Scout Out: Public Cinema Dance Party

1000759_978907299772_1210633886_nLast Saturday night saw what may have been the largest, sweatiest, most off-the-hook dance party in Union Square history. You were probably there. But in case you weren’t, here’s the scoop:

The “Public Cinema Dance Party” was hosted by the Non-Fiction Cartel, a local documentary filmmakers’ collective, in Uniun (3 Sanborn Court), the cavernous warehouse and screen-printing workshop next door to the Journeyman in Union Square.

The tickets, $10 early and $15 at the door, bought you unlimited free libations courtesy of Backlash, Narragansett and several other local and national drink purveyors. As the crowd drank and danced, Cartel filmmakers live-edited footage, shot mostly on smartphones, that they’d sourced from the public in the weeks leading up to the party, with the hallucinatory montage projected on the wall beside the dance floor as they created it. Over 200 people turned out and most everyone had a rip-roaring good time.

According to Cartel chair Beth Balaban, the party’s genesis was an idea for a gallery exhibition that would feature the same sort of live editing of crowd-sourced footage that took place at Saturday’s party. “The editing process is a mystery to most people,” says Balaban, “but in documentary filmmaking it’s where the story is told.” By taking a process that usually happens in the privacy of the cutting-room and making it public, Balaban and her Cartel colleagues sought to help make the medium of documentary film more open and accessible to non-filmmakers, more participatory and ultimately more democratic.

Balaban also liked the one-time nature of a live-editing event. “It would be a community of people participating in making a piece of art that would only happen that one night,” she says, “You [would] have to be there for it.”

Artistic goals aside, the Cartel also had a more practical agenda: broadly put, “to keep the arts alive in Boston and in Somerville.” They were concerned that a relative dearth of jobs and resources was driving young talent to other cities, and they wanted to find a way to “keep young filmmakers around.” To that end, they wanted their live-editing event to draw a large crowd of young creatives, to raise wide awareness of their project and lay the foundations for a broad and passionate community of local artists.

So they decided to do what any smart person would do: throw a massive dance party with free beer, ideally in “a space whose spirit fit the spirit of the Cartel.” 

Uniun, which they heard about from the people at Fringe Union (9 Olive Square), was just then undergoing refurbishment into a community events venue under the leadership of Maya Nitzberg, a Somerville native who ultimately plans to use the space as a headquarters for an organization, also called Uniun, that will pair Somerville high school students with mentors from the local crafting community. The Cartel jumped at the chance to partner with another fledgeling organization with similar goals, and booked their party at Uniun.

The party, which was Uniun’s inaugural event, was a smashing success. The space reached its capacity of 200 people within 45 minutes of opening its doors and that response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Balaban adds that many were thrilled to see their videos projected on the big screen and many more eagerly asked about the Cartel’s next event. Balaban doesn’t know yet when it will be, but it’s clear enough that Saturday’s party saw two young organizations put themselves irrevocably on the map. Expect more big things from them in the coming months. -Nick Cox