The Neverending Film Festival

Posted on January 7, 2012 – 11:53 PM | by Admin
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By Niki Kangas  Photo by Scott Duncan

Every Sunday night, at the historic Guild Theater in Oak Park, Movies on a Big Screen hosts a documentary, independent, or cult classic film screening to the delight of its diverse audience.When they first got started (on September 8th, 2006) MidMo raised an eyebrow, and published a cover story on the upstart operation. Roughly five years later, for our first ever Movie Issue, we thought it would be appropriate to revisit MOBS to do some catching up.

Since Robert McKeown and his wife, DeeAnn, launched what Robert describes as, “…an ongoing film festival that never ends,” they, along with a small fleet of volunteers, have screened 300 movies (including 249 unique titles) on 312 dates. They’ve also hosted filmmaker Q&As, and teamed up with a diverse group of local organizations, including the Crocker, the Sacramento Historical Society, Environment California, and the Sacred City Derby Girls. Once, they even had Robert Armstrong from R. Crumb’s Cheap Suit Serenaders perform at a showing of a ukelele documentary.

At five bucks a pop and with an unpredictable crowd size, this labor of love is by no means making anyone rich. In fact, McKeown holds a number of sidejobs including Ebay sales and – full disclosure – distribution of our sister publication Capitol Weekly, to make ends meet. If they’re not getting rich, they are enriching the cultural life of Sacramento.

“Most of what we show are films that have played in film festivals, and a great number of them play in limited runs in theaters in other metropolitan areas, but are too small to make it to the Crest here,” McKeown says. “Tower tends to run titles from major studios’ ‘independent’ divisions, so they wouldn’t even be a consideration there. Additionally, much of what we show doesn’t have traditional distribution, and limited marketing behind them, so they are often not very well known…”

The notion that Sacramento should have access to these smaller independent films was quite literally the beginning of Movies on a Big Screen. “DeeAnn and I were talking about how a lot of these types of films that would show in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago – and even smaller cities- never have a screening in Sacramento. So we did something about it.”

Five years later, there is no question that Sacramento needed MOBS.  “When [DeeAnn] and I have been in dips, one of the things that keeps us going is peoples’ response to what we’re doing,” McKeown says. “[Our audience] is exactly what we wanted…”

That audience has followed them to a diverse range of venues over the years.  MOBS started on Friday nights at the now-defunct Fools Foundation artspace in Midtown. When Fools failed, they relocated to a decrepit West Sacramento warehouse which they turned into a makeshift theater. MOBS spent two memorable years there before the owners of the building went bankrupt.  After some harried scrambling, MOBS moved to Sunday nights at the Guild in mid-May 2009.  They’ve been there ever since.

Their most successful event is the annual Found Footage Festival, for which upwards of 200 moviegoers come out of the woodwork. That attendance is impressive, considering they have no advertising budget and gain exposure only by accepting whatever media coverage they’ve managed to get.  That coverage – or the lack of it – sometimes leaves McKeown scratching his head.

“Crappy Christmas [a showing of several notoriously awful holiday films like Santa Claus vs. The Martians] will get a lot of media attention, but when we show something like The Red Machine (a great indie pre-WWII spy film, which has received amazing reviews in SF Chronicle, Variety, Chicago Sun-Times, and Wired), it gets no coverage at all…”

I probed Robert a bit to see if he had plans to take MOBS to new heights or in a new direction if we were to, say, revisit him again in five years. Indeed, though happy with what they’ve done so far, Robert shared that he’d like to start doing more locally made films – possibly as a separate event from the weekly screenings already in place. However, overextended as he and DeeAnn are, they simply haven’t had the time or energy to pour into evolving or adding to the project. “If we’re still around in five years, it’ll probably look a lot like it does now. Every week there’s something different, and we always have a lot of fun.”

Movies on a Big Screen , Sundays at 7:30PM, Guild Theater, 2828 35th Street

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