch a big Hollywood release in a cinema any time but DGC offers unique programming that might only be a single screening.

Let me confess my bias up front: I program films as a volunteer (this is done solely out of passion and not for any money) at DGC through Film Geeks SD.

DGC has filled the huge void left by the closing of The Ken Cinema. And it is the only place that lets the lunatics of Film Geeks program anything they want throughout the year. It’s amazing and eventually I hope more San Diegans will wake up to the fact that they are lucky to have such a venue. It’s only 58 seats (.00004% of San Diego's population) so there is NO reason for it not to be filled all the time.


Here are three reason to check out DGC:


"Cinema Ann Arbor" explores the film societies and experimental film work of the 1960s and 1970s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Frank Uhle
An undated film still from "Cinema Ann Arbor." The movie explores the film societies and experimental film work of the 1960s and 1970s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Cinema Ann Arbor

First an event featuring Frank Uhle. I grew up in the '60s and really came of age with movies in the '70s — this was just as a bunch of upstart young filmmakers were challenging the status quo. So, I was immediately attracted to Frank Uhle’s book “Cinema Ann Arbor: How Campus Rebels Forged a Singular Film Culture.” It is both a historical document and a loving tribute to the vibrant film community created in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan in the '60s and '70s.


People are spoiled today with streaming subscriptions, YouTube, home media — but back in the '60s and '70s there was none of that. You saw a film in a theater or waited for it to maybe go on TV, where it was interrupted by commercials and formatted incorrectly.

So gathering people to view films was a part of cultural life in Ann Arbor. The public university and its community put movie-watching and movie-making at the center of its artistic and intellectual activities.

“When the film societies were in their heyday, we were gatekeepers because the content was analog and you couldn't stream it,” Uhle pointed out. “You couldn't go to a video store. At that time, in the '70s, someone had to rent a film, get it shipped, hire a projectionist, hire an auditorium and show it.”

Uhle interviewed some key people from that era and did some extensive archival research to create this portrait of how the history of motion pictures and the history of Ann Arbor — and the University of Michigan — are intertwined.

One of the things he discovered is how far back that history goes.

“That was really kind of touching to me because I was a member of a film society called Cinema Two … we thought we were pretty cool,” Uhle recalled. But then he dug into the The Michigan Daily archives and found, “We seem to have possibly had the first campus film society in the country. Unfortunately, you can't quite verify that. But there was a woman ... in 1929 named Amy Loomis (who started) showing films at this time — they had a Men's Student Union and a Women's Student Union, if you can imagine that. And the Women's Student Union opened in 1929, and she started showing these art films.”

Uhle began his research in 2017 as University of Michigan was celebrating its bicentennial. But at that point it was about the history of a “unit that provides technical support on campus.” Then Uhle started to uncover information about film societies that made him realize they were about more than just showing a movie.

“I found all this information about controversies,” Uhle said. “People were being arrested for showing experimental films that had nudity in them, and there were protests against films that had racist content. It was quite a story that actually had a lot of connections to what's happening in the world today. And I ended up finding so many amazing graphics and photographs and unpublished things like Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground playing their first date outside the New York City area here in Ann Arbor in March of 1966.”

At University of Michigan, there were multiple film societies each serving different communities and interests. Some were political, some showed films to fund future moving-making and some just wanted to show the most cutting edge or extreme work they could find. In fact, George Romero came in the '70s to show a rough cut of “Dawn of the Dead.”

Ulhle will be at DGC on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. to sign his book and to host a program of short experimental films that he hopes will give people a sense of the era he is trying to convey in his book.

Robert Ashley appears in a documentary about the ONCE Group, which he founded. It was a collective of Ann Arbor-based avant-garde composers that expanded to do both music events and experimental theater. The film is about one of their theater pieces, "ONCE Kittyhawk" which was completed in 1972.
Frank Uhle
Robert Ashley appears in a documentary about the ONCE Group, which he founded. It was a collective of Ann Arbor-based avant-garde composers that expanded to do both music events and experimental theater. The film is about one of their theater pieces, “ONCE Kittyhawk,” which was completed in 1972.

“Here in Ann Arbor, we had one of the first and still top experimental film festivals in the world, started in 1963,” Uhle said. “In 1971, we had an 8mm film festival that was also the largest in the country and became internationally known. And those two film festivals generated inspiration, basically, for people to make films here.”

One of the short films he will be premiering at DGC is a documentary about the ONCE Group, an Ann Arbor-based avant-garde theater/music collective founded by composer Robert Ashley. The other shorts Uhle said, “are pretty cool, pretty atmospheric. They captures the '60s, '70s kind of freedom vibe.”

So if you want to experience a bit of that "'60s and '70s experimental vibe," grab a copy of the enticingly illustrated and well-researched “Cinema Ann Arbor,” and then watch Uhle’s showcase of films. Maybe it will inspire you to make a film of your own.

Bruce Lee stars in "The Big Boss" (1971).
Janus Films
Bruce Lee is seen in a film still from "The Big Boss" in 1971.

Hong Kong action film series

Film Geeks’ Back in Action year long film series kicks off three months of Hong Kong action with Bruce Lee in “The Big Boss.” This is Lee in his absolute prime in a Hong Kong film that just lets him dazzle us with both his martial arts prowess and his irresistible on-screen charisma.

As always at a Film Geeks event there will be a brief trivia contest with prizes and themed treats (this time kung fu action cookies). The series continues with Jackie Chan in “Police Story” on Aug. 27 and “Infernal Affairs,” the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” on Sept. 17. Then the series will highlight three '80s action films to close out the year: “Robocop,” “Revenge of the Ninja” (its 40th anniversary!) and “Cobra.”

'Enys Men' and See It On 16mm celebrate cinema

See It On 16mm

And finally, Michael Aguirre will return with his See It On 16mm program to screen a secret Bruce Willis film. I urge people to come support this because Aguirre has some amazing 16mm prints in his collection. I want him to come back many more times to present '50s sci-fi, Mexican cult cinema and more.

Because the cinema is so small, Aguirre actually sets his projector up inside the theater and does live reel changes (in about 10 seconds). For someone like me, hearing the purr of the projector to remind me I am watching something on physical media is just a delight.

So if you would like to affirm your standing as a cinephile or film geek, then come out for one or all of these fabulous film event this weekend and then catch “Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One” on Monday.

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