Film for All

Marsha Trainer on MNKINO, a monthly meet-up for all walks of life to screen their videos -- whether animated, made on a cell phone, or just a collection of stills "It's not just for film school graduates, MFA candidates, or videographers. It's for you."

1Photo courtesy of MNKINO (and Facebook)

SLOWLY, BUT SURELY, ABOUT 15 PEOPLE FILED INTO THE MTN SPACE on the last Friday in August. They filled the folding chairs in the studio, set up around a laptop and small projector, having come to share their video mini-masterpieces based on MNKINO #24’s theme, “Urban Legends.” Before rolling out the entertainment, the night began with a quiet, but heartfelt rendition of “Happy Birthday,” led by co-founder Lindsey Borgerson — the group was turning two years old.

And that forthright and pleasantly earnest, stripped-down gesture perfectly reflects the character of the group and its offer of video accessibility. For 24 months now, MNKINO has successfully upheld a simple promise to participants: create a video five minutes or less in length based on the chosen monthly theme, a.k.a. the “Mystery Meat,” and MNKINO will provide both a screening venue and a supportive audience. All are welcome, as exhibitors or viewers (or both). It’s free. There is no competition or judging. You just watch the videos.

That’s about it, as far as rules go.

Except for one more thing — it is supposed to be fun. That directive came straight from the original KINO organization when Borgerson and cofounder Andy Dayton contacted them back in 2009 about forming a Minnesota cell. The Montreal-based movement told them to go for it, and then added them to their directory of KINO’s online. “Pretty easy to do, really. It’s more of an idea than an institution, I guess,” muses Dayton as he explains about signing up.

Founded in Montreal by Christian Lawrence, the original KINO started as a challenge among about 20 individuals — to make one film per month from January 1999 until the year 2000.  To date, that basic idea has inspired some 50 or so offshoots around the world that follow their particular concept of microcinema.1

MNKINO, like its progenitor, is an open venue for folks from all walks of life to show video that they’ve crafted — whether it’s animated, made on a cell phone, or just a collection of stills. The showcase offers a casual atmosphere that encourages discourse with no critique. Their motto says, “It’s not just for film school graduates, MFA candidates, or videographers. It’s for you.

Before establishing Minnesota’s iteration of the group, both Dayton and Borgerson had attended Wis-Kino meet-ups in Madison while attending school and making video. A few years later, when both had moved to the Twin Cities, they met several times to talk about ideas and art, and how to cultivate some kind of community project around the two – they initially envisioned a fine-arts kind of show. But after some discussion, it hit them that pursuing a Twin Cities branch of KINO might be a better plan: the West Bank Social Center had a projector and, as Dayton recalls, they “were looking for something to do with it. I met up with Lindsey at the 331 Club and we hatched a plan to start a KINO cell in Minneapolis.”

In July of 2009 with “Orange” as the first Mystery Meat theme, the two began running MNKINO together; the group consists mainly of a website, a Facebook page; most of the organizational work involves maintaining the online presence and coming up with the all-important Mystery Meat theme, its companion video, and then running the events at 8 p.m. on the last Friday of every month. Dayton and Borgerson have reached out to local press outlets to encourage individuals to submit their videos — via jump drive, DVD, or an emailed link.

In the first year, more than 80 films were made for and shown at MNKINO. Then, Borgerson and Dayton held a July 2010 Kabaret with a secret Mystery Meat and invited everyone to work together over two days to create videos together — much like the 48 Hour Film Project, but without any judging or competition. Just after the Kabaret, Dayton left for New York in August 2010 to pursue a career the Big Apple, but Borgerson soldiered on, finding donated spaces for the monthly screenings — at Tarnish and Gold, Rosalux and most recently the Minneapolis Television Network.

The actual events are usually quite casual and friendly under Borgerson’s watchful eye. After everyone shuffles in and chats for a bit, the Mystery Meat video plays. Then each submission gets its moment, with a sentence or two of introduction by its creator(s). August’s clips included two very different animated pieces (one based on the Shel Silverstein poem, “Jimmy Jet & His TV Set”  and the other a riff on “This is Your Life“), a plant-based thriller, and a very quick wrap-up of the past two years of MNKINO. All of them clocked in at under five minutes, as required.

Regular Jack Kentala is completing his second independent feature, called Archetype; for his day job, he works as a photo re-toucher. Though he couldn’t attend MNKINO #24, he was responsible for the history of MNKINO-in-a-moment video. When I interviewed him about the monthly gathering and his most recent submission, Kentala was decidedly more interested in describing the group’s open environment than his own work. Like Borgerson and Dayton, he was hesitant to call anyone’s videos the best, including his own. “We really emphasize that it’s not just for filmmakers. I have a degree in filmmaking but that doesn’t automatically make me better than anyone else, as being rejected from a bunch of film festivals has taught me,” he jokingly lamented.

Create a video five minutes or less in length based on the chosen monthly theme, a.k.a. the “Mystery Meat,” and MNKINO will provide both a screening venue and a supportive audience. All are welcome, as exhibitors or viewers (or both). It’s free. There is no competition or judging. You just watch the videos. That’s all there is to it.

Minneapolis Television Network employee John Akre has brought several animated bits to MNKINO, like “MNKINO Fanatic” and the aforementioned “This is Your Legend Go Go City,” which is a departure from his work with youth at the station. He’s been coming to these monthly meet-ups since November 2009 and observes that the limitations — time restriction and theme adherence — challenge him, but are ultimately very freeing. “Plus, it’s an exhibition opportunity right away: you’ve done something, and you get to show it and get to have audience feedback, which tends to be very welcoming and helpful,” he enthuses. His girlfriend Beth Peloff initially composed music for his MNKINO entries, but is now submitting her own animated works to the screenings, with encouragement from both him and the group as a whole.

The nights generally run about an hour, with the next month’s Mystery Meat video short closing the show. The attendance waxes and wanes with the occasional press mention (City Pages and others), and has included people from Americorps and the science museum. Their record high for one-night’s showing is 12 videos; an audience of 15 at any given MNKINO screening is usual these days, according to Borgerson.

Since starting the group two years ago, her life has gotten quite busy: she works, attends grad school, and is getting married early next year. And while Borgerson plans to step back a bit, MNKINO will march on, as other members agreed at the July meeting to share the organizational chores of the chapter. She says she’s happy to know that the group will still be there even if she’s not in charge, likening MNKINO to an AA meeting saying, “It has to be there, even if no one comes, because if someone shows up, and we’re not there — and they thought we were going to be there — then we’ve lost them.”

From the beginning, Borgerson says that she and Dayton have made it a priority to invite non-professional work and to create a warm environment accessible to anyone who wants to share their videos. “People can feel so good about something they made and not have anywhere to show it. But if you put [your work] in a screening setting and have people give you applause, all the sudden you feel like queen for a day,” she reflects.

Hopefully, MNKINO will continue to be simple, open, and free to all who’d like to take part. Next month’s screening will be followed by a meeting to decide the Twin Cities KINO cell’s future and how to best divide up the tasks that keep the program afloat each month. “It’s accessible expression,” observes Borgerson, trying to describe the essence of MNKINO. “It’s everything and it’s for everyone.” They welcome that same “everyone” to join them now as they move into their third year and decide what MNKINO will become.

Related links and information: This month’s MNKINO Mystery Meat is “Taking a Break,” although videos of any theme are welcome, as are all opinions about the direction of the group from here on out. Stay tuned to the MNKINO Facebook Page for updates and information about the upcoming screening and reorganization meeting which will of course, fall on the last Friday of the month and start at 8 p.m. The next MNKINO gathering is September 30 at Minneapolis Television Network.