Vancouver Sun, Queue Magazine July 17, 2003


by Katherine Monk

Truth is, while I wrote 145 pieces (I checked the archives) about their programming during the last five years, I attended only a handful of Blinding Light screenings.

It was a pragmatic thing: advance deadlines necessitated video cassettes. But as the cinema faces its "fin" this weekend, I'm awash in Blinding Light memories - both reel and imagined.

From that magical screening of Hybrid, a moody movie about corn and one man's ambition to create the perfect kernel, to the first time I watched The Target Shoots First - a camcorder memoir of a cocksure music industry newbie selling his soul to Columbia House - I can honestly say I was always surprised by the movies Blinding Light founder Alex MacKenzie chose to program.

So many of them should have been unwatchable - perfect case examples of why the digital revolution and the democratization of the film medium may not be such a good thing, after all. Yet, without fail, every short, spoof, drama and documentary had something to say. Moreover, in a world full of predictable entertainments, the Blinding Light showed films that challenged the convention because it was an institution that celebrated the individual - not the populist vision.

No wonder it's with mixed emotions that MacKenzie will close the door on the venture he started with some grant money and a big idea five years ago. "In a sense, it's sad to shut it down, but it's also a huge relief. It's been a huge commitment to run this place six days a week. But the fact it existed gave me the sense anything was possible. It made me feel like you could see the world from a variety of different points or view," says MacKenzie, who will move on to pursue his own film ambitions.

Those different points of view were constantly reflected in MacKenzie's selection of independent films from around the world. After all, it was the Blinding Light that gave us BYO8 (bring your own movie soirees, which returns for one last round tonight), launched the artistic careers of the Eye of Newt Collective and the Narcoleptic Videographer crew, and gave screen time to a humble film called Low Self-Esteem Girl, local director/musician Blain Thurier's magical meditation on religious youth groups and misguided searches for selfhood that eventually hit the Toronto International Film Festival and caused a stir. And hey, where else could Brad Poulsen have shown his personal collection of Stan Brakhage oeuvres?

When I think back, I remember more about these quirky, often rough and sometimes amateurish reels than I do most Hollywood films - which blend together like so much Rod Stewart music in a Muzak medley. Just being exposed to the work programmed at the Blinding Light on a regular basis kept my movie critic cynicism at bay because it reminded me that for all the formulaic emptiness unspooling at the multiplex, there were people who made movies for the sheer personal pleasure of it - regardless of whether they got government money or a film degree. Film, like any art, is only alive when it's being reinvented - digested, spat out, played with and thrown against the wall regularly. Every single film that ever had the fortune of passing through a Blinding Light projector did just that, and for the pleasure - and ever so rarely, the pain - of that experience, I am forever grateful to the artists, film-makers, cinephiles - and Alex - for making it happen. A fond adieu, and may the celluloid spirit you awakened in that small Gastown space haunt our city for a long time to come.

If you missed the five years of Blinding Light fun, you can catch one last BYO8 tonight, or catch the closing night party Friday - which is a retroactive fund raiser to eliminate the theatre's running debt, so bring admission money ($8). The final hurrah is Sunday, when the theatre purges its guts with a garage sale 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For more information, please call the Blinding Light, 604-878-3366.