request | Filmmaker Magazine

By Emilia Scofield

AN OFFICIAL ENTRY in this year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal is Portland, Oregon-based filmmaker Matt McCormick’s satirical look at that city’s unconscious attempt to create art, even while covering it up. Comparing the sparse patches of color — or “buffs” — created with rollers and brushes by city clean-up crews to the paintings of Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko, the short is a tongue-in-cheek look at what the filmmaker claims is one of “the most important art movements of the 21st Century.”

McCormick’s film details the layered and complex, collaborative and unconscious process of creating “grafitti removal.” To illustrate, McCormick’s film presents a series of “buffs” in the manner of an art-history slide presentation. He explains the methodology of city workers, who are oblivious to their own artistic skills, as various examples of “graffiti removal” fade on and off of the screen. By juxtaposing images of industrial cityscapes with “graffiti removal,” McCormick emphasizes our unconscious need to create beauty around us — even if it means suppressing the communication and expression of others.

“I make films simply because it’s so much fun,” says McCormick. “I’m always constructing a movie in my head as I plow through the days. I have never had much money to support my film habit, so I’ve had to figure out how to work with what I’ve got.” McCormick’s other shorts include the 16mm The Vyrotonin Decision (1999), a collage of ’70s TV commercials, which won the Best Experimental Film award at the New York Underground Film Festival, and Sincerely, Joe P. Bear(1999), a patchwork of news clips from the ’60s that document the fragility of the sensitive polar bear. Of his work, McCormick says, “You might call it DIY filmmaking, but the fact is it would all be pretty much pointless and impossible if it wasn’t for the amazing underground film community of artists and filmmakers who act as each others’ crews, audiences, inspiration and critics.”

McCormick’s DIY aesthetic appears in both his films and his curatorial activities. “At a certain point I just realized that even though I considered myself a filmmaker, I had nothing in common with what I was seeing at movie theaters,” he says. “I wanted to show my films, and I wasn’t getting accepted into festivals.” In 1996 McCormick founded Peripheral Produce, a monthly underground film screening at a local punk club. “I think that put up a red flag to find other artists in Portland who were in the same position, and it laid the groundwork for us to start working together,” he comments. From these screenings, Peripheral Produce, the distribution company, was born. In conjunction with Kay records, an Oregon-based independent record label, Peripheral Produce now distributes video compilations and anthologies of new and experimental film. And, after six years, enthusiastic crowds of 400 or more now gather at Peripheral Produce events to screen local and international filmmakers, making Portland a growing hub for experimental filmmakers. Visit:


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