Skizz Cyzyk: The shock value of punk rock, homemade film fests, & eccentric moviemaking
Skizz Cyzyk is a Baltimore filmmaker who has lived and made films in the city since 1983 when he was seventeen. He was born and raised in Baltimore and really began to emulate one of Baltimore’s most iconic filmmakers, John Waters, after reading his book Shock Value. From that point on Cyzyk is said to have been ‘bitten by the film bug.’ An iconoclast since youth, Cyzyk played in punk bands in high school, watched movies like that of Water’s constantly, and even began making some of his own movies which he would screen at his band’s shows. He became more serious about film during college when he made Super8 film shorts. However, his break came when he debuted his 16mm Bad Aliens from Another Planet that ultimately drew a cult following in 1988. It’s a quirky sci-fi film about extraterrestrial beings seeking Pez-candy refills on Earth. Campy cult films were not all that Cyzyk wanted on his repertoire and he began to also make a narratives, documentaries, and experimental films in a variety of formats such as 8mm, 16mm, and eventually video. His versatility is admirable and perhaps part of the reason that all of his collaborators are his friends who are enthusiastic to help him with his dream of filmmaking. Apart from the life-changing experience of reading Shock Value, Cyzyk also decided to go into filmmaking because it encompasses everything he loves –narrative, music, and film.
Cyzyk and his friend’s dedication was formally recognized in 1992 when he received awards such as the Grand Prize at the Golden Shower Film Festival in Texas, the Student Academy Award from the Academy Of Motion Pictures, and second place award at the New York Underground Film Festival for his Four Films in Five Minutes. This piece was also screened over one hundred times, including at the 1995 summer tour of Lollapalooza. In 1993, Cyzyk attended Towson University studying Mass Communications. That same year he moved in an old Baltimore funeral home and transformed it in a movie theatre known as the ‘The Mansion Theatre.’ This was a big deal for the city because it became a popular venue for the underground art scene and a stopping place for many touring or travelling filmmakers to screen their work freely. The theatre eventually progressed into an annual underground film fest called “MicroCineFest,” where psychedelic, off-beat, subculture films were screened showing what local low-budgets artists could do with enough ambition. Of his experience essentially programming and running a homegrown film fest Cyzyk says, “By that time I had graduated from college and had a film of my own and nowhere to show it. I realized there were a lot of other people in the same boat, so I decided to open up an outlet for people like that. It was an open screening, so any filmmaker who wanted to show up with something, I’d put it up on the screen–which wasn’t always a good thing. (laughs) Of course, that blossomed into not just local films but films from all over the world, and that blossomed into MicroCineFest, and MicroCineFest got me the job at Maryland [Film Festival]. It’s just been a big snowball. A career in film festivals that I never planned on, or even wanted.”
Not only is Cyzyk a local filmmaker, he is also an active member of film festivals both freelance sometimes and also as a full career in 2000 to help out a major film fest, work he considers as not ‘working for the man.’ No one is more familiar with the struggle to get work shown than a filmmaker himself, so for that reason Cyzyk got involved in that scene. He works as an exhibitor for fests such as the Maryland Film Fest, Johns Hopkins Film Fest, Towson Film Fest, Artscape, and Slamdance, just to name a few.
As far as Cyzyk’s more recent film work he has made Little Castles, a 16mm documentary made in 1997, about Baltimorean architecture material called Formstone. For this project he was able to interview his idol, John Waters, who was quoted saying that Formstone was the “polyester of brick.” Due to a falling out with a producer, Cyzyk was only able to show this on Maryland Public Access and a few festivals. Even more recently, he has been working on a documentary with David Koslowski entitled, Freaks in Love, which follows the past twenty-five years of underground rock through the perspective of the band Alice Donut –a punk group that has been touring for the past decade and a half. The documentary serves to show the changing atmosphere of underground music since the 1980s. What an apt documentary for Cyzyk to be making as a punk band member himself. Today he is in half a dozen bands, The Jennifers, Garage Sale, The Go Pills, The Awkward Sounds of Scott and Skizz, and The Lefties, Mink Stole & Her Wonderful Band. Cyzyk loves both filmmaking and music so much that he cannot choose between them, “If I could just pick one that I could devote more time to, I’d probably be a little more successful with that one thing. But I can’t do one and not the other. I like to try to combine them, because that way I get to do both.”
Presently, Cyzyk filmmaking life revolves around his documentary with Joe Tropea called Hit and Stay, which he says, “is about the anti-war movement. In particular, the doc is about activists like the legendary Catonsville Nine, who were nine priests, nuns, and laypeople that broke into a draft board in 1968, stole draft records, burned the records in the parking lot, and then waited to be arrested. Their action inspired many similar actions, elevating the anti-war movement to something more serious than just college kids protesting.” In order to raise enough money to create this project, Cyzyk has raised $20,000 on Kickstarter, however the two still need more support and hope to complete the documentary sometime in 2012.
Today, he is also in the midst of making a currently untitled documentary about the mysterious and eccentric musician, Reverend Fred Lane. Lane is an obscure artist who has made almost Dadaistic country-jazz-swing combination of music. Cyzyk is a huge fan of this little-known-about musician, but is currently getting to know him through his documentary. Through the process he has this to say of Lane and the film, “He was part of a ’70s arts community in Tuscaloosa, Ala., called Raudelunas, and they put out a bunch of records. Two of the Fred Lane records are two of my all-time favorite albums, and I just always wanted to know more about them. Then in 1999 I was researching a documentary I wanted to make about outsider music, and during that research I found a web site fan page by a guy in Scotland who had actually tracked down Fred Lane. And through this guy in Scotland, I got in touch with everybody involved in this whole Raudelunas scene, and since 1999 I’ve been traveling all over the country shooting interviews and hoping to one day edit it.” Cyzyk has many ideas and projects put in motion, but money, as for most artists, sometimes slows his progress.
For now Cyzyk is working on those films, continuing to work freelance for festivals, playing in a handful of bands touring, or recording, writing for the underground film magazine Cashiers Du Cinemart, and always looking for new productions. Although he started out with film he “jumped aboard the DV filmmaking bandwagon as a way of staying, as he describes it, ‘affordably productive.’ ” Living in Baltimore has really seemed to influence the eccentricity of his films as well as the weird punk music he’s involved with. His presence in Baltimore has also helped other aspiring filmmakers because of the creation of MicroCineFest and his continual involvement in other local fests. Skizz Cyzyk is a versatile artist and active member and promoter of Baltimore’s art scene.