Patrick Kwiatkowski and CineSpace
By Andrea White
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Idea person: Patrick Kwiatkowski, CineSpace Star Ship Commander.
Idea: Screen short films about space.
How it started: More than 20 years ago, Kwiatkowski was a radio deejay in Paris. “I have always been more comfortable presenting the party than participating in it,” he says.
There, he met his future business partner, Joel Bachar, who was dabbling in the curation of short films. The two started a company called Microcinema
, and developed Independent Exposure
, a competition for short films.
This was back in the day of VHS tapes, long before YouTube. “VHS tapes + email + FedEx granted us the capability to communicate with filmmakers all over the world,” Kwiatkowski writes via email, “and we began to get films from places outside the U.S. — not only from Europe but from Asia and South America.” One film, from the McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, came wrapped in a parka.
With those entries, Microcinema created monthly shows that it distributed via VHS and mailed to “microcinemas” and other venues all over the world. Kwiatkowski developed the goal of screening shorts in the craziest places he could. “We screened at a Mount Everest base-camp bar,” he says, “and even sent a show back to McMurdo.” He dreamed of screening a movie in space.
Microcinema went on to become an established distributor of independent shorts and features with a focus on art and culture. But Netflix, digital piracy and the great recession fundamentally changed the nature of the business, and the company shut its doors in late 2014.
How it grew: Two years ago, NASA approached Trish Rigdon, the executive director of the Houston Cinema Arts Society, which presents innovative films, with an unexpected but welcome proposal: Would the society be interested a partnership to promote NASA’s film archive?
Kwiatkowski, a member of the society’s board, attended a few of the brainstorming sessions. The he presented a business plan that was roughly modeled on what he’d done with Microcinema for almost 20 years. Daniel Jacobs, the former manager for International Partners, for International Space Station, was “Patrick on the NASA side,” says Rigdon.
The plan was accepted, and CineSpace was born.
CineSpace challenged filmmakers around the world to use actual NASA imagery and compete at a new short film competition. It premiered at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival in mid-November.
The first CineSpace competition drew 194 entries. Fulfilling Kwiatkowski’s long-standing dream, 16 of the entries were screened at the International Space Station before being presented in November at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston on the first ever CineSpace Day.
Astronaut Scott Kelly, high above the world in the International Space Station, offered a recorded welcome to the audience packing the Brown Auditorium. Astronaut Don Pettit presented the first place prize, $10,0000, to Houston artists Mary Magsamen and Stephen Hillerbrand for the short “Higher Ground” — the winner that was selected by NASA and Houston-born director Richard Linklater (Boyhood).
The short tells the story of an otherwise ordinary family, who after watching space footage on television, decide to build their own rocket ship in the backyard out of bits of their house and stuff from their garage. “It was cute and inspiring at the same time,” says Kwiatkowski.
Next steps: In his day job these days, Kwiatkowski consults on using cutting-edge video and motion art as a marketing tool, and he would like to help expand the distribution of the CineSpace shorts and find venues around the world — the more exotic the better — to screen the films.
Keeping CineSpace fresh and relevant will be another focus. “That is always a challenge with thematic festivals,” he says. But he loves figuring out ways to use moving images to present an idea and create an atmosphere. “In some ways I’m still trying to be a deejay,” Kwiatkowski says.
Bottom line: Houston Cinema Arts Society and NASA will continue to explore space through art at next year’s festival.
Bookmark Gray Matters. It comes wrapped in a parka.
image credit: NASA