Mysterious Sci-Fi Cinema

A Film Is Truth fundraiser


What: Mysterious Sci-Fi Cinema

When: 7 pm Sat., May. 13

Where: Spark Museum, 1312 Bay St.

Cost: $20


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Because I was raised by fascists who lived to persecute me (Hi, mom and dad!), I didn’t (read: wasn’t allowed) to watch much television when I was growing up. For years, the only thing I knew of popular programs came from the chatter of my friends—chatter I was sadly excluded from.

For a time, many of those conversations revolved around Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that all of my friends seem to have tuned into at the same time. From them, I learned the show’s premise: that a human test subject trapped aboard the spaceship Satellite of Love was forced by his captors to watch some of the worst movies ever made in the hope of finding the film that would drive him insane. To cope with this punishment and to keep him company, the imprisoned man built himself some sentient robots—most notably Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot—to watch the movies with him, with all three mocking the movie (their silhouettes visible in the lower part of the movie screen) for its duration.

It wasn’t until I had been in college for a few years—and MST3K, as it is called by fans, was in syndication—that I first witnessed the somewhat bizarre, definitely low-budget, undeniably funny phenomenon for myself. Instantly, I understood why my friends had been so taken by the show.

As avowed film nerds, it should come as no surprise that when the folks at Film Is Truth decided to plan a fundraiser, they elected to stage their own version of MST3K. The picked a date (Sat., May 13), a place (the Spark Museum), a film (the truly terrible 1959 “masterpiece” The Killer Shrews), and a pack of known wisecrackers (Neill McLaughlin, Stacy Reynolds, Spencer Willows, and Cassidy Young) to play the role of the riffers. As well, the event will feature a raffle of baskets of local goods, beer and wine for sale and snacks for attendees.

The event itself may be lighthearted to its core, but it’s happening in service to an important cause. The longtime local video store has switched from a traditional business model to a nonprofit one, and the fundraiser will help them keep their collection of 16,000 movies (the second-largest such collection on the West Coast) accessible to everyone via their store inside Bellingham’s Public Market.

It might seem weird for a video store to become a nonprofit organization, but according to Anna Wolff, Film Is Truth board president, there is much method to be found in this madness.

When Film Is Truth owners Karl Freske and Emily Marston formed a transitional board of directors and filed for nonprofit status, “Film Is Truth was still doing fine as a for-profit business,” Wolff says, “but as more and more video stores around the country closed, it became clear that we needed to be proactive in rethinking how the store worked.”

After careful assessment, they concluded that the nonprofit model was the one that best suited the shop, for reasons that go beyond mere sustainability.

“We also realized that by moving to a nonprofit model, we could actually expand the mission of the organization,” Wolff says. “The collection has always been an incredible resource, but our goal is to use that resource to expand into a variety of different community programs for film lovers in Bellingham.”

While Film Is Truth is well-supported by its clientele of devoted film buffs, where they once had to compete with the large chain video stores that have now gone the way of the dinosaur, they now contend with the ubiquity and ease of streaming services and smart TVs.

It’s really easy with the ease of streaming services to overlook the value that a brick-and-mortar independent video store can have for a community,” Wolff says. “I think the word ‘community’ here is really key. We’re not just a cool collection of movies; we’re also a place where you can connect with others over your love of film… It’s often through sharing and discussing our experiences with film that we can make meaning, connect with others and discover connection.”

Besides, Wolff says, nothing quite compares to getting a movie recommendation from a real person as opposed to a computer program. “Most streaming services offer you suggestions based on weird algorithms, the awesome people who work at the store will make suggestions based on not just what you have watched in the past, but the mood you are in, the color of the DVD cover, a feeling you want to experience, a beloved actor whose catalogue you mistakenly think you have exhausted.”

But it’s not just about entertainment, as Whatcom Community College professor Sue Lonac (who, as Freske’s partner, spends a fair amount of her life immersed in all things Film Is Truth) is quick to point out. “I see Film Is Truth not just as a cool collection of stuff that isn’t available elsewhere, but also as a First Amendment protection resource,” she says. “Film is speech, and I’m not comfortable letting multinational corporations decide what I can and cannot see. If they’re all that’s left, what we’ll be able to see is what’s profitable, and not necessarily what’s good, original, independently produced, novel, challenging, or important.”

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