Smile Politely

Going it alone

The dècor of Secret Micro-Film Headquarters — otherwise known as Jason Pankoke’s tidy Champaign apartment — offers a clear window into Pankoke’s heart. From the shelves and shelves of DVDs and VHS tapes lining the living room (“half of them are screeners”) to the vibrantly colorful concert and movie posters occupying the rest of the available wall space, it’s apparent that Pankoke has a deep appreciation for the visual arts.

And that makes sense, because Pankoke has spent most of his free time over the last ten years tirelessly promoting both national and local filmmakers through his Micro-Film and C-U Confidential magazines, and his local online arm, C-U Blogfidential. Micro-Film will be bowing out later this year after its eighth and final issue is released, but his local projects, both print and online, are going strong.

After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, Pankoke moved to Champaign-Urbana in 1993. He’s worked professionally in the publishing and printing industries in the graphic design field, including a stint with the Octopus.

Pankoke was first inspired to begin Micro-Film magazine by his involvement with the Freaky Film Festival in the ’90s. “It was an event created by Grace Giorgio, who now works in the Department of Communication at the U of I, and Decatur native Eric Fisher,” Pankoke recalled. “They created this event to bring truly avant-garde, experimental, underground film to our college town in the middle of the cornfields. I helped in various ways with the festival.

“During Freaky’s four-year life span, I also got a bug up my chimney that I wanted to do more with film culture than just during that late summer/early fall period when Freaky took place, and that spiraled into me starting Micro-Film.” Micro-Film began with a very broad vision: to examine any and all people making film, especially those outside the traditional commercial arena.

With a revolving cast of collaborators, Pankoke was able to crank out two issues of Micro-Film per year initially, but the momentum eventually tapered off. Pankoke released MF 7 in 2005, the last issue before 2009’s planned last hurrah. “It has run its course,” he lamented.

But as Micro-Film‘s national, and often international, focus became too much to handle, Pankoke found revived inspiration by honing in on the downstate Illinois film community, hoping to do for the film scene what numerous writers have done for the music community over the years. “People in this town have been very good at preserving certain areas of artistic creation and performance,” he noted. “For instance, C-U’s music scene is always prevalent in the local media and has been very well documented regardless of that scene’s ebbs and flows. However, many other subsets of locally made arts and entertainment have yet to be given their historical due.

So, Pankoke launched C-U Confidential, an annual print digest, in April 2007, and C-U Blogfidential, its online companion, in Feb. 2006, dedicated to “The Movies of Champaign, Urbana, and the Cities Beyond.”

“It’s trying to give this group a sense of identity and a sense of character. That’s partially why, with the covers how I try to make them look like old pulp novels — it’s a mystery [who’s forming the film scene],” Pankoke explained. “It’s more chronicling than reporting in the classic journalistic sense, like a private eye unearthing the stories and making his case files open to the public.

Pankoke takes a very hands-on approach to his work, and it has a practical benefit. He said, “Being in an area where this type of activity is very sporadic, it’s actually a lot easier to [go to where the work is happening] and maybe help on set. I’ve earned a good rapport with filmmakers in the area.”

Despite his self-professed “jones for the printed form,” Pankoke has adapted well to online publishing. “The C-U Blogfidential has been nice,” he said. “I’m computer-programming illiterate, but with the blog, I could cram what would traditionally be a fully-formed website into a blog format.”

His site serves several purposes for local filmmakers and film buffs alike, from where to find filmmaking equipment, to links to downstate venues, to calls for casting needs, among many other things. “Blogfidential is a little bit of opinion, a little bit of current news, reviews, and film festival reports, and a little bit of ephemera, keeping it together in one place for people to find,” he said.

Pankoke has plans to make C-U Blogfidential even more useful, however. “[I’d like to create] what I would call the filmography of a small town,” he said. “Collecting together titles, main credits, story lines — just the basic information of a lot of these works and put those up on my blog, and create kind of a mini-Wiki.”

As part of the Boneyard Arts Festival (April 16–19), Pankoke hopes to reveal issue #3 of C-U Confidential as well as shed some light on local filmmakers’ output. “I’m going to program what will be Boneyard’s first local film show,” he said. “It will probably have 12–15 pieces total, a combination of music videos, trailers, short films and featurettes.” The venue will be Caffe Paradiso in Urbana on April 17, starting at 6 p.m., and complete details will be forthcoming as the festival approaches.

According to Pankoke, some films already selected to play Boneyard include Prelude, a High-Definition drama with supernatural overtones directed by Luke Boyce of Urbana’s Essence Films; Celeste Above, a relationship story about a reserved elderly gentleman and his landlady directed by New York filmmaker Johnny Robinson and filmed in C-U; The Transient, a horror-comedy featuring “vampire Abraham Lincoln” and directed by U of I alum Chris Lukeman; and Press Start: Bio Haphazard, a short-film sequel to the videogame action-comedy directed by Ed Glaser of Champaign’s Dark Maze Studios. Both Celeste Above and Bio Haphazard will be local premieres at the Paradiso show.

On a closing note, Pankoke extended a challenge to C-U’s artisans and the community as a whole. “This is a town that has a crapload of untapped resources,” he observed. “Creating art is one thing, supporting art is another, yet the act of sustaining this creation and support across the board is where I feel Champaign-Urbana sometimes falls into a trap. It’s a trick to keep such things going, but we all have to make the effort to breathe life into our arts every single day, cinematic or otherwise.”


There are many tremendous bloggers in Champaign-Urbana, and this column will recognize them one blog at a time. Every other Tuesday, we’ll shine a light on a different outstanding local blog, explaining how they got started and revealing what keeps them going and where they’re headed. If you know a local blog that you’d like to see profiled in this space, send me a tip at joelgillespie [at] smilepolitely [dot] com.


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