By Lincoln Greenhaw
Even though he had to show the Conan O’Brian documentary at his movie theater earlier in the summer, Ben Mozer doesn’t think Conan O’Brian is funny. In fact, he doesn’t think that being a national celebrity is necessarily a good thing. I heard this from Mozer during a lunchtime interview that turned into a series of insightful rants, punctuated by polite chewing.
“They need hundreds of millions of people feeding their ego to get any kind of energy,” Mozer quipped. “It’s absurd to me that we partake in this. Why do I care about Conan O’Brian? Am I ever gonna meet this guy? I feel like the population’s just gotten too big for these things to be practical.”
Mozer’s response to such irrelevant celebrity is to break the seals that hold culturally significant entertainment safely in New York and L.A. He wants to break those seals by throwing a party every two weeks.
The party in question is the Byllynsgate Ball, a Thursday-night event at Mozer’s independent movie theater, the Lyric Cinema Café, in Old Town Fort Collins. The word “byllynsgate” is a Welsh term for raucously obscene language. It’s a feast of local film, music, live painting and performance art, where green-haired youths mingle with those in khaki pants to the sound of violins – or black metal, depending on the which week it is.
The Ball is advertised all over town on art nouveau-style posters by Dave Myers that feature delicately rendered people vomiting rainbows.
According to Mozer, this is “just the best metaphor: You never know what’s going to come out, but you know it’s going to be colorful and fantastic.”
Because the venue is a movie theater, it makes sense that the centerpiece of the evening is always a film by a local filmmaker. While making movies in the past required a big infrastructure that could only be found in New York or L.A., inexpensive technology has made it possible for grassroots movie making to take place here in Northern Colorado, but the viewing public has been slow to change their habits.
“I think the thing about film is that nobody takes it seriously on a local level,” Mozer said. “If it doesn’t come out of New York or L.A., then it’s not worth seeing, which is not true.”
There are several series of short films that Mozer believes are especially worth watching, and the most well known of these is the crudely drawn but hysterical animated series Parker Street, by Noah Besser. One of the episodes is a spot on imitation of a summer blockbuster movie starring an evil psychic octopus. Another takes the form of a job interview, and is a recounting of every job Besser has ever worked. The Ball has built a steady audience for Parker Street, and everyone involved hopes that the Ball will help launch future projects.
“It’s just a great to way to share work and to see each other’s stuff,” Besser said. “If you have three things, then they each have their three audiences. So for each audience, they’re being exposed to two things that they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.”
Mozer’s strategy of using one artistic medium to promote several others represents an attitude that he thinks has been lacking in the Fort Collins art community.
“If you look at the difference between art scenes like Paris in the 1920s…they were trying to collectively do something and go somewhere. People here view it as a capitalist market that needs to be cornered.”
One project that highlights the spirit of collaboration among artists, called Black Sunday Social, premiered at a recent Byllynsgate. The name refers to an actual Fort Collins band, comprised of Darren Mahuron, Bryan Simpson and Brandon Weaver, as well as a documentary-style film that fictionalizes the band’s exploits on the road. The experience is much like watching a grittier version of the movie Spinal Tap, with the bonus of getting to watch the band play afterward. Actually, a new feature-length version of Black Sunday Social will be key to Mozer’s strategy of making local art relevant.
“Everybody had such a great time that they’re trying to do a full feature,” Mozer said. “If we get a feature film and show people that a local film scene can happen and be economically viable, and if Black Sunday Social is the first feature film, it will be super successful.”
This project could lead to the kind of celebrity that Ben Mozer is comfortable with; the kind that makes a weekend in your very own town worth waiting for, the kind that might make it unnecessary for him to think about Conan O’Brian ever again.
“If we actually have some kind of cult of celebrity on a local level, it’ll be more pertinent,” Mozer said. “We’ll have more say in our own art scene…we’ll be able to make our community more cohesive, instead of us trying to follow up on who f**king Justin Bieber is dating.”
The Lyric Cinema Café is located at 300 East Mountain Avenue. It is open daily from 2:30-10pm, and it also serves a wide array of appetizers, snacks and also wine and beer. The next Byllynsgate Ball will take place on August 25. Check out lyriccinemacafe.com.