Sometimes you don't know what you got till it's gone on the road. Last spring, Jim Mueller and Scott Carney were traveling cross-country showing films and videos from Pittsburgh artists in a string of cities when it hit them: Taken together, Pittsburgh's stuff is at least as good as, and usually better than, compilations of work from other towns. And if you could successfully screen them in Louisville, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and in Portland -- even in a place called the Brew and View, in college-town Columbia, Mo. -- why couldn't you create a Pittsburgh compilation that would sell anywhere?
"We made a list of people who did movies and of movies we enjoyed," says Mueller, himself a filmmaker, and also a founder and curator of the monthly screening series Jefferson Presents ...
Thus Carney and Mueller created Quality Films Vol. 1, a 72-minute VHS tape gathering nine experimental works, all but one by local artists. The oldest piece is Brian Dean Richmond's hauntingly beautiful Marsh (1995), which makes an abstract cinematic tapestry out of materials including hand-printed reeds and overhead projections from his father's science lectures. The newest include Carney's own trippy travelogue, California (2003), and The Unexpected End of Formula ('03), Olivia Ciummo's humorous riff on women's place in scientific history.
Other selections include: T. Foley's Licence ('00), a witty narrative about the filmmaker's relationship with a blow-up female sex doll (and a video that earned Foley a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship); Gordon Nelson's gorgeous Applekick Films ('96); and Jeff Morelli's hilarious mini-epic Woodbunny: Little Treasures of Love ('02), a forest-set romance in which human actors take on creaturely traits. There's also work by Mueller, Eric Fleischauer and (for a non-parochial touch) Austin, Texas, resident Donald Thalhuber.
"There really is a great variety to it," says Mueller. Uniting the works, he says, is their status as "personal filmmaking" -- products of the most independent of independent artists, pursuing personal visions with their own money (and usually not very much of it). It's also partly a portrait of a community in which artists crew on, and act in, each other's movies.
Completing the circle, Mueller and Carney will take Quality Films Vol. 1 out on the road, for starters in Louisville later in April (at a "vaguely Derby-related event," says Mueller) and Nashville the week after. Then it's Cleveland in the summer, and "Scott and I have some fairly nebulous plans to do an East Coast tour this autumn."
Mueller adds that they're taking that "Vol. 1" seriously: "We're already excited about the lineup we want to have on the second one."