Friday, September 29, 2023

Basement Films Booted From UNM

Local Arts Org Loses Its Space


"We were told about two months ago that we would have to move out of our current location in the Aperture building at Mesa del Sol because the HVAC system in that building needed to be replaced. We were told that UNM would hire movers to store our archive till May when we would be able to return to the building," explains Bryan Konefsky, president of local arts organization Basement Films, regarding their current landlord, the University of New Mexico. "Then, only a few weeks ago, we were told that we were being evicted and not welcome back."

The nonprofit organization's archive of more than 8,000 16mm film prints has been housed by UNM at Mesa Del Sol since 2016 when the group lost its previous home—of 20 years—at Harwood Art Center. Mesa Del Sol's Aperture Center is occupied by UNM's Film & Digital Arts Program, whose students have taken full advantage of the archive. It's also across the street from Netflix Studios, which has also availed itself of the historic collection.  Now, Basement Films is facing the daunting prospect of finding a new location and moving its entire collection by October 1. 

Basement Films came into being when Guild Cinema owner Keif Henley negotiated the acquisition of the APS 16mm educational film collection in 1995, when local schools were on the verge of throwing out about 5,000 titles. Since then the organization has acquired the South Broadway Cultural Center collection of 16mm films, as well as "a collection of religious films, documentary films, narrative films declassified military test films and thousands of 8mm home movies." According to Konefsky, "This eclectic collection is used by scholars, researchers, students and artists. We have equipment that can digitize films so that someone might be able to use this historic material more easily."

The archive is one of the few remaining film archives of its kind and the largest in the Southwest. Over the years Basement films has employed the archive for public film screenings, workshops, youth internships and an annual film residency funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

"We have occupied that space in the Aperture building for seven years, during which time we have made our archive available to UNM students. We have hosted filmmaking workshops for UNM students. We have brought visiting film artists to campus. And essentially we have functioned as artists in residence—much like how Tricklock were artists in residence in the Theater Department. Additionally, UNM students have interned with our Experiments in Cinema festival," points out Konefsky. "All of that goes away with this decision."

Despite the sudden eviction, Konefsky says that the chair of UNM's Film & Digital Arts Dept., Dr. James Stone, has "curiously, and naively" stated that he anticipates "maintaining a good relationship" with Basement Films moving forward. "The faculty in the film department (as well as faculty across campus) are profoundly disappointed in this short-sighted decision, but the decision has been made," says a frustrated Konefsky. "If the UNM Film Department is about a comprehensive exploration into all things cinematic (which they claim), then the kind of ephemeral cinematic histories that our archive contains is a valuable resource that speaks to that sense of comprehensiveness."

With the eviction looming, Basement film volunteers are in the process of downsizing the archive, removing duplicate titles and such. More importantly, the nonprofit is searching high and low for a donated space that is at least 1,000 square feet somewhere in the Albuquerque area. That space will both store the archive and function as a working/studio space.

Asked about the importance of "outdated" analog media, Konefsy notes that  16mm film is celebrating its 100th anniversary. "The format is remarkably resilient (archival) and has been a popular format both for educational films, home movies (1920s-1940s) and documentary filmmaking. This old media (sometimes referred to as dead tech) is valuable on a variety of levels." Some of the material Basement Films stores and cares for, by way of example, are New Mexico specific. "We recently screened (to a full house) a film from the archive that documented the life and political activism of Reies Tijerina in northern New Mexico in the 1960s. We have films about Indigenous peoples, we own a unique 16mm print of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and much more.

"In some ways the collection is more valuable as historic artifacts as they give us a peek into how 'we' thought about the human experience at certain moments in time. As historic artifacts, these films allow us to connect with and learn from the past."

If you know of a way to help,  visit or call (505) 916-1635 for more information.


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